LOS ANGELES - Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the outspoken Massachusetts Democrat, told delegates at the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention here Sunday that the agenda of the labor movement and its allies has always been and continues to be the agenda of the American people.
Warren, described by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as "a woman who doesn't know the word 'can't," stepped onto the brightly lit convention center stage amidst tumultuous applause. When she spoke, the thousands in the room got quiet, listening to her every word.
"From tax policy to retirement security," Warren remarked, "the voices of hard-working people get drowned out by powerful industries and well-financed front groups. Those with power fight to take care of themselves, even when it comes at the expense of working families getting a fair shot at a better future."
"This isn't new," the senator said. "Throughout our history, powerful interests have tried to rig the system in their favor. But we didn't roll over. At every turn, in every time of challenge, organized labor has been there, fighting on behalf of the American people!
Warren traced the history of workers' struggles in the U.S. "At the beginning of the 20th century, when factories were deathtraps, when owners exploited workers and children, labor was on the front lines to take children out of factories and put them in schools," she said. "The American people came together under the leadership of progressives to bring our nation back from the brink. And labor was there, leading the way."
Fast forwarding to the economic crash of 2008, Warren said, "When it was time to rein in financial predators and Wall Street banks, labor was there, standing with President Obama, and fighting for consumer protection. And thanks to those efforts, we now have a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."
Warren was originally recommended by Obama to head the new consumer protection agency. But Senate Republicans, who had fought against creation of the agency itself, were aware of Warren's bold anti-corporate stance and sabotaged her nomination. She didn't give up, Trumka said when he introduced her to the convention. "Instead, she went back to Massachusetts and fought her way back into the Senate."
Warren said that corporate efforts to push back against labor and its allies have always meant an uphill battle on the part of labor and its allies. "We have always had to run uphill. We have had to fight for what we've achieved. Powerful interests have done everything they can to block reform. They attacked Social Security, Medicare, pensions, public employees, bank regulation, and consumer protection. The powerful interests fight us on every battlefield they can."
Warren noted that "Republican governors in Indiana and Michigan are pushing for so-called right-to-work (for less) laws, and in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has declared war on working families by ripping the guts out of collective bargaining agreements." Their guiding principle is, "I've got mine, the rest of you are on your own," she commented.
But Warren was quick to point out that working people are also driven by principle, and a more logical one at that: "We all do better when we work together and invest in our future."
"The economy grows when hard working families can improve their lives; when we invest in helping people succeed; when we care for our neighbors," she said.
"America agrees with us," the senator declared to the applause of the audience. "Less than a year ago, the American people overwhelmingly re-elected President Obama and gave us a mandate to fight for middle class families.
"Our agenda is America's agenda. The American people know that the system is rigged against them and they want us to level the playing field. I've been around long enough to know that Washington is a tough place. Real reform isn't easy. But I also know that if we don't fight, we don't win."
Photo: Sen. Elizabeth Warren and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, left, stand together at the labor federation's convention (via AFL-CIO/Facebook)