Labor seeks help from civil rights group

Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, is urging the NAACP to help the labor movement organize workers – particularly African Americans – after the expected passage this year of the Employee Free Choice Act.

In his July speech to the NAACP convention in New York, Trumka expressed appreciation to the nation’s oldest civil rights group for its support of the legislation. He told cheering delegates that the bill is within “a hair’s breadth” of winning the needed 60 Senate votes to overcome a planned GOP-led filibuster against it.

Trumka made it clear that he wants the labor movement to start, as soon as the bill becomes law, organizing the millions of workers whom the bill would make easier to organize. “It’s there that the NAACP comes in,” Trumka declared, “because 4.8 million of those workers are poor African Americans.”

He said a successful joint effort by unions and the NAACP would help those workers enter the middle class and that such organizing would be a priority for him once he becomes AFL-CIO president in September.

Trumka admitted that the labor movement has not always done as much as it should have, when it comes to organizing African-Americans.

“The challenge we face isn’t only passing the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s taking full advantage of it once we do. That begins by reaching out to organize workers the labor movement left behind. Who are they? A lot are African Americans.”

Trumka said the history of African Americans in the labor movement has been a “long one of proud accomplishment” and he praised the NAACP for its “crusade, starting 80 years ago, to end segregation within organized labor.” He said that without the group’s success labor would be much weaker.

“We can’t change the sins of the past. But we can learn from them – and build a new kind of labor movement for the future, a labor movement that goes beyond gestures, beyond rhetoric and tokenism.

“We can’t just talk the talk. We have to walk the walk. We can’t only preach about change. We have to make change happen. And that means investing the time, the energy, the talent, and the resources it’s going to take to begin the work of organizing 4.8 million poverty-wage African American workers so they can have a paycheck, the benefits and the opportunities that can only come with a union contract.

“Is it possible?,” Trumka asked. “The labor movement can’t do the job alone, but together – with the NAACP – I’m convinced that we can. Together, a new alliance between the labor movement and the NAACP can begin the work of transforming poverty wage work into jobs with a future.”