The Soul of the Worker
The Iowa AFL-CIO State Convention Wednesday, August 14, 2002
I was born into the House of Labor. My father was a Teamster who drove a truck for thirty-five years. He died with his first retirement check in his pocket, uncashed. He and my mother raised seven children, of which I was the oldest. We lived in twenty-one different places by the time I was 17. Having a job doesn't solve all of a family's problems. One of my first jobs was at the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland. As a copyboy I joined the American Newspaper Guild. Years later, working at TV 8, I belonged to AFTRA. Today I am a member of the cameraman's union, the IATSE of the AFL-CIO.
This is my membership card. I am of the House of Labor and still building. This is my card of membership in the House of Representatives. This card (House) is where my work is. And this card (IATSE) is where my heart is.
The hopes and dreams of the men and women who sent me to Congress are the stars by which I journey. Whenever there is an organizing campaign, a picket line to walk, jobs to save, working conditions to improve, laws to champion, I'm there. This is my purpose: to stand up and to speak out on behalf of those who have built this country and who want to rebuild this country. This is my passion: to raise up the rights of working people. Workers' rights are the key to protecting our democracy.
Workers' rights embody spiritual principles that sustain families, nourish the soul and create peace. Workers' rights are human rights.
Today, let us begin anew to rededicate our efforts to bring economic justice to those who have created the wealth through their work. A re-energized labor movement will re-energize America's politics and create a more just society. Your cause is the cause of our nation. Your dream is the American dream. The cause of union, of brotherhood and sisterhood, is felt in the workers' anthem. Solidarity can be the song that echoes across this land. It can be the music that lifts up the hearts of all those who dignify work with their toil.
For decades labor has been telling the nation about the dangers of unchecked corporate power. Organizing campaigns have brought the lessons home. Employers are:
§ firing union supporters;
§ forcing workers to listen to anti-union propaganda from company supervisors;
§ bringing in outsiders to run well-funded anti-union campaigns;
§ threatening loss of jobs and even threatening to move out of town.
Often in these struggles labor stands alone. But we need to change this. We need a Democratic Party that will insure the right to organize by establishing an automatic union once half the workers sign up. You know, sisters and brothers, that when workers can choose a union, free of fear and intimidation, they choose to have the collective voice a union provides. As a member of the Cleveland Jobs With Justice workers' rights board, I have seen the community help nearly 2,000 workers to join unions. We need a national labor law that provides for democracy in the workplace.