CWA President Chris Shelton speaks at the CWA Legislative-Ploitical Conference in Washington D.C.
Good morning, brothers and sisters. Welcome to the CWA National Legislative and Political Conference.
I am glad you are here. For the next two days, we’ll visit our legislators on Capitol Hill and make sure they know who they’re supposed to be representing. We’ll talk about the work we’ve done in this remarkable primary season, and the work that lies ahead. And we’ll hear about the key issues facing America’s working people, and what we must do to build a powerful grassroots movement to Reclaim Our Democracy and Our Economy.
Our meeting is taking place at an extraordinary moment in our country’s history, full of danger, but also full of tremendous possibilities.
In case you have any doubt about how extraordinary these times are, all you have to do is take a look at the Republican nominee for President. Now that is extraordinary. A blustering, bigoted, Muslim and Mexican-hating, phony, born-on-third-base billionaire, a reality show nitwit who spends half his time in bankruptcy court, and who thinks the problems of the world can be solved by nasty name-calling and juvenile Tweets. It would be funny if it wasn’t so scary. I’ll talk in more detail about politics, movement building, and Donald Trump in a moment, but first I want to focus on something else that is truly extraordinary.
On April 13, 39,000 CWA and IBEW members walked out the door at Verizon. After ten months of fruitless bargaining, their backs were against the wall. They did not know how long they would be on the street, or how long their families would have to survive without a paycheck. But they were determined, they were militant, and they were creative. And their strike—the biggest in the country in years—captured the imagination of the labor movement and our allies across the country. On June 1, those 39,000 strikers walked back in the door, having faced down the 15th largest corporation in America. The strikers protected their job security and pensions, rolled back contracting initiatives, kept call centers open, gained 1,300 new call center jobs and 200 new technician jobs, brought back work from overseas and won a historic first contract for 75 Verizon Wireless retail stores in Brooklyn and Everett, MA. They showed the entire labor movement, and all of America that when workers stick together and fight, “there is no greater power anywhere beneath the sun!”
Let’s recognize their victory. If you were on strike at Verizon, or helped organize strike activities or helped with the bargaining, please stand up, stand up. Let’s give them a round of applause. And let’s give special recognition to the two great leaders of this strike, District One Vice-President Dennis Trainor and District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney. Now, stay standing, stay standing.
The 39,000 strikers could not have won this fight alone. They needed all of our help and thousands of our members across the country answered the call. The brothers and sisters from District 7 in New Mexico and Arizona showed up in force for the Verizon shareholders’ meeting. All across the country, our members adopted Wireless stores and drove down business by 25 to 30 percent. If you signed a petition, sent a contribution, picketed a store, attended a rally, spoke at a meeting, came to Albuquerque, stand up, stand up. You also deserve recognition and I thank you and the 39,000 strikers thank you for your support and your solidarity! We could not have done it without you.
There were a lot of reasons why we won at Verizon. First and foremost, of course, was the courage and determination of our members. But other factors mattered, too, and this brings me back to my discussion of why these are such amazing times.
One of the biggest reasons we won this strike was the public was 100 percent on our side. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. No one was on Verizon’s side. We never met a single person at our picket lines who said, “No I can’t support you, I think Lowell McAdam should make $20 million a year, not $18 and a half. No, I can’t support you, I think your jobs should be shipped overseas to Filipino workers making $1.75 an hour.” No one said that.
Brothers and sisters, we are still living in a historical moment defined by Occupy Wall Street, a time when you can feel the anger on the street about income inequality, about the corruption of our democracy by the one percent about the destruction of good jobs by rotten trade deals like NAFTA and TPP. These are movement times, times when the fight for fundamental change in our system is on, and all of us must join. There are many fighters in this movement, not just the young activists of Occupy Wall Street but the brave strikers of the Fight for 15, the activists of black lives matters, the dreamers fighting for immigration reform, the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, the campaigners for voting rights and against TPP and campaign finance corruption, and so many more.
This is a time when the words of previous movements echo across generations, reminding us that the struggle is long but real change is within our grasp. Over one hundred and twenty years ago, the platform of the Populist Party described the state of the nation in words that ring just as true today:
“We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the legislatures, the Congress and touches even the [robes] of the bench. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished and the land concentrating in the hands of the capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection…a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down…The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few….and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty.”
That Populist movement won the right to directly elect US Senators, enacted regulations on the big corporations and railroads, fought for the establishment of minimum wages, and for the first federal income tax. That movement won huge victories that made this country a better place for working people.
Today, a new Populist movement is taking shape in this country, and I am proud to say that our union is in the middle of building it.
In the last year, the Bernie Sanders campaign has taken all of these movements to a new level, which is why I am so proud that CWA was the largest union in the country to endorse him. His campaign galvanized millions of Americans into action, to knock on doors and make phone calls and give money, and gave a voice to the aspirations of young people and the working class to build a society that is more just and more equitable for the 99 percent. No union did more to build this movement. We turned out red-shirted volunteers from New York to California, from Texas to New Jersey, from Iowa to New Hampshire.
Bernie’s campaign, like Occupy Wall Street, changed the political debate in this country. Bernie pointed the finger at the bankers and the billionaires, he put labor and working class issues squarely on the national agenda. Job-killing trade deals. The need for young people to graduate from college without tens of thousands of dollars in debt, the need to create hundreds of thousands of good jobs so that all of our communities can be lifted up. The need to rebuild the American labor movement.
Not only that. Bernie stood up for us. On the first day of the Verizon strike, he electrified 2,000 members in downtown Brooklyn by showing up on the picket line. And on the second day of our strike he did something that I never thought I’d see in all my life—he denounced the corporate greed of Lowell McAdam and Verizon in the nationally televised New York primary debate. A candidate for president of the United States boldly taking the side of striking workers against corporate greed on national TV. What a shot in the arm for our strikers, what a contribution to the national debate about the need to elevate worker power over corporate power.
Unfortunately, after last week’s primary results, it appears clear that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic Party nominee but that does not mean our work was in vain. On the contrary. Our courage—and the courage of the other national unions and groups which endorsed Bernie helped to build a growing movement for social and racial and economic justice in this country. I will always be proud that we had the most democratic endorsement process of any union, that we made the right choice. Because, brothers and sisters, movement-building is at the core of what we are all about. Under the past leadership of Larry Cohen, our union has been talking about the importance of movement building for ten years. And that has not changed, and will not change one bit under my leadership.
Why? Because we understand that we cannot rebuild our labor movement or reclaim our economy and democracy by ourselves. We can only do that by bringing together many diverse constituencies—environmentalists, racial justice groups, youth and community organizations, , groups fighting to get big money out of politics and bringing these groups together means much more than each group simply supporting the issue priorities of the other others.
A real movement is based on a shared understanding that we all have common enemies and common struggles. We are building a movement that understands that none of us can move forward if voting rights are gutted for people of color, if our politic system is drenched in the money of the billionaires, if our labor laws are broken, or if we have a US Senate that functions more like the House of Lords than a true democratic representative of the people.
That is why, four years ago, President Cohen helped to found the Democracy Initiative, along with the leaders of Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, and Common Cause. That is why we will continue to support the DI and will join in campaigns to change the ridiculous Senate rules, restore the Voting Rights Act, increase access to the ballot, not to restrict it, and get big money out of politics. That is why on April 18th, along with over 300 allies,I was one of 80 CWA activists who participated in civil disobedience on Capitol Hill—in other words, I got arrested—to send a message that we will not stop building our movement until we have reclaimed the promise of American democracy from the billionaires who are stealing it from us.
Over the next two days, you will hear from representatives of these movements, and as you listen to these reports, I want you to remember these are not just individual, separate causes. These are interlinked parts of a broader movement for democratic reform and economic justice that is the key to making the American economy and democracy work again for all working people.
Our belief in movements is also why we helped convene a coalition of 30 organizations, including the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, People’s Action, and the Working Families Party to launch a new campaign called “Take on Wall Street.” Last year in Detroit, I said that it is long past time for labor and its allies to break the power of Wall Street in this country. And so we went to our allies and said, let’s start a movement to break up the Big Banks and close the tax loopholes that enrich the hedge fund billionaires and the CEOs. It won’t easy and it will probably take years, but between the Democracy Fight, and the taking on Wall Street, we will build a movement that can transform this country.
The power of that kind of movement building is also reflected in the fact that the TPP has still not been ratified. When we launched our campaign against TPP in January 2014, we feared it was only a matter of months before Fast Track and then TPP would pass, but we mobilized like never before, building strong alliances with environmentalists, faith leaders, consumer advocates, seniors, and farmers. We eventually lost the vote on Fast Track last summer by just five votes in the House of Representatives, but we are actually still winning because we delayed any action on TPP until this year. Our coalition is holding Democrats that turned against us like Ami Bera in California, Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida, and Michael Bennett in Colorado accountable and has worked to deny them endorsements and support in their elections. My friends, because of the long, hard work that you have done, we are on the verge of killing TPP off once and for all.
Brothers and sisters, in all my years in the labor movement, I have never seen a moment when the potential for progressive change has been greater. I see a nation on fire for change. And well it should be, for as the famous anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison once said, “I have a need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt.”
But at the same time as we are stoking the fires of movement-building, we also face some very real dangers in the short run, and they cannot be ignored.
The Bernie Sanders campaign accomplished far more than anyone ever expected and we build on those achievements all the way to the Democratic Convention and make sure the party platform comes out one hundred percent against the Trans-Pacific partnership and one hundred percent of breaking up the Big Banks and reining in Wall Street power in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, strengthen collective bargaining rights, and a restoration of the voting rights act.
But Bernie is not going to be the nominee. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be. And whatever you think of Secretary Clinton—I happen to think she was a damn good Senator from New York and that a lot of the hostility against her is attributable to out and out sexism and to the “vast right-wing conspiracy”—she is the candidate who is running against Donald Trump. And Brothers and sisters, WE MUST STOP DONALD TRUMP FROM BECOMING PRESIDENT.
It’s not just that Donald Trump preys on the anxieties of working class Americans about their stagnant wages and crumbling dreams and turns those anxieties into hatred of Mexicans and Muslims. It’s not just that Trump disrespects and mocks women. It’s not just that he conceals his tax returns and exaggerates his business achievements, or that he ran a rip-off private university that promised educational advancement but delivered private enrichment to him. It’s not just that he thinks he’s above the law, or that he simply doesn’t understand the Constitution of the United States.
Donald Trump is simply the most hateful, simple-minded, unqualified person ever to run for the Presidency of the United States. He is an international embarrassment. Donald Trump makes Barry Goldwater look like Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.
Now Donald Trump has tapped into a lot of the anger that also, in part, fueled the Sanders campaign. He rails against the TPP and he talks about a rigged system. So we’ve undoubtedly got some members who are attracted to his tough-guy promises about making America great again and magically creating good jobs. . But Trump doesn’t have any magic. All he has is bullshit. Trump is a hypocrite, he built Trump Tower with undocumented, non-union workers who didn’t get paid the minimum wage. His fancy ties are manufactured in Mexico and China, he opposes the fight for 15, and he believes in right to work. Workers supporting Donald Trump is like chickens supporting Colonel Sanders.
Brothers and sisters, I don’t think Hillary is the perfect candidate. She is not a populist, at a time when people are yearning for anti-establishment populists. She has not been with us on every issue in the past. But on April 13th, she walked our picket line at Verizon. She was the first Senate sponsor of legislation that eventually expanded FMLA benefits for flight attendants. She supports comprehensive immigration reform, and she supports overturning Citizens United and establishing a public campaign finance system. Hillary was an original sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, and she supports creating a $250 billion infrastructure investment program that would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs. She comes out strongly for expanding Medicare access to those between 55 and 65, and she has called for greater Wall Street accountability. She has called for expanding voting rights and ending the school to prison pipeline.
But it’s about more than just a list of issues. Donald Trump is a mindless jerk who threatens to destroy our country. Hillary Clinton is a thoughtful and experienced leader with whom we have sometimes had disagreements. It’s a no-brainer. Our responsibility—our mission—must be to defeat Donald Trump this fall.
Let me close by saying this.
We have to be smart, practical, and visionary, all at the same time. That is what this historical moment demands. Defeating Donald Trump will be our priority, until November 8th. We will mobilize our members, we will educate our members, we will talk to our neighbors about what is at stake in this election.
But at the same time, we will never forget—NEVER FORGET—that defeating Donald Trump is not nearly enough. It is a necessary condition for transforming this country in a pro-worker direction. But IT IS BY NO MEANS SUFFICIENT.
Over the last five years, thanks to Occupy and the Black Lives movement and the Democracy Initiative, the Stop the TPP Coalition, and the Immigrant Rights movement and the Fight for $15, and now because of the Bernie Sanders movement, we have done more to advance the cause of social and racial and economic justice in this country than I have seen in 50 years in the labor movement. And if Hillary is elected, we will keep building this movement, to keep pressure on her and the Congress, to hold her and the Congress accountable to an agenda that will make this country work not just for the one percent, not just for the one-tenth of the one percent, but for all Americans, black, brown, white, yellow, straight, gay, working, unemployed, men and women, immigrants or those descended from the Mayflower—for all of us, for all of our children. Only a social movement like we had in the 30s or 60s can accomplish that goal.
And that is what our conference is about these next two days:
Building a movement, a powerful movement, that can reclaim our democracy and our economy for the 99 percent. I want you to join me in building that movement. Are you ready brothers and sisters?
Are you ready to commit yourselves to defeating Donald Trump and building a powerful movement to transform this country?
Are you ready?? Usually, I ask you if you are ready to stand up and fight back but today brothers and sisters, I ask you are you ready to stand up and attack?
Are you ready to go on the offensive?
To build a movement to attack the one percent?
Are you ready to attack?
Are you ready?
Because together, we can win! Let’s do it