The economic and social problems, the hate and the fear we see around us today can only be solved by a fresh generation of committed, smart, tireless and creative activists, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler told the nearly 800 young workers, activists and student at the Next Up Young Workers Summit today.
“And—I’m going to go out on a limb here—but I think you are those people,” she said.
In her keynote address to the conference, which opened today in Minneapolis, Shuler said the situation in the global economy is dire. Massive change is needed to turn it around. Young workers are being told to “suck it up” and live in a world without jobs, she said.
We’re being told that America can’t afford teachers—but we can afford CEO tax cuts. We’re being asked to accept a society that rewards wealth and punishes work. A society that makes it harder for young people to go to college. A society where hate is growing and targeting people of color, people of different faiths, people who are LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer], immigrants–it’s shameful.
Shuler urged the participants to create coalitions back home to build a movement to take back the American Dream.
None of us can make the change we need alone. That’s why we’ve gathered here. We really have to open our arms, work with others in our communities and build a broader movement together. The AFL-CIO is working at this, forging new partnerships beyond just our union membership—partnerships with working people who don’t have unions…and with some whose jobs aren’t even covered by labor law, so they don’t have basic legal protections on the job. These are the people who really need a voice.
These are some of the most vulnerable working people in our country, often forced by crooked employers to work too many hours for too little pay in dangerous conditions, she said. They work and live in the shadows, outside the view of the agencies and groups that should be protecting them, she added.
So we are partnering with them because they need us. They need the strength of America’s union movement behind them. But weneed them even more. We need to learn from their determination We are inspired by their energy. We are made better by their courage.
Also speaking today at the Summit, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis described how she learned the importance of collective bargaining from her father, a steward for the Teamsters and talked about her dedication to create good jobs and help pass President Obama’s American Jobs Act. By the time Barack Obama got to office, Solis said, the nation had lost 4 million jobs. But instead, Republicans in Congress want to gut the budget and kill even more jobs.
Unfortunately, there are people right now that got elected right now…don’t seem to understand that you can’t just cut your way out of this unemployment. You don’t cut at the heart of education…you don’t cut away at educating our youth.
She asked the young workers to take a leading role in getting out the vote and moving the message to pass the jobs bill and fight back against attacks on education funding, Pell grants and health care.
The Next Up Summit, which runs through Oct. 2, is part of the AFL-CIO’s efforts, led by Shuler, to reach out to working people under age 35. Young activists, including organizers and actors Lucas Neff and RJ Mitte, also will speak at the conference.