Shortcut Navigation:

What I Do

Christy McGill, Art Teacher - Divide Elementary School, Lookout, WV.

More »

2017 Catholic Conference on the Dignity of Work

Richard Trumka • January 10, 2017 • Washington, D.C.

Thank you for those kind words of introduction. I am honored to be taking part in Catholic University’s third Erroneous Autonomy Conference. This has been an invaluable experience growing and developing the transformational dialogue between America’s labor movement and the Catholic Church. I want to thank the leaders who have helped make this partnership possible: Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Bishop Robert McElroy, Dr. Steve Schneck of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, and of course the labor movement’s great friend Michael Sean Winters. Michael Sean, the entire AFL-CIO wishes you Godspeed in your new role at Boston College.

Three years ago, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of Honduras spoke before us here in Washington about the need for the United States and all nations to set aside the single-minded pursuit of wealth. He repeated Pope Francis’ warning about an economy that kills. He cited global inequality that has left working families so far behind that they often don’t have safe places to sleep, enough food to eat or access to clean water.

These concerns threaten us right here in America, right now. It’s the paradox of scarcity, and its solution is both increasingly difficult and increasingly important to embrace. When you hunger, you must practice generosity. When you feel insecure, the answer is solidarity. When you’re frightened, you must trust in the abundant gift of God’s love.

Erroneous autonomy claims that our only responsibility is to ourselves. It focuses on our differences rather than our shared humanity. And it fails to recognize that we are all bound together—and we will all ultimately rise or fall as one. Now I know from my faith and my work that solidarity is very, very powerful.  This is a time for togetherness and unity, not the false promises of autonomy and rugged individualism.

Allow me to share with you one of my personal journeys of the last year. In August, my grandson was born, and, not long after his birth, I held him in my hands and I kissed his head.

Every time I see my grandson, I’m reminded that each of us is a child of God. But I can’t ignore that my grandson entered the world at one of the most polarizing times in our nation’s history— a time when division is fostered and inflamed. Now many of the people who live and work in this great country are frightened. They’re scared. And I share their concern.

You see, Donald Trump campaigned on mass deportation, on building walls, on imposing religious litmus tests. Make no mistake about it, those proposals are a violation of our founding principles and our basic humanity. Many are concerned that raids, detentions and worse will occur immediately after the president-elect takes office.

When Donald Trump places his hand on the Bible ten days from now, he will swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States. This is not just an oath, but a vow to lead our nation with tolerance, equality and justice for all. An inauguration is a moment to bring forward our best virtues—and to build the more perfect union our Constitution demands.

That vow transcends partisanship. When it comes to immigration, we at the AFL-CIO took strong exception to the Obama Administration’s enforcement policies. Mr. Trump is threatening something much worse, escalating the pace and the number of deportations, sending armed agents into our neighborhoods and workplaces to arrest members of our unions and our communities.

The specter of mass deportation is absolutely terrifying to men and women who live and who work here, who stand in line with us at the grocery store and whose children attend our schools.  What he has proposed will tear at the very fabric of our society and our values, and we will not stand for it. We will resist it with everything that we have, everywhere that we are, every way that we can. And we refuse to be divided into “us” versus “them”.

Instead of uprooting and deporting aspiring Americans—our coworkers and our neighbors—we really must embrace each other, because we’re not separate and we’re not autonomous. Instead of building walls, we must be bound together in solidarity. Only then can we truly see ourselves as children of God. These are the bedrock principles that the labor movement has always stood for.

Let us never forget this truth: Each of us began our life’s journey the same way, vulnerable. Just like my grandson. Without love, we cannot live. Someone took care of us. Someone loved us. Love can’t be measured and it can’t be weighed and it can’t be bought and it can’t be sold. And yet nothing…nothing is as powerful or important as it.

And like love, solidarity requires action to become real. 

That’s why, in the most difficult and personal political times, it’s essential for us to act according to the teachings offered by our moral leaders. I was raised in the Catholic Church, but Our Lady of Consolation in Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, was much more than a place of worship. It was the heart of our community. It was a shelter from danger. It was where my father and my grandfather went to escape from the Coal and Iron Police, who gave my grandfather a scar over his eye—a visual and vivid reminder of the wrongs that he had endured.

Now, Anthony Barroso can tell you about being wronged. Last week, many of us read his story in the New York Times. Anthony was 13 in 2007 when federal agents with heavy weapons raided his home and arrested and deported his father—whose only crime was going to work. He did that for more than a decade. Now I’ve met too many families like Anthony’s family over the years. And the workplace and community raids that shook our country caused profound human tragedy that we…we…all of us…must now commit to prevent.  

In the weeks and months ahead, if Mr. Trump does as he has promised, millions of working people like Anthony’s father will face the same exact trauma. They’ll be afraid to go to work. They’ll be afraid to take their children to school, let alone speak up when they encounter abuse or exploitation. They’ll need information, they’ll need support and they’ll need active solidarity.  And our homes, our communities, our workplaces and our unions will be vulnerable unless we all stand strong together. You see, the American labor movement will be part of the infrastructure of response and protection against mass deportation and any other efforts to criminalize working people. We know institutions like the Catholic Church will be rock solid at our side.

Pope Francis has called upon the entire Catholic faith to be a true sanctuary in a deeply troubled world. Together…together…we can fight inequality. Together we will shelter and empower immigrants and native-born alike. We’ll define community through love and abundance, not scarcity and division. As America’s political climate grows more and more divided, our faith and our solidarity will deepen. You see, the words of the Holy Father matter.  He offers us a guiding light. He gives me strength, which is what we all need more than ever right now.

The next few years will define who and what we really are as a labor movement and as a church. Will we stand true to our moral values when it could actually cost us something? Will we speak out on behalf of our beliefs when others will condemn us or ridicule us? You see—we’ll be tested. But today let us all pledge to stand strong and united in defense and on behalf of the moral values that we know to be correct and true.

Thank you for listening.

Join Us Online