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Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, Alliance for Retired Americans Legislative Conference, Washington, DC

Richard Trumka • September 7, 2011

Thank you, Barbara [Easterling], for your truly kind introduction. You and I both know the importance of a coal mining heritage. You're a proud trade unionist. You're my sister. You're a fighter for working families, and you always have been. Thank you.

Let me also thank George Kourpias, founding president of the Alliance of Retired Americans, for his hard work and visionary leadership.

And I want to acknowledge executive director Ed Coyle. Ed, it may be that all the fights of the past decade will turn out to be a preamble for the battles to come. And no matter what, we'll stand together -- shoulder-to-shoulder for good jobs, for retirement security, for health care.

But most of all, I want to recognize all of you.  Alliance members have been incredible activists. You don't have to look any further than this year in Wisconsin to see what a difference you make -- but you've also been in the thick of it with SB5 in Ohio, and the fights to save Social Security and Medicare all across America.

Every major advance of the last decade bears your fingerprints.  You fought hard for a good prescription drug law in 2003. You moved right onto the successful fight against privatizing Social Security—and when you pushed back against George W. Bush, you ended his legislative run.

In 2007 and 2008, you supported health care reform, and your work was crucial to passage of the Affordable Care Act.

This year, you made sure attacks against Social Security and Medicare were in the public eye, so our worst politicians couldn't be silent killers of our most successful family protection programs.

And all this time, your strength has come from the grass roots!  You took bus trips to Canada to buy prescription drugs, and held knit-ins outside congressional offices to defend Medicare.

You're a real political force! And when those politicians come out of the Super Committee, when they come after us, you'll be ready.  We'll be ready.  We'll stand side-by-side. United.  We're not going to let anybody – anybody – cut Social Security or wreck Medicare.

Brothers and sisters, the Alliance for Retired Americans is far more than an advocate for seniors. This organization is a powerful ally of all working people -- A movement builder. And I think your power comes from three things: your credibility and connections in your communities; your experience as activists, who've weathered a career of political storms; and the passion that lies deep within you -- in here – a passion that motivates you day after day, year after year, to put yourselves out there in the fight to make America what it should be – what it must be – for this generation and generations to come.   

For that, I salute you.  Your role will only grow more important in the years to come.

I think we all know about the retirement boom under way today:  The oldest Baby Boomers turned 65 this year, and for the next 19 years, more than 10,000 people will hit that age every single day, eventually swelling the over-65 population to more than 72 million people.

Do you think those voters will have a big impact on American politics?

Let me tell you: Only one organization will unite them with America's labor movement, and that's the Alliance for Retired Americans!

Every year, for the next two decades, the voting power of seniors and retirees will increase.

But which way will America's seniors go?

Friends, it won't be easy. The signals are not good. The only age group that President Obama lost in 2008 was 65-plus. In that election, the older you were, the more likely you were to vote with Republicans.

In the congressional elections across the country last year, in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and in the special election to fill Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, seniors as a whole voted for Republican candidates by margins well into the double-digits.

We've got to be honest about this. Too many seniors bought candidate McCain's argument that Barack Obama was too young, too inexperienced.

If working families lose political solidarity with seniors and retirees, we can't hope to win national elections for working families.

I'll be frank, it's time for the Alliance to move far beyond our union retirees, to reach your friends and neighbors who are watching too much Fox TV and who aren't getting any information except scare tactics from the Tea Party right-wing.

And I know you're ready to do it. Your community outreach is one of the best ways to educate others about the real political interests of today's retirees, and about the labor movement, too.

Some people call the labor movement, "The folks who brought you the weekend."

But most people don't know that the labor movement is also, "The folks who brought you retirement."

And they need to know that!

They should know that the labor movement helped create health coverage, pensions, Social Security and Medicare, and so much more.  

No one can explain better than you what a union voice on the job means in a worker's life, and in a worker's retirement. 

Just a few generations ago, the phrase, "Too old to work, too young to die," had real meaning.

We will not go back to the days when hunger dogged old age!

Are you ready to tell your story?

It's going to take long days, hoarse voices, tired legs and cold hands for us to hold politicians accountable this year and next, and over the years to come.

But we're ready. We're building an independent labor movement that'll be strong enough to push for action that's on the scale of the crisis in America today.

We're going to build a political mandate for good jobs for the 26 million Americans who need full-time work, for a voice on the job for every worker -- public and private, and for the American Dream that we want and need for our children and grandchildren as well as ourselves.

I want you to join me this fall on our America Wants to Work campaign, as we demand that our leaders at every level stop attacking working families and retirees and finally get to work creating good jobs.

And we'll partner with you to expose and turn back every attack against Social Security and Medicare.

Together, we will hold accountable every politician who promised jobs and security, but didn't deliver.

And brothers and sisters, it is time to spread the word about our vision of a future of long-term, broadly shared prosperity.

That future is out there. We just have to make it real! We built it once right here in America, and we can do it again!

We can win the future if we hold together. Workers and retirees. Young people and seniors. All of us. Together. For a future where every single worker has the fundamental right to be treated with dignity, to put in a hard, honest day's work -- and be rewarded fairly for it, to have the health care and retirement security we need, and the opportunity to see our children a little better off than we are.

That's the world we want, that's the world we deserve.

And we'll work for it.  We'll stand for it.  We'll fight for it.  Together.

Together, to bring out the best in ourselves. To bring out the best in each other. To bring out the best in America.

And, we will never, ever, ever back down.

Thank you, and God bless you and the work you do.

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