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Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, Jewish Labor Committee's 41st Human Rights Awards Dinner, New York City, NY

Richard Trumka • January 12, 2012

Thank you for having me here at the 41st Human Rights Award Dinner of the Jewish Labor Committee, and thank you, Stuart [Appelbaum], for your generous introduction. I'm proud to serve in the labor movement alongside you, my brother.

I am honored, and humbled, to stand before you tonight as we recognize and celebrate these true heroes of the American labor movement.  

But before I name tonight's first honoree, I'd like to emphasize something at the core of what you do. It bears saying, again and again:  All work has dignity.  

That's true whether we drive a bus or ride one to work, whether we cater the lunch or take a lunch break, whether we take the stage, raise the curtain, or direct the spotlight.  

Brothers and sisters, there's something else that we all know, but which isn't recognized enough, that work is beautiful. There's beauty in the natural efficiency that a person develops on the job, in the unselfconscious purposefulness of labor, in the elegance of a task well done, in the pride that work brings us all.  

I've said about miners, and particularly about my father -- as you know, I was a coal miner, as were my dad and grandfather -- I've said that when I saw him working in the mine for the first time, I was reminded of a ballet dancer. He moved with grace and precision. He didn't waste any effort, or take any half-steps. What he did was beautiful -- strikingly so.  

Like me, my friend Matt Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts, followed a parent into a career.  

When Matt's mother moved to New York from Cleveland, she painted scenery for theater, motion pictures and television. Matt worked out of the same local doing TV and motion picture production before taking his creativity, craft and vision into the leadership of his union.  

Matt, there is dignity and beauty in the work you do, in the fight to uphold the tradition and unionism of those who came before you, and to pass that along to your members and to the next generation. It's a noble and a wonderful thing to do.  

You and your members answered the call from working people under political attacks in 2011 in Wisconsin and Ohio and so many other places, and you continue to do so today in Indiana and elsewhere. Your union builds power for working people everywhere, and through solidarity the hard-working union workers in the entertainment industry help each other live out fulfilling careers with decent pay, good health insurance and the hope of a secure retirement.

That's as it should be. That's how our society should reward all working people.  

Labor ought to be rewarded fairly. A simple truth. Yet labor's rewards are not automatic.  

And that's why it's our pleasure to point out and honor the people who maintain the American dream with creative activism, with workplace organizing and political mobilizing, the people who fearlessly pursue the interests of working people all across our great nation, and who lead us all forward toward a better tomorrow.  

Matthew Loeb, it's my pleasure to present you with the Jewish Labor Committee's human rights award for your important work reaffirming the relationship between the Jewish community and the American labor movement and for your efforts to expand advocacy and education for workers' rights here in America and around the world.  

Thank you, and may God bless you for what you do, and all you will do.

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