By Jack Jodell, Sept. 17, 2011
RICHARD TRUMKA (1949- ) is the current President of the AFL-CIO. He was elected to that post in 2009 and has been a tireless fighter for numerous progressive causes for many years, among them a Public Option for health care, opposing unfair welfare reform attempts, and fighting racism. He was previously Secretary-Treasurer for that union, and before that had served as President of the United Mine Workers. He was an attentive and sensitive young man who saw very early the struggles mine workers faced, and who, at the tender age of 12, resolved in a conversation with his grandfather to “become a lawyer and stand up for workers’ rights.”
Born in the coal mining region of outhwest Pennsylvania, Trumka followed both his father and grandfather into the mines in 1968. “It was cold, damp, dusty – sound booming all around,” he recalled, and then added, “A dungeon of impending danger.” He learned from working with his father, who had held a longstanding record for having filled the most coal cars in a single shift, about work ethic and efficiency. He applied this ethic to his school studies first at Penn State, and later at Villanova, from which he earned a law degree in 1974. He has carried it with him ever since. All told, he worked in the mines for 7 years. “The mines humble man…I’ve been in near death, disastrous situations,” he once said. At one point, he witnessed his dad take part in a spontaneous rescue operation of a man after a cave-in, and learned firsthand the meaning and value of solidarity. With his legal studies finished, he often worked pro bono (for FREE, for the public good) for local residents in his spare time after working in the mine. He thus heeded his grandfather’s advice that “if you want to help workers, you first need to help people.”
From 1974-1979, Trumka was a staff attorney for the United Mine Workers at their Washington, D.C. headquarters. Elected to their board of directors in 1981, he became that union’s President the next year. He launched a successful 9 month strike against the Pittston Coal Company in 1989 and effectively became a symbol of resistance to labor cutbacks. He encouraged non-violent civil disobedience in his confrontations, and resourcefully used pressure from Wall Street investors as part of his strategy in combatting uncooperative companies. In 1993, he led a nationwide strike against Peabody Coal. When asked what would happen should the company hire permanent replacement workers, he stated, “I’m saying if you strike a match and put your finger in it, you’re likely to get burned…common sense will tell you that in these strikes, that when you inject scabs, a number of things happen.” He further established an office to forge solidarity with the black workers of South Africa while they were fighting apartheid. He chaired the U.S. Shell Boycott, confronting its parent company for its continued business dealings with the then-all white government of South Africa.
Trumka has proven himself to be much more than the old traditional union boss. He currently co-chairs the China Currency Coalition, a united alliance of industry, agriculture, and workers groups whose mission is to help U.S. manufacturers by forcing the Chinese to end unfair currency manipulation which places American-made goods at a trading disadvantage. Along the way, he has been successful for his workers on a wide number of fronts. He otained passage of the Federal COAL Act, which assured retired mine workers of guaranteed health care, and he brought the UMW into the AFL-CIO. In 2008, he endorsed the election of the nation’s first black President by delivering a pointed attack on racism in politics.
Faced with far-right attempts to eradicate unions and cripple them politically, Richard Trumka has worked tirelessly to oppose this. He admits to sleeping but 4 hours a night, and has described himself as being “tenacious and unrelenting,” and his goal as being to “create an economy that works for everyone.” He has served on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and has repeatedly pressed for even more stimulus programs to bolster jobs and the economy. Painfully aware of shrinking union membership caused by nonstop Republican anti-union maneuvers over the past 30 years, Trumka has been working diligently on new avenues for expanding membership. I wish him well in that endeavor, as, in this time of rampant outsourcing and unprecedented corporate greed, marked by a drop in workers’ wages and buying power, a resurgence in union strength is needed BADLY. To help him in this quest, I ask all of you to:
FLOOD YOUR DEMOCRATIC PARTY CAUCUSES IN EARLY 2012 TO DEMAND, AS A MEMBER OF A STRONG, UNITED PRO-LABOR PEOPLES’ PARTY FACTION, THAT ONLY PROGRESSIVE CANDIDATES WHO ARDENTLY SUPPORT WORKERS’ RIGHTS GET NOMINATED FOR GOVERNMENT OFFICE! MOST IMPORTANTLY, IN THE GENERAL ELECTION, STRIKE TO THROW THE ANTI-WORKER, PRO-CORPORATE REPUBLICANS AND TEA PARTY CANDIDATES OUT OF OFFICE PERMANENTLY!!!
Thank you, readers.