Statement on the passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

April 28, 2021


By the Labor Committee of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR)

Anthony Driver – SEIU HCII

Joe Iosbaker – SEIU Local 73

Regina Russell – SEIU Local 73

As labor union members and activists involved in the struggle against racist policing, we paused this weekend to honor the coal miner, Richard Trumka, who lead the United Mine Workers (1982 – 1995), became Secretary Treasurer of the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (1995 – 2009), and then President (2009 – 2021). President Trumka died August 5th at the age of 72.

President Trumka also provided leadership in an historic moment for the working class movement in this country. In October 2014, the AFL-CIO convention was held in St. Louis, just two months after the Ferguson rebellion that launched the Black Lives Matter movement to national attention. President Trumka made a famous speech, the strongest speech to date by the leader of the largest labor federation in the US.

He said in part, “..the reality is that while a young man named Michael Brown died just a short distance from us in Ferguson, from gunshot wounds from a police officer, other young men of color have died and will die in similar circumstances, in communities all across this country.” “It happened here but it could have happened—and does happen—anywhere in America. Because the reality is we still have racism in America.”

“Now, some people might ask me why our labor movement should be involved in all that has happened since the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And I want to answer that question directly. How can we not be involved?”

With this support, hundreds of trade unionists marched in Missouri, and 1000s marched around the country in contingents which had the support of union leadership.

Something else President Trumka said in St. Louis impacted on our Labor Committee, which had already been working for years under our chair, Mike Siviwe Elliott, to involve organized labor in the fight against racist policing, and particularly in support of community control of the police through our campaign for an all elected, civilian police accountability council (CPAC).

Trumka included this sentence: “A free society is policed by a civilian police force, democratically accountable to the community it protects.”

CAARPR has always characterized community control of the police as exactly that: the democratic right of oppressed people to determine who polices their communities and how they are policed.

Those remarks by President Trumka helped us get SEIU Local 73 to endorse the CPAC legislation in 2015. Local 73 was followed by the United Electrical, Machine and Radio Workers, AFSCME Local 2858, and later that year, the CTU. We continued to gather support, joined soon by SEIU HCII, SEIU Local 1, GEO, UNITE HERE Local 1, but also labor organizations including the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; the Black Caucus, Caucus of Rank and File Educators, and Human Rights Committee of CTU; Fight For $15, Jobs with Justice, Workers Center for Racial Justice, United Working Families, and Labor Against Racism and War.

This year, a great leap occurred in the support of organized labor for this democratic right, when the Black leaders of organized labor called on the Black Caucus of the Chicago City Council to help lead the fight for Empowering Communities for Public Safety. The trade unionists that issued that call included the leaders of SEIU HCII, SEIU Local 73, CTU, Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 241 and 308, American Postal Workers Union, and National Association of Letter Carriers. Joining them were labor organizations including the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

This strategic alliance between organized labor and Black liberation movement is the greatest tribute that the Chicago working class can make in tribute to the contribution made by President Trumka.

Richard Trumka, Rest in Power!

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