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AFL-CIO chief amplifies warning to Democrats

The Hill, 6/7/11

By Kevin Bogardus
06/07/11

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka amplified his call for a politically independent labor movement Tuesday and said unions too often are holding "a canceled check" after Election Day.

Trumka rallied hundreds of nurses at a conference hosted by the National Nurses Union. The nurses are in Washington this week to lobby lawmakers for a financial transactions tax that could help pay for social services.

Trumka said unions want “an independent labor movement” that doesn’t support just one political party or candidate. Labor has often been unhappy with its traditional allies in the Democratic Party, and Trumka said friends of unions in Congress have often paid little heed to workers’ needs.

“For too long, we have been left after Election Day holding a canceled check waving it about — ‘Remember us? Remember us? Remember us?’ — asking someone to pay a little attention to us. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a snootful of that s--t,” Trumka said to cheers.

The head of the nation’s largest labor federation said unions must be dedicated to helping workers, not politicians.

“See, our goal is not to help candidates or parties. Our goal is to improve the lives of working people and strengthen our country, and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” Trumka said.

Trumka also repeated his metaphor of “the wrecking ball” when warning Democrats, which he used last month during a speech at the National Press Club that distanced labor from the party.

“I have a message for some of our friends. See, it doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside when it happens. The outcome is the same for us either way. If leaders are not blocking the wrecking ball and advancing the interests of working families across the country, working people will not support them,” Trumka said.

National Nurses United members from 31 different states are in Washington to gather support for their “Main Street Contract for the American People,” a nine-point plan that would tax financial transactions to help pay for a number of improved services, including a single-payer healthcare system.

Hundreds of nurses from the AFL-CIO affiliate protested outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. They also went to a rally on Capitol Hill to garner more support for legislation they favor, including a bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would ensure that minimum nurse-to-patient ratios are met.

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