You are here

Statement By Anna Burger, Chair Of Change To Win, on the Change To Win Founding Convention

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

September 27, 2005

Good morning. Brothers and Sisters, I am honored to be here as the chair of this historic founding convention.

Today, seven unions representing 6 million members stand together and commit to each other,

and to the unorganized American workers, that we will rebirth the union movement.

I grew up in the 1950's in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in a working class family, believing in the American Dream. My mom was a nurse, working the 3 to 11 shift at a nursing home and when I was 9 my dad, a truck driver, was permanently disabled in a terrible accident.

Mom's enormous strength and Dad's social security and Medicare allowed my sisters, brother and me to live decently and to go to college, without being buried by debt.

After I got my first union job and went on my first strike my Dad gave me some good advice. He said, "Anna, whatever you do, stick to the union, it's what makes a difference for working people like us." And that was the one thing that my dad told me that I listened to... so Dad, you were right, and I'm still sticking to the union.

Unions are a gift. They allow ordinary working class Americans like me to join my strength with the strength of a truck driver, a hotel porter, a retail worker, a nursing home worker, a carpenter... all of us here today.

The fact is, that each of us by ourselves are just ordinary people, but together, when we unite our strength, together all of the ordinary people in this room can do the most extraordinary thing.

We will change the lives of American workers.

When I was growing up, one in three workers was in a union, and a union job raised up whole families, whole communities, whole generations.

Every generation of Americans has met their biggest challenges with greatness. We didn't just settle the West, we built a railroad across it; we didn't just feed people during the Great Depression, we created Social Security; we didn't settle for the Civil Rights Act, we passed the Voting Rights Act the very next year.

And each generation in America had one common legacy. They passed on to their children a better life than their own. We call that legacy the American Dream. And, when you had a union job it meant you were on the road to the American Dream. But that dream is flickering. Working in America is very different today from when I got my first job.

America's greatness was that everyone who worked hard and played by the rules had a chance to own a home, raise a family, send their kid to college, and retire with dignity.

But the rules today stink. They are stacked against American workers.

The truth is we do work hard. We're driving trucks, and serving food, cleaning hotels, picking apples, building houses, pouring concrete, and stocking shelves. And American workers do play by the rules. But the rules no longer work. Wages are down, work hours are up. The gap between the rich and the rest of America is staggering and growing.

Health care costs are exploding. Pensions are wiped out. Job security is a thing of the past. Part-time employment is on the rise. Giant corporations that salute no flag but their own corporate logo, and worship no god, but the almighty dollar, roam the globe in search of the lowest wages.

The result is families now face the impossible challenge of getting their children to school in between their two or three jobs. Choosing between bus fare and breakfast, health care or housing, in between taking care of their mother or their father or their children.

Sisters and brothers this is not the American Dream.

It is an American Nightmare.

Today we are here to answer the call, to rekindle the American dream, to once again have work valued and rewarded in our country.

The answer is one, simple word...

Union.

That's right.

Union.

Unions are the antidote for what ails us. They create the best jobs, provide health and safety, ensure affirmative action, fight poverty, and offer pensions, health care, and training.

Unions are an all-in-one program -- the best that America ever had -- and it didn't cost the government a dime. Union power puts bread on our tables, roofs over our heads. It sends our children to college, and union power helps us retire with security.

But tragically today, 9 out of every 10 American workers are not in a union. We are growing smaller and our voices weaker. It is those 9 out of 10 workers without a union that brought us together last summer, and to whom we dedicate this convention today. We must unite those workers and give them voice. And I pledge, if we do our job, those workers will join with us and our voices will grow stronger with hope and opportunity. And there is only one way to do that.

Organize.

Strategic, smart organizing is our core principle -- our North Star -- uniting workers by industry, not one shop at a time, but whole companies all the time. Wholesale, not retail.

We will put our money where our mouth is -- three-quarters of our resources to a groundbreaking organizing crusade.

This federation will aggressively champion democracy and diversity. Workers of color, women and immigrants are not just members to organize but decision-making leaders at every level of our movement.

And the exciting news is we have already started to walk the talk. In the wake of one of the most horrific disasters, Hurricane Katrina, the working poor were left to fend for themselves.

They struggled and many died as the flood waters rose because they couldn't afford the gas or bus fare to get out of town. Unacceptable. Un-American.

So we put our heads together. We decided to act together in partnership with our communities and transform the region, not just patch it up.

Our unions have proposed to create from the ground up the greatest worker training program in American history, in scope, in spirit, and in ambition. The hope we will bring to victims of Katrina is the hope we intend to spreadeverywhere in America.

Today we come together, having traveled here on separate roads with our separate proud histories, and our own union's colors, but we are all going in the same direction now. We are on the way to rekindle the American dream. I believe we can build an America where again hard work is valued and rewarded. I believe we can create an America where health care is a right not a privilege and retirement in dignity is guaranteed. And I believe we can create an America that values our children and provides an education for them to share in the prosperity of the future. So that my daughter Erin, your daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, and our grandchildren will live out their dream.

Sisters and brothers, when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, I never thought that one day I'd be the Secretary-Treasurer of the biggest union in the nation or the founding chair of an historic new labor federation with the opportunity to help millions of working families gain a voice.

Eight years ago I lost both my mom and dad. At the bottom of a box that held their most important documents, love letters and their prized and special items, I found a little black book. It was my dad's Teamsters book. He put it there, with his most valuable possessions, because being a union member meant so much to him and his generation. It means that to ours. It must mean even more in this century.

May the history books record that on the 27th day of September, 2005, in St. Louis, 800 delegates gathered and chose to change not just their unions, but their country.

This is our generation's moment for greatness. It is our calling, our duty and our opportunity.

Working men and women everywhere are counting on us.

Let's give them back the American Dream, and let's do it now.

Sign Up For Updates

Good Jobs Now!

The great American middle class wasn’t something that just happened – it was built brick by brick. It was built by soldiers returning from war and a government that repaid them by giving them a shot at college.