And they're starting in Ohio, the center of recent political battles and heart of the tough questions the nation faces about our economic future.
Today, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker held an energetic rally in Cleveland before fanning out across the state to hear from workers and fire up the union movement for the battles ahead.
Speaking at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Trumka said America's workers can and must take the lead in turning around the economic crisis that has hit the nation and particularly Ohio. All of us need to hold corporations accountable, not go back to an economy that's rigged against workers, Trumka said:
The labor movement will do everything in its power to help create good jobs....That's our most important goal. But when you buy into a community, you become part of the family. You have an obligation. Too many corporations today want to walk away from their communities, even companies that were nurtured right here in these same communities.
We need an economic system in this country that rewards work as well as it rewards investment. We need an economic system that gives everybody a fair opportunity to work hard and succeed.
Trumka said the union movement stands firmly behind health care reform that includes a public option and the Employee Free Choice Act. These policies are critical to rebuilding an economy that works for all.
Shuler visited both Akron and Columbus this afternoon, while Holt Baker held a roundtable to listen to union members in Dayton. She spoke to the concerns of younger workers, who are rightly concerned to be entering an economy that doesn't seem to offer any hope of a better life. Said Shuler:
For young people today, the question, "What are you going to do with your life?" is daunting enough, but this economy makes it even more difficult to answer.
You worked hard to get through school, and now you can't find a job. Or you were laid off from your job and haven't been able to find a new one. There's no training available. You can't afford health care, so you don't go to the doctor when you need to. It may be your story, or your friend's story, or a friend of a friend's story. But it's time for that story to change.
Shuler argued that not only do we need new investments in green jobs to turn this around, young people also need the freedom to join a union:
"Some young people might think of labor unions as part of your grandparent's generation. But we are for all ages, and for all workers—full time, part-time, freelancers, professionals and skilled labor jobs alike.
At the end of the day, we all want the same things. We want a piece of the American dream. The labor movement has been the key to the middle class for 60 years, and it still offers the hand you need to succeed."
A report released this month by the AFL-CIO and Working America shows a stunning deterioration in the economic lives of young workers—those under age 35. According to the report, Young Workers: A Lost Decade, one-third of young workers cannot pay the bills and seven in 10 do not have enough money saved to cover two months of living expenses.
Our new leadership team is making outreach to young workers a focus of their efforts, and their actions already show they are ready to go, ready to fight for jobs, for health care reform and for a fairer, more prosperous future for everyone.
(Cross-posted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog.)