AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka criticizes ‘overreaching’ Republican ‘tools’

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka didn’t pull any punches Thursday as he continued attacks against Republicans involved in the “Wisconsin Moment.”

The President of one of the country’s most powerful unions hailed the “Midwest Uprising” as just the beginning of a battle between labor and corporate-backed Republican “tools.” It’s a battle that has been 25 years in the making, he said.

Events are developing rapidly in the Wisconsin fight over collective bargaining rights, as Wisconsin state Democrats and their supporters push back against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill. Last Wednesday night, after weeks of protests and calls for recall elections, the Republican-led Senate passed an alternative bill. And today, the 14 Democrats who fled to Illinois in order to stop a quorum vote on the original bill have indicated that they will return to Madison in the very near future.

“After the events of last night, I should say this is an absolute corruption of democracy,” said Trumka, who was the keynote speaker at liberal summit in Washington, D.C. “Last night, Scott Walker and his Republican tools in Wisconsin showed just how far they’re willing to go to pay back their corporate sponsors.”

The day-long Summit on Jobs & America’s Future featured several panels with high-profile names, such as former White House adviser Van Jones.

Trumka began his keynote address with a rousing castigation of the Wisconsin Republican lawmakers and mockingly thanked Walker for exciting and mobilizing union advocates, who have come from across the nation to rally against the collective-bargaining debate.

‘[For their corporate masters, Republicans] have destroyed the rights of nurses, teacher, snow plow drivers, EMTs. Done,” said Trumka. “Blow up the constitution and … take away those rights? Not a problem. Absolutely.”

Trumka said Walker’s “overreaching” brought national attention to the struggling labor movement suffering along with a weak job market.

“This is a debate we’ve been wanting to have for 20-25 years and guess what, suddenly, the debate came to us,” said Trumka. “And here’s the beautiful part of it: We’re winning that debate.”

As the events in Wisconsin continue to unfold, one significant poll indicates that Wisconsin residents may be more unhappy with Walker than the Democrats who have abscond to Illinois.

With all eyes on Wisconsin, Trumka said it was time to strike while the iron’s hot.

“As progressives … it’s our job to transform the outrage, and to make this moment, a movement,” said Trumka, who also spoke of his recent visit to Madison. At the state capitol, he saw the crowd swell with rally fever spreading to nearby states and beyond.

“Now, this wasn’t one single union calling on members to turn out …. it wasn’t the AFL- CIO making the call for several unions to turn out. It wasn’t the Democratic party or the Obama organization,” said Trumka. “This was truly a bottom-up, grassroots movement with its own momentum.”

While the locals may be leaning toward cutting spending so long as it doesn’t infringe on their entitlements, that doesn’t mean Republican-hating Wisconsinites haven’t received a lot of outside help.

Groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Howard Dean’s Democracy for America have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for ads decrying the budget bill. National groups are also helping to organize efforts against Republican senators who are particularly vulnerable to recalls. Meanwhile, the liberal MoveOn.org is helped raise thousands of dollar to help support the 14 Democrats in Illinois.

Still, Trumka called the “Midwest Uprising” a “truly spontaneous outcry our disastrous winner-take-all political culture.”

At the end of his talk, Trumka took a few questions from the audience. One woman asked Trumka for his thoughts on President Obama’s handling of the labor protests. Trumka asked who she was with.

“I’m with Fox News.”

“That’s a surprise,” said Trumka. “You know, I knew she was from Fox because they never care about the dispute, they want to create a dispute between us.”

After Trumka’s initial response, his own comments were suddenly prescient. A “true spontaneous outcry” burst through the large ballroom. Except it was loud, shrieking laughter. It was followed by spontaneous clapping after another remark about the middle-class destroying Walker.

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This story has been updated. Mr. Trumka is in no way related to Donald Trump’s cousin “Richard Trumpke”