09/13/2006 07:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Korean/U. S. Free Trade Agreement

This speech was delivered on Sept 6 in downtown Seattle at a protest of the Korean-U.S. free trade agreement negotiations. It is significant in part because there were 75 union activists from South Korea in the demonstration with speakers from the Korean labor movement and farmers' organization. In July we sent organizers and activists to Seoul for a similar demonstration. It represents a more intentional working together across national boundaries. We have great respect for the Korean labor movement, which i hope was reflected in the text. We also realize that we have to move globally on restoring the right to organize.

Thanks so much for your welcome! This is a great day
in Seattle! First, I want to thank our brothers and
sisters from Korea. Thank you for your solidarity.
When we joined you in Seoul, we watched how you stood
up 4,000 police and we admire your militancy. We want
to learn more from your militancy, solidarity, and
your deepest held trade-union values. We stand with
you against a Korean-U.S. trade deal that does not
protect the environment or workers' rights.

Today, we signal with our presence and words to
transnational capital, and to the governments that
they control, that our fight is on! We signal to the
elites who have crushed human rights, who have
destroyed any effective right of workers to organize
unions around the world. To the elites, their
corporations and their governments, who have used
rotten trade deals to lower our standard of living,
steal our benefits, and mortgage the future of future
generations - we're fighting back and we're fighting
back together.

Today, we begin the sometimes difficult, but
absolutely critical, work of reaching around the world
to workers- their unions, federations, and allied
organizations, to build a movement to reassert
workers' rights. To fight trade deals that protect
the rights of the wealthy and that protect
intellectual property rights but ignore the rights of
men and women to make a living. These are the same
deals that don't protect the freedom to form a union,
or protect children from predatory employers, and that
value the obscene wealth of a few - over the dignity
of humankind.

They have waged class war on us. It is time for our
class to fight back. It's time for us to reach out to
one another to fight for the right to organize, to
fight corporations that would fight us, to demand that
trade agreements protect workers and workers' rights,
children, our environment, and our quality of life,
and to fight for human dignity.

The bosses have too long divided us. They divided us
by political ideology, racism, xenophobia, militarism
and fear! It is time to break down every thing that
divides workers from one another. Now is the time to
knock down every wall and every barrier that the
bosses have erected to divide us. It is time to begin
the hard work to create a foundation of a movement to
build workers' power, to create real workers' rights,
to reap the just rewards of our labor, to secure our
children's futures, to contribute our part to the
ultimate struggle of our species, and to advance human

Let us be clear - corporate fueled free-trade without
workers' rights or environmental protections, the
destruction of our right to organize and bargain
collectively, and growing privatization, are all part
of the corporate agenda to steal the fruit of our
labor. This is why wages in the U. S. have been flat
for 25 years, why we suffer a retirement and
healthcare crisis, why we have a minimum wage set at
rock bottom level, and why we see increasing poverty.
We have to fight them all and we have to fight them

We know we have to grow our labor movement and rebuild
union density to regain bargaining power. We know we
have to restore the right to organize and bargain
collectively. We need to do that in the context of a
global struggle instead of one country at a time.

What do we want? We only want what is just and fair!

• We want the right to organize and to compete with
capital collectively.

• We want to build worker power.

• We want access to quality healthcare.

• We want to reap the just rewards of our labor, to
have a voice at work, and a say in the quality of our

• We want to leave our kids a better quality of life
than what was to left us.

• We want to leave our children a cleaner environment
and a safer world.

• We want enlivened democracy.

• We want to honor the memory of every trade unionist
shot down, clubbed, beaten, fired, or abused while
fighting for justice and a just workplace.

• We want to end the occupation of Iraq

• We want to take our place in the ages - the old
struggle for human dignity that our Holy Scriptures
and Ancient Wisdom teach us is our responsibility!

Today we say we will fight nonviolently for what is
just, noble, and good. Some would suggest a more
accommodating approach- that we need to partner more
with multinational corporations. Some would say we
should accept the terms of neoliberalism. We in the
AFL-CIO firmly and emphatically reject that! Workers
need more power and corporations need less. While
still in the dawn of a new century, workers,
environmentalists, students, people of faith, human
rights activists, peace activists, and all who
struggle to be heard need a new global strategy.

Together, we will develop and unfold that strategy.
You will see part of it when trade unionists and
people of conscience join thousands of immigrant
workers in the streets of America to demand a just and
fair immigration policy! We believe any person that
comes across any border to find food for their family
and that work to secure it is not illegal!

You see that global strategy developing in South
Korea, and the Zocalo of Mexico City. We see that
strategy developing in Chile and in Brazil - and
everywhere that workers struggle for democracy and
justice in their workplaces and their governments.
You'll see it as we develop a strategy with our
brothers and sisters in Columbia to stop the slaughter
of trade union brothers and sisters in that country.
You'll see it on December 8 and 9 when the AFL-CIO
holds an Organizing Summit in Washington, D.C. to make
these words real. You'll see elements of this new
strategy on December 10, International Human Rights
Day, when we go to Columbia to say we cannot secure
the rights of workers in the U. S. until we've secured
the rights and lives of workers in Columbia.

My brothers and sisters, we have much to do! But we
cannot ignore our domestic work! That is why we must
work as hard as possible over these next two months to
end this right wing Republican domination of our
government. The radical right wing does not reflect
our values. We will say that resoundingly on Election

My brothers and sisters, we have much to do! This is
not the first time we have had to fight and the odds
seemed great. The odds were against Tom Paine in
1776. The odds were against Frederick Douglass in
1835. The odds were against Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The odds were against A. Philip Randolph and Eugene V.
Debs in 1921. The odds were against W. E. B. DuBois.
The odds were against Walter Reuther and John L. Lewis
in 1955. The odds were against E. D. Nixon and Rosa
Parks and Dr. King in Montgomery. The odds were
against Cesar Chavez. They taught us that if we
struggled we would win. So we will struggle! We will
struggle because we refuse to be the first generation
in the history of American to leave our children and
our grandchildren a lower standard of living that was
left to us.

So, brothers and sisters, we have much to do, but the
fight is on!