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Our crises demand bold action now

America is suffering under the crushing weight of three crises, which are a public health pandemic, an economic free fall, and structural racism. They are knotted together in that untangling one depends on how we untangle the others. For instance, structural racism is deeply ingrained in the share of black workers unemployed and dying from the coronavirus.

Today, thousands of working people across the country will join together in a national day of action called the Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice. They will demand that the Senate pass the Heroes Act and that Congress take actions to address structural racism. The Heroes Act is grounded in five economic essentials that are desperately needed to keep working people safe and financially secure. This would save lives through a federal infectious disease standard for employers.

The Heroes Act includes money for state and local governments and the Postal Service. This is meant to preserve public schools and services and to support the teachers and first responders who serve our communities. It would extend unemployment benefits which tens of millions of laid off workers are relying on and let them retain their health care. It would also protect earned pensions and help keep workers on payrolls.

The Heroes Act by itself is not sufficient to address systemic racism. The killings of George Floyd and other unarmed black people, whether from the knee of a police officer or the bullet of a neighbor, have forced us to confront racial injustices yet again. To start with, the labor movement is calling on Congress to adopt basic police reforms recommended by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, including an end to chokeholds as well as the demilitarization of law enforcement.

Indeed, racism damages the lives of all working people by dividing us, weakening us, and poisoning us with debilitating hate. The list of union members of color and our families who have been the victims of police violence is too long to list here. The time for action is today, and we are hopeful the House will pass these long overdue police reforms.

But this will only matter if President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell do their part to turn the Heroes Act and police reforms into law, which is exactly what workers are demanding across the country now. McConnell must not seriously believe it is a winning scientific, economic, or political strategy to tell us the solution to these crises is to do nothing.

House members deserve broad praise for passing this bold opening salvo that reflects the critical needs of working people, but their job is not done either. Today they must stand up and fight for every last worker and every last protection. They are locked in the most important negotiation of their lives and are about to begin debating necessary police reforms. Waves of working people will be standing by their side to get this done.

We all know someone who is sick or suffering. Many have lost a friend, a colleague, or loved one. We cannot expect a healthy economy until the workers who run it are healthy. Nor can we restore our collective health until we can diminish such racism baked into our communities.

Our choice is not picking healthy people or a healthy economy or justice. The choice is simply all or none. We have to choose all. That is why today and every day that follows, working people will mobilize like never before to make the Heroes Act the law of the land and enact the police reforms that bring us toward ridding our institutions of systemic racism. 

Richard Trumka serves as president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. He is online @RichardTrumka.

Tags Coronavirus Culture Finance Government Health Police President Racism

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