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Union leader accuses Supreme Court of waging 'war on democracy'

This post has been corrected. See below for details.

September 09, 2013|By Kate Linthicum

In a fiery speech Monday, the leader of the nation's largest labor federation took aim at top American corporations and the U.S. Supreme Court, which he accused of waging a "war on democracy."

Speaking to thousands of union members at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles, President Richard Trumka denounced the "powerful forces in America today who want our country to be run by and for the rich."

He singled out Wal-Mart and McDonald's, saying "their whole business model is about keeping the people who work for them poor," as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whom he called an "apostle of greed" for his efforts to limit collective bargaining by public employee unions.

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Trumka's scorching remarks came on the second day of a convention that he has sought to portray as a crucial turning point for a shrinking labor movement that has seen membership fall to just 11% of American workers, down from 35% in the 1950s.

Insisting that the union "has got to change" and broaden its base, Trumka has pushed new rules that would extend membership to workers who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and to allow the union to form alliances with progressive groups including the NAACP and the Sierra Club. Those changes were approved Monday.

Trumka said it is necessary for like-minded groups to come together in the face of growing corporate influence in politics. He denounced the Supreme Court, which in 2010 handed down a decision scorned by the left that allowed unlimited political spending by corporations.

His criticism come on the heels of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's similar attacks on the nation's top judicial body. Speaking to the convention Sunday, Warren accused the court of siding too often with corporate interests, and warned that it is on a path to becoming "a wholly owned subsidiary of big business."

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The convention is to continue through Wednesday, including workshops on organizing techniques used by unions in other countries and a speech from Tom Perez, who was sworn in as Labor secretary on July 23.

President Obama was scheduled to speak live at the convention on Monday but canceled amid growing debate over possible U.S. military intervention in Syria. Remarks from the president on video will be shown instead.

[For the record, 4:45 p.m. Sept. 9: A previous version of this post incorrectly said Perez was sworn in Sept. 4. That was a ceremonial swearing-in.]


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Twitter: @katelinthicum

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