Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for the invitation, and I couldn’t be happier to be here in the City of Brotherly/Sisterly Love.
Almost a year ago, my boss, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, met with your late President Richard Trumka, to reaffirm the importance of labor rights to the Biden Administration. In what I’m told was true President Trumka fashion, he made many polite but firm asks, including ensuring that labor has a place at the table while the State Department carries out its global work – a request that Secretary Blinken embraced with gusto.
Today, you have welcomed me to your table, where I’m thrilled to have a seat, especially given the chance to speak alongside the first-ever woman president of America’s largest union federation. Even as I wish you all a heartfelt remembrance of Rich Trumka later tonight, I also feel the excitement about the path Liz Shuler is laying out for this storied organization.
President Shuler, congratulations again on your historic election. Thank you for your kind remarks and leadership. Thanks also to Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Solidarity Center, and the AFL-CIO for bringing us together. And most importantly, thank you to the workers joining us today. I admire the brave and necessary work you do. In fact, it is a family tradition, as I am the proud daughter-in-law of a lifelong union organizer, and my husband was a card-carrying member of Local 22 in Boston.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to tell you just how the Biden Administration has answered AFL-CIO’s call to ensure that labor always has a seat at the table.
In his first major foreign policy speech, Secretary Blinken outlined renewing democracy around the world as a core U.S. foreign policy principle. And not long after, President Biden delivered remarks to the ILO, emphasizing our pledge to always stand up for union rights, and to hold bad actors accountable. President Biden’s speech – only the third time in history that a U.S. President has addressed the ILO – also reaffirmed America’s commitment to multilateralism, including to building a global economic agenda that is rooted in the protection of workers’ rights.
More recently, on April 1, the Secretary joined Labor Secretary Walsh, as well as Commerce Secretary Raimondo, National Security Advisor Sullivan, Peter Robinson of the U.S. Council for International Business, and President Shuler, for the first meeting in eight years of the President’s Committee on the ILO. Beyond the important signal sent by reactivating this vital U.S. Government forum, the meeting also gave Cabinet members the opportunity to strategize with labor and business leaders about how to engage more effectively with the ILO, and how we can work together more broadly to advance labor rights.
To that end, I’d like to tell you today about three ways we are prioritizing labor rights in our foreign policy:
- First, by listening and learning from workers to inform our actions.
- Second, by taking actions that make a difference in workers’ lives.
- And third, by building alliances and coalitions around labor priorities.
First, we are elevating labor diplomacy. Last summer, Secretary Blinken told President Trumka he wanted us at the State Department to meet more often with labor, and again, on that promise, the Administration has delivered.
Secretary Blinken personally joined domestic labor leaders in Pittsburgh last September and has met with labor leaders during his global travels, as do America’s diplomats around the world, to hear directly from them about the challenges they face.
And when the President convened the Summit for Democracy last December, labor was an essential element. We enjoyed exchanging views with AFT President Weingarten ahead of the Summit for Democracy, and I was privileged to participate in a high-level meeting at the Summit on the vital role of worker organizations in democracies. That event built on four regional labor listening sessions that we held prior to the Summit with our colleagues at the Department of Labor and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and with many of our good friends here at the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center. Those were protected conversations, where we heard directly from workers showing bravery and courage in countries where their rights were ignored or threatened. In my 11 months in this role, I have visited with labor activists from Guatemala to Tunisia, and at home and abroad have engaged Malaysian, Uzbek, Emirati, and Thai officials, among others, to advocate against human trafficking and for labor rights.
Second, we recognize that listening alone is not enough – we know we must act to protect labor rights. President Biden, for instance, established the first-ever task force to support worker organizing and to empower workers here at home, and we want to bring this same commitment to our work abroad. So we have begun to develop a global labor rights strategy, that brings together departments and agencies from across the U.S. government to work as one. Ambassador Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative, is implementing the Administration’s new approach to global trade, which puts workers at the center.
Third, we work to grow coalitions. Good labor diplomacy is about not going it alone. Starting with his first foreign policy speech last year, Secretary Blinken has emphasized that the United States must work with others to elevate America’s priorities. On labor, that means not only working with and at the ILO, but more broadly.
The Summit for Democracy event that I mentioned earlier was led by Labor Secretary Walsh, and included labor ministers from Argentina, Germany, and Mexico. At the Summit, the United States also launched M-POWER – the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment, and Rights – which is a commitment by the Department of Labor, USAID, and the Department of State to invest more than $120 million over two years for innovative technical assistance to empower workers and strengthen worker agency. We are working intensively to make M-POWER an initiative that will bring together like-minded government, worker organizations, and labor stakeholders to strengthen free and independent trade unions, support labor reforms, and promote worker organizing. And we also are working with the G7 to elevate labor issues globally – and are grateful for Germany’s leadership as G7 President this year.
We’re also taking many of the good advances we have made on the U.S. side and finding ways to make them more international and multilateral. We regularly consult with other governments to encourage them to enact legislation similar to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which goes into force soon. We welcomed the meaningful bipartisan commitment in Congressional passage of the UFLPA, which President Biden signed into law last December. The Act establishes a rebuttable presumption that goods that were made wholly or in part in Xinjiang are done so with forced labor, and thus cannot be imported into the United States. By bringing others along with us, we can expand the impact of U.S. leadership to combat this scourge.
All in all, we’re working with a broad range of partners – governments, civil society, and the private sector – to pursue an ambitious set of goals when it comes to protecting labor rights.
In closing, let me say a few words about unions and democracy. The fact that unions are often the largest, most visible civil society group also makes them a target for non-democratic actors. They need our support for their courageous and necessary work. At the State Department, that support comes in the form of foreign assistance programs that advance fundamental labor rights for workers around the world. We are committed to the work we do with the AFL-CIO-allied Solidarity Center, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, and other labor program partners. Our efforts aim to combat labor exploitation; promote fair competition and inclusive economic growth; and hold governments accountable to the labor rights criteria of trade agreements and preference programs. Our programs support the most vulnerable among us – including women, migrants, and workers who experience high levels of violence and harassment.
We will continue to do this important work moving forward. As part of the Summit for Democracy, the State Department launched the Fund for Democratic Renewal with pooled funds from several bureaus under my direction. Our goal is to establish a flexible fund that prioritizes new approaches and risk-taking within the confines of our current appropriations. We’ll ensure that programs backed by that fund protect workers, too.
The Biden-Harris Administration has integrated labor rights in our endeavor to center our foreign policy on human rights and democratic values. The Summit for Democracy is revitalizing global efforts to advance human rights, counter authoritarianism, and combat corruption. Unions are uniquely equipped to meet all these challenges and we are so grateful for your collaboration, without which we could not continue to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. So, I thank you again for having me here today and I welcome your solidarity and energy in catalyzing ideas into actions and a better present and future for workers moving forward.