A Voice for Workers
Tefere Gebre, the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and the Alice B. Grant Labor Leader in Residence at Cornell, was the Union Days keynote speaker on Wednesday.
His talk in Ives Hall was the finale of Union Days events, sponsored by The Worker Institute.
Gebre opened his talk by saying, “I don’t do keynote speeches … I am organizer. I am good on the streets.”
His labor movement journey started after he left Ethiopia as a teen-aged political refugee and immigrated to the United States.
Gebre attended Cal Poly Pomona on a track and field scholarship while holding a union job as a night shift loader at UPS.
“I was a loader. It was the hardest job that I ever did… Then, I was working during my break and this guy came to me and said I couldn’t do that,” he said. “Someone is telling me that I had work rules and that was how I got into the labor movement.”
After his experience with unionization at that job, he became a labor organizer in Orange County, California.
During the keynote speech, Gebre touched on the current climate surrounding the U.S. working class. Workers need higher wages and better working conditions, he said.
“Trying to find a way to provide a voice for anyone that gets up in the morning and goes to work. That is my calling,” he said. “Our agenda this year is raising wages. It’s simple … Americans need a raise across the board.”
Gebre spoke about how the United States could see drastic change in the future. “It’s still possible in this country to have change … When we come together and work together, we are mightier than might.”
“No Supreme Court, no corporation, can stop us from building what we want to build.”