At a time when workers are having a resurgence, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a Labor Day address in Boston on Monday, connecting the fight for a fair workplace to the broader battles for human rights across the country.
“In Congress and state houses across our nation, extremist so-called leaders are fighting to turn back the clock to a time before workers had the freedom to organize,” Harris said. “To a time before women had the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies. To a time before all Americans had the freedom to vote.”
Harris delivered the crowd-pleasing speech at the Greater Boston Labor Council’s annual Labor Day breakfast, as she visited the city to tout the Biden administration’s support for workers and join in a roundtable discussion with local labor leaders.
“President Joe Biden and I are determined to lead the most pro-union administration in America’s history,” Harris told the crowd of about 1,000 who packed the ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown Boston.
Harris, who leads the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, cited the Biden administration’s accomplishments in job creation, reducing child poverty, and expanding the Child Tax Credit.
In her 20-minute speech, she also spoke about the importance of teachers, firefighters, health care workers, and others who provide services essential to society, around the country and here in Boston.
“We need the hardworking members of Boston’s building trades to build new bus lanes and sidewalks in Roxbury,” she said.
The vice president said her parents met while demonstrating in support of civil rights, and they taught her the value of collective action to bring about change.
“From the earliest stages of my life, I learned that when people stand together in solidarity shoulder to shoulder, whether at a protest or at a picket line, it makes a difference. And it is powerful,” Harris said.
Unions, Harris said, protect not just their members but all workers.
“Today on picket lines, in union halls, and on job sites, in hospitals, schools, and grocery stores union workers fight for better wages and safer working conditions,” she said. “Our whole nation, whether they are a member of a union or not, benefits from your work. Because when union wages go up, everybody’s wages go up. When union workplaces are safer, all workplaces are safer. … When unions are strong, America is strong.”
Throughout the breakfast, labor leaders and elected officials spoke about Boston’s history as a center of the labor movement, the recent resurgence of organized labor as new workplaces form or join unions, and about the contributions that working people make to society.
The vice president’s Labor Day trip to Boston marked a traditional rite of passage for Democrats to show solidarity with workers and unions. Then-president Barack Obama spoke at the Labor Day breakfast in 2015, giving a speech in which he lauded Massachusetts for leading the nation on worker-friendly measures.
Harris made her first trip to Massachusetts as vice president last month, when she hosted an abortion-rights event with Republican Governor Charlie Baker at a union headquarters in Boston. During that trip, the vice president also visited Martha’s Vineyard for party donor events.
President Biden is set to visit the city next Monday to tout the administration’s massive infrastructure bill.
After addressing the crowd Monday morning, Harris met with a small group of elected officials, labor leaders, and union members for a round-table discussion of workers’ concerns.
Workers have been winning elections at some of the country’s most well-known companies including Starbucks, Amazon, and Trader Joe’s.
“I think for a lot of us it’s very intimidating to organize a union in our workplace,” she said. “But whether you know it or not, if you’re a member of the working class, you’re ready and capable to organize. No one is more qualified to organize the workplace than you and your own co-workers. No one knows the struggles, the demands, and the needs of your community better than you, yourself.”
Harris told Clay she would like to learn from her which approaches were most effective in getting her co-workers interested in the union.
Political opponents saw Monday’s speech as an opportunity to attack Harris and Biden.
“With less than 65 days to the midterms, Biden, Harris, and Democrats have no message and a failed track record,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Rachel Lee said in a statement. “It’s no wonder why Kamala Harris headed to deep-blue Boston instead of a battleground state.”
In her speech, Harris struck back at those on the right whom she termed “extremists.”
“Today in America, so many working families are struggling to get by, but instead of standing with working people to lower the price of health care, education, child care, these extremist so-called leaders prioritize breaks for big corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent,” she said.
“But together, we are fighting back,” she added, and the crowd burst into applause.