AFL-CIO: House speaker 'blackmailing' America

@CNNMoney May 20, 2011: 4:18 PM ET

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka lashes out at House Speaker John Boehner's position on raising the debt ceiling in a Washington speech Friday.

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka accused House Speaker John Boehner of blackmailing America for withholding his vote to raise the debt ceiling unless there are drastic spending cuts.

"Now we see Speaker Boehner and his colleagues engaged in a new round of blackmail with a ransom note that reads: 'Cut Medicare, dismantle the government, destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs to fund more tax cuts for the rich, or we will cause the United States to default on its debts'," Trumka said in a speech at the National Press Club on Friday.

Trumka is among those who wants Congress to raise the debt ceiling and give the United States more ability to borrow more without tying such a move to the budget. Republicans have insisted that raising the debt ceiling be linked to budget cuts.

Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, responded to Trumka's comments by saying that Americans are the ones demanding spending cuts along with raising the debt ceiling.

"The American people simply won't tolerate another blank check for more Washington spending," Steel said. "Raising the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms would be more irresponsible than not raising it."

In a wide-ranging speech, Trumka focused on the imperiled state of the labor movement, calling it workers' "great struggle."

He compared the new onslaught against workers' rights being waged in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio to battles over public employees rights to organize during the 1960s civil rights movement. He decried Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attack on public employees' collective bargaining and organizing rights.

Risk default? 'You've got to be kidding' - Geithner

"Working people remember that these rights were not easily won," Trumka said. "The pivotal 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike began with two men crushed to death in a garbage truck, and ended with Martin Luther King giving his life for the cause of public workers' right to organize together."

Trumka also threatened to divert resources from causes and candidates, including Democrats, who don't support workers. He talked about the need for a more independent labor movement.

"If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families' interests, working people will not support them," Trumka said. "This is where our focus will be -- now, in 2012 and beyond."

Later, Trumka said that President Obama was working for workers and that the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor group, would continue to support the president.

Nevertheless, Obama has made some mistakes, such as talking about the deficit during the debate over stimulus and job growth. Trumka also thinks the president is making a big "strategic blunder," in moving forward with a free trade agreement with Colombia, while labor leaders are attacked in that country. To top of page

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