Bruce Popper’s Remarks at Rally for Women’s Equality Agenda

Remarks of Bruce Popper, Executive Vice-president,
Rochester and Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
Rally for Women’s Equality Agenda
Susan B. Anthony Square
Rochester, NY
June 17, 2013

We stand here today on hallowed ground for reformers and progressives; ground once walked by Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. As Susan B. Anthony famously remarked, “Failure is impossible.” But victory can sure take a long time. The history of reform and the fight for true equality has been punctuated by moments of opportunity and moments of regression.

The proposal to enact the Women’s Equality Agenda in New York State is an opportunity that we must not fail to seize.

The Federal Equal Pay Act was passed into law 50 years ago, yet it’s promise has never been fulfilled. Roe v. Wade was decided 40 years ago, yet a woman’s right to control her own body is still under attack. The Family Medical Leave Act was signed 20 years ago. It’s minimal protections were the best we could in the Clinton era. Making the workplace more family and woman friendly still has a long way to go.

So, the demand for laws to end family status discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and sexual harassment at work are something whose time is long overdue. The demand for a law to achieve pay equity is long overdue. The fact that we are even talking about the need to address human trafficking should be a crime, and that’s exactly what we are trying to make it, by prosecuting the villains and protecting the victims. It’s time to end the epidemic of violence against women – whether at home, in the workplace, or in the community.

The Women’s Equality Agenda addresses all these issues. It brings them together into a single package. It is a comprehensive, not a piecemeal, approach. It should be seen that way. Because it is comprehensive, it has brought together a broad coalition of supporters. Over 800 local and statewide organizations have endorsed the Agenda. They are labor unions, civil liberties, civil rights, feminist, pro-choice, peace, and justice organizations.

The key to our success is indeed found in the breadth and depth of this coalition. It is vital that we see ourselves as united for this cause, and others to come.

In the trade union movement, we have a saying that ‘when one group’s rights are weakened, all others’ rights are threatened.’ Whether that be rights at work, rights in the community, rights at home, or rights of self determination, the inequities cited in the agenda, threaten us all.

Frederick Douglass once said: “Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.”

Our struggle is just. Our struggle is right. The opportunity is before us. We must not fail.

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