One of the top labor leaders in the U.S. has accused House Speaker John Boehner of “blackmailing”America for his refusal to vote to lift the debt ceiling in the absence of significant spending cuts.

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said: 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.”

GOP leaders have balked at raising the debt ceiling without budget cuts, while many Democrats and Trumka say the government will not be able to borrow more money unless the debt limit is raised.

In response to Trumka’s charge, Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, said: The American people simply won't tolerate another blank check for more Washington spending. Raising the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms would be more irresponsible than not raising it.

In his speech, Trumka also bemoaned the state of the nation’s union movement, citing the attack on labor in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. He compared the battles over state workers’ collective bargaining rights to the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

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 said the unions will punish politicians, including Democrats, who don’t support workers rights.

If [political] 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.