Less than a week ahead of a critical address before a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned defense of the labor movement and the benefits of union organizing to a fired up audience of Detroit workers.
Obama spoke at a Labor Day event in a GM plant parking lot in Detroit, Michigan, where he said there are roads and bridges across the country that need rebuilding and private companies with the equipment and the manpower to do the work.
The speech marked Labour Day, the traditional start of the formal 14-month presidential campaign. It was repeatedly interrupted by chants of “four more years”, which brought a broad grin from Mr Obama.
“We’ve got more than one million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now,” Obama said. “There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it. Labor is on board. Business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board. Let’s put America back to work.”
Last week’s jobs report showed that employers added no jobs in August, the first time since 1945 that the government reported a net job change of zero.
The disappointing report triggered fresh fears of a second recession and injected fresh urgency into efforts by Mr Obama to improve his faltering re-election prospects. Approval of his handling of the economy hit a new low of 26 per cent in a recent Gallup survey.
Obama’s speech before the workers in Detroit did not include the words debt or deficit, nor did it include admonitions that people ought to “eat their peas.”
Instead, the president stood up for the besieged labor, quoting Harry Truman from a Labor Day speech 63 years earlier, which said, “the gains of labor were not accomplished at the expense of the rest of the nation. Labor’s gains contributed to the nation’s general prosperity.”
“Now, let me say a word about labor in particular,” Obama said. “I know it’s not easy when there’s some folks who have their sights trained on you. After all that unions have done to build and protect the middle class, you’ve got people trying to claim that you’re responsible for the problems middle-class folks are facing. You’ve got Republicans saying you’re the ones exploiting working families. Imagine that.”
In order to put America back to work Obama said this Thursday he will propose ways that both Democrats and Republicans can agree to. “I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems,” Obama said. “And given the urgency of this moment, given the hardship that many people are facing, folks have got to get together.”
“Now, the fact is, our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits,” Obama continued. “Our economy is stronger when we’ve got broad-based growth and broad-based prosperity. That’s what unions have always been about — shared prosperity.”
Obama said that on Thursday he’d challenge Congress to put a million construction workers back on the job. “We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding. We’ve got private companies with the equipment and the manpower to do the building.”
“We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now. There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it. Labor is on board. Business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board,” Obama said.
“We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party,” he said. “We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Do you want to help our companies succeed?”
“Open up new markets for them to sell their products. You want — you say you’re the party of tax cuts? Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you got.”
On Wednesday, Republicans vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Mr Obama will gather for a debate in Simi Valley, California. They will include Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who has rocketed to the top of the polls since his late entry into the fray last month.
Mr Obama won Michigan, a swing state, in the 2008 presidential election and it could be crucial to his re-election. The state unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July while the Detroit-area rate was at 14.1 per cent. [via Huff Post, The Telegraph, Reuters and International Business Times]