President Obama Says 'Made in America' Essential

September 2010

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President Barack Obama on Aug. 4 addressed the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Washington, D.C., where he emphasized his administration’s support for America’s working families.

 

SIU President Michael Sacco, a member of the council, was in attendance for President Obama’s address, which took place on the commander-in-chief’s birthday.

 

The president covered a wide range of subjects important to all workers, but he devoted a sizeable portion of the approximately half-hour speech to creating and keeping good jobs in the United States. He emphasized the need to enact and enforce pro-worker trade laws and to rebuild America’s manufacturing base.

 

“The message I want to deliver to our competitors – and to those in Washington who’ve tried to block our progress at every step of the way – is that we are going to rebuild this economy stronger than before, and at the heart of it are going to be three powerful words: Made in America,” Obama told the council.

 

After describing how the nation has lost millions of the manufacturing jobs which used to be “the ticket to a better life for the American worker,” the president noted the devastating effects of those losses – from the often-heartbreaking impact on individual families to the broader economic blow felt by the nation as a whole.

 

“But I’m here to tell you, we are not giving up and we are not giving in,” Obama continued. “We are going to keep fighting for an economy that works for everybody, not just for a privileged few. We want an economy that rewards, once again, people who work hard and fulfill their responsibilities, not just people who game the system. And that’s been at the heart of the economic plan that we put in place over the past year and a half.”

 

He then thanked the federation “for all you’ve done to fight for jobs, to fight for tax cuts for the middle class, to fight for reforms that will rein in the special interests, and to fight for policies that aren’t just going to rebuild this economy but are actually going to put us on a long-term path of sustainable growth that is good for all Americans.”

 

The president cited a number of pro-worker measures enacted by his administration, including Wall Street reform, the Fair Pay Act, health care reform, and the reversal of several executive orders that had harmed workers. He also vowed, “We are going to keep on fighting to pass the Employee Free Choice Act” (a law designed to help restore fairness in union representation elections by protecting workers’ rights).

 

After concluding his formal remarks, Obama answered a question posed by AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, who asked, “What advice do you have for workers as the election approaches, particularly for workers who are trying to organize to have a voice on the job?”

 

In part, Obama answered, “It is my profound belief that companies are stronger when their workers are getting paid well and have decent benefits and are treated with dignity and respect. It is my profound belief that our government works best when it’s not being run on behalf of special interests, but it’s being run on behalf of the public interest, and that the dedication of public servants reflects that. So FDR I think said – he was asked once what he thought about unions. He said, ‘If I was a worker in a factory and I wanted to improve my life, I would join a union.’ I think that’s true for workers generally. I think if I was a coal miner, I’d want a union representing me to make sure that I was safe and you did not have some of the tragedies that we’ve been seeing in the coal industry. If I was a teacher, I’d want a union to make sure that the teachers’ perspective was represented as we think about shaping an education system for our future.”

 

Pointing to Election Day 2010, Obama acknowledged the frustrations of many workers concerning the economy, but added, “They need to know that we’re going to be working with you to make sure that we’re putting ourselves in a position where folks are working and working for a good wage and good benefits…. This election is a choice. You’ve got these folks who drove America’s economy into a ditch, and for the last 20 months, we put on our boots and we got into the mud and we’ve been shoving that car out of the ditch inch by inch, and they’ve been standing on the side the whole time watching, telling us, no, you’re not pushing hard enough, you’re not doing it the right way – not lifting a finger to help. And now we’ve finally got that car up on the blacktop there, about to drive, and they say they want the keys back. Well, you can’t have the keys, because you don’t know how to drive.”

 

He concluded, “My bottom line is this: I’m going to continue to work with all of you on behalf of working families around the country, and I’m going to continue to reach out to businesses to try to make the argument that what’s good for workers is going to be good for business. They’re your customers as well as your workers…. But we’re not going to be able to do it when we’re pitted against each other. And I’m actually confident that once we get through some of the political posturing and shenanigans that we’ve been seeing over the last several years, people are going to step back and say, you know what, the lesson we needed to learn out of hardship is, we’re all in this thing together. We are all in this thing together. That’s what the union movement’s always been about. We’re stronger together than we are on our own. That is true within individual unions. That is true within industries. That is true for the country as a whole. And I hope that I will be your partner in trying to bring about that unity of purpose in the years to come.”


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