Obama in Detroit: A fighting Labor Day speech

Those who have not had a chance to listen to President Obama’s Labor Day speech in Detroit yesterday should make it a priority to do so. It is a preview of Thursday night’s speech before a joint session of Congress on the jobs crisis.

In both tone and content this was a fighting speech.

President Obama is expected to outline a program for job creation through rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

If this type of concrete initiative aimed at creating jobs for those who are really suffering is realized, it has the potential to create the basis for united grassroots movements to develop.

A new upsurge of struggle involving millions of working- and middle-class folks potentially could develop that could not only make their lives better but take the political initiative away from the right.

It’s still the economy, and the president knows it.

A multiracial coalition of organized labor and civil rights groups along with millions of working families who are not in unions can be mobilized and activated in the streets, legislative halls and at the voting booth into a powerful force capable of countering the racism of the Republican, tea party Libertarian axis

In Detroit, the president made points that he has not emphasized since the campaign. He said pointedly, “Our economy’s stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits.”

He continued. “Our economy is stronger when we’ve got broad based growth and broad based prosperity.”

Speaking to the need for a jobs program, Obama referred to the two parties working together last year. But, he added, if they (Republicans) don’t want to work together, “we’re not going to wait for them. “

In anticipation of the coming struggle, he challenged the Republicans to “prove the they will fight for tax breaks for the middle class as hard as you fight for tax breaks for the wealthy”.

He spoke in support of the unionized workers in Wisconsin and Ohio. He said, “as long as I’m in the White House, I’m going to stand up for collective bargaining.

He spoke out against “right to work” laws, which are being pushed by the right wing in a number of states.

Trying to find compromise with the extreme right is like trying to reason with the politically irrational. So far those efforts by the president have resulted in concessions.

This struggle is not an academic exercise. It’s a power struggle around some basic class and democratic questions.

The stakes are high. Issues like taxing the rich, single-payer health care, saving public education, Social Security, Medicare and civil rights and saving the environment are life or death issues, especially for millions of working people.

This is a struggle that cannot be won without involving masses in struggle. The president alone cannot win the fight.

The Republicans will raise hell in the Congress and on the campaign trail about the possibility of spending tax money to meet the infrastructure and jobs crisis.

This time the progressive forces will not be caught napping: besides, the left invented hell raising.

The president cannot win this battle alone, just like FDR and other more liberal presidents couldn’t. That was one of the themes of Obama’s Detroit speech. He called on organized labor and the people to help win this battle.

Everyone needs to hear the speech he made on Monday and gather families and friends to hear his speech Thursday night.

As Sam Webb and others have written recently, I think a progressive political storm is building in the country against the right.

Obama’s speech in Detroit reflected that. Let’s hope Thursday takes this fighting spirit even further.

Photo: White House


Jarvis Tyner
Jarvis Tyner

Jarvis Tyner is executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA and a long-time member of the party's national board.. He was a founding member of the Black Radical Congress and served on its national coordinating committee for five years.

Tyner was born in the Mill Creek community of West Philadelphia in 1941 and graduated from West Philadelphia High School. He joined the Communist Party USA at the age of 20. After several years working in various industrial jobs in the Philadelphia area, where he was a member of the Amalgamated Lithographers and the Teamsters union, he moved to New York in 1967 to become the national chair of the DuBois Clubs of America, and later founding chair of the Young Workers Liberation League. He was the Communist Party USA candidate for vice president of the U.S. in 1972 and 1976, running with party leader Gus Hall.

As a leader of the CPUSA Tyner has been an active public spokesperson against racism, imperialism and war. He has written numerous articles and pamphlets and appears on the media, campuses and in other public venues advocating for peace, equality and the socialist alternative. He currently resides in the Inwood section of Manhattan, N.Y., is married and the father of four adult children and one grandchild.