The president of the United States stated clearly to 20,000 at the AFL-CIO’s Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati whose side he is on.
In his first Labor Day speech he lauded American workers and said, unequivocally, that it is they who “will pull the nation out of economic crisis and lead us into a new era of prosperity and progress.”
“Workers have carried the nation through times of challenge and uncertainty and propelled America through eras of peace and prosperity. They have long formed the backbone of our nation’s economy, and they will continue to lead our nation to new heights in the years to come.”
The last president to attend an AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic was Bill Clinton in 1992.
Obama told the fired up crowd that “benefits like paid leave, minimum wage and Social Security all bear the union label,” and he appealed to the organized labor movement to help him win the fight for reform of the health care system.
“It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. So, even if you’re not a union member, every American owes something to America’s labor movement,” the president declared as the crowds clapped and roared their approval.
Obama used the occasion to defend the administration’s economic efforts which have come under attack from the right.
“Our recovery plan is working,” the president said but he repeated that his administration will not be satisfied until there is a good paying job for every American who wants one.
On the issue of health care reform the president said, “We have never been this close. We have never had this broad an agreement on what needs to be done.” He accused vested interests, especially insurance companies of trying to defeat reform and he called upon opponents to stop “spreading lies.” The crowd cheered wildly when he said he continued to support a public option and when he rhetorically asked reform opponents, “What’s your plan?”
The president renewed his commitment to making it easier for workers to unionize. He received sustained cheers and applause when he called for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and when he recalled that the first bill he had signed into law was the Lily Ledbetter Act, a bill that guarantees equal pay for equal work.
Praising the role of the labor movement in U.S. history, the president declared, “We remember that the rights and benefits we enjoy today were not simply handed out to America’s working men and women. They had to be won.
“They had to be fought for, by men and women of courage and conviction, from the factory floors of the Industrial Revolution to the shopping aisles of today’s superstores. They stood up and spoke out to demand a fair shake, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work,” he said. “Many risked their lives. Some gave their lives. Some made it a cause of their lives.”
The crowd broke into chants of “Fired up” and “Ready to go.”
When they calmed down the president said, “Your voice can change the world. Your voice can get health care passed. Your voice will make sure the American worker is protected. You can build America. I need your help.” The 20,000 gathered to hear him interrupted yet again with more chants.