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Obama Labor Day Speech (Video and Transcript)

Posted on Sep 5, 2011
White House / Pete Souza

On Monday the president celebrated working people and the contributions of unions to our society and he previewed some of the proposals in his forthcoming jobs plan at an AFL-CIO-sponsored speech in a GM parking lot.

Transcript from the White House / Office of the Press Secretary:

For Immediate Release
September 05, 2011
Remarks by the President at Detroit Labor Day Event
GM Plant Parking Lot

Detroit, Michigan

Please see below for a correction (marked with an asterisk) to a typo in the transcript.


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1:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Detroit!  (Applause.)  Thank you, Michigan!  (Applause.)  Oh, this is a—

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  It is—

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  I can tell Ghana got you fired up.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Ghana, for that introduction.  Thank you all for having me.  It is good to be back in Detroit.  (Applause.)  I’m glad I was able to bring a friend—a proud daughter of the Teamsters, your Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, in the house.  (Applause.) 

We’re thrilled to be joined by so many other friends.  I want to acknowledge, first of all, two of the finest senators in the country—Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are in the house. (Applause.)  Outstanding members of the congressional delegation—John Dingell Bingham*, John Conyers, Sandy Levin, Gary Peters, and Hansen Clarke.  (Applause.)

The president of the Metropolitan Detroit Central Labor Council, our host, Saundra Williams.  (Applause.)  AFL-CIO president, Rich Trumka.  (Applause.)  President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, Mark Gaffney.  (Applause.)  And some proud sons and daughters of Michigan representing working people here and across the country—SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, UAW President Bob King, Utility Workers President Mike Langford.  (Applause.)  We are proud of them and we’re proud of your congressional delegation who are working every single day with your state and local elected officials to create jobs and economic growth and prosperity here in Michigan and all across the country.

I am honored, we are honored, to spend this day with you and your families—the working men and women of America.  This day belongs to you.  You deserve a little R&R, a little barbecue—(laughter)—little grilling—because you’ve been working hard.  (Applause.)  You’ve been working hard to make ends meet.  You’ve been working hard to build a better life for your kids.  You’ve been working hard to build a better Detroit.  (Applause.) But that’s not all I’m going to talk to you about.

I also want to talk about the work you’ve been doing for decades:  Work to make sure that folks get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.  (Applause.)  Work to make sure that families get a fair shake.  The work you’ve done that helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  I’m talking about the work that got us a 40-hour workweek and weekends, and paid leave and pensions, and the minimum wage and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare—(applause)—the cornerstones of middle-class security.  That’s because of your work.  (Applause.)

If you want to know who helped lay these cornerstones of an American middle class you just have to look for the union label. (Applause.)

That’s the bedrock this country is built on.  Hard work.  Responsibility.  Sacrifice.  Looking out for one another.  Giving everybody a shot, everybody a chance to share in America’s prosperity, from the factory floor to the boardroom.  That’s what unions are all about.  (Applause.)

And that’s something that’s worth keeping in mind today.  We’ve come through a difficult decade in which those values were all too often given short shrift.  We’ve gone through a decade where wealth was valued over work, and greed was valued over responsibility.  And the decks were too often stacked against ordinary folks in favor of the special interests.  And everywhere I went while I was running for this office, I met folks who felt their economic security slipping away, men and women who were fighting harder and harder just to stay afloat.  And that was even before the economic crisis hit, and that just made things even harder.

So these are tough times for working Americans.  They’re even tougher for Americans who are looking for work –- and a lot of them have been looking for work for a long time.  A lot of folks have been looking for work for a long time here in Detroit, and all across Michigan, and all across the Midwest, and all across the country.  So we’ve got a lot more work to do to recover fully from this recession.

But I’m not satisfied just to get back to where we were before the recession; we’ve got to fully restore the middle class in America.  (Applause.)  And America cannot have a strong, growing economy without a strong, growing middle class and without a strong labor movement.  (Applause.)

That’s the central challenge that we face in our country today.  That’s at the core of why I ran for President.  That’s what I’ve been fighting for since I’ve been President.  (Applause.)  Everything we’ve done, it’s been thinking about you. We said working folks deserved a break—so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.  (Applause.)

We said working folks shouldn’t be taken advantage of—so we passed tough financial reform that ended the days of taxpayer bailouts, and stopped credit card companies from gouging you with hidden fees and unfair rate hikes, and set up a new consumer protection agency with one responsibility:  sticking up for you. (Applause.)

We said that if you’re going to work hard all day to provide a better life for your kids, then we’re going to make sure that those kids get the best education possible.  So we helped keep teachers on the job.  (Applause.)  We’re reforming our public schools, and we’re investing in community colleges and job-training programs.  (Applause.)  And we ended wasteful giveaways that went to the big banks and used the savings to make college more affordable for millions of your kids.  (Applause.)

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By berniem, September 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment

“We The People” no longer control our(?) government because we’ve allowed the SYSTEM to be privatized. FREE BRADLEY MANNING!!!!

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, September 6, 2011 at 5:57 am Link to this comment

President Obama, I think it would be a good idea for you to change your party affiliation
to Republican. Then people would understand who they were voting for, what they were
getting and why.

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, September 6, 2011 at 4:22 am Link to this comment

When unions agree to pay freezes and pay cuts, it is because they have been undermined by our trade policies and our economic policies.

They have no leverage.

Stop privatizing public education President Obama.

Rebuild, reinvent and redefine how???

Your “sputnik moment” is worthless if the specialized class (which is the new middle class on a far smaller scale) will not create jobs for Americans. Their competitve innovations will be manufactured overseas by whatever country has the least environmental protections and the most draconian labor laws.

I am not a cynic President Obama. You are a cynic.

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By AngeredLiberal, September 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ok, Wait a second! 17 minutes in the President makes the claim that if he’s in office he will fight for collective bargaining rights, unlike the oppositional party who is trying maintain or further consolidate power in the corporate/finance elite. The crowd erupts into applause and shouts 4 more years. To be honest what has he done in the last two years to show he has stood with labor? He is politicking just like the republicans. He doesn’t care. He didn’t do anything for EFCA. He didn’t stand with Wisconsinites. He hasn’t called for a increase in mimiumn wage. Single payer anyone? I just have a hard time understanding the why anyone could be proud of him and want to support him. Unless he makes a complete overall of his philosophy, governance, and choice of appointees we are getting much more of the same failed policies of Clinton, Bush I & II, and Regan. Most of which has led this country off a cliff.

Also for the soul fact that he said we need to go forward and not backwards in regard to the actions of his predecessor, isn’t he complicit?

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