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Obama Labor Day Speech (Video and Transcript)

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Posted on Sep 5, 2011
White House / Pete Souza

(Page 3)

You know, I was on the plane flying over here, and Carl Levin was with me, and he showed me a speech that Harry Truman had given on Labor Day 63 years ago, right here in Detroit—63 years ago.  And just to show that things haven’t changed much, he talked about how Americans had voted in some folks into Congress who weren’t very friendly to labor.  And he pointed out that some working folks and even some union members voted these folks in.  And now they were learning their lesson.  And he pointed out that—and I’m quoting here—“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.”  (Applause.)

What was true back in 1948 is true in 2011.  When working families are doing well, when they’re getting a decent wage and they’re getting decent benefits, that means they’re good customers for businesses.  (Applause.)  That means they can buy the cars that you build.  (Applause.)  That means that you can buy the food from the farmers.  That means you can buy from Silicon Valley.  You are creating prosperity when you share in prosperity.  (Applause.)

So when I hear some of these folks trying to take collective bargaining rights away, trying to pass so-called “right to work” laws for private sector workers—

AUDIENCE:  Booo—

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THE PRESIDENT: —that really mean the right to work for less and less and less—when I hear some of this talk I know this is not about economics.  This is about politics.

And I want everybody here to know, as long as I’m in the White House I’m going to stand up for collective bargaining.  (Applause.)

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

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s why we’ve reversed harmful decisions that were designed to undermine those rights.  That’s why we passed the Fair Pay Act to stop pay discrimination.  (Applause.) That’s why we appointed people who are actually fulfilling their responsibilities to make sure that the offices and factories and mines workers that clock in each day, that they’re actually safe on the job.

And we’re going to keep at it.  Because having a voice on the job and a chance to organize and a chance to negotiate for a fair day’s pay after a hard day’s work, that is the right of every man and woman in America—not just the CEO in the corner office, but also the janitor who cleans that office after the CEO goes home.  (Applause.) Everybody has got the same right.  (Applause.)

And that’s true for public employees as well.  Look, the recession had a terrible effect on state and local budgets—we all understand that.  Unions have recognized that; they’ve already made tough concessions.  In the private sector, we live in a more competitive global economy—so unions like the UAW understand that workers have to work with management to revamp business models, to innovate so we can sell our products around the world.  We understand that the world is changing; unions understand that the world is changing.  Unions understand they need to help drive the change, whether it’s on the factory floor, or in the classroom, or in the government office.  (Applause.)

But what unions also know is that the values at the core of the union movement, those don’t change.  Those are the values that have made this country great.  (Applause.)  That’s what the folks trying to undermine your rights don’t understand.  When union workers agree to pay freezes and pay cuts—they’re not doing it just to keep their jobs.  They’re doing it so that their fellow workers -– their fellow Americans—can keep their jobs. (Applause.)

When teachers agree to reforms in how schools are run at the same time as they’re digging into their pockets to buy school supplies for those kids, they do so because they believe every child can learn.  (Applause.)  They do it because they know something that those who seek to divide us don’t understand:  We are all in this together.  That’s why those crowds came out to support you in Madison and in Columbus.  We are one nation.  We are one people.  We will rise and we will fall together.  (Applause.)

Anyone who doesn’t believe it should come here to Detroit.  It’s like the commercial says:  This is a city that’s been to heck and back.  (Applause.)  And while there are still a lot of challenges here, I see a city that’s coming back.  (Applause.)
You ask somebody here if times are tough, they’ll say, yeah, it’s tough, but we’re tougher.  (Applause.)  Look at what we’re doing to overcome.  Look at what we’re doing to rebuild and reinvent and redefine what it means to live in this great city.  Look at our parents who catch the first bus to work, and our students who stay up late to earn a degree.  Look at our workers on the line at Hamtramck and Jefferson North who are building the best cars in the world.  Look at our artists who are revamping our city, and our young people who are thinking up new ways to make a difference that we never dreamed of.  Look how we look out for one another.  (Applause.) 


New and Improved Comments

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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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