An appearance by the president of the United States before the nation’s largest labor federation would be a newsworthy event under any circumstances, but with the country facing the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression and unions struggling to regain clout, the speech by Barack Obama to the AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh was among the most closely watched of his presidency.
“For over half a century, the success of America has been built on the success of our middle class,” said President Obama. “It was a strong middle class that powered American industries, propelled America’s economy, and made the 20th Century the first American Century.
“And the fundamental test of our time is whether we will heed this lesson; whether we will let America become a nation of the very rich and the very poor, of the haves and the have-nots; or whether we will remain true to the promise of this country and build a future where the success of all of us is built on the success of each of us,” declared President Obama. “That’s the future I want to build. That’s the future the AFL-CIO wants to build. That’s the future the American people want to build. And that’s the future we’ve been working to build from the moment I took office.”
Obama outlined the steps necessary to carry out that program, emphasizing a strong labor movement, health care reform, more education opportunities and creating family-wage jobs.
With nearly 30 million U.S. workers facing severe financial hardship, the president’s remarks about restoring good jobs to the middle class brought the loudest and longest ovations.
“We cannot afford to go back, we must move forward,” said President Obama. “That’s why we need to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. By creating jobs of the future. By reforming our health care system. By laying down tough rules of the road to protect consumers from abuse; let markets function fairly and freely; and ensure that we never experience another crisis like this again.
“That’s how we’ll build an economy that works for working Americans. That’s how we’ll help our children climb higher than we did. And that’s how we’ll grow our great American middle class,” said President Obama.
In addition to the appearance by President Obama and the resolution on a jobs strategy, the 708 delegates heard from U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and Caroline Kennedy. Still to come this week are nominations for new officers and a Report of the Committee on the Constitution and Governance of the AFL-CIO.
Click here for more information about the AFL-CIO Convention.