President Obama yesterday traveled to Detroit (sometimes referred to as ”The 313″ after the area code for the city) to give a Labor Day speech that also served as a preview of Thursday’s announcement of the President’s new agenda for promoting job growth. Yesterday’s speech was music to the ears of folks looking for President Obama to be aggressive in standing up for progressive values and fighting back against the GOP, as the President presented a strong defense of workers’ right to organize and made clear that he intends to call the GOP’s bluff when they fail to put country before party in the upcoming jobs fight.
The President started with a recognition of everything that unions have done to build America’s middle class:
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. 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. 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 — the cornerstones of middle-class security. That’s because of your work.
If you want to know who helped lay these cornerstones of an American middle class you just have to look for the union label.
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.
Next, the President highlighted the work that his Administration did to successfully rescue the US auto industry:
And here’s what else we said, Detroit. We said that American autoworkers could once again build the best cars in the world. So we stood by the auto industry. And we made some tough choices that were necessary to make it succeed. And now, the Big Three are turning a profit and hiring new workers, and building the best cars in the world right here in Detroit, right here in the Midwest, right here in the United States of America.
President Obama then provided a preview of his upcoming jobs agenda, identifying infrastructure investments and an extension of the payroll tax cut as core elements of that agenda:
We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding. We’ve got private companies with the equipment and the manpower to do the building. We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now. There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it. Labor is on board. Business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board. Let’s put America back to work.
Last year, we worked together, Republicans and Democrats, to pass a payroll tax cut. And because of that, this year the average family has an extra $1,000 in their pocket because of it. But that’s going to expire in a few months if we don’t come together to extend it. And I think putting money back in the pockets of working families is the best way to get demand rising, because that then means business is hiring, and that means the government — that means that the economy is growing.
Our President then made clear that while he would like to work with folks on both sides of the aisle to promote job growth, he is not going to wait around for the GOP or put up with them distracting the discussion with manufactured crises or petty games:
So I’m going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to, because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems. And given the urgency of this moment, given the hardship that many people are facing, folks have got to get together.
But we’re not going to wait for them. We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party. We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Do you want to help our companies succeed? Open up new markets for them to sell their products. You want — you say you’re the party of tax cuts? Well then, prove you’ll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you got.
The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now. No more manufactured crises. No more games. Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs; now is the time for them to worry about your jobs.
President Obama then harkened back to President Harry Truman and vowed to fight for collective bargaining rights for as long as he is in office:
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. That means they can buy the cars that you build. 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.
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 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
Winning Progressive hopes that yesterday’s speech was just a preview of the fighting spirit that President Obama will bring to the jobs agenda this fall and through next year. But the President cannot do this alone. Instead, we progressives all need to help echo the President’s message by writing letters to our local newspaper editor and calling our Congresspeople in support of a pro-jobs, pro-labor agenda that invests in infrastructure and protects workers’ right to collectively bargain.