In a speech to the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, President Barack Obama made a powerful case for the importance and value of unions and working families. Key remarks: So it's good to be back in front of all of
May 4, 2012

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In a speech to the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, President Barack Obama made a powerful case for the importance and value of unions and working families. Key remarks:

So it's good to be back in front of all of you. It's always an honor to be with folks who get up every day and work real jobs -- (laughter) -- and every day fight for America's workers. You represent the latest in a long, proud line of men and women who built this country from the bottom up. That's who you are. (Applause.) It was workers like you who led us westward. It was workers like you who pushed us skyward. It was your predecessors who put down the hard hats and helped us defeat fascism. And when that was done, you kept on building --highways that we drive on, and the houses we live in, and the schools where our children learn. And you established the foundation of what it means to be a proud American.

And along the way, unions like yours made sure that everybody had a fair shake, everybody had a fair shot. You helped build the greatest middle class that we've ever seen. You believed that prosperity shouldn’t be reserved just for a privileged few; it should extend all the way from the boardroom all the way down to the factory floor. That's what you believe. (Applause.)

Time and again, you stood up for the idea that hard work should pay off; responsibility should be rewarded. When folks do the right thing, they should be able to make it here in America. And because you did, America became home of the greatest middle class the world has ever known. You helped make that possible -- not just through your organizing but how you lived; looking after your families, looking out for your communities. You’re what America is about.

And so sometimes when I listen to the political debates, it seems as if people have forgotten American progress has always been driven by American workers. And that’s especially important to remember today.


I don’t have to tell you we’ve got bridges and roads all over this country in desperate need of repair. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our railroads are no longer the fastest in the world. Our skies are congested, our airports are the busiest on the planet. All of this costs families and businesses billions of dollars a year. That drags down our entire economy.

And the worst part of it is that we could be doing something about it. I think about what my grandparents’ generation built: the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Interstate Highway System. That's what we do. We build. There was a time where we would never accept the notion that some other country has better roads than us, and some other country has better airports than us. I don't know about you, but I’m chauvinistic. I want America to have the best stuff. I want us to be doing the building, not somebody else. (Applause.) We should be having -- (applause) -- people should be visiting us from all over the world. They should be visiting us from all over the world and marveling at what at what we’ve done.

That kind of unbridled, can-do spirit -- that’s what made America an economic superpower. And now, it’s up to us to continue that tradition, to give our businesses access to the best roads and airports and high-speed rail and Internet networks. It’s up to us to make sure our kids are learning in state-of-the-art schools. It’s our turn to do big things. It is our turn to do big things.

But here’s the thing -- as a share of the economy, Europe invests more than twice what we do in infrastructure; China about four times as much. Are we going to sit back and let other countries build the newest airports and the fastest railroads and the most modern schools, at a time when we’ve got private construction companies all over the world -- or all over the country -- and millions of workers who are ready and willing to do that work right here in the United States of America?

American workers built this country, and now we need American workers to rebuild this country. That’s what we need. (Applause.) It is time we take some of the money that we spend on wars, use half of it to pay down our debt, and then use the rest of it to do some nation-building right here at home. (Applause.) There is work to be done. There are workers ready to do it, and you guys can help lead the way.

He also took on Republicans for assaulting the rights of working families:

And what makes it worse -- it would be bad enough if they just had these set of bad ideas, but they’ve also set their sights on dismantling unions like yours. I mean, if you ask them, what’s their big economic plan in addition to tax cuts for rich folks, it’s dismantling your unions. After all you’ve done to build and protect the middle class, they make the argument you’re responsible for the problems facing the middle class. Somehow, that makes sense to them.

That’s not what I believe. I believe our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits. That’s what I believe. (Applause.) That’s what I believe. I believe the economy is stronger when collective bargaining rights are protected. I believe all of us are better off when we’ve got broad-based prosperity that grows outwards from a strong middle class. I believe when folks try and take collective bargaining rights away by passing so-called “right to work” laws that might also be called “right to work for less,” laws -- (applause) -- that’s not about economics, that’s about politics. That’s about politics.

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