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President Barack Obama addressed delegates to the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburg, Sept. 15. Photo by Jon Flanders, member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Troy, New York.

Obama: We Need Strong Unions for a Strong Economy

President Barack Obama had a strong, inspiring message for delegates to the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention: We’re going to make this country work again.

In a speech punctuated by chants and standing ovations, Obama said he’s committed to the same goals as the union movement: restoring the economy, getting health care for everyone and passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

“These are the reforms I’m proposing. These are the reforms labor has been championing. These are the reforms the American people need. And these are the reforms I intend to sign into law,” Obama said.
“Quality, affordable health insurance. A world-class education. Good jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced. A strong labor movement. That’s how we’ll lift up hardworking families. That’s how we’ll grow our middle class. That’s how we’ll put opportunity within reach in the United States of America.”

Throughout, the enthusiastic crowd gave him multiple standing ovations—when one woman shouted “I love you,” he responded: “I love you, too, sister.” In turn, Obama showed he understands the needs of working people and the unions that represent them: “When labor succeeds—that’s when our middle class succeeds. And when our middle class succeeds—that’s when the United States of America succeeds.”

Obama pledged his continued support of the Employee Free Choice Act, because “when workers want a union, they should get a union.”

The economic crisis was brought on by greed and irresponsibility, Obama said, and we can’t wait to rebuild a stronger, better and fairer economy. “The problems in our economy preceded this economic crisis,” he reminded delegates. “Just last week, a Census report came out showing that in 2008, before this downturn, family income fell to its lowest point in over a decade; and more families slid into poverty. That is unacceptable. And I refuse to let America go back to the culture of irresponsibility that made it possible.”

Obama spent much of his speech talking about health care and thanked union members for their hard work on making health reform possible: “Few have fought for this cause harder, and few have championed it longer than you…you know why this is so important. You know this isn’t just about the millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance, it’s about the hundreds of millions more who do: Americans who worry that they’ll lose their insurance if they lose their job, who fear their coverage will be denied because of a pre-existing condition, who know that one accident or illness could mean financial ruin,” Obama said.

“When are we going to stop this? When are we going to say enough is enough? How many more workers have to lose their coverage? How many more families have to go into the red for a sick loved one? We have talked this issue to death year after year, decade after decade…now is the time for action. Now is the time to deliver on health insurance reform.”

Obama also said that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped pull the economy up and prevent even worse crisis. He pledged to keep working to create good jobs and make sure that “Made in America” won’t just be a slogan, but a reality.

Obama has already signed into law pro-worker legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and an expansion of health care to millions of children in need. He asked the attendees to come together and fight with him for an America with lasting prosperity.

- Seth Michaels, http:/blog.aflcio.org