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Clinton thrills UAW activists

Former president presents his views on what we need to do to move forward

Former President Bill Clinton hit the stage Thursday morning looking fit, trim and ready to do battle for middle-class America.
Naturally, UAW delegates were on their feet showing the beloved former leader appreciation and adoration that only a friend of labor can garner.

He began his speech with a take on an old Mark Twain quote by declaring, “The report of death of the UAW, the American auto industry and the American economy has been been greatly exaggerated.”

Bob King applauds President Clinton's speech
Former President Clinton received many warm ovations from the delegates, including UAW President Bob King. Photos by Joseph Vermillion/UAW Local 602.

Clinton didn’t hesitate to commend President Obama for fighting for the auto industry loan package as the “most important thing” that he’s done during his administration, surpassing even the Affordable Health Care Act, which Clinton lobbied tirelessly for during his presidency. He emphasized that it wasn’t a bailout, but a structured bankruptcy.

He thanked the UAW and the union’s leadership for participating in the negotiations that saved the auto industry and delivered the new fuel-efficiency standards.

“We could not afford to lose 1.5 to 2 million jobs,” said Clinton, 65. “There’s no successful economy on the planet that doesn’t have both a good private economy and a strong government.

"And cooperation works. We have to work together for a common objective. We are struggling to build a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility.

“If you want to bring America back, we have to get together and do it together,” Clinton added.

Clinton presented a straightforward view of America’s economic landscape. He spoke in detail about ways the nation can get back on track, including:

  • Investing in the infrastructure.
  • Innovative development in the auto industry.
  • Fixing housing through fresh ideas on how to maintain home values.
  • Doubling-down on clean energy.

The former president would like to see every U.S. building be energy efficient, and said it would serve a two-pronged goal for America: put people back to work and make for a cleaner environment.

According to Clinton, if you go back 500 years and look at all the countries that suffered a collapse of their financial industries, it has taken them between five and 10 years to recover because of the natural response of fear. If there is a mortgage collapse at the same time that there is a financial collapse, it usually takes 10 years to recover.

He added that the president’s stimulus worked because it put people back to work and saved jobs.

Delegates listen to President Clinton's speech
Delegates listen in as former President Clinton gives his views on how we can move the country forward.

“Our job in America is to beat those odds. The most important thing for any family is that somebody be able to make a living,” said Clinton.
He assured UAW members that Obama is driving this country in the right direction. With Obama’s inventive legislation to get America back to work, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, bring back manufacturing and investing in education, he has planted the seeds that will grow our country and economy.

Cooperation was a key theme during Clinton’s 50-minute remarks to the nearly 1,700 delegates – and he blamed the GOP for not coming to the table to work together.

“What do the Republicans want? Abolishing pensions and to ask you to work for the minimum wage? That is not the America that I want to live in,” said Clinton. “We have to look at the fact and forget about the hot-air rhetoric. We have to work together and stop pointing fingers.”

Clinton is a stalwart progressive Democrat and has hammered at the GOP for protecting big business at the expense of middle-class Americans. He asked that union members be outspoken in support of maintaining national health care, and said every wealthy country in the world spends at least 12 percent on health care.

Clinton, who seemed comfortable during his speech, was at home among the UAW activists. 

“Our workforce is younger than Japan, Europe, and in 20 years, it will be younger than China. The demographic is way more interesting now in the UAW,” said. “I want you to make the auto restructuring a symbol of what America has to do – what we all have to do,” he said.

Gwynne Cobb and Chris Skelly