Thank you. And thank you all for the honor of being with the UAW on your 75th anniversary -- here where it all started, in America’s Motor City.
On behalf of the 11.5 million members of the AFL-CIO, I bring you our greetings. And more important, I bring you our gratitude. Because the UAW has taken everything that corporate America, hostile politicians, and the global economy could throw at you. And, in spite of it all, you’re hanging tough, fighting back, and standing strong, not only for yourselves but for working people all across America and the entire world.
There must be something in the factory towns of America’s heartland that keeps producing great leaders. For these past eight years, I’ve listened to and learned from your president, Ron Gettelfinger, a leader of extraordinary wisdom and integrity who led this union and the auto industry through some of the hardest times since the Great Depression.
The AFL-CIO thinks so highly of your leaders that we’re stealing one of them. Now that your secretary-treasurer, Elizabeth Bunn, is retiring from the UAW, we’re bringing her aboard as organizing director of the AFL-CIO. With her visionary leadership, the UAW has brought the benefits of union representation to health care workers, child care workers, graduate employees and so many other public service workers.
I can steal Elizabeth away in good conscience because I know there are many other great organizers, including a remarkable guy named Bob King, who even before his work as one of your Vice Presidents, has led your National Organizing Department and won workers the right to join the UAW without interference from their employers.
Now we must bring a renewed vision of organizing to our entire movement and bring a message to all workers -- Whatever their industry, whatever their occupation, whatever their background: Stand together. Stand with us -- with whatever it takes and for as long as it takes. Or to tinker just a little with the words of a great Motown song: “Reach out, and we’ll all be there.”
That principle of solidarity and struggle has been the UAW’s shining example for the labor movement for three quarters of a century. When the auto companies wouldn’t recognize your union, you sat down in the factories. When the nation faced the test of simple justice, you stood up for civil rights.
When Walter Reuther, John Dingell and Ted Kennedy first called for national health insurance, there were those who said you were too far ahead of your times, and others who sneered that this was socialism or worse.
But, this year, thanks to the leadership of President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and majorities in the US House and Senate -- and thanks to the collective work and commitment of our unions -- and I want to single out the work of one singularly committed individual whose work in Washington was decisive, and that’s Alan Reuther. Thanks to all that we have now taken the first, most important step to make health care a right and not a privilege. And a great weight will be lifted from our families, the competitiveness of our companies, and the conscience of our country.
At every crucial moment, the UAW has answered great challenges. And now we’re at another historic pivot-point when the worst of times can bring out the best in us.
George Bush left us the worst economy since the Great Depression. He gave away trillions in tax breaks to the wealthy. He let Wall Street and the Big Banks run wild. Since our recession started in 2007, we have an 11 million jobs hole. And even those who are fortunate enough to be working are living in fear of pink slips and givebacks, hollowed-out health care, foreclosures, and pension freezes. Nobody knows this better than the people of Detroit.
We’ve got to turn the page on the policies that led to this mess. And then we need to move on to a brighter future. Walter Reuther used to say that we don’t have time to look into the rear-view mirror. And today we’d add, not even if that mirror was built by proud UAW IPS workers.
We have got to be “the architects of the future.” And I can tell you this: America’s future must include a strong, growing, globally competitive domestic auto industry whose workers enjoy union representation, middle class wages, and secure health coverage and retirement benefits.
That’s how we built the world’s strongest economy and the world’s largest middle class. And I am here to tell you that the AFL-CIO stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the UAW in the struggle to rescue, rebuild, and revitalize the great American auto industry.
Against great odds, we are starting to win that struggle, from coast to coast and from border to border.
On the West Coast -- with the UAW, the AFL-CIO, the California State Federation of Labor, and the local labor councils all working as a team -- we’re ready to ensure that the closed NUMMI plant re-opens its gates immediately after the American flag and the UAW flag are raised above the plant.
Tesla Motor vehicles will be built in the United States, in the state of California, by American workers who have a UAW card in their pockets and the union in their hearts.
As union-made vehicles roll off the assembly lines in Fremont, we take equal pride in what is happening on the other side of our country. Fisker Automotive will be assembling clean, green, top-quality vehicles in the idled General Motors plant in Wilmington, Delaware.
These vehicles, too, will bear the UAW emblem. They will be built by proud UAW members. And they will prove that workers enjoying American rights and earning middle-class wages can make world-class products.
This isn’t an accident. You made it happen. The UAW, the AFL-CIO and the entire labor movement elected a progressive administration, including President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. At long last, our nation has leaders who understand that we cannot have a middle class in this country without a strong domestic automobile industry and without strong union contracts. Ron Gettelfinger and Regional Director Gary Casteel stood side-by-side with Vice President Biden when he announced that federal funds will be invested in the re-opening of the Delaware facility.
The UAW and the entire labor movement are architects of the future for our economy. And we’re building a future with clean, green union jobs and a well-trained, well-paid workforce making world-class products. It won’t be easy. It won’t happen quickly. But we can make it happen when we work together.
During the struggle for the future of the NUMMI plant, two northern California AFL-CIO labor councils worked closely as leafleting and petitioning squads together with the UAW, Teamsters and Machinists. Another labor council is working with the former officers of Local 2244 at the NUMMI Re-Employment Center -- enrolling members in services, training programs, and new jobs – and making sure that laid-off workers get all the money that they’re owed. And meanwhile, AFL-CIO labor councils are taking the fight for more public and private investment and more jobs in their communities to meetings with the White House, the Commerce Department, the California State Treasurer and the state’s trade delegation to Toyota in Japan.
Brothers and sisters, thanks to the courage and vision of the UAW, the commitment of President Obama, and the support of our friends in Congress, we are rescuing the American auto industry. The three major US companies are making profits again. We salute their success. And we demand that they do right by the workers who have done right by them. Because just as there has been shared sacrifice in periods of pain, there must be shared prosperity in periods of gain.
This isn’t just your fight. This is a fight for every working American who has worked longer, worked harder, worked smarter and earned their fair share of the wealth they created. And it is a fight that we will win.
In our new economy, this fight is global. We cannot ease off the fight against trade agreements that favor Wall Street over workers throughout the world. And that means the South Korea-U.S. trade deal. The days of trade agreements that protect the rights of wealthy investors and neglect the rights of workers and our environment must be over. As Ron Gettelfinger has written: “No country should have a trade advantage over another country because it forces workers to work 14 hours a day, six days a week.”
Here in the USA, we need to get our own house in order. Seventy-five years after the National Labor Relations Act became the law of the land, working Americans still need legal protections for their rights to form and join unions without employer interference and intimidation. That is why we will keep fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act.
In the days ahead, you’ll elect new leaders and set your union on a course for the years ahead. When you return to your jobs, your communities, and your daily struggles, I ask you to remember this: The labor movement is not an inheritance. The labor movement is an achievement that every generation must fight for in response to the challenges of our times. Stand united. Be mindful of the advice of Walter Reuther: Look ahead. And join me in sending this message to all working Americans:
If you want to create new jobs with rising wages, stable benefits and promising futures, stand with us.
If you believe that manufacturing matters, and America must make cars and computers, steel and software, stand with us.
If you believe that America must invest in transportation and technology, education and the environment, stand with us.
If you believe that Wall Street got us into this mess and now must pay its fair share of the costs of getting us out, stand with us.
If you believe that politicians from both parties must be accountable to the people who do America’s work and not the fortunate few who contribute to their campaigns, stand with us.
If you believe that quality public education is our moral responsibility to our children and grandchildren, and that Social Security and Medicare is our solemn obligation to our parents and grandparents, stand with us.
Stand with us. And we will stand with you for one day longer than anyone would stand in your way.
Brothers and sisters, if we stand together, work together, and fight together, then, by God, we will win together.
Thank you all for fighting the good fight, building a better America, and for the honor of being here with you today.