OTD in History… August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fires striking air traffic controllers

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OTD in History… August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fires striking air traffic controllers

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan begins firingthe 11,359 air-traffic controllers who ignored his order to return to work after illegal striking two days before, causing the cancellation of thousands of flights. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization or PATCO’s nearly 13,000 members went on strike on August 3, after the government refused to give them a $10,000 raise and shorten their workweek from five to four days, a request of $770 million. The government counter offer only included a package of $40 million, generous but not enough according to PATCO. The strike on August 3, paralyzed air travel, with 7,000 flights canceled. Reagan gave PATCO strikers an ultimatum, return to work within 48 hours or be fired.

Robert E. Poli, the president of PATCO had the union endorsed Reagan as the Republican presidential nominee in the 1980 election. Now a federal judge found Poli in contempt for the strike, fining him $1,000 and the union a million each day of the strike, the rate based on a Congressional law passed in 1955 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1971. Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis suggested to Reagan that he fired the air traffic controllers, and on August 5, Reagan did just that. Reagan later recognized the significance of his action early in his administration calling it “an important juncture for our new administration. I think it convinced people who might have thought otherwise that I meant what I said.” (Cannon, 438) Reagan banned the strikers for life, while the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the union just two months later on October 22.

Historian Joseph A. McCartin and author of “Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America, argues, “Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency but also shaped the world of the modern workplace.” McCartin claims the move “polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.” Reagan’s decisive move would both alter the influence of labor unions stripping them of their bargaining power and showed the Soviet Union his strong leadership establishing him as a force to be reckoned with in the Cold War.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

McCartin, Joseph A. Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Cannon, Lou. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. New York: Public Affairs, 2000.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Air Traffic Controllers Strike

August 3, 1981

The President. This morning at 7 a.m. the union representing those who man America’s air traffic control facilities called a strike. This was the culmination of 7 months of negotiations between the Federal Aviation Administration and the union. At one point in these negotiations agreement was reached and signed by both sides, granting a $40 million increase in salaries and benefits. This is twice what other government employees can expect. It was granted in recognition of the difficulties inherent in the work these people perform. Now, however, the union demands are 17 times what had been agreed to—$681 million. This would impose a tax burden on their fellow citizens which is unacceptable.

I would like to thank the supervisors and controllers who are on the job today, helping to get the nation’s air system operating safely. In the New York area, for example, four supervisors were scheduled to report for work, and 17 additionally volunteered. At National Airport a traffic controller told a newsperson he had resigned from the union and reported to work because, “How can I ask my kids to obey the law if I don’t?” This is a great tribute to America.

Let me make one thing plain. I respect the right of workers in the private sector to strike. Indeed, as president of my own union, I led the first strike ever called by that union. I guess I’m maybe the first one to ever hold this office who is a lifetime member of an AFL-CIO union. But we cannot compare labor-management relations in the private sector with government. Government cannot close down the assembly line. It has to provide without interruption the protective services which are government’s reason for being.

It was in recognition of this that the Congress passed a law forbidding strikes by government employees against the public safety. Let me read the solemn oath taken by each of these employees, a sworn affidavit, when they accepted their jobs: “I am not participating in any strike against the Government of the United States or any agency thereof, and I will not so participate while an employee of the Government of the United States or any agency thereof.”

It is for this reason that I must tell those who fail to report for duty this morning they are in violation of the law, and if they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.

Q. Mr. President, are you going to order any union members who violate the law to go to jail?

The President. Well, I have some people around here, and maybe I should refer that question to the Attorney General.

Q. Do you think that they should go to jail, Mr. President, anybody who violates this law?

The President. I told you what I think should be done. They’re terminated.

The Attorney General. Well, as the President has said, striking under these circumstances constitutes a violation of the law, and we intend to initiate in appropriate cases criminal proceedings against those who have violated the law.

Q. How quickly will you initiate criminal proceedings, Mr. Attorney General?

The Attorney General. We will initiate those proceedings as soon as we can. Q. Today?

The Attorney General. The process will be underway probably by noon today.

Q. Are you going to try and fine the union $1 million per day?

The Attorney General. Well, that’s the prerogative of the court. In the event that any individuals are found guilty of contempt of a court order, the penalty for that, of course, is imposed by the court.

Q. How much more is the government prepared to offer the union?

The Secretary of Transportation. We think we had a very satisfactory offer on the table. It’s twice what other Government employees are going to get—11.4 percent. Their demands were so unreasonable there was no spot to negotiate, when you’re talking to somebody 17 times away from where you presently are. We do not plan to increase our offer to the union.

Q. Under no circumstances?

The Secretary of Transportation. As far as I’m concerned, under no circumstance.

Q. Will you continue to meet with them? The Secretary of Transportation. We will not meet with the union as long as they’re on strike. When they’re off of strike, and assuming that they are not decertified, we will meet with the union and try to negotiate a satisfactory contract.

Q. Do you have any idea how it’s going at the airports around the country?

The Secretary of Transportation. Relatively, it’s going quite well. We’re operating somewhat in excess of 50 percent capacity. We could increase that. We have determined, until we feel we’re in total control of the system, that we will not increase that. Also, as you probably know, we have some rather severe weather in the Midwest, and our first priority is safety.

Q. What can you tell us about possible decertification of the union and impoundment of its strike funds?

The Secretary of Transportation. There has been a court action to impound the strike fund of $3.5 million. We are going before the National Labor Relations Authority this morning and ask for decertification of the union.

Q. When you say that you’re not going to increase your offer, are you referring to the original offer or the last offer which you’ve made? Is that still valid?

The Secretary of Transportation. The last offer we made in present value was exactly the same as the first offer. Mr. Poli 1asked me about 11 o’clock last evening if he could phase the increase in over a period of time. For that reason, we phased it in over a longer period of time. It would have given him a larger increase in terms of where he would be when the next negotiations started, but in present value it was the $40 million originally on the table.

1 Robert Poli, president, Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.

Q. Mr. Attorney General, in seeking criminal action against the union leaders, will you seek to put them in jail if they do not order these people back to work?

The Attorney General. Well, we will seek whatever penalty is appropriate under the circumstances in each individual case.

Q. Do you think that is an appropriate circumstance?

The Attorney General. It is certainly one of the penalties that is provided for in the law, and in appropriate cases, we could very well seek that penalty.

Q. What’s appropriate?

The Attorney General. Well, that depends upon the fact of each case.

Q. What makes the difference?

Q. Can I go back to my “fine” question? How much would you like to see the union fined every day?

The Attorney General. Well, there’s no way to answer that question. We would just have to wait until we get into court, see what the circumstances are, and determine what position we would take in the various cases under the facts as they develop.

Q. But you won’t go to court and ask the court for a specific amount?

The Attorney General. Well, I’m sure we will when we reach that point, but there’s no way to pick a figure now.

Q. Mr. President, will you delay your trip to California or cancel it if the strike is still on later this week?

The President. If any situation should arise that would require my presence here, naturally I will do that. So, that will be a decision that awaits what’s going to happen. May I just—because I have to be back in there for another appointment—may I just say one thing on top of this? With all this talk of penalties and everything else, I hope that you’ll emphasize, again, the possibility of termination, because I believe that there are a great many of those people—and they’re fine people—who have been swept up in this and probably have not really considered the result—the fact that they had taken an oath, the fact that this is now in violation of the law, as that one supervisor referred to with regard to his children. And I am hoping that they will in a sense remove themselves from the lawbreaker situation by returning to their posts.

I have no way to know whether this had been conveyed to them by their union leaders, who had been informed that this would be the result of a strike.

Q. Your deadline is 7 o’clock Wednesday morning for them to return to work? The President. Forty-eight hours.

The Secretary of Transportation. It’s 11 o’clock Wednesday morning.

Q. Mr. President, why have you taken such strong action as your first action? Why not some lesser action at this point?

The President. What lesser action can there be? The law is very explicit. They are violating the law. And as I say, we called this to the attention of their leadership. Whether this was conveyed to the membership before they voted to strike, I don’t know. But this is one of the reasons why there can be no further negotiation while this situation continues. You can’t sit and negotiate with a union that’s in violation of the law.

The Secretary of Transportation. And their oath.
The President. And their oath.

Q. Are you more likely to proceed in the criminal direction toward the leadership than the rank and file, Mr. President?

The President. Well, that again is not for me to answer.

Q. Mr. Secretary, what can you tell us about the possible use of military air controllers—how many, how quickly can they get on the job?
The Secretary of Transportation. In answer to the previous question, we will move both civil and criminal, probably more civil than criminal, and we now have papers in the U.S. attorneys’ offices, under the Attorney General, in about 20 locations around the country where would be involved two or three principal people.

As far as the military personnel are concerned, they are going to fundamentally be backup to the supervisory personnel. We had 150 on the job, supposedly, about a half-hour ago. We’re going to increase that to somewhere between 700 and 850.

Q. Mr. Secretary, are you ready to hire other people should these other people not return?

The Secretary of Transportation. Yes, we will, and we hope we do not reach that point. Again as the President said, we’re hoping these people come back to work. They do a fine job. If that does not take place, we have a training school, as you know. We will be advertising. We have a number of applicants right now. There’s a waiting list in terms of people that want to be controllers, and we’ll start retraining and reorganize the entire FAA traffic controller group.

Q. Just to clarify, is your deadline 7 a.m. Wednesday or 11 o’clock?

The Secretary of Transportation. It’s 11 a.m. Wednesday. The President said 48 hours, and that would be 48 hours.

Q. If you actually fire these people, won’t it put your air traffic control system in a hole for years to come, since you can’t just cook up a controller in—[inaudible]?

The Secretary of Transportation. That obviously depends on how many return to work. Right now we’re able to operate the system. In some areas, we’ve been very gratified by the support we’ve received. In other areas, we’ve been disappointed. And until I see the numbers, there’s no way I can answer that question.

Q. Mr. Lewis, did you tell the union leadership when you were talking to them that their members would be fired if they went out on strike?

The Secretary of Transportation. I told Mr. Poll yesterday that the President gave me three instructions in terms of the firmness of the negotiations: one is there would be no amnesty; the second there would be no negotiations during the strike; and third is that if they went on strike, these people would no longer be government employees.

Q. Mr. Secretary, you said no negotiations. What about informal meetings of any kind with Mr. Poli?

The Secretary of Transportation. We will have no meetings until the strike is terminated with the union.

Q. Have you served Poli at this point? Has he been served by the Attorney General?

The Attorney General. In the civil action that was filed this morning, the service was made on the attorney for the union, and the court has determined that that was appropriate service on all of the officers of the union.

Q. My previous question about whether you’re going to take a harder line on the leadership than rank and file in terms of any criminal prosecution, can you give us an answer on that?

The Attorney General. No, I can’t answer that except to say that each case will be investigated on its own merits, and action will be taken as appropriate in each of those cases.

Q. Mr. Lewis, do you know how many applications for controller jobs you have on file now?

The Secretary of Transportation. I do not know. I’m going to check when I get back. I am aware there’s a waiting list, and I do not have the figure. If you care to have that, you can call our office, and we’ll tell you. Also, we’ll be advertising and recruiting people for this job if necessary.

Q. Mr. Secretary, how long are you prepared to hold out if there’s a partial but not complete strike?

The Secretary of Transportation. I think the President made it very clear that as of 48 hours from now, if the people are not back on the job, they will not be government employees at any time in the future.

Q. How long are you prepared to run the air controller system—[ inaudible]?

The Secretary of Transportation. For years, if we have to.

Q. How long does it take to train a new controller, from the waiting list?

The Secretary of Transportation. It varies; it depends on the type of center they’re going to be in. For someone to start in the system and work through the more minor office types of control situations till they get to, let’s say, a Chicago or a Washington National, it takes about 3 years. So in this case, what we’ll have to do if some of the major metropolitan areas are shut down or a considerable portion is shut down, we’ll be bringing people in from other areas that are qualified and then start bringing people through the training schools in the smaller cities and smaller airports.

Q. Mr. Secretary, have you definitely made your final offer to the union?

The Secretary of Transportation. Yes, we have.

Q. Thank you.

Note: The President read the statement to reporters at 10:55 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

APP Note: In the “Public Papers of the Presidents” series, this document is titled, “Statement and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Air Traffic Controllers Strike.” It was re-titled to reflect the fact that the president read a prepared written statement.

 

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OTD in History… June 29, 1940, Roosevelt signs into law the Alien Registration Smith Act monitoring immigrants

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… June 29, 1940, Roosevelt signs into law the Alien Registration Smith Act monitoring immigrants

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: FDR Presidential Library

On this day in history June 29, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Alien Registration Act known as the Smith Act making it illegal to plan to overthrow the United States Government and requiring all non-citizen immigrants to register with the government. With American involvement in World War II imminent, Congress decided to pass a series of laws restricting basic freedoms starting in the 1930s meant to protect the government citing national security. The law targeted communists, anarchists, fascists, racists and labor unions, most of which were immigrants. The Act was also used as a basis to intern Japanese Americans in camps during the war.

The US government has a long history of being wary of immigrants especially during times of war. The first laws were passed under President John Adams the unpopular Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Again in World War I, Congress a series of laws that hindered free speech and targeted immigrants including the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918, which made it criminal to use any “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about US “government, its flag, or its armed forces” and applied “when the United States is in war.”

In the late 1930s, Congress again attempted to revive anti-alien and anti-sedition laws, particularly aimed at deporting Austrian born union leader Harry Bridges. Rep. Howard W. Smith of Virginia, an anti-labor Democrat and Chairman of the Rules Committee authored the Alien Registration Act, a softer version than the 100 other anti-immigrant bills under consideration. The bill passed the House 382 to 4, with 45 abstaining on July 29, 1939.

The Act made it illegal “to knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing any government in the United States by for or violence.” There were few dissenting voices in Congress, Rep. John A. Martin of Colorado called it “an invention of intolerance contrary to every principle of democracy and abhorrent to the spirit of Christianity,” while Rep. Lee E. Geyer of California called it a “Hitler measure.” (Martelle, 6) Roosevelt signed the bill the same day France fell to Germany and signed an armistice with Nazi Germany.

In addition, the Roosevelt administration distrust of immigrants was so high he had the Immigration and Naturalization Service transferred and operated under the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The New York Times writing about the bill stated, the “normally distasteful, appeared inevitable, the Administration sponsored the legislation.” In total 215 individuals were indicted, only after the Supreme Court deemed some of the convictions unconstitutional did the prosecutions stop.

The American government overreached with the Alien Restriction Act. As Scott Martelle writing in his book The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial analyzed, The Smith Act would resonate in ways unimagined at the time it was enacted. The law would be used to ruin lives, destroy friendships, and kill careers; it would become a tool of court-sanctioned political repression; it would feed the “hysteria,” as President Harry S, Truman called it, that Senator Joseph McCarthy would harness with such devastating results. In the end, it would give license to the U.S. Government to send American citizens to prison for what they believed, rather than for what they had done.” (Martelle, 7)

Seventy-seven years later the US under President Donald Trump is again reviving anti-immigrant laws with his America First agenda, first with travel ban mostly from Muslim countries upheld by the Supreme Court, his calls for building a wall at the Mexican-American border, and his zero-tolerance policy arresting immigrants illegally crossing the border and separating them from their children. Although reports make it seem that anti-immigrant policies in the US are new under Trump, they have a history as almost as old as the nation, and unfortunately will continue to occur as long as there are immigration and fear of the unfamiliar.

READ MORE

Martelle, Scott. The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

THE SMITH ACT OF 1940,
54 Stat. 670, 671, title I, §§2–3 (June 28, 1940), current version at 18 U.S.C. §2385
SEC. 2. (a) It shall be unlawful for any person—
(1) to knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or
propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence,
or by the assassination of any officer of any such government;
(2) with the intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States,
to print, publish, edit, issue, circulate, sell, distribute, or publicly display any written or printed
matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing
or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence;
(3) to organize or help to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate,
or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States by force
or violence; or to be or become a member of, or affiliate with, any such society, group, or assembly
of persons, knowing the purposes thereof.
(b) For the purposes of this section, the term “government in the United States” means the Government
of the United States, the government of any State, Territory, or possession of the United
States, the government of the District of Columbia, or the government of any political subdivision
of any of them.
SEC. 3. It shall be unlawful for any person to attempt to commit, or to conspire to commit, any of
the acts prohibited by the provisions of this title.
18 U.S.C. §2385 (as of Jan. 2, 2001)
TITLE 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I – CRIMES
CHAPTER 115 – TREASON, SEDITION, AND SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITIES
Sec. 238 5. Advocating overthrow of Government
Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability,
or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the
government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political
subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such
government; or Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government,
prints , publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written
or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of
overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts
to do so; or Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly
of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government
by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society,
group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible
for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five
years next following his conviction.
If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined
under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment
by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following
his conviction.
As used in this section, the terms “organizes” and “organize”, with respect to any society, group,
or assembly of persons, include the recruiting of new members, the forming of new units, and the
regrouping or expansion of existing clubs, classes, and other units of such society, group, or assembly
of persons.

Full Text September 5, 2011: President Barack Obama Speech on Jobs Plan at GM Plant Labor Day Picnic in Detroit

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama walks across the stage at the Labor Day celebration in De
President Barack Obama walks across the stage at the Labor Day celebration in Detroit, Mich., White House Photo, Pete Souza), 9/5/11

President Obama in Detroit: “We’ve Got to Fully Restore the Middle Class in America”

Source: WH, 9-5-11

Today, President Obama traveled to Detroit, Michigan where he spoke at a Labor Day picnic with workers at a GM plant. During his remarks, the President spoke of the important role the labor unions have played in establishing the “cornerstones of middle-class security:”

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.

eople wave as President Barack Obama addresses the Labor Day celebration in Detroit, Mich.

People wave as President Barack Obama addresses the Labor Day celebration in Detroit, Mich., Sept. 5, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

But over the past decade, the American middle class has felt their economic security slipping away. And the economic crisis has only made it more difficult for middle class families to get by. The President discussed the importance of restoring economic security for middle class Americans:

But I’m not satisfied just to get back to where we were before the recession; we’ve got to fully restore the middle class in America. And America cannot have a strong, growing economy without a strong, growing middle class and without a strong labor movement.

That’s the central challenge that we face in our country today.  That’s at the core of why I ran for President. That’s what I’ve been fighting for since I’ve been President. Everything we’ve done, it’s been thinking about you. We said working folks deserved a break — so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.

The President called on members of Congress to put country ahead of party to put Americans back to work:

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.

Rep. Gary Peters, left, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, center, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Rep. Gary Peters, left, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, center, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka listen as President Barack Obama addresses the Labor Day celebration in Detroit, Mich., Sept. 5, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at Detroit Labor Day Event

GM Plant Parking Lot

Detroit, Michigan

Please see below for a correction (marked with an asterisk) to a typo in the transcript.

1:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Detroit!  (Applause.)  Thank you, Michigan!  (Applause.)  Oh, this is a —

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  It is —

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  I can tell Ghana got you fired up.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Ghana, for that introduction.  Thank you all for having me.  It is good to be back in Detroit.  (Applause.)  I’m glad I was able to bring a friend — a proud daughter of the Teamsters, your Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, in the house.  (Applause.)

We’re thrilled to be joined by so many other friends.  I want to acknowledge, first of all, two of the finest senators in the country — Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are in the house. (Applause.)   Outstanding members of the congressional delegation — John Dingell Bingham*, John Conyers, Sandy Levin, Gary Peters, and Hansen Clarke.  (Applause.)

The president of the Metropolitan Detroit Central Labor Council, our host, Saundra Williams.  (Applause.)  AFL-CIO president, Rich Trumka.  (Applause.)  President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, Mark Gaffney.  (Applause.)  And some proud sons and daughters of Michigan representing working people here and across the country — SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa, UAW President Bob King, Utility Workers President Mike Langford.  (Applause.)  We are proud of them and we’re proud of your congressional delegation who are working every single day with your state and local elected officials to create jobs and economic growth and prosperity here in Michigan and all across the country.

I am honored, we are honored, to spend this day with you and your families — the working men and women of America.  This day belongs to you.  You deserve a little R&R, a little barbecue — (laughter) — little grilling — because you’ve been working hard.  (Applause.)  You’ve been working hard to make ends meet.  You’ve been working hard to build a better life for your kids.  You’ve been working hard to build a better Detroit.  (Applause.) But that’s not all I’m going to talk to you about.

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.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)  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 — (applause) — the cornerstones of middle-class security.  That’s because of your work.  (Applause.)

If you want to know who helped lay these cornerstones of an American middle class you just have to look for the union label. (Applause.)

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.  (Applause.)

And that’s something that’s worth keeping in mind today.  We’ve come through a difficult decade in which those values were all too often given short shrift.  We’ve gone through a decade where wealth was valued over work, and greed was valued over responsibility.  And the decks were too often stacked against ordinary folks in favor of the special interests.  And everywhere I went while I was running for this office, I met folks who felt their economic security slipping away, men and women who were fighting harder and harder just to stay afloat.  And that was even before the economic crisis hit, and that just made things even harder.

So these are tough times for working Americans.  They’re even tougher for Americans who are looking for work –- and a lot of them have been looking for work for a long time.  A lot of folks have been looking for work for a long time here in Detroit, and all across Michigan, and all across the Midwest, and all across the country.  So we’ve got a lot more work to do to recover fully from this recession.

But I’m not satisfied just to get back to where we were before the recession; we’ve got to fully restore the middle class in America.  (Applause.)  And America cannot have a strong, growing economy without a strong, growing middle class and without a strong labor movement.  (Applause.)

That’s the central challenge that we face in our country today.  That’s at the core of why I ran for President.  That’s what I’ve been fighting for since I’ve been President.  (Applause.)  Everything we’ve done, it’s been thinking about you. We said working folks deserved a break — so within one month of me taking office, we signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, putting more money into your pockets.  (Applause.)

We said working folks shouldn’t be taken advantage of — so we passed tough financial reform that ended the days of taxpayer bailouts, and stopped credit card companies from gouging you with hidden fees and unfair rate hikes, and set up a new consumer protection agency with one responsibility:  sticking up for you. (Applause.)

We said that if you’re going to work hard all day to provide a better life for your kids, then we’re going to make sure that those kids get the best education possible.  So we helped keep teachers on the job.  (Applause.)  We’re reforming our public schools, and we’re investing in community colleges and job-training programs.  (Applause.)  And we ended wasteful giveaways that went to the big banks and used the savings to make college more affordable for millions of your kids.  (Applause.)

We said that every family in America should have affordable, accessible health care.  (Applause.)  We said you shouldn’t be discriminated against because you’ve got a preexisting condition. We said young adults without insurance should be able to stay on their parents’ plans.  We got that done — for you.  (Applause.)

And here’s what else we said, Detroit.  We said that American autoworkers could once again build the best cars in the world.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)

I know it.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve been to GM’s Hamtramck plant.  (Applause.)  I’ve been to Chrysler’s Jefferson North Plant.  (Applause.)   I’ve seen Detroit prove the cynics and the naysayers wrong.

We didn’t just stop there.  We said American workers could manufacture the best products in the world.  So we invested in high-tech manufacturing and we invested in clean energy.  And right now, there’s an advanced battery industry taking root here in Michigan that barely existed before.  (Applause.)  Half of the workers at one plant in Detroit were unemployed before a new battery company came to town.  And we’re growing our exports so that more of the world buys products that are stamped with three simple words:  “Made in America.”  (Applause.)

So that’s what we’re fighting for, Michigan.  We’re fighting for good jobs with good wages.  We’re fighting for health care when you get sick.  We’re fighting for a secure retirement even if you’re not rich.  We’re fighting for the chance to give our kids a better life than we had.  That’s what we’re doing to restore middle-class security and rebuild this economy the American way — based on balance and fairness and the same set of rules for everybody from Wall Street to Main Street.  (Applause.) An economy where hard work pays off and gaming the system doesn’t pay off, and everybody has got a shot at the American Dream.  That’s what we’re fighting for.  (Applause.)

On Thursday, we’re going to lay out a new way forward on jobs to grow the economy and put more Americans back to work right now.  I don’t want to give everything away right here, because I want you all to tune in on Thursday — (applause) — but I’ll give you just a little bit.  (Applause.)

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.  (Applause.)

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.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you!

THE PRESIDENT:  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.  (Applause.)

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.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)  Show us what you got.  (Applause.)

The time for Washington games is over.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)

Now, let me say a word about labor in particular.  Now, I know this is not going to be an easy time.  I know it’s not easy when there’s some folks who have their sights trained on you.  After all that unions have done to build and protect the middle class, you’ve got people trying to claim that you’re responsible for the problems middle-class folks are facing.

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

THE PRESIDENT:  You’ve got Republicans saying you’re the ones exploiting working families.  Imagine that.

Now, the fact is, our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits.  (Applause.)  Our economy is stronger when we’ve got broad-based growth and broad-based prosperity.  That’s what unions have always been about — shared prosperity.

You know, I was on the plane flying over here, and Carl Levin was with me, and he showed me a speech that Harry Truman had given on Labor Day 63 years ago, right here in Detroit — 63 years ago.  And just to show that things haven’t changed much, he talked about how Americans had voted in some folks into Congress who weren’t very friendly to labor.  And he pointed out that some working folks and even some union members voted these folks in.  And now they were learning their lesson.  And he pointed out that — and I’m quoting here — “the gains of labor were not accomplished at the expense of the rest of the nation.  Labor’s gains contributed to the nation’s general prosperity.”  (Applause.)

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.  (Applause.)  That means they can buy the cars that you build.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)

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 —

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

THE PRESIDENT:  — 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.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s why we’ve reversed harmful decisions that were designed to undermine those rights.  That’s why we passed the Fair Pay Act to stop pay discrimination.  (Applause.) That’s why we appointed people who are actually fulfilling their responsibilities to make sure that the offices and factories and mines workers that clock in each day, that they’re actually safe on the job.

And we’re going to keep at it.  Because having a voice on the job and a chance to organize and a chance to negotiate for a fair day’s pay after a hard day’s work, that is the right of every man and woman in America — not just the CEO in the corner office, but also the janitor who cleans that office after the CEO goes home.  (Applause.) Everybody has got the same right.  (Applause.)

And that’s true for public employees as well.  Look, the recession had a terrible effect on state and local budgets — we all understand that.  Unions have recognized that; they’ve already made tough concessions.  In the private sector, we live in a more competitive global economy — so unions like the UAW understand that workers have to work with management to revamp business models, to innovate so we can sell our products around the world.  We understand that the world is changing; unions understand that the world is changing.  Unions understand they need to help drive the change, whether it’s on the factory floor, or in the classroom, or in the government office.  (Applause.)

But what unions also know is that the values at the core of the union movement, those don’t change.  Those are the values that have made this country great.  (Applause.)  That’s what the folks trying to undermine your rights don’t understand.  When union workers agree to pay freezes and pay cuts — they’re not doing it just to keep their jobs.  They’re doing it so that their fellow workers -– their fellow Americans — can keep their jobs. (Applause.)

When teachers agree to reforms in how schools are run at the same time as they’re digging into their pockets to buy school supplies for those kids, they do so because they believe every child can learn.  (Applause.)  They do it because they know something that those who seek to divide us don’t understand:  We are all in this together.  That’s why those crowds came out to support you in Madison and in Columbus.  We are one nation.  We are one people.  We will rise and we will fall together.  (Applause.)

Anyone who doesn’t believe it should come here to Detroit.  It’s like the commercial says:  This is a city that’s been to heck and back.  (Applause.)  And while there are still a lot of challenges here, I see a city that’s coming back.  (Applause.)
You ask somebody here if times are tough, they’ll say, yeah, it’s tough, but we’re tougher.  (Applause.)  Look at what we’re doing to overcome.  Look at what we’re doing to rebuild and reinvent and redefine what it means to live in this great city.  Look at our parents who catch the first bus to work, and our students who stay up late to earn a degree.  Look at our workers on the line at Hamtramck and Jefferson North who are building the best cars in the world.  Look at our artists who are revamping our city, and our young people who are thinking up new ways to make a difference that we never dreamed of.  Look how we look out for one another.  (Applause.)

That’s why we chose Detroit as one of the cities that we’re helping revitalize in our “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” initiative.  (Applause.)  We’re teaming up with everybody — mayors, local officials, you name it — boosting economic development, rebuilding your communities the best way, which is a way that involves you.  Because despite all that’s changed here, and all the work that lies ahead, this is still a city where men clocked into factories.  This is the city that built the greatest middle class the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  This is the city where women rolled up their sleeves and helped build an arsenal for democracy to free the world.  (Applause.)  This is a city where the great American industry has come back to life and the industries of tomorrow are taking root.  This is a city where people, brave and bold, courageous and clever, are dreaming up ways to prove the skeptics wrong and write the next proud chapter in our history.  (Applause.)

That’s why I wanted to be here with you today.  Because for every cynic and every naysayer running around talking about how our best days are behind us — for everybody who keeps going around saying, “No, we can’t” —

AUDIENCE:  Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT:  — for everybody who can always find a reason why we can’t rebuild America, I meet Americans every day who, in the face of impossible odds they’ve got a different belief.  They believe we can.  You believe we can.  (Applause.)

Yes, times are tough.  But we’ve been through tough times before. I don’t know about you, but I’m not scared of tough times.  (Applause.)  I’m not scared of tough times because I know we’re going to be all marching together and walking together and working together and rebuilding together.  And I know we don’t quit.  (Applause.)  I know we don’t give up our dreams and settle for something less.  We roll up our sleeves — and we remember a fundamental truth of our history:  We are strong when we are united.  (Applause.)  We’re firing all cylinders.

The union movement is going to be at the center of it.  And if all of you are committed to making sure that the person standing next to you, and their kids and their grandkids — that everybody in this city and everybody in this country can unleash his or her potential, if you work hard and play by the rules, you will get a fair shake and get a fair shot.  That’s the country I want for my kids.  (Applause.)  That’s the country you want for your kids.  That’s the country we’re going to build together.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, Detroit.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
1:57 P.M. CDT

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