WASHINGTON - President Obama spent the morning of his birthday, Aug. 4, asking leaders of the labor movement to do everything they can to prevent a Republican takeover of Congress this November.
His speech to the AFL-CIO's executive council here underlined what both Obama and the labor movement believe is at stake in the 2010 elections.
Talking about Republicans, the president declared: "They want to go backward; we want to move America forward. That's the choice in this upcoming election. All your members need to understand that choice."
Obama said mass unemployment in America is unacceptable and the pain it causes "goes beyond just the financial pain. It goes to who you are as a person."
"It hits right in the gut," the president said. "Having a conversation with your spouse, and saying, you know, 'maybe we can't afford this house anymore, maybe we're going to have to give up on being able to save for our kid's college education.' That goes directly to people's identities, to their cores."
Frustration and anger have surfaced all over America as the result of a long, deep recession that has left at least 16 million unemployed. Republicans are trying to ride that anger and frustration into control of one or both houses of Congress in November.
Obama told the labor leaders that a return to Republican control would be a return to policies that created the economic disaster in the first place.
He described the GOP as "a driver that drove the car into the ditch and stood there for a year and a half, while we put on boots, got down into the mud, and heaved and hoed and pulled to get that car out. Just as we get it to the ledge, they come along and say, 'We want the keys back.' Uh uh, you can't have the keys back. We will not give them back!" Obama's story was cut off, first by laughter, then by prolonged applause.
Obama said, "With the help of workers and unions we are going to rebuild our country stronger than ever, and at the heart of it will be three simple words: made in America."
Part of the choice in the November elections, he said, is a choice between job creation in America or jobs going elsewhere. "Instead of giving tax breaks to corporations that want to ship our jobs overseas, we want to give tax breaks to companies that are investing right here in the U.S.A."
The president acknowledged that "we are a long way from solving all our problems" but insisted that "we are on the right track."
"Instead of losing millions of jobs," he said, "we have created jobs for six straight months in the private sector. Instead of an economy that is contracting, we've got an economy that is expanding. So the last thing we would want to do is go back to what we were doing before."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka asked Obama what he had to say regarding the plight of millions who do have jobs but jobs that pay poverty wages and afford workers no voice at the workplace.
"Look, it's going to be tough with the Senate we have," Obama responded, "but we are going to keep fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act." The president noted that he had worked to create conditions in the Labor Department and on the National Labor Relations Board that would, "at least make it more likely that workers can get fast fair elections when they want a union."
Obama recalled President Franklin D. Roosevelt's comment that if he were a factory worker, he'd join a union.
Obama said: "I think that's true for workers generally. If I were a miner, I'd want a union representing me to make sure that I was safe and that we wouldn't have some of the tragedies that we've been seeing in the coal industry. If I was a teacher, I'd want a union to make sure the teachers' perspective was expressed as we think about shaping an education system for our future."
Photo and video: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, left, and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker listen as President Obama addresses the labor federation's executive council, Aug. 4 in Washington. (whitehouse.gov)