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We Couldn’t Have Said It Better

by Mike Hall, Aug 4, 2010

After President Obama finished delivering his speech to the AFL-CIO Executive Council this morning, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had this question for the president.

We’re going into a congressional election three months from today, and I think it’s fair to say that workers’ hopes for congressional action to protect workers’ rights and to create jobs have been frustrated by a Republican minority that has filibustered every matter in front of them, every single thing that’s been good for us.

I just want to ask you, what advice do you have for workers as the election approaches, particularly for workers who are trying to organize to have a voice on the job?

We couldn’t have answered any better. Take a look at Obama’s response.

Well, you guys don’t need advice from me, but let me tell you what I see out there.  We were hurt by this recession, badly hurt.  This is going to take some time to recover.  Unemployment is at unacceptably high levels.

But as I said before, we’d had challenges before the crisis hit.  A lot of your membership had been hurting long before, partly because we just live in a more competitive world.  There’s nothing we can do about that, that’s just the truth.  But a lot of it also had to do with the fact that we put policies in place that were not good for working families.  There’s a reason why incomes, wages, were stagnant for average workers, even while the costs were going up.  And part of it had to do with the fact that we had a philosophy that said that providing help to workers, allowing them to collectively bargain, allowing them to negotiate for better benefits, that that all was something of the past instead of something we need for the future.

So on the one hand, I think everybody here understands we’ve got to be competitive in America.  We’ve got to have competitive price structures.  We’ve got to make the best products possible.  Workers have to be invested in trying to help the companies they work for succeed.  With respect to public employees, we’ve all got to work together to make sure that whatever we’re doing, whether it’s as firefighters or as teachers or postal workers, whatever it is, that we’re providing the best possible service.  I think everybody understands that there’s no operation in the United States of America that shouldn’t be efficient and effective in doing what it does.

But it is my profound belief that companies are stronger when their workers are getting paid well and have decent benefits and are treated with dignity and respect. It is my profound belief that our government works best when it’s not being run on behalf of special interests, but it’s being run on behalf of the public interest, and that the dedication of public servants reflects that.

So FDR I think said—he was asked once what he thought about unions.  He said, “If I was a worker in a factory and I wanted to improve my life, I would join a union.”  Well, I tell you what.  I think that’s true for workers generally.  I think if I was a coal miner, I’d want a union representing me to make sure that I was safe and you did not 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 that the teachers’ perspective was represented as we think about shaping an education system for our future.

And that’s why my administration has consistently implemented not just legislative strategies but also, where we have the power through executive orders, to make sure that those basic values are reflected.

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