DETROIT - President Barack Obama called for an end to "Washington games" and for Congressional Republicans to support initiatives to promote job creation benefiting the middle class.
Speaking to a Labor Day rally in Detroit, a city he said had been "to heck and back," Mr. Obama challenged Congressional Republicans to put the country ahead of party.
In a preview of his speech Thursday to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama proposed boosting construction and infrastructure projects - and included some finger-wagging at critics. "We have more than one million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now," he said. "Labor's on board and businesses [are] on board. We just need Congress to get on board."
He called the union movement "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."
"America cannot have a strong growing economy without a strong growing middle class and without a strong labor movement," he said.
The audience was quick with applause and chants of "Four more years," especially after the president rattled off measures he had fought for (affordable health care, a consumer financial protection agency) or against (ending collective bargaining). Perhaps because the president has reminded them of the bitter partisan battles of the recent past, they were cool when Mr. Obama said, "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, he added, "we're not going to wait for them." The applause resumed.Mr. Obama continued, saying "The time for Washington games is over. The time for action is now. No more manufactured crises and 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."
He also chided anti-labor and anti-union forces who, he said, "had their sights trained on you."
"After all the unions have done to build and protect the middle class, you have got people trying to claim that you're responsible for the problems middle class folks are facing. You have got some Republicans saying you are the ones exploiting working families. Imagine that! The fact is, our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits. Our economy is stronger when we have broad-base growth and broad-based prosperity."
He promised to continue to fight for workers' rights. "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's the right of every man and woman in America - not just the CEO in the corner office, but also the janitor that cleans that office after the CEO goes home. ...
"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 innovate to 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 on the factory floor or in the classroom or in the government office.
"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. 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 job, they're doing it so that their fellow workers, their fellow Americans, can keep their jobs.
"You ask somebody here if times are tough, they'll say, 'Yeah, it's tough, but we're tougher,'" he said. "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. 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. I know we don't give up our dreams and settle for something less."