President Barack Obama sought to rally the support of the United Auto Workers in remarks Tuesday while also taking shots at his potential Republican rivals.
Speaking at UAW's national convention in Washington, Obama said unions like that of the auto workers had helped build the strength of the nation.
"You guys helped to write the American story," Obama said. "And today, you're busy writing a proud new chapter. You are reminding us that no matter how tough times get, Americans are tougher."
He added, "No matter how many punches we take, we don't give up. We get up. We fight back. We move forward."
Obama sought to remind the union workers of the steps his administration took to save the U.S. auto industry, including loans and structured bankruptcies for General Motors and Chrysler.
"Four hundred thousand jobs across this industry vanished the year before I took office," he said. "And then as the financial crisis hit with its full force, America faced a hard and once unimaginable reality, that two of the Big 3 automakers -- GM and Chrysler -- were on the brink of liquidation."
Obama said his team had faced a choice - to give the auto companies unrestricted funds and "kick the can down the road" or potentially do nothing and let the companies, and their suppliers, fail.
The president also took a somewhat veiled swipe at GOP Presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, reminding the workers that "Some even said we should 'let Detroit go bankrupt.'"
"Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel, if GM and Chrysler had gone under," he said. "The suppliers, the distributors that get their business from these companies, they would have died off."
He added, "Then even Ford could have gone down as well."
Instead, Obama said, with government assistance, the auto companies were able to truly change, retooling and restructuring union contracts, to be successful for the future.
"Now, three years later -- three years later, that bet is paying off -- not just paying off for you, it's paying off for America," he said. "Three years later, the American auto industry is back."
He added, "All told, the entire industry has added more than 200,000 new jobs over the past two and a half years -- 200,000 new jobs. And here's the best part -- you're not just building cars again; you're building better cars."
Obama also reminded the workers of the trade agreements and new enforcement policies his administration was enacting in order to make American cars more competitive overseas.
The president went on to announce the creation of a "Trade Enforcement Unit" that he said would bring the full resources of the federal government to bear on investigations.
Obama said that the unit would counter any unfair trading practices around the world, including by countries like China.
"Because America always wins when the playing field is level," Obama said. "And because everyone came together and worked together, the most high-tech, fuel-efficient, good-looking cars in the world are once again designed and engineered and forged and built -- not in Europe, not in Asia -- right here in the United States of America."
He added, "Who knows, maybe the naysayers would finally come around and say that standing by America's workers was the right thing to do. Because, I've got to admit, it's been funny to watch some of these folks completely try to rewrite history now that you're back on your feet."
Continuing his assault on his Republican rivals, though not naming any particular candidate, Obama rejected the conservative assault that the auto industry bailout was essentially a payoff to unions.
"Even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you know what," he said. "You made sacrifices. This wasn't an easy thing to do."
He added, "They're out there talking about you like you're some special interest that needs to be beaten down. Since when are hardworking men and women who are putting in a hard day's work every day -- since when are they special interests?"
Obama said such comments were emblematic of a philosophy that thinks the American people should be left to their own devices, a "you are on your own" mentality.
"Not to put too fine a point on it -- they're wrong," he said. "That's the philosophy that got us into this mess. We can't afford to go back to it. Not now."
by RTT Staff Writer
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