A fired-up President Obama stood before the United Auto Workers today and celebrated the return of the American auto industry.
He didn't have to remind anyone that this group of American workers has been to hell and back: Only a few years ago, nearly one in five American automakers got a pink slip, and 400,000 good, middle-class jobs disappeared in the year before President Obama took office. As the financial crisis took its toll, GM and Chrysler were on the brink of failure.
With no chance of private investment, the President was faced with the decision to intervene or to do nothing—and watch an iconic American industry, and the million-plus jobs it supports, die. At the time, it couldn't have been more politically unpopular to extend a hand to the automakers. Even Mitt Romney, self-proclaimed "son of Detroit," advocated in the New York Times that we "let Detroit go bankrupt." But the President made the tough call to bet on the American worker, bet on American manufacturing, and demand an overhaul of the industry in exchange for loans. There were too many livelihoods on the line to do nothing.
"These jobs are worth more than just a paycheck. They’re a source of pride. They’re a ticket to a middle-class life that make it possible for you to own a home and raise kids and maybe send them—yes—to college. Give you a chance to retire with some dignity and some respect. These companies are worth more than just the cars they build. They’re a symbol of American innovation and know-how. They're the source of our manufacturing might. If that’s not worth fighting for, what's worth fighting for?
"So, no, we were not going to take a knee and do nothing. We were not going to give up on your jobs and your families and your communities. So in exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We said to the auto industry, you're going to have to truly change, not just pretend like you're changing. And thanks to outstanding leadership like Bob King, we were able to get labor and management to settle their differences.
"We got the industry to retool and restructure, and everybody involved made sacrifices. Everybody had some skin in the game. And it wasn’t popular. And it wasn’t what I ran for President to do. That wasn’t originally what I thought I was going to be doing as President. But you know what, I did run to make the tough calls and do the right things—no matter what the politics were."
It's back, and it's stronger than ever. GM is once again the No. 1 automaker in the world, and it just posted its highest profit ever. And in two and a half years, these companies have created more than 200,000 new jobs building new American cars with the toughest fuel economy standards in history. If it had been up to Republicans like Romney, the industry would be gone, and the jobs would be gone.
"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. The same folks who said, if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, "you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye." Now they're saying, we were right all along. Or you've got folks saying, well, the real problem is—what we really disagreed with was—the workers, they all made out like bandits, that saving the auto industry was just about paying back the unions. Really? I mean, even by the standards of this town, that’s a load of you know what. About 700,000 retirees had to make sacrifices on their health care benefits that they had earned. A lot of you saw hours reduced, or pay or wages scaled back. You gave up some of your rights as workers. Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry—its workers, their families. You want to talk about sacrifice? You made sacrifices. This wasn't an easy thing to do.
"Let me tell you, I keep on hearing these same folks talk about values all the time. You want to talk about values? Hard work—that’s a value. Looking out for one another—that’s a value. The idea that we're all in it together, and I'm my brother's keeper and sister's keeper—that’s a value. ...
"See, that’s what America is about. America is not just looking out for yourself. It’s not just about greed. It’s not just about trying to climb to the very top and keep everybody else down. When our assembly lines grind to a halt, we work together and we get them going again. When somebody else falters, we try to give them a hand up, because we know we’re all in it together. I got my start standing with working folks who’d lost their jobs, folks who had lost their hope because the steel plants had closed down. I didn’t like the idea that they didn’t have anybody fighting for them. The same reason I got into this business is the same reason I’m here today. I’m driven by that same belief that everybody—everybody—should deserve a chance.
"So I promise you this: As long as you’ve got an ounce of fight left in you, I’ll have a ton of fight left in me. We’re going to keep on fighting to make our economy stronger; to put our friends and neighbors back to work faster; to give our children even more opportunity; to make sure that the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth."