Obama thanks labor for hard-won rights at work

CINCINNATI: President Barack Obama declared Monday that modern benefits like paid leave and minimum wage "all bear the union label," as he appealed to unions to help him win the health care fight in Congress.

Shortly after becoming president, Obama confronted a rapidly deteriorating economy, a clogged credit system, failing or ailing banks and a a shaky stock market.

He used his speech on Monday's Labor Day holiday to tick off a host of steps his administration has taken to steady the economy, and he made a special pitch for the health care overhaul he has pushed.

"We have never been this close," Obama said.

"We have never had this broad an agreement on what needs to be done."

He accused vested interests of trying to thwart his attempts to bring health care to all Americans.

Some union-circulated posters held up by audience members proclaimed, "Health Care Can't Wait."

The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for all its citizens, and about 50 million of America's 300 million people are without health insurance.

Obama came to the presidency in January with almost unprecedented bipartisan popularity and strong backing for plan to make health care accessible to all Americans.

But opposition has grown because of conservative attacks and liberal inability to counter them effectively, and the proposed legislation has been languishing in Congress.

For their part, some elements within the labor movement have indicated frustration with Obama, who traveled to Cincinnati to speak to a state AFL-CIO union gathering, because some key items such as legislation making it easier for people to join unions has languished in Congress.

To vigorous cheers, Obama made a pitch for the bill in his speech.

He also noted that the first bill he signed into law was one guaranteeing equal pay for equal work.

Obama spent a good deal of his time extolling the virtues of the union movement.

"It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. So, even if you're not a union member, every American owes something to America's labor movement," said Obama, whose run for the presidency was energized in no small part by unions.

Obama asserted that "our recovery plan is working," but repeated that he won't be satisfied until jobs are much more plentiful.

The crowd gave Obama a standing ovation and cheered loudly as he came on stage.

Many remained standing as he spoke, applauding and hollering throughout.

Obama chose the Labor Day union picnic as the backdrop to announce his selection of Ron Bloom as senior counselor for manufacturing policy.

Bloom was senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as part of the auto industry task force since February.

Bloom, a Harvard Business School graduate, previously advised the United Steelworkers union and worked as an investment banker.

Bloom will work with the National Economic Council to lead policy development and planning for Obama's work to revitalize U.S. manufacturing, the White House said. - AP

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