Day 1 Report
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
United Auto Workers Convention
Monday, June 12th, 2006
Thank you Dennis Williams for that introduction
and for your leadership in Illinois. And I also want to thank your President,
Ron Gettelfinger, for inviting me here and for his leadership of the
UAW during these challenging times.
I’m sorry I couldn’t be there with you all today. Believe
me, if I had a chance to head to Vegas, I would. But I’m glad
I got the chance to speak to you all for a little bit today, because
I do think that both this union and this country are at a crossroads.
It would be naive of me to start without acknowledging what’s
been on everyone’s mind during this convention. It’s a challenging
time for the labor movement. And I can imagine that many of you are
anxious not only about labor’s future, but yours. You’re
wondering, will I be able to leave my children a better world than I
was given? Will I be able to save enough to send them to college or
plan for a secure retirement? Will my job even be there tomorrow? Who
will stand up for me in this new economy?
In this time of change and uncertainty, these questions are expected
– but they are not unique.
For generations, they’ve been asked and then answered by Americans
who’ve stood in your shoes and shared your concerns about the
They were asked and answered by the men and women who faced down threats
and violence, hired thugs and picket lines to form this union when no
one in business or government would listen.
They were asked and answered by the factory workers and the Rosie the
Riveters who were told to work harder and longer; to make not just cars
but planes and tanks so that we could build our arsenal of democracy
at the height of World War II.
And these questions were asked and answered by UAW heroes who stood
on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement – supporting bus
boycotts and bailing out freedom riders and joining Dr. King in Washington.
Today, you inherit the legacy of courageous Americans who faced down
the greatest of challenges and still succeeded against the greatest
Just imagine the workers back then who would slave away in these plants
all day long, watching coworkers get their bones crushed in machines
and friends get fired for even uttering the word “union”
– and yet after they punched their card at the end of the day,
they organized. They went to meetings and they passed out leaflets.
They put aside decades of ethnic and racial tension and elected women,
African Americans, and immigrants to leadership positions so that they
could speak with one voice.
They could have accepted their lot in life or waited for someone else
to save them. But they chose to act.
Today, we need that kind of action. As you know all too well, globalization
has changed the rules of the game. Corporate bottom-lines no longer
know any borders, and goods and services move where skills and ideas
are plentiful. The Big Three U.S. automakers no longer rule the automotive
world, and now, most passenger cars sold in the U.S. market are either
imported or manufactured by foreign-based producers.
We can’t stop globalization, but we can make America the best
place to do business in the world – and we can help the auto industry
win again. We can do this not by leaving our workers on their own, but
by giving you the skills and benefits you need to compete and thrive
in this global economy.
This is a job for all of us – from the union halls and the boardrooms
to Congress and the White House. This administration has sat by idly
for to long while the auto industry lags behind and our workers suffer.
And we shouldn’t have to settle for this anymore.
We need to show the auto industry that there is no future for them in
simply dumping their pension and health care responsibilities and decimating
their workforce. We need to show them that their real future is in designing
and producing the cars of the 21st century.
We know those cars will be built somewhere, by some workers no matter
what. And there’s no reason on Earth we can’t make sure
that place is America and those workers are members of the UAW.
Let me give you an example of how this can work.
For years, we've hesitated to raise fuel economy standards as a nation
in part because of a very legitimate concern - the impact it would have
on the auto industry and auto workers. The auto industry is absolutely
right when they argue that transitioning to more hybrid and fuel-efficient
cars would require massive investment at a time when they're struggling
under the weight of rising health care costs, sagging profits, and stiff
But that's not to say that we have to leave the industry to face the
transition costs on its own. Yes, we should raise fuel economy standards
with the technology that car companies already have. But we should help
them get there.
Right now, one of the biggest costs facing auto manufacturers isn't
the cars they make, it's the health care they provide. Health care costs
make up $1,500 of the price of every GM car that's made - more than
the cost of steel. Retiree health care alone cost the Big 3 automakers
nearly $6.7 billion just last year.
I believe we should make the auto companies a deal that could solve
this problem. It’s a piece of legislation I introduced called
“Health Care for Hybrids,” and it would allow the federal
government to pick up part of the tab for the auto companies’
retiree health care costs. In exchange, the auto companies would then
use some of that savings to build and invest in more fuel-efficient
This is a proposal where everyone wins – autoworkers can rest
assured that their health care will be there for them when they retire,
the industry will save money on health care, and they’ll be free
to invest in the kind of fuel-efficient cars that will create more jobs
and strengthen their competitive advantage around the world.
I realize that changes like these may sound difficult at first –
but we need to start thinking creatively about how to face these challenges.
We need to start thinking big again.
I promise that in Washington, I will fight every day to make sure that
you have a government that’s on your side in this struggle. We
can have a government that will fight for your wages; a government that
provides health care and pensions you can keep no matter where you go
or what job you have; a government that protects your right to organize
and strengthens your ability to bargain. We can have all of this.
But in return, we need you to fight for this future – and to be
willing and open to new and creative ways of doing so. None of us –
not the industry, not the UAW, not the American people – can afford
to watch the American automotive industry fail. We are all in this together,
and we will rise or fall together based on our ability to confront these
challenges head on.
I want you to know today that I have faith we can do this. It’s
a faith that comes from the knowledge of so many past victories, and
from the hope that we can once again live up to our best ideals.
And it’s a faith in you. Because in the end, the real job of organizing
working America – politics and policy, vision and mission, heart
and soul – belongs to each of you. And if you have the courage
to succeed, labor will rise again. Thank you.