On US Labor Day, Obama Calls for New Worker Aid

Posted September 5th, 2011 at 2:45 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama praised American workers on the country's Labor Day holiday, while calling on political opponents to join him in supporting new spending to fix roads and bridges and to extend a national payroll tax cut.

The president appeared Monday before a cheering group of union workers in auto industry hub of Detroit, Michigan. With the country's economy stagnant, he acknowledged that these “are tough times for American workers.”

But Mr. Obama, a Democrat, vowed to propose new support for workers in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. Numerous opposition Republican lawmakers have opposed his call for more spending to support job creation, but the president challenged them to, in his words, “put country ahead of party.”

He said that among other things, he would propose construction spending to fix the country's crumbling roads and bridges, as well as extend an eight-month-old 2 percent payroll tax cut beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of the year. He told Congress, “The time for action is now.”

The Labor Day holiday is the country's traditional salute to workers, but this year the U.S. is struggling with persistent high unemployment and stagnant job growth.

Labor Day has been officially recognized in the U.S. since 1894. Over the years, it has often been celebrated as the last of the summer holidays with family gatherings and union worker parades, as it was Monday, before cooler weather returns. In some communities, it is the last day before the school year starts for children.

But the organized labor movement in the country is greatly diminished from its high point in the post-World War Two years.

Now, about one of every eight workers is a union member. But unionized local, state and federal government workers now outnumber those working for private companies, a marked shift from the early days of the country's union movement when unionized factory workers dominated union membership rolls.

The country faces daunting labor challenges, and did not add any new jobs in August. About 14 million workers are unemployed, with millions more working part-time even as they attempt to land full-time jobs. The country's unemployment rate has hovered at an unusually high 9 percent figure for 29 months and shows no sign of improving.