Of course, this wasn't the first time Obama stood up with, and for, the men and women of the UAW.
Today, you inherit the legacy of courageous Americans who faced down the greatest of challenges and still succeeded against the greatest of odds.
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. ...
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 competition.
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 cars.
This is a proposal where everyone wins – auto workers 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 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.