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Biden speech to AFL-CIO: Unions, middle class 'built this country'

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Biden speech to AFL-CIO: Unions, middle class 'built this country'
President Joe Biden salutes a U.S. Marine on the White House lawn on Tuesday before boarding Marine One for a trip to Philadelphia to speak to the AFL-CIO convention. Photo by Chris leponis/UPI | License Photo

June 14 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden praised the AFL-CIO and told the unions' convention Tuesday in Philadelphia that the improving fortune of American companies lies in the strength of its workers.

Biden referred to his blue-collar roots as a native of nearby Scranton, Pa., and received a standing ovation when he credited unions with the growth of America's middle class.

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"Wall Street didn't build this country," Biden said. "The middle class built this country and unions built the middle class. Without unions, they'd be no middle class. There is a reason. You are the best-trained workers in the world. When you do well, everyone does well.

"We need an economy built from the middle out and from the bottom up -- not the top down," Biden said. "Too often, we've had an economy where the wealthy do better and better while the middle class gets left behind. So we went to work to change that."

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Biden touted the passage of the American Rescue Plan, created to help the U.S. economy bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new bipartisan infrastructure law.

"[The American Rescue Plan] helped 41 million people put food on their tables and put the money in the pockets of hard-working Americans," Biden said. "We're going to create more good jobs that are made in America. We're going reduce pollution while making it safer and safer for people to go to work every day."

Biden said he sees global warming in the framework of creating good-paying jobs for U.S. workers.

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"[These are] jobs you can raise a family on and jobs that can't be outsourced," Biden said. "The infrastructure law is about more than rebuilding our infrastructure. It's about rebuilding the middle class. That's why we made sure the infrastructure law included significant labor protections."

Philadelphia was key in Biden's election in 2020, as late returns in the city helped him win Pennsylvania and the presidency.

Biden's visit came at a time of economic concern in the United States, with inflation running at its highest level in four decades and gasoline prices at an all-time high over $5 per gallon.

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A recent CBS News poll found nearly 70% of Americans say the state of the economy is "bad," and inflation is viewed as one of their top concerns.

The AFL-CIO is the United States' largest federation of unions, representing more than 12 million American workers. Tuesday's convention was expected to bring nearly 60 unions together to debate, vote on resolutions and chart the course for the labor movement's future.

On Sunday, the convention elected Liz Shuler as AFL-CIO president, making her the first woman to hold the office in the union's history. It also chose Fred Redmond as secretary-treasurer, the first Black American to hold the office.

"We are going to amplify the voices of working people -- their hopes, struggles, and demands," Shuler said in a statement this week. "This is more than a comeback story. This is a new story, yet to be told.

"A story we will write, on our terms, to be written by every one of us. A new era for all working people across this country. And generations from now, they'll tell the story of how we succeeded, together, in solidarity."

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