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Joe Biden: Labor unions are keeping the 'barbarians at the gates'

Vice President Joe Biden said that Washington needed a "strong Republican Party" free of the Tea Party's influence to break through the political gridlock in the nation's capital. (AP Photo)

Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday praised labor unions, saying they were “keeping the barbarians at the gate” by opposing forces weakening America's middle class.

“The truth of the matter is you built the middle class. Labor built the middle class. And there's a reason why the middle class is shrinking," said Biden in an address to the United Automobile Workers Community Action Program Conference in Washington, D.C.

“I know I got in trouble for saying this before, but I'm going to say it again. You guys are the only guys keeping the barbarians at the gate, man. That's the deal,” he added.

In his address, Biden lamented the setbacks faced by the labor movement in recent years and said they should be heralded by the American public for the benefits they helped win for all workers.

“I still know how to pronounce the word ‘union,' ” said Biden. “One of our problems is not enough elected officials remember how to pronounce the word ‘union.’ Everybody talks about workers, I talk about unions.”

The vice president said, “every worker in America, whether or not they’ve been a member of a union,” had benefitted from labor unions’ efforts.

“Every company in America changed their work rules, raised salaries, moved in a direction of better conditions for workers because you were there,” said Biden.

Biden, though, said there was now a “war” on labor.

“This is a concerted, full-throated, well-organized, well-financed, well-thought-out, long-term effort, waging a war on labor's house,” he said, citing the number of states with right-to-work laws.

The vice president's speech comes as the administration pushes their economic agenda, with President Obama vowing to fight income inequality and policies to bolster the middle class.

Obama has said that he is ready to work with Congress, but that if lawmakers fail to pass his agenda, he will use executive actions to press ahead.

Biden also touted the auto industry bailout, saying that management and labor had worked together “to save an iconic industry.”

He said the administration had “bet” on U.S. autoworkers and won.

Biden, speaking personally, also thanked the UAW, telling the audience that the union had helped bring him to Washington in 1972.

“When I started off, my state was red. Five out of eight races were won by Republicans in my state. It wasn't blue,” said Biden. “But the folks who helped make it blue were the UAW.

“You guys endorsed me. And I mean this sincerely, everything changed. Then the steel workers jumped in and all the labor. But you led the way. You were the ones that took a bet on me,” he said. “You've never left me and I've never left you.”