U.S. President George Bush has defended his handling of the U.S. economy in a Labor Day speech to union members in the state of Ohio.
The president said he is optimistic about the economy, telling workers in the town of Richfield that things are looking up. "I believe there are better days ahead for people who are working and looking for work," he said.
He pointed to positive signs, such as the current rise in economic output. But he acknowledged that the national unemployment figure remains too high at just more than six percent. "Things are getting better, but there are some things we have got to do to make sure the economy continues to grow," said Mr. Bush.
He said his tax cuts have made a big difference, stressing he had to move aggressively to stimulate a sluggish economy.
"Tax relief was needed to stem the recession," said Mr. Bush. "They tell me it was a shallow recession because of the tax relief."
But he said more is needed to create new jobs, saying he is committed to helping all those who are looking for work. The president offered no new initiatives, though he did call for Congress to pass his energy plan and said he wanted the federal government to help American manufacturers forced to cut jobs in the United States because of lower production costs overseas.
"One way to make sure the manufacturing sector does well is to send a message overseas and say we expect there to be a fair playing field when it comes to trade," added President bush. "See, we in America believe we can compete with anybody, just so long as the rules are fair."
Mr. Bush spoke outside in a pouring rain to members of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents 400,000 construction and maintenance workers in the United States and Canada.
His holiday visit to the union's job training center in Richfield marked his third trip this year to Ohio, a state he narrowly won in 2000.
Labor Day traditionally marks the start of the political campaign season in the United States. And while the president was defending his record on jobs and the economy, the various contenders for the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nomination were also appearing at numerous events around the country.
Organized labor in the United States has traditionally sided with the Democrats in presidential elections. The Operating Engineers Union is one of the largest labor donors to the Republicans, but it gave only 16 percent of its campaign contributions to the president's party in 2002.