* Obama says will turn back Bush-era labor policies
* Obama says strong labor movement key to economic recovery
* Labor Unions welcome creation of middle class task force
* Obama talks to Chinese counterpart on economic crisis
By Ross Colvin
WASHINGTON, Jan 30 U.S. President Barack Obama
pledged on Friday to reverse labor policies from his Republican
predecessor, George W. Bush, that unions have long contended
favored employers over workers.
Obama, who won significant backing from trade unions in his
Democratic presidential campaign, said there could not be a
strong middle class, the focus of his economic recovery plan,
without a strong labor movement.
He signed three executive orders to bolster unions in the
workplace and strengthen workers' rights.
"I believe we have to reverse many of the policies toward
organized labor that we have seen over the past eight years,
policies with which I have sharply disagreed," Obama told a
gathering at the White House.
"Labor is not part of the problem, it is part of the
solution," he said to loud applause from an audience that
included representatives of labor unions and business groups.
On Thursday, Obama denounced as "shameless" lavish Wall
Street bonuses for senior financial executives at a time when
taxpayers' money was shoring up a financial system in crisis.
His spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told a news conference the
president planned to address the issue of executive
compensation, with meetings scheduled at the White House next
week to discuss tighter regulation of the financial industry.
Obama discussed the economic crisis in a phone call with
Chinese leader Hu Jintao, telling him the two countries needed
to correct global trade imbalances and get credit markets
flowing, the White House said. [ID:nN30386699]
The Chinese news agency Xinhua said Hu told Obama that
China opposed trade or investment protectionism as part of
settling the crisis and said Beijing would join Washington in
promoting stable development at an economic summit in London in
ROLLING BACK BUSH'S POLICIES
Obama has spent much of his first 11 days in office rolling
back some of his predecessor's policies. He has ordered the
closure of Guantanamo Bay prison, begun reversing Bush's
climate policies and lifted restrictions on U.S. government
funding for groups that provide abortion services abroad.
The president spoke as new data showed the U.S. economy
shrinking at its fastest rate in nearly 27 years and a day
after the number of Americans seeking jobless benefits hit a
record high. [ID:nN30348995]
"The recession is deepening and the urgency of our economic
crisis is growing," Obama said. "This is a continuing disaster
for America's families."
He announced the creation of a task force under Vice
President Joe Biden to look at ways of raising middle-class
living standards, a signature campaign promise.
Biden said his group would travel across the United States
to canvass the views of ordinary Americans, holding meetings in
different towns and cities each month.
The first of the three executive orders will prevent
taxpayer funds being used to reimburse federal contractors who
spend money "trying to influence the formation of unions."
A second will require federal contractors to inform
employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations
Act. A third will ensure that qualified workers keep their jobs
even when a federal contract changes hands.
The Teamsters, one of the most influential U.S. unions,
called Obama's action a "new day for workers."
"We finally have a White House that is dedicated to working
with us to rebuild our middle class. Hope for the American
Dream is being restored," said Teamster President Jim Hoffa.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the
largest federal employee union, welcomed "the dedication of
this administration to reverse the anti-labor and anti-worker
policies that have been in place the last eight years."
Obama, who was sworn in on Jan. 20, has said that fixing
the economy is his top priority. He is pushing Congress to
approve a $900 billion stimulus package to jolt the economy out
of its worst crisis in decades.
Christina Romer, a top Obama economic adviser, said
Friday's figures showing a 3.8 percent drop in gross domestic
product in the fourth quarter made clear the financial crisis
had spread to the whole economy.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander and Jeff Mason;
Editing by Peter Cooney)