Vice President Biden credited labor unions for building the middle class and “keeping the barbarians at the gates” in an impassioned speech on Wednesday to the United Auto Workers.

Biden criticized conservative groups for attacking collective bargaining rights and said the declining influence of unions was hurting the middle class.


“The truth of the matter is, you built the middle class,” Biden said. “Labor built the middle class. And there's a reason why the middle class is shrinking.”

He called collective bargaining a “bedrock of our economy” and criticized billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone for suggesting in a CNBC interview that wealthy Catholics might stop donating to the church, if Pope Francis continued to make statements criticizing capitalism and income inequality.

“As a practicing Catholic, forgive me father for he has sinned,” the vice president quipped, earning a standing ovation. “C'mon.”

Biden’s speech to a crucial constituency in Democratic politics had some 2016 overtones. The vice president has not ruled out a run for the White House, though former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Cuba readies for life without Castro Chelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' MORE is seen as the Democratic front-runner if she chooses to run.

During an extended aside about the merits of American automobiles — Biden at one point described the new Corvette Stingray with a guttural “yoooooh” — the vice president said restrictions on his ability to drive were a major drawback of his job.

“There’s a lot of reasons to run for president, but there’s one overwhelming reason not to run for president — I'd like to get that Z06 from 0-60 in 3.4 seconds,” Biden said.

Biden spoke fondly about growing up in Scranton, Pa., and his parents telling him he could be anything he wanted, “including vice president or president.”

“In this country, if average Americans don't have the confidence in hard times to be able to turn to their kids, even in hard times, and say, 'Honey, it's going to be ok,' then we have a problem,” Biden said.