This may be familiar ground, but I was glad to see President Obama deliver an impassioned, impromptu defense of labor unions in Iowa.

A retired high school teacher noted that union benefits have increasingly been under attack. The president agreed.

“[L]et’s make one thing clear. The right of workers to come together and join a union is part of what built America’s middle class. It’s the reason why we’ve got a minimum wage. It’s the reason why folks have weekends. It’s the reason why you have basic protections on the job from an abusive employer.

“There are a whole range of things that people take for granted, even if they’re not in a union, that they wouldn’t have had if it had not been for collective bargaining. So I think it is very important, whether you are in a union or not — and I speak particularly to young people, because you’ve grown up at a time when in a lot of circles ‘union’ somehow is a dirty word — to understand all this is is people joining together so they’ve got a little more leverage; so they’ve got better working conditions, better wages; they can better support their family.

“And a lot of us entered into the middle class because our parent or a grandparent was in a union. Remember that. When I hear this kind of anti-union rhetoric and anti-union assaults, I’m thinking these folks have amnesia. They don’t remember that that helped build our middle class and strengthen our economy.”

The president added that much of the trouble when it comes to assaults on collective bargaining are happening at the state level, where the administration’s influence is limited, but Obama noted the recent FAA dispute with House Republicans. “[W]e’re fighting back,” he said, “pushing back against these efforts to diminish the capacity to exercise their basic freedoms and their basic rights.”

Like I said, this isn’t exactly new, but labor too often gets the short shrift in the larger political discussion. Hearing the president offer a full-throated defense of unions as part of his Midwest tour was heartening.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.