Associated Press writer

HOUSTON — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, continuing her efforts to secure the endorsement of unions, told a crowd of nearly 1,100 people at a labor hall Saturday that she will fight to help the middle class if elected.

“Nobody works harder than Americans. Wages aren’t up. Benefits aren’t secure. But corporate profits are up. It’s not the rich who made America great. It’s the hard working middle class,” Clinton said as the crowd at the Communications Workers of America hall loudly cheered.

While Clinton’s nearly 30 minute campaign speech touched on a variety of issues, including the war in Iraq, lessening America’s dependence on foreign oil and offering more support for the country’s police officers and military veterans, the New York senator’s comments focused mainly on her support of the working middle class and the labor movement.

“This is a house that labor built,” she said. “The American middle class owes a lot to the labor movement.”

Like other presidential candidates, Clinton is seeking the endorsement of organized labor.

On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions, postponed making an unanimous endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary, freeing its 55 unions to decide which candidates to support.

Although union membership has declined over the years, the AFL-CIO remains a political force. Labor endorsements are prized for both the money and the personnel that unions can provide.

Clinton said President Bush has ignored the concerns that many middle class Americans have, including a lack of health insurance, relief from rising gas prices and continued funding for afterschool programs.

“There are a lot of people in Texas, probably in this room that don’t have health insurance. You might as well be invisible to President Bush,” she said. “We had afterschool programs. We thought it was a good thing to help working families. All of that has been cut back. We are going to make that visible. We are not going to have invisible working parents.”

Clinton also promised to end the “outsourcing of our government. We have more private contract employees than military and civilian employees combined.”

Her Democratic and Republican rivals have accused Clinton of being influenced by corporate lobbyists and not sharing the beliefs and needs of the average worker.

“Hillary Clinton will say or do anything as she continues to pander to big labor bosses but at the end of the day rank and file workers are opposed to the higher taxes that she continues to advocate,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Michaelita Mejia, 57, a bank worker who attended Saturday’s rally, said a candidate’s support of such middle class issues such as health care, job security and education will be important in the minds of voters.

“I’m the middle class. I think they are very important issues,” she said.

Besides the rally at the labor hall, Clinton attended two private fundraisers in Houston and met with local ministers before heading off to Tulsa, Okla.