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Jimmy Carter: United Auto Workers Remarks at the Union's Convention in Los Angeles.
Jimmy Carter
United Auto Workers Remarks at the Union's Convention in Los Angeles.
May 17, 1977
Public Papers of the Presidents
Jimmy Carter<br>1977: Book I
Jimmy Carter
1977: Book I

United States
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Thank you very much, President Woodcock, distinguished members of the UAW who have come here Irvin all over the Nation to reconfirm what you stand for, to my good friend Doug Fraser and to many people in the audience and behind me, who throughout the last 2 years stood in factory shift lines in the cold and in the rain so that I could become better informed about what a President ought to be, about what our Nation is, and what our future might hold:

It's a very rare occasion that I have a chance to come to a convention. I haven't been to one since I've been President. I may not go to another one this year. But I particularly wanted to come and be with you.

Ordinarily Vice President Mondale is the one who chooses to go and make a speech at the conventions. I had to send him to Yugoslavia to have this chance today. He'll be coming back to our country in about a week, having been to Portugal--a brand-new democracy; to Spain--a brand-new democracy; having visited the President of South Africa to try to work out some solution to the difficult problems in that continent; having met with Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia to reconfirm their independence of the Big Bear to the north of them; and then having come back through England to discuss the common basis on which we approach the future.

So, I'm glad to have a chance to be with you today. I've been talking a lot about conservation, lately, and efficiency in automobiles. When I got off the plane, I was greeted and rode in one of your finest products--a very large, very black Cadillac limousine. [Laughter] So, I've enjoyed so far my visit, and I'm looking forward to the rest of it and to speak to you. Later, I'll be on a 90-minute call-in television show, and then I'm going to visit some of the farmlands around Fresno.

It's no accident that I've chosen the UAW convention to make this speech and to make this appearance. Your union was born in struggle, and you've won many victories. But you've never retreated into complacency or narrow selfishness.

The UAW is still fighting, because this union has always understood that it cannot stand alone. And above every other trade union I know in the world, you've always seen that your membership and your leadership were part of a larger society and a larger world. Very few institutions anywhere have been so fortunate as to have the kind of superb leadership that has always been a mark of the UAW.

For 31 years, this union has been led by men whose vision and sense of responsibility extended far beyond the walls of Solidarity House--men who have demanded decency and a better life not just for the UAW membership but for all the people.

The next president of the UAW has big shoes to fill. I won't predict who's going to win your election tomorrow, although I noticed that Doug Fraser doesn't look too worried.

Seven years ago, when Walter Reuther's1 life was so tragically cut short, there were predictions that this union would turn inward and would abandon its role as defender of social justice. Leonard Woodcock showed how wrong these predictions were. He's left his mark of support for the poor and the oppressed as clearly as for his own members at the bargaining table.

1 Former president of the United Auto Workers.

Recently, as you know, I asked him to undertake an extremely sensitive assignment in Vietnam. Leonard Woodcock did a superb job. And although he is retiring as president of this international union, he will continue to serve his country in a new, international role. I will soon submit his name to the Senate to be Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China, with the rank of Ambassador.

I don't believe anyone in the world who's familiar with international relations would doubt the importance of this assignment. Now some people may wonder why I'm sending a labor leader instead of a professional diplomat to handle such important negotiations. But I think there are some executives at Ford and General Motors and Chrysler and American Motors who might be able to answer that question very well.

We want a tough negotiator. We want someone who understands human sensitivities. We want someone who has the personal integrity to build up trust where doubt now exists. And I know that Leonard Woodcock will fill this role as competently and with as much grace as he has the important job of being president of the UAW.

I have complete confidence in him. And if he'll just help me with a few sensitive things in the Congress, I'm going to even send a translator to China with him to help him out with the language. [Laughter]

Today, I want to talk to you briefly about some domestic problems which prey on my mind and rest on my shoulders as your President.

The domestic problems which we do face as Americans are difficult, indeed, but we have the courage and the ingenuity and the greatness of spirit to meet these challenges. I believe that we can build an America in which our day-to-day practices live up to our democratic ideals, in which the family life, mine and yours, is strong and stable, in which the neighborhoods of our cities are vital and safe, in which work is available and is justly rewarded, in which opportunity is not limited by color or sex or religion or economic or educational background, in which there is schooling and employment for the young and dignity and security for the old.

We must work together to control inflation and to get our economy moving again. We must come to terms with the growing shortage of energy which, if ignored, will gravely damage the very fabric of our society. We must safeguard the integrity of our social security system. We must totally reform our tax and our welfare systems. We must ensure the health of the American people. And we must develop a government which is open enough to earn the trust and support of the people in addressing these and other crucial issues, and efficient enough and competent enough to ensure that our efforts will bear fruit.

The achievement of all our goals depends on the first one that I mentioned-a strong and a growing economy.

At the beginning of this administration, less than 4 months ago, our economy was still floundering from the worst recession in 40 years. The well-being of our people was squeezed between the twin pressures of high unemployment and inflation.

That picture has already improved because we have restored the confidence of consumers and business. Last month, the number of Americans with jobs in the private sector of our economy went over 90 million for the first time in our country's history. Eight hundred thousand people have gone off the unemployment rolls since December. Half a million found jobs in April alone. Private surveys have shown that business investment plans for 1977 are up significantly, more than 15 percent, compared to 1976.

Unemployment now stands at the lowest level in 29 months--down a full 1 percent since last November. But of course, you know and I know that a 7-percent unemployment rate is still completely unacceptable. We still have a long way to go.

The equally dangerous threat of inflation is building. Consumer prices reflecting the drought and last winter's cold weather have been going up at an annual rate of about 10 percent in the last 3 months, and the basic inflation rate, under everything else, has been running 6 or 6 1/2 percent.

These inflation figures are too high for comfort. And as you know, also, inflation falls most heavily on people with modest means and people who've worked all their lives for a little security and who then find that security threatened. Inflation robs us of our confidence in the future.

However, it's interesting to point out, at the recent London summit conference, the single issue of most concern to the seven heads of state assembled there was unemployment among young people. In the ideological struggle with the Eastern Socialist and Communist countries, this is our one major vulnerability. We have got to provide in our country an economic system that's healthy enough and an education system that's competent enough so that when our young people reach the age of 18 or 19 years old, they can find a way to use the talent and ability and opportunities that God gave them and not enter adult life discouraged and excluded from society. This ought to be number one in all our efforts in the future.

Experience has shown us and all economists that we must attack inflation and unemployment together. To get our economy moving again, in the short 4 months that I've been in office, we proposed both direct creation of jobs and permanent tax reduction for the low-income and middle-income taxpayers.

Last week I signed a bill, public works, which will provide both necessary community improvements where you live, plus about 600,000 jobs concentrated in areas of high unemployment.

We have proposed more than doubling the existing jobs program for the long-term unemployed and the young. And Congress has already appropriated the money that we requested to increase public service jobs from 310,000 to 725,000.

I've also proposed--and I believe the Congress will rapidly approve--a major initiative to train our young people and to put them to work in productive jobs in our cities, rural areas, national parks and forests. And in addition to this, above and beyond what I've just described, we will provide work this summer for about 1.1 million young people, more than ever before.

To help our hard-pressed cities, which quite often in the past have not gotten a fair share of governmental opportunity, we've supported--and Congress just passed yesterday--a major expansion of countercyclical revenue sharing, which means that the money goes to the areas that are most in need.

We've also proposed a renewed community block grant program with changes that will stimulate private investment, in particular housing and other developments, and put more of the money into the cities again which need it most.

We support extending the earned-income tax credit for working people and a general, personal tax credit, which together add up to $6.8 billion annually in individual tax relief, mostly for low- and middle-income families, including those families too poor to owe any income tax.

And also, I will sign into law within the next few days--Congress has already passed--a permanent $4 billion tax cut through increases in the standard deductions. Eighty-eight percent of this tax relief will go to families with incomes of less than $15,000 a year, and 3.3 million low-income taxpayers who no;,' pay taxes will not have to pay any Federal income taxes at all.

Now, this new law will obviously save people money, and it will also create jobs because consumers will have more of their paycheck to keep and to spend for goods that we produce. It's also going to save a lot of headaches next April, because 75 percent of all taxpayers will be able to take a standard deduction and compute their taxes on one side of one sheet of paper in one step.

So, the multiple goals of economic strategy reinforce one another, they work together. The strategy is designed to cut unemployment to below 5 percent by 1981; to work with business and labor, together, to knock 2 percentage points off the inflation rate by the end of 1979; and by the higher revenues that growing employment will bring, to achieve a balanced budget in fiscal year 1981.

Again, I want to stress two points about our economic policies because it's important for you and all Americans to understand. One point is that we aim to balance the budget in 1981 in a strong and healthy economy, with the revenues that come into the Government when people are employed and our industrial capacity is being used.

It's not legitimate spending on human needs that causes Federal deficits. It's principally the inadequate revenues that come in from a sluggish economy that create those deficits. Understanding that is a very good move in the right direction. Cutting back programs that really help people is not the way to balance the budget. But even with adequate revenues, we'll still have to make some hard choices about how we spend the taxpayers' money. We can't afford to do everything.

The other important point I want to make about the economy is that I'm inalterably opposed to fighting inflation by keeping unemployment high and factories idle. This has been done too much in the past. That approach has been proved in the last 8 years to be economically ineffective and morally bankrupt. If the economy should falter during the years ahead, I will not hesitate to propose the economic and budgetary measures needed to get the economy going again. And you can depend on that.

Now, the second major challenge I want to discuss with you this morning is energy. The energy crisis is the greatest domestic challenge that our country will face in our lifetime. I still find it almost incredible that our country has no coherent plan for dealing with it until this year. We have now proposed such a plan to the Congress and also proposed a new department to deal with the energy question.

This plan is based on three inescapable realities. There's no way to get around them. The first is that we are simply running out of oil. The second is that oil will, nevertheless, have to remain our primary source of energy for many years and must not be wasted. And the third principle is that unless we begin soon to prepare for the transition to other sources of energy, the consequences on our society and our way of life will be very severe.

We could face massive unemployment, crippling inflation, social and political instability, and threats to our freedom of action in international affairs. We cannot just rely on increased production. While finding more oil is important, we would have to discover a new- Alaskan oil field every year just to keep pace with the annual growth in world consumption. No matter how strong the financial incentives, that is simply not going to happen. We must save oil and gas for uses where there is no good substitute. One obvious example is moving vehicles. We must shift to other sources when possible, and we must develop new sources, such as solar energy.

There are no workers in America whose future jobs depend more than yours on a good energy program based on strict conservation. Now, you know and I know that meeting our energy goals is not going to be easy. It will require sacrifice from everyone in the country.

We cannot use the fuel crisis as an excuse for not cleaning up our air. I have proposed tough but fair air pollution standards. We've got to improve the efficiency of our cars, and that's why I proposed a gas-guzzler tax.

Now you and I have honest differences of opinion over some aspects of my proposals. But I don't hesitate to call on you for help, because I know what you've done in the past. You've never lost sight of the broader interests of our Nation. Walter Reuther helped to make possible the Clean Air Act as it was originally passed. And your members are already building cars highly efficient, getting more than 30 miles per gallon.

It's absolutely inevitable, no matter who's the President of the United States, that we will have to shift to more efficient automobiles with a clean exhaust. This past quarter, unfortunately, a larger percentage of Americans bought foreign-made cars than ever before. Now, I know that you agree that the solution is not to erect trade barriers to keep out foreign competition because it only leads to trade wars, to retaliation, and added inflation. The solution lies in using our great American ingenuity to design and produce the right cars for the future.

I can think of no more disastrous assumption for the American automobile industry to make than that we cannot successfully compete with foreign companies that produce and sell such cars. We can compete, and we will compete successfully.

Now I want to discuss something that's important to you and me both--our social security system. This is a problem for all Western democracies. Social security, which is probably the greatest legacy left over for us from the New Deal, has served us now for 40 years. But since 1975, social security has been paying out more than it's been taking in. Unless we take action now, the Disability Insurance Fund's reserves will be gone in 2 years, and the retirement reserves will be gone 4 years from then.

Some have proposed a simple solution for this: to tax the American worker to the hilt. Well, we are not going to do that. Too many people are already paying more payroll taxes than they do income taxes, and we are not going to go this route to save the social security system. And we are not going to let social security go broke.

We're going to keep faith with the 33 million Americans who already enjoy social security benefits and with the 104 million of us, who are paying into the social security system with the expectation that we will receive benefits when we retire, or when we become disabled, or those that are necessary to take care of our families if something happens to us.

Now, there's no easy answer, but the changes that I have already submitted to the Congress will make social security financially sound for the rest of the century and will correct most of the problems for the next 75 years--and without a higher tax rate than already scheduled by law for the average wage earner. I'm going to need your help in Congress to get this bill passed, and I hope you'll help me with it.

Our fourth major goal, I want to mention briefly, is our welfare system and our tax system. In both of these cases, tinkering is not going to be enough. They must be thoroughly redesigned. Our present welfare system robs the taxpayers who support it, discourages the people who administer it, and sometimes degrades the people who really do need help. It's an extraordinarily complex and difficult problem, even more so than I had expected.

Two weeks ago I outlined the principles that must underlie the reform of the system, and we will have legislative proposals ready by the end of this summer. We've already begun to move in this direction by simplifying the food stamp program--eliminating the purchase requirement and reforming the eligibility rules.

As for our tax system, it, too, must be reformed through and through. Our tax system was once relatively simple, fair, and progressive. It isn't any more, because it's been changed so much over the years--often for the benefit of those who are rich enough to hire their own lobbyists in Washington. The process of redesign is well underway, and we intend to submit legislation to the Congress for a fair and simple income tax system this year.

Our fifth major concern is the health of our people. On the airplane coming here from Washington early this morning, I had a chance to talk at length with Congressman Jim Corman about the future of our national health program. Good health for every American is one of my primary concerns, and I know it's one of yours. Again, it's a complicated question. If it weren't complicated, the problem would have been solved many years ago.

We must deal with the cause of illness. This means promoting a cleaner environment and safer and healthier work places. And we will be submitting these proposals in about a week. It means helping our children avoid preventable diseases--as was the case when I was a child and, perhaps, when many of you were young-some 5 1/2 million children will be immunized over the next 30 months.

Also, under our proposed Child Health Assessment Program now before the Congress, 10 million young children will be screened annually by 1982. This is five times more than are presently examined at this time to see what childhood diseases might be prevented as they approach adulthood as students.

In order to make medical care available in inner cities and rural areas, we proposed legislation already that will make nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants available to help fill the gap.

And finally, I'm committed to the phasing-in of a workable national health insurance system. [Applause] It's certainly not difficult to guess which union has made national health insurance a national issue. Beginning many months ago, Leonard Woodcock has given me an education about the need and the possible ways for meeting it. He's a member of the advisory committee that will help design the whole system and will hold its first meeting later on this week. And we are aiming to submit legislative proposals early next year.

We must move immediately to start bringing health care costs under control. If we don't--and I want you to listen carefully to this--if we don't bring the health care costs, particularly hospitals, under control, no matter what kind of health system we have in our country, the cost will double every 5 years. Now, we can't afford that. We can't afford that. Hospital costs now take 40 cents of every health dollar, and they've gone up an incredible 1,000 percent since 1950.

I proposed hospital cost containment legislation that would put the brakes on these increases. Sixty other nations nave managed to come up with national health programs that meet the needs of our people-of their people. It's not beyond our own ingenuity to do the same, and I want this program to be established during my time in office.

There's a lot that we can do as consumers. In many instances, medical doctors, hospitals, and others, have been very careless about how much health care actually costs.

Late last month, my wife was found to have a tumor on her breast. She went to Bethesda Hospital about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. She had a long incision made, 4 or 5 inches long, and the tumor was removed. She was back home at 5 o'clock.

Quite often, if doctors and hospitals want to hold down the time we spend in intensive care and the extraordinary cost of medical care, they can do it. But we, as consumers, need to help.

The sixth major need is for an open and efficient Government. Now I've done the best I could to open up the Presidency. I've talked publicly about foreign policy matters that were formerly considered too secret and too complicated for the ears of the American people. I've had frequent press conferences, and I've had direct encounters with people who don't normally get to work--get to talk to a President.

When I leave here this morning, I'll go to one of the Los Angeles television stations and for an hour and a half, I will receive calls from people throughout this part of California asking me questions, unscreened, on any subject they choose.

I feel that it's important for the American people to know what's going on. But I also feel it's important for a President to learn from the people of this country. And I want you to know what the options are and what the problems are and w hat the possibilities are in complicated matters like the control of the nuclear weapons, the resolution of problems in southern Africa, the Middle East, and also in domestic questions which I've discussed with you today. I want you to be a partner with me in making our Government be effective and efficient.

There are many other ways that we can build more openness and responsiveness into our system of government. We can make the activities of government officials devote themselves exclusively to the public interest. I've asked the Congress to impose strict financial disclosure requirements for more than 13,000 top Federal Government executives.

This will make it very difficult for high Government officials to have interests which conflict with those of the public. And we should insist on the same high standards for private institutions. That's why I proposed to Congress making foreign bribery by American companies and officials a crime.

I want to mention now a subject that's important to me and to you. I've worked with many of your members trying to overcome the very great difficulties of simply getting free American people registered to vote. We need to open up our electoral system to greater participation. Many working people don't vote because they don't have the time to go through lengthy and needless registration procedures.

Vice President Mondale and I have worked out legislation that would let people register at the polls on the day of a Federal election. There are some powerful, special interests, including the Republican Party, who are trying to kill the electoral reform bill because they don't want working people to register and to vote. I need you to help me get this bill passed through Congress.

And we need to create an agency for consumer protection. Now in Government, many of the regulatory agencies that were designed originally to protect consumers have been seduced, and now they protect the industry that's supposed to be regulated. This needs to be changed.

This bill would consolidate consumer advocacy programs that are now scattered ineffectively throughout the maze of Federal agencies. It would just give consumers a voice in Government offices where, too often, the only voices heard have been those of lobbyists for the wealthy and powerful. Now, there are enormous pressures to kill this legislation creating this new consumer agency. I want to make sure that they don't get away with it.

The UAW has long supported the consumer agency and easy registration procedures to vote. Together, I believe we can get both these measures passed this year.

We must also make government more efficient, because we don't have the money to waste on inefficiency, on duplication, or to give handouts to those who can take care of themselves. Waste robs us all. It prevents the realization of our hopes and dreams.

An efficient government means spending money only where it will actually benefit our people. We've proposed a $350-million increase in the Title I education funds for poor and deprived little children. We've proposed raising the basic opportunity grants from $1,400 to $1,800 a year, to help families put their children through college.

But when spending is wasteful--when spending is wasteful--we've moved vigorously to cut it out. We found $4 billion in water projects that simply couldn't be justified or were more expensive or elaborate than they needed to be.

We are moving to get rid of some of the more than 1,100 advisory commissions in the Federal Government. We are instituting zero-based budgeting, and we are supporting sunset legislation to help us get rid of programs that have outlived their usefulness.

The more money that we can save that's now being wasted, the more money we'll have without increasing taxes to meet the needs of our people.

We've also begun a complete reorganization of the executive branch, and we are starting at home in the Executive Office of the President.

Now, I believe that we can be fiscally responsible and still satisfy the needs of our people. And I believe that we cannot satisfy our needs unless we are competent and efficient. We can cut both unemployment and inflation. And I believe that our policies will help us reach both goals.

In closing let me say this: We can do these things if we remember that nothing good comes quickly or easily. Every one of these programs that I've outlined to you this morning has been too long ignored.

When I became President, I could see very clearly, as can you, that 4, 8, 12, 20 years ago, these difficult problems should have been addressed. We must make hard choices about how to use our resources, and we must realize that only a lean and efficient government can translate good intentions into actions that will improve the lives of our people.

That's the kind of government I'm determined to have. And I'm going to stick to that determination in spite of whatever criticism may come. And I need you to be partners with me in the next 4 years. [Applause]

Just remain standing. And I want to say one other thing. I've just got one final comment to make.

In his final report to this convention, President Leonard Woodcock wrote: "In the United States, we are moving from a period of depression, despair and despondency into a time of renewed hope."

If we work together in our free Nation, that hope will never fade.

Thank you very much. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:50 a.m. in Yorty Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center. He was introduced by Leonard Woodcock, president of the UAW.

In his opening remarks, the President referred to Doug Fraser, a UAW vice president, who was elected president of the UAW during the convention, which is held every 3 years.

Citation: Jimmy Carter: "United Auto Workers Remarks at the Union's Convention in Los Angeles.," May 17, 1977. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=7520.
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