Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address to an International Labor Conference.

May 17, 1944

It is a great pleasure to have you with us here in the White House again. As I pointed out to you when we last met—two and a half years ago- taking part in a conference of the International Labor Organization is not a new experience for me. I take pride in the fact that I was permitted to play a part in the first conference of the Organization that was held here in Washington in 1919.

Those were indeed trying days when last we met. In 1941, the fate of the free peoples of the world hung in the balance. I don't think they hang in the balance any longer. Yet with the courage and the foresight that have always characterized the International Labor Organization, you as representatives of the Governments and workers and employers had the boldness- and I consider it real boldness- to have come together in a full meeting from all parts of the world, to formulate plans for reconstruction.

It so impressed me just now, as I was shaking hands with you, that I wanted to say to the delegates that had come from countries which are still in prison- in German hands- that I hope the next time we all meet, you will have come directly from your own country, actually under its own people and its own Government, to wherever the meeting place is. It is something which I think we can keep, not in the back of our heads but in the front of our heads: the restoration of all the Nations of the world to their own peoples.

You have been meeting in Philadelphia where, one hundred and sixty-eight years ago, the Fathers of this Republic affirmed certain truths to be self-evident. They declared among other things that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. In these words are expressed the abiding purpose of all peoples imbued with the ideals of freedom and democracy. Let us never forget those words.

The Declaration that you have formulated in Philadelphia may well acquire a similar significance in the days to come. In it you have reaffirmed principles which are the essential bulwarks of any permanent peace. With the expanding use of machinery and the revolution in transportation, and in most other things, it is well that the world should recognize the fundamental principle of your Declaration: "Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere." This principle is a guide to all of our international economic deliberations.

I have seen that in my travels since the last I.L.O. Conference. You know where I have been pretty well, so you will know what I am thinking about. I am thinking about Africa. And I am thinking about certain parts of the Near East, the west coast of Africa, the north coast of Africa, and then the eastern end of the Mediterranean. You know where I went.

And it is perfectly true that poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere. I think of a little colony, a little piece of the earth's surface, Gambia, where I happened to have landed from Brazil. Nice, peaceful people, and as the saying goes, poor as church mice. Why mice should be singled out, I don't know. But Gambia is very, very poor.

Well, when I was there, I wasn't thinking in terms of who should do it, but if they had a little less poverty, that would bring prosperity to a lot more people outside of Gambia. They are kept down because of exploitation. I think that is going to be a new word in the next meeting of the I.L.O., something that I have had in the back of my head a long time, something that says something against exploitation of the poor by the rich- by Governments, as well as individuals.

I think we can get somewhere if we keep that idea of being "agin"—as we say in Irish-American—against exploitation everywhere. It will be an awfully good thing for all of us.

You have affirmed the right of all human beings to material well-being and spiritual development under conditions of freedom and dignity and under conditions of economic security and opportunity- which is saying roughly the same thing in better language. The attainment of those conditions must constitute a central aim of national and international policy, because if it doesn't become the aim of national policies, then it won't become the aim of international policies. Indeed, the worthiness and success of these international policies must be measured in the future by the extent to which they promote the achievement of the end.

Your Declaration sums up the aspirations of an epoch that has known two world wars. I confidently believe that future generations will look back on this epoch as a landmark in world thinking. I am glad to have the opportunity of indorsing its specific terms and declarations on behalf of the United States. And I trust, also, that within a short time its specific terms will be wholeheartedly indorsed by all of the United Nations.

As I look over the report of your work, I see that you have, for the first time in history, set out in a form that should be adopted in a treaty by the Nations, a particular series of social objectives. I note that among other things they include full employment, wages and working conditions calculated to insure a just share of the fruits of progress to all, the extension of social security, the recognition of the right of collective bargaining, provision for child welfare, and the assurance of adequate educational and vocational opportunities. Therefore, it will be your opportunity to promote these objectives through your own organization, and through such international agencies as may be created. And some will be created.

With great wisdom you have realized that these social objectives cannot be attained and supported without a high level of useful economic activity. You have recommended a series of economic policies and undertakings designed to bring about a material economy that will make it possible to maintain them.

You have also wisely provided for the further development and reorganization of the International Labor Organization itself so that it may be broadened and strengthened to carry out these social objectives, and at the same time integrated on a cooperative basis with whatever new agency or agencies are created by the United Nations. And I personally am very confident that the United Nations are going to have at least one new international agency that will bring the whole world closer together than it ever has been before in all history. This forms an admirable pattern for formulating certain aspects of the peace—to start at the beginning. I want to assure you that this Government will do everything in its power to see that the provisions for the attainment of these social and labor objectives shall be included.

The people of the occupied countries are in deep suffering, as we all know. Their representatives have agreed upon the social objectives and economic policies you have set forth. I trust that this marks the beginning of a new and better day, a period of hope—hope for material comforts and security, and then even more greatly the spiritual and personal development for all of those groups now suffering so sorely under the heel of the oppressor. The United Nations will be determined that all the oppressed of the earth will be included in these social objectives.

And so I want to offer my congratulations to you who have had the opportunity of taking part in this Conference. You have my gratitude for the program of mutual helpfulness which you have laid out- a program that, I am sure, will inspire all of those in our generation who want to build and maintain a just peace. And may that time come soon.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to an International Labor Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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