Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address to the International Labor Organization.

November 06, 1941

Taking part in a conference of the I.L.O. is not a new experience for me. It was exactly at this time of the year, in 1919, that the I.L.O. had its first conference in Washington. And at that time apparently someone had fallen down on the job of making the necessary physical arrangements for the conference. And at last someone picked on the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy to help. I had to find office space in the Navy Building, as well as supplies and typewriters, to get that conference started.

I well remember that in those days the I.L.O. was still a dream. To many it was a wild dream. Who had ever heard of Governments getting together to raise the standards of labor on an international plane? Wilder still was the idea that the people themselves who were directly affected—the workers and the employers of the various countries- should have a hand with Government in determining these labor standards.

Now 22 years have passed. The I.L.O. has been tried and tested. It has passed childhood; it is now grown up. Through those extravagant years of the twenties it kept doggedly at the task of shortening the hours of labor, protecting women and children in agriculture and industry, making life more bearable for the merchant seamen, and keeping the factories and mines of the world more safe and fit places for human beings to work in.

Then through the long years of depression it sought to bring about a measure of security to all workers by the establishment of things like unemployment insurance and old-age insurance systems; and again to set the wheels of industry in action through the establishment of international public works, rational policies of migration of workers, and the opening of the channels of world trade.

Now for more than two years you have weathered the vicissitudes of a world at war. Though Hitler's juggernaut has crowded your permanent staff out of its own home at Geneva, here in this new world, thanks in large part, I like to think, to the efforts of our friend, John Winant, you have been carrying on. And when this world struggle is over, you will be prepared to play your own part in formulating those social policies upon which the permanence of peace will so much depend.

Today you, the representatives of more than 33 Nations, meet here in the White House for the final session of your conference. It is appropriate that I recall to you, who are in a full sense a parliament for man's justice, some words that were written in this house by a President who gave his very life for the cause of justice. Nearly eighty years ago, Abraham Lincoln said: "The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all Nations, and tongues, and kindreds."

The essence of our struggle today is that man shall be free. There can be no real freedom for the common man without enlightened social policies. In the last analysis, they are the stakes for which democracies are today fighting.

So your concern is the concern of all democratic peoples. To many of your member states, adherence to the I.L.O. has meant great sacrifice. There is no greater evidence of the vitality of the I.L.O. than the loyal presence here today of the representatives of the Nations which suffer under the lash of the dictator. I welcome those representatives, especially.

I extend the hand of courage to the delegates of those labor organizations whose leaders are today languishing in concentration camps for having dared to stand up for the ideals without which no civilization can live. Through you, the delegates from these despoiled lands, the United States sends your people this message: "You have not been forgotten; you will not be forgotten."

We in the United States have so far been called upon for extremely limited sacrifices, but even in this country we are beginning to feel the beginnings of the pinch of war. Some of these names may be unfamiliar to you, but the workers of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for example, who used to make aluminum utensils, have had to sacrifice their jobs in order that we may send planes to Britain and Russia and China. Rubber workers in a hundred scattered plants have had to sacrifice their opportunities for immediate employment in order that there may be ships to carry planes and tanks to Liverpool and Archangel and Rangoon. Tens of thousands of automobile workers are being shifted to other jobs in order that the copper which might have been used in automobiles may carry its deadly message from the mills of the Connecticut Valley to Hitler. And with all this, still we have not yet made substantial sacrifices in the United States.

We have not, like the heroic people of Britain, had to withstand a deluge of death from the skies. Nor can we even grasp the full extent of the sacrifices that the people of China are making in their struggle for freedom from aggression. We have in amazement witnessed the Russians opposing the Nazi war machine for four long months and more- opposing it at the price of uncounted dead and a scorched earth.

Most heroic of all, however, has been the struggle of the common men and women of Europe, from Norway to Greece, against a brutal force which, however powerful, will be forever inadequate to crush the fight for freedom.

As far as we in the United States are concerned, that struggle shall not be in vain. The epic stand of Britain, of China, and of Russia receives the full support of the free people of the Americas. The people of this Nation, and of all the rest of the American Republics, insist upon their right to join in the common defense.

To be sure, there are still some misguided—unenlightened that is putting it politely—some people of that kind among us -thank God they are but few- both industrialists and leaders of labor, who place personal advantage above the welfare of their Nation. There are still a few who place their little victories over one another above triumph against Hitlerism. There are still some who place the profits that they may make from civilian orders above their obligation to the national defense. And there are still some who deliberately delay defense output by using their "economic power" to force the acceptance of their demands, rather than use the established machinery for the mediation of industrial disputes.

Yes, they are but few. They do not represent the great mass of American workers and employers. The American people have made an unlimited commitment that there shall be a free world. And against that commitment, no individual and no group shall prevail.

The American workman does not have to be convinced that the defense of the democracies is his defense. Some of you, from the conquered countries of Europe, and from China, have told this conference with the eloquence of anguish, how all that you have struggled for—the social progress that you and your fellow men have achieved—is being obliterated by the barbarians.

I need not tell you that one of the first acts of the Fascist and Nazi dictators- at home and in conquered countries—was to abolish free trade unions and to take away from the common people the right of association. Labor alone did not suffer. Free associations of employers were also abolished. Collective bargaining has no place in their system; neither has collaboration of labor and industry and government.

Nor need I tell you that the Nazi Labor Front is not a labor union but an instrument to keep labor in a state of permanent subjection. Labor under the Nazi system has become the slave of the military state.

To replace Nazi workers shipped to the front, and to meet the gigantic needs of her total war effort, Nazi Germany has imported about two million foreign civilian laborers. They have changed the occupied countries into great slave areas for the Nazi rulers. And at this moment Berlin is the principal slave market of all the world.

The American workman has no illusions about the fate that awaits him and his free labor organizations if Hitler should win. He knows that his own liberty and the very safety of the people of the United States cannot be assured in a world that is threefourths slave and one-fourth free. He knows that we must furnish arms to Britain, to Russia, and to China and that we must do it now—today.

And we know by now that our place—the place of the whole Western Hemisphere- in the Nazi scheme for world domination has been marked on the Nazi timetable. The choice we have to make is this: Shall we make our full sacrifices now, produce to the limit, and deliver our products today and every day to the battlefields of the entire world? Or shall we remain satisfied with our present rate of armament output, postponing the day of real sacrifice—as did the French—until it is too late?

The first is the choice of realism- realism in terms of three shifts a day; the fullest use of every vital machine every minute of every day and every night; realism in terms of staying on the job and getting things made, and entrusting industrial grievances to the established machinery of collective bargaining-the machinery set up by a free people.

The second choice is the approach of the blind and the deluded who think that perhaps we could do business with Hitler. For them there is still "plenty of time." To be sure, many of these misled individuals honestly believe that if we should later find that we can't do business with Hitler, we will roll up our sleeves later—later—later. And their tombstones would bear the legend "Too late."

In the process of working and fighting for victory, however, we must never permit ourselves to forget the goal that is beyond victory. The defeat of Hitlerism is necessary so that there may be freedom; but this war, like the last war, will produce nothing but destruction unless we prepare for the future now. We plan now for the better world that we aim to build.

If that world is to be a place in which peace is to prevail, there must be a more abundant life for the masses of the people of all countries. In the words of the document that you know of under the name of the Atlantic Charter, we "desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all Nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security."

There are so many millions of people in this world who have never been adequately fed and clothed and housed. By undertaking to provide a decent standard of living for these millions, the free peoples of the world can furnish employment to every man and every woman who seeks a job.

And so we are already engaged in surveying the immediate postwar requirements of a world whose economies have been disrupted by war.

We are planning not to provide temporary remedies for the ills of a stricken world; we are planning to achieve permanent cures- to help establish a sounder world life.

To attain these goals you and I know will be no easy task. Yes, their fulfillment will require "the fullest collaboration between all Nations." We have learned too well that social problems and economic problems are not separate watertight compartments in the international field any more than in the national sphere. In international, as in national, affairs economic policy can no longer be an end unto itself. It is merely a means for achieving social objectives.

There must be no place in the postwar world for special privilege for either individuals or Nations. And again in the words ' of the Atlantic Charter: "All states, great or small, victor or vanquished" must have "access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity."

In the planning of such international action the I.L.O. with its representation of labor and management, its technical knowledge and experience, will be an invaluable instrument for peace. Your organization will have an essential part to play in building up a stable international system of social justice for all peoples everywhere. As part of you, part of your great world organization, the people of the United States are determined to respond fully to the opportunity and the challenge of this historic responsibility, so well exemplified at this historic meeting in this historic home of an ancient democracy.

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

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