Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

October 29, 1936

My friends of Pennsylvania:

When I found that I was to speak in Harrisburg today, and realized that it is John Mitchell Day, I determined to come by way of Wilkes-Barre. I wanted to pay my tribute to him, whom I was happy and proud to call my friend.

In 1913 I was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I was asked at that time to examine charges of collusion in coal bids for the Navy. I needed help from someone whose integrity and knowledge I could trust. I recalled then how impressed Theodore Roosevelt had been with John Mitchell's handling of the great coal strike of 1902. I asked John Mitchell to help me. In three days he taught me a great deal about coal and mining. What he taught me saved the United States Navy many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in its coal bill.

You in this anthracite region and miners in every other coal field in the United States have a fuller picture of this man who was one of the most significant figures in American labor history. For many years he went about the unspectacular but very necessary job of clearing the ground for the progress of a great labor movement. He taught a dispersed industry how to organize. He taught both management and labor that the only basis for stability is to be found in, contracts that can and will be lived up to by both management and labor.

By victory in the first great battle of the mine workers he broke the tradition of defeat which had always hung over the aspirations of those he led. He convinced the public that the gains of labor were the gains of all, that the labor movement was something to be welcomed rather than feared. He made public opinion a judge to which labor could more confidently appeal. His work was necessary before other men could do theirs.

We now build upon the work of John Mitchell. He pioneered in his day for collective bargaining. Today we have put upon the Federal statute books the legal mechanism to make collective bargaining a reality.

He pioneered in his day for the education of the public. Today we aim to make the public conscious that the welfare of labor is the welfare of all.

Carrying forward his work and that of others like him, we have begun to build a system of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance to substitute for uncertainty a new security in the life of the wage earner and his family.

How far we have come is shown by the patriotic resentment with which labor and the public alike are meeting the latest attempts of a handful of employers, politicians, and newspapers to mislead and coerce labor with regard to the Social Security Act. Here is repetition of the arrogance and the ruthlessness which the operators utilized to try to break the solid ranks of labor when the miners fought at Armageddon in 1902, more than thirty years ago.

No employer has a right to put his political preferences in the pay envelope. That is coercion even if he tells the whole truth.

But this propaganda misrepresents by telling only half the truth. Labor and a fair-minded public must place such tactics in a class with the coercion of the strong-arm squad and the whispering of the planted labor spy.

This pay-envelope propaganda has one clear objective—to sabotage the Social Security Act. To sabotage that Act is to sabotage labor. For that Act, as you know, was worked out with labor and enacted with the active support of labor— all kinds of labor.

Why do these employers seek to repeal the Social Security Act? Because under the Act they have to pay far more than half of the insurance given to the workers.

Get these facts straight.

The Act provides for two kinds of insurance for the worker.

For that insurance both the employer and the worker pay premiums, just as you pay premiums on any other insurance policy. Those premiums are collected in the form of the taxes you hear so much about.

The first kind of insurance covers old age. Here the employer contributes one dollar of premium for every dollar of premium contributed by the worker; but both dollars are held by the Government solely for the benefit of the worker in his old age.

In effect, we have set up a savings account for the old age of the worker. Because the employer is called upon to contribute on a fifty-fifty basis, that savings account gives exactly two dollars of security for every dollar put up by the worker.

The second kind of insurance is unemployment insurance to help the worker and his family over the difficult days when he loses his job. For the unemployment security of the worker, the employer under the Federal law puts up the entire premium- two dollars. The benefits of this insurance go 100 percent to the worker, none to the employer. But the premiums for this unemployment insurance so far as the Federal Government is concerned are paid 100 percent by the employer.

Now let's add it all up. Beginning January first, for every one dollar which the worker is asked to put into an old-age account for himself, employers are required under the Federal Act to contribute three dollars to protect the worker from both unemployment and old age. That is, the worker contributes only one dollar to his old age security; he contributes nothing to his security against losing his job. But at the same time the employer has to put up two dollars for unemployment and one dollar for old age.

Three for one! There's the rub. That is what these propaganda-spreading employers object to. The record extending back several years shows that their purpose has always been to compel the workers alone to put up all the premiums both for their unemployment insurance and their old-age insurance. They are now trying to frighten the workers about the workers' one-dollar premium, so that they won't have to pay their three-dollar premium.

These propagandists—with allies whom I do not have to describe to you who know them- are driven in their desperation to the contemptible, unpatriotic suggestion that some future Congress will steal these insurance funds for other purposes. If they really believe what they say in the pay envelopes, they have no confidence in our form of government or its permanence. It might be well for them to move to some other Nation in which they have greater faith.

I know that American workers made wise as well as strong by the achievements of John Mitchell and his successors will not be fooled by this campaign any more than they were frightened by the strong-arm squads of the past.

John Mitchell taught labor that to win and to preserve the fruits of its victories, it must have a cool head as well as a warm heart. I know that labor will refuse to be robbed of its gains, that the progress begun by its friends will be safeguarded and carried forward, until the fuller security that is its right is won.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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