Jimmy Carter photo

Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO Remarks at the National Conference.

April 01, 1980

Thank you very much, President Bob Georgine and my friends in the building and construction trades.

I come to speak to you in a time of intense commitment on the part of all Americans to resolve successfully the challenges that present themselves to us. I was scheduled to be with you yesterday afternoon, but we were required, because of late developments in Iran, to have a National Security Council meeting. And then I met, following that, with the leaders of the House and Senate from the Democratic and Republican parties.

As you know, the President of Iran announced early this morning that the American hostages will be transferred from the militants to the care and the protection of the Iranian Government. We have had good messages out of Iran before. This action, if taken, will be a positive step, and as the announced transfer takes place, we will defer imposing additional sanctions which we had planned to take for the time being. We will continue the existing sanctions that have already been in effect against Iran.

We will continue to work for the earliest possible release of the innocent American hostages. And this afternoon, I would like to set the record straight on one issue. No one in the Government of the United States has apologized to anyone in the Government of Iran because— [applause] —and the reason is that we have nothing for which to apologize. And another point I'd like to make, to set the record straight: We have not condoned nor expressed any understanding of or approval of the seizure by the militants of the innocent American hostages in Tehran, nor will we ever condone or approve of the seizing of our hostages in Tehran.

We are going through some difficult times together; there's no need for me to try to mislead you about that. But we must remember that in spite of these challenges, questions, problems, obstacles, we still live in the greatest and the strongest nation on Earth, and we can meet, together, even the most serious possible challenges that lie before us.

Overseas, we face threats to our Nation's security, and at home, we face very serious threats to our economic security and to the well-being of many Americans. Now is not the time to throw stones at one another nor to try to find scapegoats. We need to act courageously and in concert with one another.

These threats challenge us to act together in a challenge of patriotism. I can think of no more patriotic men and women than those in the American labor movement. You prove it today, and you have always proved it throughout the history of our country.

Our overriding concern, above everything else, must be our national security-our military security, our energy security, and our economic security. There is no more powerful force for peace than the United States of America—a beacon for freedom and for human rights, committed to world peace for all, and strong militarily. And our military power today is second to none on Earth, and as long as I am President and share this commitment of the American people, the United States will stay this way.

I want to express a concern to you, however. For the last 15 years, Soviet defense spending has been growing at a steady and a very rapid rate. Until 1977, real defense spending in the United States had declined for 8 straight years. That has now been reversed, and we are rapidly making up lost ground that occurred in those years. We are and we will remain ready to defend our vital interests wherever they are threatened.

In Iran, we have been restrained and patient. And patience is not an ordinary characteristic of American people, but we place a high value on human life, on the human lives of 53 innocent Americans, and we also place a high value on their personal freedom. It is not a sign of weakness when a powerful nation like ours is patient in order to preserve precious American lives.

I have worked day and night, literally. I was up this morning at 4:30, and this has not been the first time that we have worked during the night for the safe release of these innocent Americans who are held hostage. But our patience is not endless, and the Iranian Government must realize that failure to bring this outrage to an end is directly contrary to the best interests not only of ourselves and the hostages but also contrary to the best interests of the Iranian people.

In that same region, Iran and other nations of the world face the ominous threat of Soviet aggression. Led by the United States, almost all nations, 104 of us, have condemned the invasion of Afghanistan and have called for the Soviets' withdrawal of their troops from that peace-loving and deeply religious country.

We have made and we are making the Soviets pay a high economic and diplomatic price for their miscalculation. They have underestimated the strength and the courage of the freedom fighters in Afghanistan; they have underestimated the condemnation that has fallen on them from the Moslem countries of the world; and they have underestimated the strength and the resolve and the tenacity and the commitment of the American people to stand firm against this unwarranted aggression.

We will stand firm. We will not yield. We want and we expect our allies and other nations on Earth to join us. But in any case we will be forceful and persistent and let the beneficial influence of our great Nation be exerted for peace and for freedom. I have served clear notice that any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

When I took office a little more than 3 years ago I pledged to work tirelessly for peace. I would like to remind you that our Nation is at peace. I would like to remind you that every action we have taken has been effective action, but it has been peaceful action for ourselves and for others. We have accomplished much. The Panama Canal treaties, peace between Egypt and Israel—and I will be meeting with President Sadat next week and the following week with Prime Minister Begin to continue that process of bringing peace to that troubled region and enhancing the security of Egypt and Israel and therefore enhancing the security of the United States.

We have normalized relations with China, a billion people, more than a fourth of the entire population of the world. And we have preserved the good relationships that we have long enjoyed with the people on Taiwan. We've opened up a new era of relationships, good relationships with the people of the Third World, and we have made a bold and consistent drive for human rights. But we must remember that peace ultimately rests on our unity and our strength and our resolve. We cannot waver.

Winston Churchill once called World War II the unnecessary war, because the Allies did not stand up to aggression until it was too late. We cannot allow another such mistake. I would like to point out to you again something that you also know. Security overseas requires security at home. Our world leadership, on a continuing basis, depends upon our overcoming the problems of energy and inflation.

The most important domestic challenge and responsibility that we have is to reduce inflation and the high interest rates that inevitably accompany high inflation. These economic problems are the worldwide consequences of enormous and unprecedented increases in the price of energy. In the last year alone, the price of energy has increased more than all time in history, even since oil was first discovered. The fact that other nations share the same burdens or worse ones is of little comfort to us in the United States. This is a time for a wise and resolute action, and for courage and unity again as a strong nation.

Last week, the Congress enacted the key to our Nation's first comprehensive energy policy, the windfall profits tax. Last year, I pledged to you in San Diego that with your help we would get that tax. Bob, that's one more commitment that you and all your members and the Congress have helped me to meet. The windfall profits tax will finance not only a massive drive for energy security for our country but one of the biggest construction projects in the history of the world.

In the next 10 years at least $227 billion, which will result in reduced oil company profits, but increased profits for the American people—a lot of that benefit will come to you and your members.

We have worked hard for the last 3 years to develop a national energy policy since I made my first major speech on this subject—exactly 3 years ago this month—which will reduce our excessive dependence on foreign oil. Saying this many times does not lessen the importance of these figures. We are now spending every week for imported oil more than $1.7 billion. That's hard to understand, but it amounts to an average of $1,500 for every single family in the United States this year, and more than $1,000 for every household in the United States. Instead of security, this enormous purchase of oil from .overseas costs us in inflation, it costs us in unemployment, and it also means that we have the constant threat of other nations cutting off oil supplies and damaging our Nation's security.

Now, with a new, effective energy policy, we can begin to keep that money here and to invest in American industry and to hire American workers, and in the development of American energy we can control our supplies and no one else can embargo them. You and I learned long ago that conservation of energy is important, but conservation by itself is not enough. We must start now and build an energy base for the 21st century, and we have the construction workers right here to build that base for the United States. When future generations look back on these days, I want them to know this period as the time we turned our energy problems around and therefore addressed directly and effectively our economic problems. I'm determined to build a future of which we can be proud, a secure future. And I want to build it with your help, and that also means controlling inflation, which jeopardizes our economic security.

I do not need to tell you and you do not need to tell me how bad inflation is or that many of its causes are beyond our control. Inflation is worldwide, lately reaching extremely high levels, even in countries like Japan, Great Britain, Italy, France, West Germany. High inflation has persisted at an average rate of 8 percent or more during the last dozen years in our country in order to gain its present force. But at its core, inflation can be controlled, but only if we act courageously and with persistence over a longer period of time.

Rather than detail to you the anti-inflation program that I unveiled or described 2 weeks ago, just let me describe briefly the principles that I have followed.

First, we had to take tough action to jolt an inflation rate that is explosive. Inflation this year has threatened to break through its previous limits and get completely out of control if we had not acted. Some have said the action was too forceful, but had we been excessively timid, then our attempts would have been fruitless.

Second, these measures require discipline and self-restraint, and there is no avoiding this reality. There are no easy answers. There are no magic solutions. There are no legislative shortcuts which can simply by law outlaw inflation.

Third, uncontrolled inflation, unfortunately, hits many people much harder than others. Inflation is an inconvenience for the rich, but it is disastrous, as you well know, for working families, for the poor, and for the elderly. More than anyone else they need our help, your help and mine, in the fight against inflation.

And finally, the American people need and expect leadership, and I might say that the Congress has been remarkably cooperative during these recent days. The American people expect honesty. They want to be told the truth. They expect fairness, equity, and they expect discipline from their own government. A government that comes up short and borrows the difference year after year after year cannot expect to tell others that they must live within their means. That's why I sent the Congress yesterday our Nation's first balanced budget in 12 years, the second one in 20 years. I did have to reduce or to delay some programs for which both you and I have worked hard. But we acted with sensitivity and with special compassion for those who are most in need.

I've asked Americans to work together and to share responsibility. Last fall you signed with me a national accord of voluntary action on your part to help fight inflation. It has been very effective, and I'm grateful for your help and your leadership. You've taken some heat for restraining wage demands, but because of your cooperation, wage increases have not been the cause of this speedup in inflation. I need your continued restraint this year. In return, I pledge a tough, expanded, monitoring program to come down hard on unjustified price increases.

Over the last year and a half most major corporations, like most of organized labor, have pledged cooperation with our .voluntary wage and price program. The items which have been extraordinarily high in price have been things like food and energy, over which it is very difficult to exercise control. Several large firms have been cited by the Wage and Price Stability Council, and they've taken responsible action to reduce prices so as to comply with the price standards. I made a telephone call to the president of Sears Roebuck one afternoon because they were out of compliance, and I said, "Tomorrow morning I'm calling a press conference to let the American people know about this problem." And he said, "Mr. President, would you just give me a couple of hours before?" And I waited, and he called back in a responsible way and said, "We're reducing all the prices in our catalog. We're refunding overcharges, and in our open stores we're taking action also to comply with the price guidelines." Warner-Lambert has done the same, Faberge, and others that I could name.

Other companies have cut their prices even before they were cited by the Council on Wage and Price Stability, including companies like the aluminum company [ALCOA], 1 the Greybor Electric Company, Scott Paper, and others. But a few have not cooperated. Some companies in your industries have been found out of compliance, including Ideal Basic Industries and National Gypsum Company. A number of oil companies have also been cited for noncompliance—the Charter Company, Murphy Oil, and Crown Central Petroleum.

1 White House clarification.

You may have read over the weekend that one major oil company, Mobil, has refused to act to bring itself back under the price standard, although Mobil's overcharges to their customers in the third quarter of last year alone amounted to over $45 million. This company was asked to trim prices on future sales long enough to bring itself back into compliance, but it refused.

It's difficult to understand the attitude of these firms when our Nation needs help in controlling inflation and when most businesses are acting responsibly to observe the price standards of the anti-inflation program.

It's only fair for the American public to know which companies refused to take reasonable action to comply with the volunteer standards. More than anyone in this country, you understand that our hard-won economic gains are at stake.

In 3 years, as Bob Georgine pointed out, working together we have created in this country a record-setting 9 million new jobs—9 million more people at work than there were 3 years ago, a million more construction workers at work—because of our mutual commitment to jobs.

I'd like to point out to you that between 1977 and the projected budget of 1983, we will have committed several hundred billion dollars—probably in the neighborhood of half a trillion dollars—to programs that directly put people to work by building new facilities and by providing vital services. But we cannot continue to send $80 billion overseas to pay for foreign oil indefinitely and still expect real progress towards full employment. That tremendous drain of capital saps our ability to create new jobs and contributes to high inflation and high interest rates.

I'm committed to full employment. But I know that we must have energy and anti-inflation programs that permit us to sustain full employment over the long term. It's up to us to solve inflation. It's up to people who are committed to full employment and economic justice, like all those assembled here in this room. We must act together with the full knowledge that if we fail, somebody else will try to solve this problem who do not have our commitment to jobs and to economic justice.

During this election year, we are hearing again from people whose solution is to destroy the gains that have been made for the working people of America. Last week, in the Senate a move was finally defeated which would have called for the additional budget cuts above and beyond those that I recommended yesterday of between $25 billion and $30 billion. This resolution was signed originally by 49 of the 100 Members of the Senate. It was defeated.

But you can see the pressures that are coming if you and I are not successful in this common effort. These people are ready to dismantle programs that have taken decades to build. They are ready to cripple the right of workers to organize and to bargain collectively, to cripple workers' rights to a safe workplace, to a minimum wage, and to protection from hardships.

They have already tried, as you well know, to repeal Davis-Bacon, but we stopped them. And if they try again, we will stop them again. And we also need some mutual work and some competence and sustained commitment to take care of some unfinished business. This Nation needs, and I support, labor law reform. This Nation needs, and I support, common situs legislation.

And the last point I want to make is that in this election year, we also hear the easy promises—the promises that appeal to a particular audience at a particular time—that wage and price controls are the easy and the painless answer, when we know they've failed in the past and when we know how easy it is to freeze wages, but how difficult it is to freeze the prices of the necessities of life, like food and energy.

We hear that we can just shut down our entire nuclear industry, and there are audiences eager to hear that, who are well organized and who play a major role in some of the elections taking place throughout our country. We hear that we can freeze oil prices permanently, stopping the progress that is being made now in conservation and in the development, with your help, of United States energy production. And we hear that we need to take some actions against Russia, but only such actions that do not require any sacrifice and do not cost anything. In short, we hear all kinds of easy answers, that nobody has to give up anything anytime to pay for everything that we want.

You and I, having direct responsibility for leadership, do not have the luxury of making easy promises. We must face the world as it is. That is what courageous Americans must do every day of our lives. That is what Americans have always done. In a time of crisis or challenge or difficulty, Americans want leadership, and they want it from us.

I grew up, as a boy, in a region that was transformed by that kind of leadership. Part of my life—the first 14 years-was before we had TVA and REA and the rest of the New Deal programs. But I saw those programs and others like social security and housing and public works give new hope and a new life to millions of Americans.

In the last 3 years, working with you, I've been determined to strengthen those programs and put workers back on the job, and we've done that together. I am just as determined with your help—with some sacrifice required on a transient basis and with some temporary disappointments, yes—to control inflation in this country. I'm determined that we sustain the America that has international security, energy security, and economic security so vital in the 1980's.

This is a decade of decision. It's a decade of challenge. And I think we ought to remember that it is our decade—it's your decade and mine. We must meet the challenges not with whining and complaining, not with trepidation about the future nor with fear, but with courage. We cannot flinch. I need your help and the Nation needs your help to make the dreams of the greatest nation on Earth come true.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:38 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO Remarks at the National Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250406

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