Detroit, Michigan Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Annual Convention of the Communications Workers of America.
THE PRESIDENT. President Glenn Watts, Communications Workers of America, my fellow Americans:
I'd like to say a few words before I begin to take your questions.
Last night I spoke to you about a nation in a time of crisis. I sounded a warning in harsh terms, terms not often used by a President speaking to the people of our country.
I did not speak this way from a sense of hopelessness or despair. I described this crisis of confidence and sounded the warning to our Nation, because our future will equal the promise of the past only if we face the truth, heed the warning, and change our course.
I spoke this way because it is the truth. In a time of shadowy dread and fear, of growing anger and frustration, the only firm ground on which we can regroup and rebuild our own confidence is to be honest about ourselves.
The energy proposals which I presented last night and this morning in Detroit [Kansas City] will complete the list of campaign promises that I made in 1976 for legislation to be passed. But today I want to talk to you about a larger promise, the promise I made in my acceptance speech and the promise I made hundreds of times during my campaign throughout this Nation—the promise that I would describe for you and to carry foreyard the vision of this Nation that I hold in my heart. That's the promise that I pledged to redeem last night.
It is our common task to commit ourselves to a renaissance of America—to a rebirth of the American spirit. First of all, we must restore our confidence and our sense of the future. Somehow we've lost it, and all else pales in comparison to the importance of the need for return of confidence of Americans in the future of our Nation.
The second thing we must do is to revitalize our basic human values. What is it that we individually in our own lives value most? We must believe and we must belong to something bigger than just our, selves, whether it be religion or community or family or our national service.
The third thing we must do is to re. generate our sense of unity, joining ranch with each other in a sense of commitment to a national purpose of which we can be proud and which we can serve with commitment and determination—our belief that we are building a better nation for the years to come.
And we must define, finally, new goals for our Nation and encourage all Americans-the President and all of you—to join in determining these goals. What will our Nation be? What do we want to achieve in the years ahead for ourselves and for our children? We must bring together the different elements in America-producers, consumers, labor, business-bring all of us together from the battlefield of selfishness to a table of common purpose.
This is a vision of America towards which I will lead this Nation. In the months ahead, I will come to you throughout America with fresh proposals. Some will involve the traditional government, some will not. Above all, I will defend our common national purpose against those narrow special interests who often forget the overriding needs of America. I will persuade, I will speak against, I will fight any selfish interest that undermines our national purpose, and I will demand that the Government reflect those commitments which I make to you today.
Obviously I can't do this by myself. As I promised last night, I will continue to travel across this country to hear the people of America. I will listen, and I will act. I intend to open the government process as wide as possible so the fresh air of America can blow across Washington, D.C.
These are the promises that I made to you 3 years ago, and I intend to keep them.
I will start right here and now by hearing your views, answering your questions about America's future. Before I do, I would like to say one final thing.
I can point the way, Congress can enact laws, government can execute programs, but true success can only come from the commitment of the people of the United States. Your concerns, your sacrifices, your values, your participation will determine the future life of the nation which we all love.
A great labor union such as yours was not built by Americans who said, "Me first, me last, me always." Your organization, one of the greatest on Earth, was built the way great causes in America's past were always built—by decent, caring citizens working together with confidence for a common purpose, a common goal, a common good.
I ask each of you today for a renewed commitment to a greater America. Do I have your commitment for a greater America? [Applause]
Thank you very much.
You've got a partner here. You've answered my question, and now I'll answer yours. I'll be glad to answer the first question.
Q. Mr. President, I'm A.D. Boutwell, vice president of Local 10509, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
I understand that there may be some type tax proposal in the future if the inflation rate continues at its present level, and certainly we hope and pray that it will not continue in the future as it has in the past. And I was wondering if you might tell us what type of tax break you had in mind and when this action may be taken.
THE PRESIDENT. I do not plan on any tax increases. My primary concern at this time is to control inflation as far as the economy goes. We will monitor very carefully the economic situation in America.
In the last 2 1/2 years, since I have been in office, we've been fortunate in cutting the unemployment rate from more than 8 percent down to 5.6 percent—more than a 25-percent reduction. We've cut unemployment compensation payments down 55 percent. In the coming months, because of a very high OPEC price increase—they've almost doubled the price of oil in the last 7 months—we do face some increase in inflation, perhaps some increase in unemployment.
If we see a real need to do something about the economy, if the unemployment rate starts getting too high, then I will take action. But that action will not be to raise taxes. It would be to lower taxes. And if we lower them, my first preference would be to lower the payroll tax.
So, I think you need not fear of tax increases while I'm in office.
Q. Mr. President, Jewell White, Lockport, Illinois, Local 5011.
Mr. John Swearingen, chairman of the board of Standard Oil of Indiana, stated in the New York Times on June 4 that the oil companies won't increase production until gasoline reaches $1.50 a gallon.
My question, Mr. President: Do you agree that to resolve the energy crisis we must reorganize by abolishing the secrecy of the oil industry and let workers learn all the facts about costs, profits, imports, refining capacity, and alternate energy sources?
THE PRESIDENT. I feel a great responsibility on my shoulders as President of this country. I have a lot of authority to deal with the oil industry, not yet enough, but I will guarantee you that we will not permit the oil companies to hold back on production, waiting for the gasoline prices to go up.
We now have the authority to require accurate information from the oil companies about imports, the amount of oil they have on hand, and the amount that they sell. This is new authority that we've just gotten recently.
I have hired one of the finest accounting firms in the Nation to look at the Department of Energy and its new responsibility, to be sure that it is getting the most accurate information now about the oil companies, what they are producing, what they can produce.
Six weeks ago they were only producing at a rate of about 82 percent of capacity. Now, because of proddings from us, the production rate of the oil refineries is about 91 percent. This is almost all they can do under the present circumstances.
In addition, there's an independent agency, not associated with government, that gets data, information about oil. And I have encouraged them—I announced this this morning in Kansas City—to distribute this information every week to all the news media throughout the country-newspapers, the weekly newspapers, the magazines, radio, television—so that you might become familiar with oil supplies on hand and production from our wells and refinery output, just like Americans do now about checking on the weather reports. So, I think you'll see a definite increase in the future, both in the volume of information that we get and distribute to you on the oil industry, and also you'll see a great increase or improve-• ment in the accuracy of those reports.
Finally, I've asked the Department Energy and the Department of Justice to check the oil industry to make sure them are no improper or illegal acts. If there are, they will be prosecuted to the ultimate length of the law. I'm not going to permit the oil companies or anyone else to profiteer on the shortage of oil in this country nor to cheat the American people, and you can depend on it.
U.S. SPACE PROGRAM
Q. Mr. President, Odus Rigdon, vice president, CWA Local 3112, West Palm Beach, Florida born in Waycross, Georgia, and proud of it. [Laughter]
I personally feel that the energy crisis can be solved in space exploration. I would like to know if you could tell us today why you feel that the space program is so important to us as Americans? Where do you think we are today in space exploration, and where do we go from here?
THE PRESIDENT. Fine. Almost exactly 10 years ago, as you know, the first American put his foot on the Moon. No other country has been able to match this achievement, and I would predict that in our lifetime, no other country will be able to do it.
Since then, we've had tremendous space exploration flights past the other satellites; the satellites have gone past the other parts of our solar system—recently, Jupiter, Saturn, and even Uranus. Now we're shifting toward a more routine way to deal with space with the space shuttle.
Before another year goes past, we'll be seeing space shuttle flights. We'll put them up into space, manned with a crew, carrying a cargo. They'll cruise around the Earth as many times they desire and then come down, not in parachutes in the ocean, but down-gliding, landing on airstrips just like airplanes. That same space shuttle then can unload its valuable cargo with all the data they've collected, or instruments that have been tested. It can reload and take off again into space. This means that we now have a way at a reasonable price to have routine trips into space and back, for the first time, as you know.
So, I think we've approached the time when we can continue very advanced, very exciting research programs, trips to the planets, and even beyond, and have equipment tested in the space shuttle on a routine basis.
The first priority will be defense and our Nation's intelligence. The next will be the leasing of space, just like you rent part of a freight car or part of a truck body going across the country to transport material. We'll lease that space, that cargo space to private companies. When those needs are met, we'll lease additional space to some of our allies and friends around the world, and it'll be done to keep the space shuttles going.
I've already approved four space shuttles. The first ones will be fired from the east coast. Later, the space shuttles will be fired from the west coast. Because of various reasons, if you want to go east and west, parallel pretty much with the Equator, you fire the shuttles from the east coast. If you want to go over the poles, north and south, you fire from Vandenburg Air Base in California. Soon we'll be doing it both ways.
So, I think we're making great progress to make routine achievements out of what was formerly just an experimental effort in space. I think the prospects are right for our country. We're ahead of anybody else in this program, and I'm determined to stay ahead of everybody else.
Q. Mr. President, I'm Mike Agnew. I am from Local 2336 in Washington, D.C. And I'd like to have you share with us this afternoon your views on the ever popular slogan, "A bushel of wheat for a barrel of oil."
THE PRESIDENT. I was hoping that all my answers could be popular. [Laughter] But this answer is not going to be popular.
Our Nation produces 14 percent of all the world's wheat. Of all the wheat sold among countries in foreign trade, about 40 percent of it is produced in the United States. Every time our Nation's farmers produce 100 bushels of wheat, 60 bushels are exported to foreign countries.
As you know now, the price of wheat varies up and down, around $4 a bushel. The price of oil is up as high as $22, sometimes $35 a bushel [barrel]. It would be impossible to find anyone in Mexico or in the Persian Gulf area or in Venezuela or in Nigeria that would swap us a $22 barrel of oil for a $4 bushel of wheat.
A lot of people have said, "Well, why don't we cut off wheat shipments to the OPEC countries and force them to bring their prices down?" Let me remind you of this: First of all, the OPEC countries, in general, particularly those in the Middle East, have a very tiny population. Saudi Arabia, for instance, produces about 8 1/2, 9 million barrels of oil a day. They only have five or six million people. A little tiny country in Europe could provide all the wheat that Saudi Arabia needs out of their surplus. If we cut off all wheat shipments to any country that produced oil, they could very easily get their wheat anywhere else. We could not punish them accordingly.
Another thing is that if I put an embargo on the shipment of American farmers' wheat to any oil-producing country, there would be more farmers in Washington trying to run over me with tractors than you've ever seen before. [Laughter]
So, it's a good song and a good slogan, and we are doing tremendous amount of trade, but that equal swap is just not possible.
Let me close by saying this: Last year we set a record on agricultural exports. The year before that we set a record on agricultural exports. This year we're going to set another record on agricultural exports. Our exports of wheat are going up, and I predict to you that in the generations ahead, maybe just the decades ahead, maybe just the years ahead, we're going to find that wheat is a much more valuable export item for the world than oil is going to be, coming from the OPEC nations. So, we're in a good position in the United States of America. We're going to stay that way.
Q. Mr. President, Norman Henschel, president, Local 1108, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.
Mr. President, with the inflation rate nearing 14: percent, and with the Communications Workers of America going into major negotiations in 1980, is it fair or realistic to stay with?-percent wage guidelines?
THE PRESIDENT. Did Glenn Watts ask you to ask me that question? [Laughter]
First of all, in 1980, I do not expect the inflation rate to be 14 percent. Secondly, we have been consulting very closely with Glenn Watts and with Doug Fraser of the UAW and with other labor leaders, and also with leaders in management, to try to set wage and price guidelines that will be fair and equitable. And I don't want to punish any working people, obviously. But it must be remembered that everybody has to take the best interests of our Nation at heart.
I have been very pleased at the response of the workers of our country, in very strong, well-organized unions, in trying to accommodate the needs of other Americans in the wage settlements. Most, I think, have been satisfied, and I would predict that the GWA, one of the best organized unions in America, can very carefully, on their own, negotiate a contract that will be fair to the workers that Glenn Watts represents, and also fair to our country.
That's the best answer I can give you at this point.
Q. My name is Ann Kelly. I'm from Local 7102, Des Moines, Iowa, and I represent directory assistance operators.
As a trade unionist, my question is, why does the U.S. Government continue to buy products from the J.P. Stevens Company, with their long history of anti-union activities?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. [Laughter]
Q. Back into it for us.
THE PRESIDENT. It would be very difficult, I think, for the United States Government to pass a law or to enforce a law that all products bought by the Government had to be made by union workers. There would be a lot of products that were in the borderline between what was manufactured and what was not. And I think that ordinarily we work very closely with the trade unions in assuring that their products are adequately assessed.
I don't think we've punished those who do organize. Some industries, as you know, are almost 100-percent organized. Some, like the textile industry, are not very highly organized. But I think it's very important that you ask a question like this, and I think we are treating the trade unions fairly.
I don't think we can completely freeze out, though, the purchase of any goods that might be produced by nonunion workers, even though you might prefer it.
Q. The nonunion—it's their total disregard for the law.
THE PRESIDENT. I know. As you know, our administration—I personally have strongly favored labor law reform. And with your help, if we can keep this line of enthusiasm up in CWA, UAW, and others, I believe that next year we can go back to Congress and get labor law reform passed. That's what we need to do.
ENERGY CORPORATION BONDS
Q. Mr. President, I'm Larry Vandeventer from Corpus Christi, Texas, Local 12137. I support your proposals to win our energy fight, and I would like to know when you think we will be able to buy the energy bonds that you spoke of.
THE PRESIDENT. By the way, we keep the thermostat set on 78 degrees in the Oval Office. Some of the news people send me word here that it's 80 degrees where they are and it's 86 degrees where I am. [Laughter]
First of all, the Congress will have to pass a law authorizing the establishment of this private corporation. It will be given special authority and a special status. I'm sure that all of you are familiar with the COMSAT arrangement, where the special Communications Satellite Corporation was set up and stock was sold in that corporation to get the original communications satellites in space. A similar arrangement will be followed in getting established the special corporation to produce energy from shale, coal, and other means in our country.
As soon as the Congress passes the law authorizing this special corporation, it will be set up. It will not be a Government agency. It will be an independent, private corporation. And at that time, hopefully sometime this year, you'll be able to buy energy bonds and own a part of our Nation's energy security future. I don't know the exact date, but if you'll help me, we'll cut out the delays that have held up Congress too long.
That's a good question.
ARMED FORCES OFFICERS
Q. Mr. President, Bob Armacher, vice president, Local 11503, Panorama City, California, representing the great San Fernando Valley. This is in a little lighter vein.
The last time we had the pleasure of your presence at one of our conventions, you were a candidate for the nomination as President of the United States for the Democratic Party. Obviously, you impressed many others as favorably as you impressed me, particularly on your talk about waste in government. I remember two items you brought up. One of them was the fact that we had more admirals sitting in Washington than we have ships in the ocean; we have more colonels in the Air Force than we have airplanes.
My question is, what is the status of this situation at the present time? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. I'll have to check on it and let you know. [Laughter]
I remember very well the convention in San Diego and the fact that I pointed out we did have more admirals than we do ships, more colonels than we do airplanes in the Air Force. I'll have to find out the exact number now and let you know.
We have been cutting down, by the way, on the number of flag officers in the Armed Forces, compared to the number of enlisted men and noncommissioned officers. But I've got your—no, the only thing I've got is Panorama City, California. If I could get your exact address, I'll get you the numbers and I'll mail them to you personally.
Q. The exact address is 8155 Van Nuys Boulevard.
THE PRESIDENT. 81—what?
Q. 55 Van Nuys Boulevard, Panorama City.
THE PRESIDENT. HOW do you spell the boulevard. [Laughter]
Q. B-l-v-d. Boulevard.
THE PRESIDENT. Van Nuys—Van Nuys Boulevard. I got you.
Q. Suite 902.
THE PRESIDENT. All right. A-r-m-a-c-h-e-r?
Q. That's correct, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. You'll hear from me within a week.
Q. Mr. President, my name is Gerry Hefferan. I am the president of Local 1172, CWA. I represent the employees of ITT World Communications.
The last 25-year dinner I attended at ITT World Communications, the president of that company, Mr. George Knapp, announced the profits of the company at some $220 million. Now, we were the first company out of the box after your speech on October 24. That morning, the negotiating team for the company came in and told us that they sent you a telegram that morning saying that they were going to stand behind your guidelines and, thus, make it mandatory on the union to accept them. We did because we felt what you had put down was effective or hoped to be effective.
Now with the rate of inflation—by the way, we would have been justified asking for, with those profits, 20 percent, 20 percent, and 20 percent over a 3-year period of time. But we didn't. We stuck by the guidelines. We sold the contract.
Now with the rate of inflation coming up at the end of the year at 10 percent, we had 7 percent, of which we had to use 2 percent for pensions and another percent for a 10-year progression. So, that meant 5 percent across the board. At the end of the year, it looks like a 10-percent inflation. We're now 5 percent down the tubes.
How is the working man going to recuperate these moneys? We took a 2-year contract, because that's all we could buy to satisfy our members. Now we have another 5 percent coming up November of this year.
Is there something that can be done in respect to catching up the way we did when President Nixon made restrictions and we got put under that one? Is there something that can be done? That's my question.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know enough about the contract to know whether or not it can be renegotiated. Most of the settlements recently have had a cost-of-living clause in them that substantially compensated the workers when the inflation rate was increased more than we anticipated because of OPEC's action.
One of the things that we will be considering when we come out with new wage and price guidelines which, as you know, are voluntary—but it depends a lot on the patriotism of people, which you've already demonstrated. But we'll try to accommodate in those guidelines the kind of situation that you describe.
I think the way to get around it easiest is to have the cost-of-living clause included. But I don't know enough about the details of your contract to be able to answer any better.
Q. Mr. President, ITT had four contracts that they did have COLA clauses. They took strikes on all four and did away with them. ITT conglomerate does not have a contract now that has a COLA clause in it. I wish that the Government would make it mandatory. I would settle for simply a COLA, cost-of-living.
THE PRESIDENT. I understand. I want to make sure that you understand. I'm not trying to get involved in the contract negotiations. I've got enough to handle on my own. [Laughter] But we will try to make the guidelines fair, and we will talk very carefully to Glenn Watts and to other labor leaders before we come out with what we recommend as voluntary wage guidelines this fall. I am sure Glenn is listening very carefully to your voice, as have I. Thank you very much.
Q. Whatever you decide, we are behind you.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.
Q. Mr. President, Tom Scanlan, sales bargaining unit, president, Local 1395, Watertown, Massachusetts.
I live in the Northeast, where people are paying almost 90 cents a gallon for home heating oil. This really frightens the old and the poor and people on fixed incomes. How do you justify wage guidelines for workers who already pay a fourth or a large portion of their income just to keep warm? What do you plan to help us up in that area?
THE PRESIDENT. I take responsibility for a lot of things, but I can't take the responsibility for the increase in energy prices. And I cannot tell you that the Prices are not going to increase further in the future. Prices are going up on a worldwide basis, and I know that Americans are very upset and very disappointed and sometimes very angry because we have reached a 90-cent to a dollar price for gasoline and also a very high cost for home heating oil.
The price of gasoline in Italy is $2.75 a gallon; in France, $2.50; in England, $2.25; in Germany, about the same. We've been very fortunate to be not only the world's greatest consumers of oil, but we are also one of the world's greatest producers of oil. But no matter what I do, no matter what the Congress does, no matter what anybody does in the years ahead, the price of energy is going to go up. That is a fact. It's a worldwide fact, and I cannot mislead you.
Now, the second point is this: It's particularly hard on the poor people of our country. I'm trying to get the Congress to pass a permanent windfall profits tax on the oil companies. I hope you'll help me get it passed, because this money, which is a lot of money, will be used for three basic purposes.
First of all, to finance the development of our own energy resources which we have not yet used—shale oil, oil from coal, other sources. The second reason that we want this windfall profits tax is to improve the quality of our public mass transit systems—buses, subways, trains, and so forth. The third reason is to give special allocations of financial help to the very poor in our country who must depend on energy to heat their homes in particular.
We proposed originally $800 million a year to this fund to meet the kind of problem that you describe—when a poor family has the price of fuel oil go up through no fault of their own and it takes a major part of their income to pay for it. We're going to at least double this amount, maybe even triple it, when the Congress passes the windfall profits tax, to make sure that we do not have anybody in America, particularly New England, the north, where it's so cold and where the houses are heated with oil, who have to go cold because of the price of energy increases.
We're now building up to 240 million barrels of home heating oil by the end of October. That's one thing we'll do. And the other one is to compensate those very poor families who have a large increase in the price of heating oil through no fault of their own—and, I might add, through no fault of mine.
But if the Congress will pass the windfall profits tax, we'll have enough money without increasing the taxes on you by taxing the oil companies to make sure that that suffering that you are concerned about does not happen.
VIEWS ON THE PRESIDENCY
Q. Mr. President, I'm Clint Boling from Jonesboro, Arkansas, president of Local 6505.
In your speech last night, you talked about many problems that affect all of us today. One of those problems was the lack of trust and faith that we as Americans have in the Government. Do you have a specific plan, other than some that you may have outlined today, to provide the leadership to help restore this trust and faith that is required to improve these problems?
THE PRESIDENT. The only part of your question that bothers me is something I haven't mentioned so far. I worked for 10 days on that speech, including the background for it. ! had about 150 people to come to Camp David in the quietness of that mountaintop area, just to talk to me. I listened 95 percent of the time to Americans saying, "Mr. President, this is what concerns me about my Nation, this is what concerns me about my life, this is why I'm doubtful about the future, this is why I can't work with my neighbor, this is what I don't like about the Government, this is what I don't like about you, and this is what I want you to do to change."
And I thought about it and I prayed about it, and I wrote that speech and gave it last night to tell you from the bottom of my heart that we do have some serious problems in our great Nation.
One thing is we've started dividing from one another. This country is a country of immigrants. We are a country of refugees. I bet you there are a hundred different foreign nations represented in this 4,000 people in this hall. In the past, in times of trouble, like a depression, like the First World War, like the Second World War, American people came together to meet the challenge with courage and bravery and commitment and sacrifice and unselfishness. Now we are faced with some serious problems that divide us.
When you have to sit in a gas line or when your home heating bill goes up, it doesn't pull people together. It separates people one from another, because you're mad at your neighbors, you're mad at the Government, you're mad at OPEC, you're mad at the oil companies. It's tended to divide us apart.
So, my point that I would like to make again is this: There's only one clear voice in this country on a sustained basis. That's the voice of the President of the United States. If I can't speak to you so you can understand me about the problems of our Nation, then nobody can. If I don't tell you the truth, then my voice will not be meaningful. If I don't go out among the people and listen, then I don't know what you are thinking. And if you don't believe I've got confidence in you, then you are not going to have confidence in me.
I've made some mistakes since I've been President. As I said last night, many of the people said, "Mr. President, you're not out among the people enough, you don't listen to us enough. You've been so bogged down in managing the Government that you haven't been leading our Nation." Well, I listened to that, and I've learned my lesson.
So, for the rest of the time that I'm in office, I'm going to spend more time among you, I'm going to listen to your voice, I'm going to work closer to you. During the campaign, I had to do that, because otherwise I would never have been elected. If I hadn't come to San Diego to listen to you and to talk to you then and to bare my heart to you, I would not have been elected.
So, the best thing I can do is to put my faith in the American people, and God willing, I will act to the best of my human ability so that you can always have confidence in me. I'll do the best I can. If you will join me, I guarantee you we'll have the greatest nation on Earth, like we always have.
WAGE AND PRICE GUIDELINES
Q. That's a tough question to follow, Mr. President. Ray Cordova, Local 11571, Long Beach, California. And I am experienced in the controlled 78 degrees right now, as you notice.
Mr. President, I have a brief statement as well as a question that addresses itself to the 7-percent wage guideline. When I have a member of my local who is being paid $4 or less an hour, caring for three children, whose spouse has abandoned her, is eligible for food stamps, eligible to draw welfare payments, no child care facilities that are affordable to her, but because of pride and dignity, attempts to work and be a productive citizen, but then, Mr. President, she is told that 7 percent is the guideline.
We are experiencing double-digit inflation, and we cannot justify to our members 7 percent. So how, Mr. President, when labor is hamstrung with 7 percent, do you intend to have business live within 7 percent?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, this kind of question really concerns me, as you've already noticed. It's not the first one I've had today.
I've tried the best I could to stay away from mandatory wage standards. My own 'belief is that the system of free enterprise, the great union organizations can best handle their affairs through equal authority at the bargaining table.
As President, I evolved what I thought was the best standard I could devise. In the past, our inflation rate has been running 7, 7 1/2 8 percent—for about 10 years. In '74 it did get up to about 13 percent, as you remember, when OPEC clamped down on the price of oil. When we set the voluntary wage and price guidelines, that was a reasonable figure, and as the inflation rate built up, different labor organizations negotiated different kinds of contracts. We've tried to be reasonably flexible in giving our approval to the contract. I don't have any authority to tear up a contract. I don't have any authority to reverse what has been negotiated. And as I've said before, I'm deeply concerned about excessive restrictions that hurt the working people of our country.
In the fall, with this new rise in inflation that's been brought about by a doubling, almost, of the price of oil, we'll have to accommodate the new circumstances, and I think the cost-of-living clause in some of the contracts have helped.
I don't know how to answer your question. I'm not trying to justify that somebody ought to suffer. I do not believe that the working people of this country ought to suffer.
One additional problem that we face is, as I said last night, that the productivity of the American workers, not through your fault, but because of different things, has been going down—in most countries it's still going up. We still have, however, the highest worker productivity in the world.
The American worker is still the most productive in the world. And I would say that with a flexible attitude, which I do have, working with great labor leaders who represent you, I believe we can come out with a wage and price guideline that will do the maximum amount to hold down inflation and at the same time accommodate local problems and also regional problems and also the problems of certain kinds of workers who, like the woman you described already, has too low an income.
I can just promise you I'll do the best I can. I'll work with Glenn Watts and others to make sure that future wage and price guidelines are fair. I think the one we set up as a target was fair at the time we did it. And now we're ready to revise it when it's been in effect for 1 year.
Let me say this in closing—I've been here now for 55 minutes—I think you've seen an outstanding cross-section of the expression of interest and a few congratulations, a few concerns, a few criticisms that come from the American people. I've learned in the process, and I'll continue to learn. In fact, we'll have to learn together.
There's one thing I want all of us to do. I asked you to do it at the end of my speech last night. Do you remember what it was? I asked all of you, whenever you've got a chance, to—what? To say something good about our Nation.
Look, we live in the greatest nation on Earth, but quite often we get so bogged down, so concerned about a transient problem. Now, inflation's bad, gas lines are bad, home heating oil shortages are bad, sometimes unemployment is bad; but we still live in the greatest nation on Earth. And quite often we don't remember it, and we don't express our appreciation for it.
I believe one of the things that can pull our Nation back together to give us confidence, to give us unity, to restore American values, to improve the quality of our families, to strengthen our communities, to strengthen our churches, to strengthen our schools, to strengthen our government, to make sure that you can govern your own selves better, to make sure that all government officials—mayors and county commissioners and Governors and Congressmen and Presidents will listen to your voice better, is to remember what we've got.
We've got a democracy, strong, firm, made up of free people, the best free enterprise system on Earth. Research, development-God's given us 24 percent of all the energy supplies in the world; the Middle East all put together only has 5 percent. And I think we've got reason to be confident. And one thing that can bring back confidence is for your neighbor to hear you saying, "There might be some things I don't like about it, but the United States of America is still the greatest place on Earth to live, and our country's going to be even greater in the future."
Note: The President spoke at 4:34 p.m. in Convention Hall "C" at the Cobo Hall Convention Center.
Jimmy Carter, Detroit, Michigan Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Annual Convention of the Communications Workers of America. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249469