Harry S. Truman photo

Labor Day Address in Milwaukee

September 01, 1952

I am very glad to come to Milwaukee and speak to you tonight. Milwaukee is a great city in a great State--a State that has a long, proud record of progressive government.

A lot of the progressive measures that the State of Wisconsin adopted many years ago became part of the New Deal--and were spread all over the country from here. Wisconsin has a great liberal tradition which was made famous by the two Bob LaFollettes. I served with young Bob in the Senate, and he is one of the finest men I have ever known. I am sure that this year Wisconsin will return to that tradition and elect a United States Senator you can be proud of.

I am especially glad to be here on Labor Day. This is our day to honor the working men and women of America. It is also a day that marks the official opening of an election campaign--at least on the Democratic side. The Republicans don't seem to attach much importance to Labor Day.

I am going to get a great deal of satisfaction out of the presidential campaign this year. In the first place, we have a splendid candidate for the job. And in the second place I won't have to do so much of the work myself, this time.

I don't believe the Democratic Party has ever had a candidate better qualified to be President of the United States than we have this year in Adlai Stevenson of Illinois.

You people here in Wisconsin are close enough to Illinois to know what a fine record he has made down there as Governor. It is a record of fairness and firmness, without favoritism. It is a record of steady progress in social legislation.

During his term, more good legislation has been adopted than in any similar period in the State's history.

Under Adlai Stevenson, Illinois has increased its workmen's compensation benefits 28 percent. It has increased its unemployment compensation benefits 34 percent. Illinois has nearly doubled its grants to the public schools. Public employees have been authorized to come in under social security. Labor unions have been allowed to create cooperative health centers--offering better medical care at costs the average citizen can afford. What's more, there is no little "Taft-Hartley" law in Illinois to plague the workingman.

That is not all. Governor Stevenson saved public housing in his State by vetoing a bill which would have wrecked it. He has worked to promote the cause of civil rights. And he has been adamant in opposing encroachments on the individual citizens of the citizens of Illinois.

Moreover, he has greatly increased the efficiency of his State Government. He brought the State police under civil service. He got rid of State employees who didn't work--and raised the salaries of those who did.

Adlai Stevenson will be a great, progressive President. And his running mate, John Sparkman, will be of great help to him and to the people.

Senator Sparkman has made a wonderful record. He has been a leader in the fight to protect and help small business. He has been in the forefront of our work for better homes. He has been a stalwart in the annual fight for rent control and for effective price controls. He has worked hard for aid to our schools. He has strongly supported all our farm programs and all our work for public power, and our efforts to undo the damage of Taft-Hartley.

There are few Senators, north or south, who have worked as hard for the plain people of this country as John Sparkman, the tenant farmer's son from Alabama.

The Democratic candidates for President and Vice President have had experience in high elective public office. Both of them have made fine records. Both of them have proved that they are able men and good friends of labor.

Now, I suppose the Republicans will raise a great hullabaloo because I have come to this hall on Labor Day and said that the Democratic candidates are friends of labor. According to the Republicans, there seems to be something bad about being a friend of labor, something bad about Democrats being friends of the farmer, something bad about our party being interested in the welfare of all the people.

Well, let me say this to you. The Democratic Party has a long, long record of friendship and support for the working men and women of America--and a long, long record of friendship for all the 150 million people who cannot afford a paid lobbyist in the Capital. We have tried to improve working conditions and living standards. And we have succeeded. What's more, we shall keep it up. The Democratic Party is going right ahead, fighting for the welfare of all the people of America.

The record makes very plain what we have done and what we will continue to do.

We have fought for the farmer just as hard as we have fought for labor. We have done the same thing for all the groups in our population. We have done this because we know that our national welfare cannot be divided. We know that the welfare of each group is dependent on the welfare of all the others.

We are proud that the Democratic Party is the party of the people. That's the way it has been and that's the way it will be under the new leadership of Adlai Stevenson.

It's a good thing the people have the Democratic Party to count on. For it's a sure thing they cannot count on the Republican Party. The Republicans are still the party of the special interests, still the errand boys of the big lobbies, still the ones who want to exploit labor and the farmers and the consumers. The only thing different about them this year is that they are trying to hide behind a new face--their lonely, captive candidate.

They have tried disguises before. They always try to put a new face on the elephant at election time. But the disguise never works because the rest of the elephant is too big to hide--and the rest of the elephant has the record of Republican reaction written all over him.

The Republicans are trying to cover up their record. They are campaigning on the idea that it is time for a change. But they don't come right out and tell you the kind of a change they really want. That is what I think you ought to know and that is what I am going to tell you. And I am going to prove it by the Republican record.

The Republican record is one of constant, nagging opposition to all the great progressive measures that our country has adopted in the past 20 years. They fought these things every step of the way; they don't want to admit now that any good has been accomplished; and they are going to undo these things and turn the clock back if they ever get a chance.

Take the matter of providing jobs for people who want them.

We have full employment now--62 million jobs, more and better job opportunities than ever before in history. Not only are the jobs available, but wages are good, too. In fact, wages are at an all-time high.

Now, is that what the Republicans want to change? I'm afraid it is. The Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the full employment bill almost two to one.

Actually, the big money boys like a little unemployment and low wages. Remember the last time they held office--they steered this country into the worst depression we ever had. And there's nothing in their record to give any of us confidence that they wouldn't do it again.

Remember, back in 1933 there were less than 3 million union members in this country. Jobs were scarce, wages were poor, and the workingman was getting a raw deal all across the board. Today the situation is very different. Our American trade unions have more than 16 million members and the workingman is getting a fair deal.

Now, do the Republicans want to change that ? I'll say they do. A lot of them would get a big kick out of doing just a little union busting. They would be glad to go right back to the days of "yellowdog" contracts and labor spies.

It was the Republicans who fought the Wagner Act in 1935. It was the Republicans who fought the minimum wage law in 1938. It was the Republicans who dreamed up and put across the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.

You would think they might have learned something in 1948. But they didn't. Look at the record of the last 4 years. In 1949 almost every single Republican in Congress voted against repeal of the Taft-Hartley law. Then they tried to keep us from raising the minimum wage to 75 cents. And just 3 months ago almost every one of them lined up on the side of the steel corporations and against labor in the steel case.

When you look at the record, I don't think there is much doubt about the kind of change the Republicans want so far as labor is concerned.

Now look for a moment at social security. Under Democratic leadership the Government has recognized that it has a responsibility for the general welfare of its citizens. We have passed social security laws to provide unemployment insurance and old-age insurance, and to help needy old people and dependent children and provide aid to the blind.

When the Republicans say it's time for a change, do they mean they are going to take your social security benefits away?

That's not what they are telling you now, but look at the record.

Almost to a man the Republicans in Congress opposed the original social security law in 1935. They fought against improving it in 1939. And in that terrible Both Congress, they even took insurance protection away from nearly a million people.

In the last 4 years, it's been the same way. The House Republicans voted ten to one to block the great social security improvements of 1949. And just last May they did it again. They lined up two to one against increasing old-age insurance benefits and public assistance payments to meet the increased cost of living. A lot of them found out they had stepped into a hornet's nest on this one, and they had to change their votes when the bill was brought up again later on.

The Republican candidate for President made a speech the other day and said that all Americans of all parties now support social security. I guess he didn't know about the Republican record in Congress. He could find out a lot of things by examining that record. He ought to give it some study.

You ought to give it some study, too--you and all other Americans. That's the way you can find out what the Republicans really mean when they say it's time for a change.

Apparently, they mean it's time to change our policy of building decent homes for low-income families. Eighty percent of the Republican Congressmen voted this spring to gut the public housing program.

Apparently they mean it's time to change our policy of developing the power from our rivers for the benefit of all the people. Over 80 percent of the Republican Congressmen have voted time after time, at the bidding of the private power lobby, to sabotage our public power program any way they can.

Apparently they mean it's time to change our policy on rural electrification. Over 80 percent of the Republican Senators went on record three separate times last year in favor of cutting funds for REA cooperatives.

Apparently they mean it's time to change our policy on soil conservation. Seventy five percent of the Republican Senators voted just 3 months ago for a crippling slash in our soil conservation program.

Apparently they mean it is time to change our policy of stabilizing prices to prevent runaway inflation. Seventy-nine percent of the Republicans in the House voted this year to scuttle all price controls.

Every time I hear the Republicans moan about high prices I get angry. They ganged up in Congress in 1946 and voted to ruin OPA and kill price controls. In 1947 and 1948 and 1949 they opposed every effort to get controls restored, even on a standby basis. Then in 1950 when Korea came along, they tried their best to cripple the new controls bill at the start. And what they weren't able to accomplish the first time around, they tried hard to put across in 1951 and again this year.

These are some of the things the Republicans would like to change. They may tell you something different, but the Republican Party has written its record in Congress where it is plain to see. In my whole experience as President, a great majority of the Republicans in Congress have almost always voted wrong--against the welfare of the people and for the special interests.

I am glad for the sake of my country and for the sake of my party that the Democratic record is far different. During these same years, a sizeable majority of the Democrats in Congress have almost always voted right. Take the great issues of the last 7 years, foreign and domestic, and you will find as I have, that 60, 70, 80 percent of the Democrats have been on the right side--the liberal side, the people's side.

You will also find--and it follows naturally-that with more Democrats in Congress, and fewer Republicans, the more good legislation gets adopted. You all know what happened in the Republican Both Congress. And I think we could all agree that in the last Congress, the 82d Congress-where there were almost as many Republicans as Democrats--our liberal programs had very tough going.

But in the 81st Congress--the one elected in 1948, where the Democrats had a real majority--we passed more progressive legislation than during the entire previous decade.

Now, I hope this little bit of history makes clear to you what the problem is in the congressional elections this year. We don't need just a few more Democrats than Republicans in Congress; we need a lot more Democrats so that the liberal majority in our party will be big enough to outvote the overwhelming number of reactionaries in the Republican Party.

It is not time--it will never be time--for the kind of change that would hit this country if the Republicans won in November. The record shows what they stand for and what they want to do. The people of America just cannot afford to take a risk like that.

You know, if the Republicans don't wake up and reform, it wouldn't surprise me if they never did win another national election. That seems to worry some people these days. There are those who go around saying that no matter what the Republicans are like, you'd better vote them into office this time. Otherwise, the Republican Party might disappear. And that, they say, would ruin the two-party system.

This is an appeal to charity. The answer should be simple: "We'll vote for you when you reform. We'll vote for you when you prove that you can run the country for the good of the people, but not before." And I am not talking about reform at election time for campaign purposes. I am talking about the kind that shows up on the record between elections.

No party deserves to be kept alive just out of kindheartedness or charity. We don't run our country to keep political parties alive. We run our political parties to keep the country alive--alive and strong and growing.

Now, I don't want you to misunderstand me, but there is one thing I agree with the Republicans about.

It is time for a change. But not the kind of change they are thinking of. It is time for a change from the endless campaign of Republican opposition to progress.

It is time for a change from the "big lie"-from the brazen Republican efforts to falsify history, to smear and ruin innocent individuals, to trample on the basic liberties of American citizens.

It's time for a change, all right, for a change to a situation where our Government will not be so hamstrung by Republican obstruction in building a better America and a safe and peaceful world.

Now, to bring that about, we have to send enough Democrats to Congress to give the new Democratic President a real working majority that will carry out the Democratic platform.

This, my friends, is the way to get a change in Washington--the kind of change that helps the workers of our country--and all the people. So when the Republicans urge upon you that "it's time for a change," don't hesitate to take them up on it. Take them at their word and vote Democratic.

Don't be deceived. Don't be deceived by anything the Republicans may tell you this election year. Remember who they are and what they are. Remember their record.

If you do that, I have no doubt about how this election will come out.

Then this country, which we all love so much, will be starting on a bright new chapter in the history of progress for us all. The Congress will be firmly Democratic. And our next President will be Adlai Stevenson.

Note: The President spoke at 8:30 p.m. in the Sports Arena in Milwaukee, Wis.

The meeting was sponsored by Labor's Political League, consisting of unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American federation of Labor. The address was broadcast nationally.


Harry S Truman, Labor Day Address in Milwaukee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231360

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