Harry S. Truman photo

Labor Day Address at the Allegheny County Free Fair in Pittsburgh.

September 05, 1949

The Allegheny County Commissioners, Mr. Mayor, distinguished guests:

I am very happy to be here today at the Allegheny County Free Fair.

I am sincerely sorry that my good friend John Kane can't be here, on account of illness. I am happy that Mrs. Kane can represent him here with the Commissioners today. John Kane has never been in Washington in the last 3 years that he hasn't invited me to this fair, and now I am here and he is absent. I am very sorry.

I notice that this is called "the world's largest county fair." I have attended county fairs for 60 years, and I'm glad to be a guest at the biggest one of all today.

My first visit to a county fair was when I was about 5 years old. My old grandfather took me in a cart with a strawberry roan horse and drove me 6 miles to the Cass County Fair at Belton, Mo. And I went with him all 6 days, and sat with him in the judges' stand when the races were called. It was a great event in my young life, and I have been going to county fairs ever since. And here I am now at the biggest one.

I am particularly impressed by this fair, because it is both a farm show and an industrial exposition. Farmers and industrial workers together are showing their best products here today.

Farmers and industrial workers--agriculture and industry--ought to show their products together. For these two groups depend upon each other. Together, they are responsible for the tremendous production of this country's economic system. No program for prosperity in the country can ignore the interests of either group.

In recent years some people have been telling farmers, out of one corner of their mouths, that the labor unions are bad for farmers. Out of the other corner of their mouths, these same people have been telling industrial workers that programs to benefit farmers are bad for labor. If you ever meet anybody like that, you can be sure he is not interested in the welfare of either the farmer or the industrial worker. Those who are trying to set these two great groups against each other just have axes of their own to grind.

Now, about this time last year, if you remember, the country was engaged in a great political campaign. I covered a good deal of the United States in the course of that campaign, and I put the plain facts, as I saw them, before the people. I also offered a program to meet the needs of all groups in this country for growth and prosperity. The votes of the people showed that they wanted that kind of program. They were not misled by the newspapers and the magazines and the so-called experts who tried to convince them that they did not want that kind of program.

The people knew what they wanted.

Their votes showed that the farmers and the workers stand together in demanding a government that works for the benefit of all our citizens.

It is now almost a year since that campaign, and I think it is time to take stock of the situation and see what progress we have made in carrying out the program the people voted for.

I am happy to be able to report to you that we have made progress; and we are continuing to make progress.

As a result of last fall's election, we have a new Congress in Washington. And this new 81st Congress has an entirely different approach to the needs and desires of the people from that of the 80th Congress.

The 80th Congress was a threat to almost every bit of forward-looking legislation passed during recent years. For example, it repealed the Wagner Labor Relations Act and replaced it with an unfair and restrictive Taft-Hartley Act. It took social security benefits from hundreds of thousands of people. It weakened our farm programs. It attacked our national policy for making the benefits of electric power available to the public--to all the people--instead of just the privileged few.

If the 80th Congress had not been repudiated, this tearing down process would have gone on and on. But now the new 81st Congress has reversed this backward trend.

The 81st Congress has put a stop to the piecemeal destruction of the hard-won protections and benefits that the people have built up for themselves. It has done more than that. The 81st Congress has moved forward.

Some people are trying to make you believe that the 81st Congress has been a "do-nothing" Congress. That simply is not true. The fact is the 81st Congress has already passed many important measures for the good of the people--and it will pass many more progressive laws.

The 81st Congress has taken wise and important steps in foreign policy by extending the European recovery program and ratifying the North Atlantic Treaty. It has enacted a far-reaching housing program that will benefit millions of our citizens. It has extended rent control. It has taken action to make low-cost electricity available to more of our people. It has strengthened the soil conservation and reclamation programs. This Congress has restored the Government's power to acquire grain storage facilities necessary to carry out the farm-price support program. This Congress has approved an International Wheat Agreement which will give our farmers a fair share of the world wheat markets at fair prices. This Congress has strengthened and improved our organization for national defense.

My friends, this is real progress. And this session is not over yet. Other important measures, such as those raising the minimum wage and extending the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, are well on their way to final passage.

The 81st Congress has taken these actions over the fierce opposition of the selfish interests. The organized conspiracy of the selfish interests has gone right on working against the common good, in spite of the election returns.

One of the things that the special interests have managed to do up until this time is to prevent the repeal of the Taft-Hartley law. But that issue is far from settled. We are going to continue to fight for the repeal of that repressive law until it is wiped off the statute books.

The selfish interests have always been working against the common good, since the beginning of our history. Our fathers and our grandfathers had to fight against them every step of the way to make progress. They had to fight for a free public school system. They had to fight for the right of homesteaders to settle on the public lands. They had to fight for laws to protect the health and safety of industrial workers. They had to fight for labor's right to organize.

We face the same situation today. We still have a fight on our hands.

The special interests always fail to see that the way of progress, the way of greater prosperity for themselves, as well as others, lies in the direction of a fuller and happier life for all.

Too many people who can afford big insurance policies for themselves are not concerned over the need of expanding social security. Too many who are making money out of the rents from slums are not in favor of expanding public housing to provide decent shelter for low-income families. Too many with big incomes are not interested in raising minimum wages. Too many who can freely organize themselves in business associations or employers' groups are not anxious to protect the same right to organize among industrial workers.

It is hard, perhaps, for the people in comfortable circumstances to see the need for improving the well-being of the less fortunate. Furthermore, they are always being stirred up and misled by the spokesmen and lobbyists for organized selfish interests. There are a lot of paid agitators, promoters, and so-called publicity experts who make a fat living by frightening the people in the higher income groups about forward-looking legislation, and by organizing campaigns against that forward-looking legislation.

Ever since the election those spokesmen have been very busy stirring up opposition to our legislative program.

The hue and cry that has resulted, in the press, and on the air, and through the mail, has been deafening.

These propagandists do not argue the merits of our program. They know that the American people will always decide against the selfish interests if all the facts are before them. So they have adopted the age-old device to hide the weakness of their case.

This is the device of the "scare-word" campaign.

It is a device that has been used in every country and every age by the propagandists for selfish interests. They invent slogans in an effort to scare the people. They apply frightening labels to anything they happen to oppose. These scare words are intended to confuse the people and turn them against their own best interests.

Scare words change with the times.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal saved our country from the great depression, the selfish interests raised the scare words of "socialism" and "regimentation."

But the American people didn't scare.

Year after year the selfish interests kept up their refrain. They tried new words-"bureaucracy" and "bankruptcy."

But the American people still didn't scare.

Last November the people gave the selfish interests the surprise of their lives. The people just didn't believe that programs designed to assure them decent housing, adequate wages, improved medical care, and better education were "socialism" or "regimentation."

So the selfish interests retired to a back room with their high-priced advertising experts and thought things over. They decided that the old set of scare words had become a little mildewed. Maybe it was time for a change.

So they came up with a new set of scare words. Now they're talking about "collectivism," and "statism," and "the welfare state."

The selfish interests don't know--in fact, they don't care--what those words mean. They are using those words only because they want to turn the American people against the programs which the people want, and need, and for which the people voted last fall.

Let's see how the selfish interests are using these scare words.

The people want public housing for low-income families. The selfish interests are posed to this because they think it will cut down their own incomes; so they call it "collectivism."

Well, we don't care what they call it.

We are for public housing. It is the democratic way to provide decent homes in place of slums.

The people want fair laws for labor. The selfish interests are against these laws because they mistakenly fear that their profits will be reduced; so they call that "statism."

Well, we don't care what they call it.

We believe that the workers in this country have a fundamental right to square treatment from employers.

The people want a fair program for the farmers, including an effective price support system. The selfish interests fight against this because it keeps them from profiteering at the farmers' expense; so they call this "socialism."

Well, we don't care what they call it.

We know that the well-being of the country depends upon the well-being of the farmers, and that farm prosperity must be protected in the interest of all of us.

The people want a better social security system, improved education, and a national health program. The selfish interests are trying to sabotage these programs because they have no concern about helping the little fellow; and so they call this the "welfare state."

Well, we don't care what they call it.

We know that the little fellow is the backbone of this country, and we are dedicated to the principle that the Government should promote the welfare of all the people.

The spokesmen for these special interests say that these programs make the Government too powerful and cause the people to lose their freedom. Well now, that just is not so. Programs like these make the people more independent--independent of the Government, independent of big business and corporate power.

People who have opportunity to work and earn, and who have an assured income in their old age, are free. They are free of the fear of poverty. They are free of public or private charity. They can live happier, more useful lives. That's real freedom. And that is something we should be proud of-that's not something to be slandered by trumped-up slogans.

Along with this campaign of scare words, we hear another argument against adopting any forward-looking legislation. It is to the effect that even if these programs are good things, we can't adopt them now, because they cost too much and we can't afford them.

The selfish interests say we can't afford these programs during a boom because that would be inflationary. They say we can't afford them during a recession because that would be deflationary. They say we can't afford them during a war because we are too busy with defense, we can't afford them in time of peace because that would discourage business. So, according to the selfish interests, we never can afford them.

But the truth is--we can't afford not to put these programs into effect. We can afford them, we ought to have them, and we will have them.

The sooner we have them the better it will be for the country, and the more we will save.

Take our programs for resource development, for example. If we fail to conserve our soil, we lose our most valuable resource. If we fail to build electric power facilities, we hamper the development of industry.

Take our social security system. Shall we force our old people to turn to charity? Or shall we let them have an independent and self-respecting existence through an up-to-date old-age insurance system, paid for during their working years?

Take housing. If we don't go forward with our housing and slum-clearance programs, we shall have to pay the rising costs of disease, immorality, and crime bred in slums.

Consider our schools. The hidden costs of poor education, lost opportunity, and poverty resulting from inadequate schools are costs the Nation can no longer afford. Federal aid to education will be a lot less expensive than ignorance and illiteracy.

If we are to have a healthy and prosperous United States, we must have better schools, better housing, better medical care, better use of our resources, stronger social security, and the other improvements in our democracy that the people need.

Those who oppose these improvements refuse to face the facts of today's world. They don't understand the overriding urgency of proving the value of the democratic way of life, not just with words, but with deeds. They don't see that the very survival of free enterprise depends upon a rising standard of living and an expanding economy. They don't recognize that to work for the increasing security and liberty of the people of the United States is the key not only to our own prosperity, but to the prosperity and peace of the whole world.

But the people of the United States do understand these things. When they have the facts before them, they always choose progress--not reaction.

They made this clear again last fall. They chose the very same programs that are now being attacked by the selfish interests with their campaign scare words. The people were not misled about those programs then. They will not be misled about them now.

The people know that the second half of the 20th century is going to be a time of challenge to the way of freedom and progress that our democracy represents. As we meet that challenge, we shall have to fight, as we have always fought, the selfish forces of reaction and special privilege.

The people of the United States have been winning that fight for 160 years. I am convinced that we will continue to win that fight through the years to come.

Note: The President spoke at 12 noon at the Allegheny County Fairgrounds in Pittsburgh. His opening words referred to County Commissioners Harry W. Fowler and Ernest Hillman and to Mayor David L. Lawrence of Pittsburgh. Later he referred to Mrs. John J. Kane, representing her husband, the chairman of the Board of Allegheny County Commissioners, who was ill.

The address was broadcast over all major radio networks.

Harry S Truman, Labor Day Address at the Allegheny County Free Fair in Pittsburgh. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230018

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