Richard Nixon photo

Labor Day Message.

September 03, 1972

My fellow Americans:

On this Labor Day, 1972, America's working men and women can be confident that the Nation is on the road to the kind of real prosperity that will last.

For 5 long years--from 1965 to 1970-the American worker was on a treadmill. His paycheck kept going up, but he was no better off. Year after year, wage increases bargained for him by his union or provided by his employer were eaten away by taxes and inflation, the result of too much Government spending in the sixties.

In the past 2 years, however, that picture has changed dramatically for the better.

The real income of the average worker, after all Federal taxes and after inflation, is up a total of 6 percent. The days of the treadmill are over--the average workingman is now making real progress.

More Americans have jobs now than ever before, 2 1/2 million more than a year ago, with new jobs being created at the fastest rate in more than 20 years. As a result, the unemployment rate is lower now than it was last Labor Day. We are not going to be satisfied, however, until we reach our goal--full employment without inflation and without war.

We will reach that goal for two reasons:

First, when it comes to cracking down on prices, this Administration means business. We've already cut inflation in half, and we're not about to let up now. Moreover, we're going to continue to squeeze down on excessive Government spending, which is a root cause of inflation. When Congress passes bills calling for new spending which would lead to higher taxes or higher prices, I shall veto them.

The second reason we're going to achieve a peacetime prosperity is due to the American worker's cooperation in new and better production methods. His productivity has consequently risen strongly in the past year, after years of standing still, and I am convinced it will continue to rise in the years ahead.

With higher productivity, the worker's paycheck will buy more. Our ability to compete more successfully in the world will mean more and better jobs.

There is a way that Government can help keep our "productivity momentum" rolling to the benefit of the worker.

We all know how work stoppages cut into both paychecks and productivity, how strikes often harm both the worker and the economy. Today, we have achieved an era of relative calm on the labor-management front, with work stoppages at a 6-year low. This is the best time for labor, management, and Government to get together and see how we can make an even more regular habit of industrial peace.

I want to see the American worker get all that he deserves. I want to see him get it through the healthy process of free collective bargaining. And I want to see him get it without long and costly strikes that interrupt the workingman's income and sometimes are harmful to all Americans.

I am today announcing the formation of the National Commission for Industrial Peace.

The purpose of this Commission will be to explore ways that labor and management can harmonize their differences at the bargaining table, freely and constructively.

I will look to the Commission on Industrial Peace for recommendations in these areas:

--how to improve the process of collective bargaining by the men and women at the bargaining table,

--how Government can be more helpful to the parties in the bargaining process,

--how the interest of the public can be reflected in the outcome as well as in the process of collective bargaining.

It is vital that partisan politics play no role in the work of this Commission. For that reason, I shall wait until after election day before asking leaders of labor and business to serve. In the meantime, I am directing the Secretary of Labor and the Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to begin preliminary staff work and consultations immediately.

On this Labor Day, I would like to discuss with you some of the decisions you will be facing this year--decisions that will affect your job, your paycheck, and your future.

Today, this Nation is operating under a system that is rooted in the values that built America:

--We believe that an able-bodied person should earn what he gets and keep most of what he earns. We must stop increases in taxes before they reach the point that the American wage earner is working more for the Government than he is for himself.

--We believe it is wrong for someone on welfare to receive more than someone who works.

--We believe that a person's ability and ambition should determine his income, and that his income should not be redistributed by Government or restricted by some quota system.

--We believe that when Government tampers too much with the lives of individuals, when it unnecessarily butts into the free collective bargaining process, it cripples the private enterprise system on which the welfare of the worker depends.

Because we have held fast to those values, the American worker has a higher standard of living and more freedom than any worker in the world today.

Because we have held fast to those values, the American people have been able to be more compassionate and more generous to the dependent and helpless than any other people in the world.

Now, despite that record of success, and despite the evidence all around us that the new prosperity is reaching into more homes than ever before, those traditional values have come under challenge.

That challenge to our values is serious, and it cannot be ignored. The person whose values are most directly threatened is the American worker, and it is up to the American worker to understand the nature of the challenge and to move strongly to turn it back.

We are faced this year with the choice between the "work ethic" that built this Nation's character and the new "welfare ethic" that could cause that American character to weaken.

Let's compare the two:

The work ethic tells us that there is really no such thing as "something for nothing," and that everything valuable in life requires some striving and some sacrifice. The work ethic holds that it is wrong to expect instant gratification of all our desires, and it is right to expect hard work to earn a just reward. Above all, the work ethic puts responsibility in the hands of the individual, in the belief that self-reliance and willingness to work make a person a better human being.

The welfare ethic, on the other hand, suggests that there is an easier way. It says that the good life can be made available to everyone right now, and that this can be done by the Government. The welfare ethic goes far beyond our proper concern to help people in need. It sees the Government, not the person, as the best judge of what people should do, where they should live, where they should go to school, what kind of jobs they should have, how much income they should be allowed to keep.

The choice before the American worker is clear: The work ethic builds character and self-reliance, the welfare ethic destroys character and leads to a vicious cycle of dependency.

The work ethic builds strong people.

The welfare ethic breeds weak people. This year, you are not only going to choose the kind of leadership you want, you are going to decide what kind of people Americans will be.

Let me give you three specific examples of the difference between the work ethic and the welfare ethic, and how the choice directly affects your life.

The believers in the welfare ethic think it is unfair for some people to have much more income than others. They say we should begin right away to redistribute income, so that we can reduce the number of poor and bring about that day when everybody has much closer to the same income.

I believe that a policy of income redistribution would result in many more Americans becoming poor, because it ignores a human value essential to every worker's success--the incentive of reward.

It's human nature for a person who works hard for a living to want to keep most of what he earns, and to spend what he earns in the way he wants. Now, some may call this work ethic selfish or materialistic, but I think it is natural for a worker to resent seeing a large chunk of his hard-earned wage taken by Government to give to someone else who may even refuse to work.

The people who advocate the welfare ethic spend their time discussing how to cut up the pie we have, but those who believe in the work ethic want to bake a bigger pie, and I'm for baking that bigger pie. That's the kind of people Americans are, and that's the best way to take care of those who cannot care for themselves. Putting a ceiling on the opportunity of those who work is not the way to provide a floor for the support of those who do not work.

Let me give you a second example of the challenge to our traditional values that is being made today.

It shows how well-intentioned people, who believe that a paternal government in Washington can solve everything, can defeat their own good purposes by refusing to recognize the realities of human nature.

I am talking about the involuntary busing of schoolchildren away from their neighborhoods for the purpose of achieving racial balance.

We have come a long way in the past 4 years in ending segregation in this country. Just as important, we have done it without the riots, without the bitterness, without the hatred that plagued this Nation during the sixties. We're getting where we want to go in a way that permits understanding and friendship to grow instead of prejudice and fear.

But that steady progress does not satisfy everyone. The master planners who want more power in a central government believe they know what is best for the welfare of every locality. They fail to see how their zeal sets back the cause of good race relations, of orderly desegregation, and of quality education.

Busing for racial balance is a mistake because it runs counter to a basic American value--the interest of parents in sending their children to a neighborhood school. When an American family thinks of moving to a different home, when they think of buying a house, the first question parents ask is "What are the schools like in this neighborhood?"

And they ask that question because they want the best quality education possible for their children. That's a bedrock interest. You don't run roughshod over that interest in a country that values personal freedom and close family ties.

Our children are America's most priceless national asset. We must not allow them to be used as pawns in the hands of social planners in Washington, many of whom basically believe that children should be raised by the Government rather than by their parents.

That is why I have spoken out so strongly against involuntary busing, and why I am making every effort in the Congress and in the courts to put an end to it.

The ruling of Supreme Court Justice Powell this week clearly demonstrated that the action Congress has taken to limit busing is totally inadequate.1

1 On September 1, 1972, Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell, ,Jr., in Ann Gunter Drummond et al. v. Robert L. Acree et al., denied an application for a stay on a busing order for the Richmond County (Augusta), Ga., school district.

I call on the Congress as a matter of the highest priority, to approve, before it adjourns, the busing moratorium legislation I have proposed.

The Powell decision leaves no doubt whatever that only the anti-busing legislation I have proposed will do the job.

We can make the most progress in race relations not by attacking our basic values, but by supporting them--not by treating people as masses, but as individuals.

A third traditional value that is coming under attack today by the welfare ethic has to do with ability, the great American idea that a person should be able to get ahead in life not on the basis of how he looks or who he knows, but rather on what he can do.

In employment and in politics, we are confronted with the rise of the fixed quota system--as artificial and unfair a yardstick as has ever been used to deny opportunity to anyone.

Again, as in many attacks on basic values, the reasons are often well-intentioned. Quotas are intended to be a shortcut to equal opportunity, but in reality they are a dangerous detour away from the traditional value of measuring a person on the basis of ability.

You cannot have it both ways: You cannot be for quotas in limiting political opportunity and against quotas in limiting economic opportunity.

The basic idea of quotas is anti-ability wherever it is applied. It is just as bad for the voter as it is for the worker.

And so, which way shall it be for America? Shall we become a people who place our individual welfare in the hands of Government bureaucrats, limiting each other's opportunity by race, religion, sex, age, national origin? Or shall we continue to try to erase false restrictions, judging each person by the quality of his work and the reach of his mind?

I say that America, to be true to her highest ideals, must remain on the road that makes way for individual ability.

In every case I have discussed with you today, the difference in approach is not a matter of degree, but a matter of principle. It makes no sense to gloss over the fundamental difference in approach between those who believe in the "good life" under the work ethic, and those who vainly seek the "easy life" under the welfare ethic.

Does the American workingman want to turn over a large part of his economic freedom, including much of his freedom to bargain collectively, to economic theorists who think they can permanently manage the economy with a system all their own?

Does the American workingman want to turn over his power of decision on how he lives his life and spends his earnings to a powerful central government? Does he want to trade away opportunity for the false promise of government security?

Does the American workingman want his country to become militarily weak and morally soft? That is certainly not in the tradition of American labor.

But the choices must be made. If the workingman does not see the danger, if he decides to sit out this election, the choices will be made without him.

That is why I call upon working men and women across the Nation to make this Labor Day commitment: to understand all that is at stake for them and their families and to make their decision out of a conviction of what is best for themselves and best for all the people of America.

I call upon American labor to speak out and to turn out as it never has before:

--to defend the economic progress it has fought for over the years,

--to move this Nation along the path to full employment without inflation, in a generation of peace, and

--to pass on to our children the respect for the dignity of work that makes a person strong and makes a people great.

Note: The message was recorded for use on radio. The President spoke from a prepared text, and a copy of the text was released at San Clemente, Calif.

Richard Nixon, Labor Day Message. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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