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Question and Answer Session Following Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Multnomah Hotel, Portland, OR

September 07, 1960

(The following is a transcript of questions presented to Senator John F. Kennedy, from the floor after the dinner at the Multnomah Hotel, Portland, Oreg.)

FROM THE FLOOR. Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the Senator, due to labor unions and labor officials being nailed to the cross and crucified over the last couple of years, I would like to get an expression from you as to your feeling toward management and what should be done there, and, more specifically, if I could get an expression from you on the Nate Shefferman deal?

Senator KENNEDY. On the case, as you remember, Mr. Shefferman's activities were investigated by the Rackets Committee in great detail. Nathan Shefferman had been engaged by a good many companies in the United States, some of them extremely well known, including in my own part of Massachusetts the Sears, Roebuck Co., and other companies, of course, to prevent unionization of those companies, and to prevent unionization in order to prevent raising the wages.

This affected particularly the retail workers, who I think are underpaid, by and large, across the Nation based on our hearings, in the Subcommittee on Minimum Wage, but affected other unions as well. Mr. Shefferman had a very profitable business going. I think his business has been liquidated but nevertheless others carry on. It is the effort to give advice in the ways by which unionism and union organization can be avoided, by organizing so-called workers committees which are directed by management in order to work against the organization of the company - all the techniques which I think are familiar to you, and which were used by Mr. Shefferman in a way which I think was against the public interest. I think that story of Nathan Shefferman was well detailed in the book, "The Enemy Within," and I believe it is against the public interest.

One of the fights we had on the whole labor-management bill was to attempt to include in it effective labor provisions which I think we had in the Senate bill, certainly as it came out of the committee, the so-called Kennedy-Ives bill, which would have made it mandatory for employers to report all expenditures which might have been made, for whatever purpose they might have been made, in order to affect the employee working conditions, unions, and so forth. The bill that passed the House had no conditions dealing with this and made no changes in the Taft-Hartley law of 1947 in this regard. The final language was not as good as we hoped, but it still has some language in it which makes it easier to detect expenditures for the purposes of blocking unionization.

It is a matter of great importance, and I think it is a matter which we should continue to watch, and which I will watch wherever I may be placed next January. [Applause.]

FROM THE FLOOR. Senator Kennedy, I have only one question, which is a little bit loaded. We know the present administration leaves much to be desired. Rather than to criticize, what is our solution?

Senator KENNEDY. I would say in dealing with some of the domestic matters for solution, I would think the passage of the legislation which I discussed in this session of the Congress would have been most helpful. The passage of the housing bill would have stimulated the housing industry, which I think would have benefited the people of this State as well as the people of the country. The passage of a Federal aid to education bill, I think, would have made sure that every child would have secured a better education under more favorable conditions, with teachers paid more adequate salaries, and I think aid to education and the concern over education is a basic responsibility of our society. The passage of a bill to provide $1.25 minimum wage would have affected the wages of 4 million people directly and indirectly several million more, which would have helped those at the bottom of the economic ladder which do not participate.

The passage of the Forand bill, or a similar bill in the Senate, would have provided security for those who are retired and would have permitted them to pay for that security during their working years.

I named four bills, which are very familiar, which would have measurably improved the standard of living for a good many millions of Americans.

QUESTION. True, you have a very fine point. Now, you were speaking of production. If I am not wrong, I think approximately 38 percent of all production in the country is exported. Now, that 38 percent just about covers what the rest of the world produces. Why are we not competitive in the world market today?

Senator KENNEDY. The fact of the matter is that by and large while we are not competitive in some industries we are competitive in others. The balance of payments between what the United States exports and what it imports is still, I think, this year, certainly last year, slightly in our favor. What has caused us the greatest difficulty from the point of view of our balance of payments or the gold flowing out has been our other programs, maintenance of bases overseas, payments of our troops overseas, and assistance to foreign countries and the Development Loan Fund, and all the rest. That is what has caused the balance of payments to be against us. But on the sheer export-import balance which is what we are now talking about, we sell abroad as much as we consume, and, in fact, in the last 10 years over all have sold more abroad than we have consumed. But I do think it is going to be a problem in the 1960's, particularly if the Soviet Union uses Government purchases to dump to break our price. It is a matter that the Government will have to concern itself with.

QUESTION. One more question. Our foreign aid - are we dumping or are we selling?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, I don't think in our foreign aid - I hope we are not doing either. In the case of some agricultural commodities, we do distribute them. We try to avoid dumping. We try to avoid disturbing normal trade. I think the emphasis in our foreign aid should be placed in the Development Loan Fund which provides loans at low rates of interest for long periods of time to assist these countries which are underdeveloped to secure the means, the basic means of production, highways, electricity, steel production, so that they can begin to build their economies. Otherwise they see no hope for themselves and they turn in another direction. But in answer to your question, I don't think we are dumping.

QUESTION. In order to show a fair standard of living for everyone concerned, and increase the basic hourly wage - everybody wants to live good; is that not so?

Senator KENNEDY. Yes; it is.

QUESTION. In order to do so, must we not have a stabilized export and import to balance the budget? There are certain things we have to import. We lend them money. We have to buy a certain amount back so we can sell it back to them. It is a matter of exchanging the money. But how much are we giving and how much are we selling? Is that stabilizing or are we just fooling ourselves?

Senator KENNEDY. Well, I think what we are trying to do we are doing under great difficulties. We are selling, and we are buying. In addition, we are carrying our programs of foreign aid which are burdensome for us, but which nevertheless I think are in the long-range interests of the United States.

QUESTION. Thank you very much.

Senator KENNEDY. Thank you.

QUESTION. Mr. Chairman

Senator KENNEDY. Thank you, Ambassador. [Laughter.]

QUESTION. Would you support an investigation of the practice of importation of strikebreakers across State lines with a view toward legislation to abolish such practice?

Senator KENNEDY. Senator Morse proposed an investigation, but it was in the last days of the session. I do think it would be useful to look at the organization of the so-called importation of strikebreakers. You cannot prevent people, however, providing the passage is peaceful, from crossing one state line to another State to seek employment. What I think is a matter of concern to us however, is tied in with the first question which dealt with Mr. Shefferman, to at least explore and examine with the light of day on what the techniques are what the organizational structure is, the manner by which strikebreakers are secured and moved from one State to another. I think it would be useful to have that information made public, and I do think that would be valuable. Then when we make it public, we can make a judgment as to whether it needed legislation or not.

QUESTION. My question specifically concerned those activities which are engaged in a professional manner, not the passage of people seeking normal employment, but those who are recruited by professional agencies for the purpose of strikebreaking.

Senator KENNEDY. I think it would be extremely useful to have a good deal more information on that activity. Most of it now is not known, and I think if it became known it might then be possible to make a judgment as to what would be the remedy. In fact, having it become known would perhaps be a remedy. So I quite agree with you that it would be desirable to secure information by the labor committees of the Congress on the organization of that system.

QUESTION. Then you would support an investigation of those practices?

Senator KENNEDY. I would support an attempt to secure information by congressional committees on what the techniques of organization may be in this particular field. I do think you cannot pass a law to prevent people moving freely from one State to another to secure employment. What I do think would be useful to find out is, is it being organized? If so, by whom? Under what conditions and what method of payment is used and all the rest. And make sure we don't have a Shefferman case in this particular field. In order to find that out, I would support any effort which is made to gain information on it. [Applause.]

QUESTION. I would like to ask a question of what the Senator's opinion was on the Monroe Doctrine, what the status of that is. Do you feel it is still alive?

Senator KENNEDY. I think the part of Monroe Doctrine which is alive and which is joined in by the association, the Organization of American States, which is that we will oppose any effort to establish a colonial rule by any Western European country or any country today over any part of Latin America. What we are concerned about now is the present Communist infiltration of Cuba. That matter is, of course, going to have to be under continual surveillance. The Monroe Doctrine in a paternalistic sense, where the United States is the policeman of the hemisphere has now become less important, perhaps, but what is of now more concern is the association of American states where they are associated in a common effort, not we becoming the policemen of the hemisphere, but we joining with them in a common front against any attempt to take over any country of Latin America. That goes particularly today against the Soviet Union and the Chinese. We are going to have to wait and see what happens in Cuba. But any action that we do take, in my opinion, should be taken in concert with the Organization of American States.

QUESTION. A lot of my friends are Republicans and they wanted me to ask why with a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, with rather large ones, this last session of Congress was unable to pass this legislation which you are talking about tonight?

Senator KENNEDY. The question is why the Democrats, in large majorities, are unable to pass the legislation which we discussed tonight. I think it is a good question because it goes to the heart of the matter which I was trying to point to before. In the case of the minimum wage, we passed out of the Senate by a vote of nearly 2 to 1. That was the $1.25 minimum wage. Earlier, the House of Representatives passed a bill by, I think, nine votes against the $1.25 minimum wage, in favor of a wholly inadequate coverage under minimum wage which affected only about 1 million people. Nine more votes or a shift of five votes would have given us $1.25 in the House, and we would have then passed a bill for $1.25 and the President would have vetoed it, and we would not have been able to secure sufficient votes to override his veto. As it was, however, we did not pass it in the House. Conservative Democrats joined with Republicans and beat us by nine votes.

There is not any doubt, and this has been true since the earliest days of the 1930's, that there are at least some Democrats who do not support these programs. But my point is that two-thirds of the Democrats at least support them and two-thirds of the Republicans oppose them. We secured the support of seven or eight or nine Republicans on these bills. Senator Javits and others voted with us on minimum wage, housing, and aid to education. But they are only about an eighth or a seventh of the total Republican membership of the Senate. We need those votes in order to pass a bill.

In the case of the Forand bill, we failed by five votes in the Senate. We received the support of only one Republican. If we had gotten six Republicans, which we frequently get, we would have passed that bill. Some of the Democrats voted against us, nearly a third. But when you have two parties, especially a national party like the Democratic Party, it includes farmers, small businessmen, labor unions, northerners, southerners, easterners, and westerners, and it is extremely hard to break new ground. But we each carry two-thirds with us. The Republicans, however, oppose us with at least three-fourths of their members.

The second point is that in all of these bills we are threatened by a veto. In the case of the Forand bill, which I supported in the Senate when we brought it up for a vote, Senator Dirksen, the minority leader, said if this bill passes it is going to be vetoed by the President. Therefore, any Democrat who wants to make some progress would say, "Why should I vote for a bill which is going to fail when I could vote for a bill which at least is a quarter of the job, and then perhaps come back next January with a Democratic President and get support for the bill?" So in answer to your question, I would say that in a short session, a determined minority joined by a President who threatens a veto, joined by some of the members of our party, can block new legislation. If they can't block it in the Senate, they block it in the House; if they can't block it in the House they block it in the conference; if they can't block it in the House or Senate they block it in the Rules Committee.

Every Republican member of the Rules Committee voted against aid to education and voted against the housing bill coming to the floor of the House and they were joined by two Democrats. A majority of the Democrats in the Rules Committee voted to send those bills to the floor, but the combination was too great. So I think that the argument, really, is on our side, and that is that unless you have a Democratic President working with the Congress, you won't get anything. You won't get any action. [Applause.]

Mr. BROWN. Let us let one of the Brazilian delegates ask a question. I am sorry, the Brazilian delegation is sending up a presentation.

FROM THE FLOOR. It is with great satisfaction to know such a great man, which is Senator Kennedy, and this satisfaction comes before he has the very same ideas that the workers from Brazil do have, and with this opportunity, in the name of all the workers from Brazil, I would like to present him with this banner which is a symbol of our friendship for him. [Applause.]

Senator KENNEDY. Thank you. I am very grateful to our friends from Brazil, and I think it indicates that the good neighbor policy - at least the atmosphere for recapturing the good neighbor policy is still there. [Applause.]

QUESTION. Mr. Senator, I am an alien citizen of your country. I have been here some 2 1/2 years. I would like to ask you a question regarding labor legislation the way I see it in your country. It is the only thing that really baffles me and confuses me. I wonder very much if you can see our point of view. I have been here in Portland for 2 years, and I have been a member of a craft union. Under the current legislation, this craft union system does appear to become somewhat antiquated. With respect to your references to Mr. Hoffa and to the gentleman who runs the Longshoremen's Union, I wonder very much if this legislation won't guide and steer the craft unions as we know them, into a form of union which to my way of thinking is not particularly unpleasant, but guide us more into the type of union of which you appear to be somewhat apprehensive under the leadership of such people as Hoffa and Harry Bridges. Does this labor legislation help us to reach aspirations or does it actually control us and hold us to such degree that we aspire to these large uncontrollable unions which labor legislation is presumably written to control?

Senator KENNEDY. I must say I hope I have a normal courage as a politician and candidate for office, but I don't have quite enough courage to try to settle the dispute as to whether we should have craft unions or industrial unions. I will let you gentlemen settle that. [Laughter.]

Let me say I know excellent and outstanding leaders in both the craft and industrial unions. That is not the point in my judgment at all, if I may say so. You can get good leadership under both conditions, and you get it. I spent the day in Michigan with members of the Auto Workers Union, members of the Steelworkers Union, and other unions, and they are industrial unions and have excellent leadership. I traveled with Joe Keenan, in the Electrical Workers, and on my committee which he heads are men who have come out of the Carpenters' Union and others. Labor leaders are like others; some politicians are good and some are not, and some Republicans are not. [Laughter.] It is just that I would like to have the help of both. That is all. [Laughter and applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Question and Answer Session Following Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Multnomah Hotel, Portland, OR Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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