Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on Free and Fair Trade

September 05, 1987

My fellow Americans:

I hope all of you are enjoying this Labor Day weekend, a time for family outings, backyard barbecues, and a time of appreciation for the working people of America. It was back in 1882 when Peter McGuire, the son of Irish immigrants and founder of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, first came up with the idea of setting a day aside to honor the laboring people of our country. On September 5th of that year, 1882, the first Labor Day celebration took place in New York City. By 1894 it had spread throughout the country and was proclaimed a Federal holiday by an act of Congress.

American working men and women have much of which to be proud. Our democracy is based on their good sense and commitment to liberty. It was the hard work and skill of working people that turned a vast American wilderness into the world's most powerful economy. Our working people are still the most productive on the planet. I've always believed that, given the tools and equipment they need and on a level playing field, American workers can outcompete and beat the pants off anybody, anywhere.

Now, there are those who don't have this same confidence. They fear foreign competition, as is reflected in protectionist trade proposals that float around Washington these days. Well, restricting trade in the long run is bad for everybody, especially for the working people of America. Protecting one domestic industry risks retaliation against another. For example, American agriculture would be dealt a devastating blow if our trading partners shut their markets to our farm products in retaliation to American protectionism.

Trade and commerce are the lifeblood of job creation. The flow of goods and services between countries and peoples is a stimulus to growth and prosperity. This isn't a time for us to be afraid, to be erecting barriers, or to be trying to shut out the world. Instead, we should be working to open markets, to increase our productivity, and to meet the competition head-on. And don't let anyone tell you we can't do it. Last year manufacturing productivity in the United States jumped by 3.5 percent, the biggest increase of any major industrialized nation.

We've been witnessing fundamental changes throughout the width and breadth of our economy. Management and labor have gotten serious. Companies have been restructured, overhead has been cut, costs brought down, quality improved. Impressive investments have been made in technology and computerization. American industry is stepping out in the world again, and this time it's leaner, meaner, and ready for action.

As usual, Congress is now talking about passing heavy-handed legislation to deal with our trade problem. If there's one thing that should be clear to even the casual observer, it is that quick-fixes and easy answers like protectionism are not the way to a better life. That was made abundantly evident when, during the last decade, higher taxes and bigger government gave us double-digit inflation and economic stagnation. When we got to Washington 6 1/2 years ago, we put in place economic policies that foster lasting progress, policies that encourage people to work and invest, policies that leave more resources in the hands of the producers, consumers, and entrepreneurs rather than in the bureaucratic coffers of the Federal Government.

What has this meant for the working people of America? We're entering the 58th month of economic growth. Inflation has remained low and more than 13 1/2 million jobs have been created, about 240,000 a month since the expansion began. Unemployment continues to drop; a higher percentage of our working-age population is employed than ever before. And last year workers' pay increases stayed well ahead of consumer price increases since hourly compensation rose an average of 3.9 percent, consumer price increases only 1.1 percent. Furthermore, poverty is declining in America, and the median family income after adjustments for inflation jumped by 4.2 percent last year, the fourth straight year in a row it's increased. In short, the working people of America are better off, and what better day to say it than on Labor Day.

You may notice that the holiday we celebrate today falls directly between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, days that underscore our devotion to freedom and our thanks to God. That is an appropriate spot to reserve for the recognition of the working men and women of America.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:06 a.m. from his ranch in Santa Barbara County, CA.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Free and Fair Trade Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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