Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at an AFL-CIO Rally in Detroit

September 05, 1966

Mr. Barbour, I am very pleased today to be joined by your most distinguished Mayor, Jerry Cavanagh; by your Governor, George Romney; by your very able Senator, Phil Hart; and by your junior Senator, Senator Griffin.

I deeply appreciate the hospitality they have extended in welcoming me to this great State.

I proudly served with the entire delegation from the great State of Michigan in the Congress and I came here with a good many of them today.

Phil Hart worked with me in my days when I was leader in the Senate. I should like for all of you to remember that he was really one of the outstanding Senators that I welcomed to Washington in the class of 1958. And I am so grateful that you returned him in 1964 by an overwhelming margin.

In civil rights legislation and in the truth-in-packaging bill, he has been my strong right arm. Both of these are vital pieces of legislation that protect the rights of all of our people. Eight of the Members of Congress from the great metropolitan area of Detroit are here with me. They are my friends and I should like to thank them for their invitation.

Congressman John Conyers of the First District, Lucien Nedzi of the Fourteenth District, William Ford of the Fifteenth District, James O'Hara of the Twelfth District, Billie Farnum of the Nineteenth District, Charles Diggs of the Thirteenth District, Martha Griffiths of the Seventeenth District, John Dingell of the Sixteenth District, and from Ann Arbor we have Wes Vivian of the Second District, Raymond Clevenger of the Eleventh District, and Paul Todd, Jr., of Kalamazoo in the Third District, where we will be visiting later on today.

From your neighboring State, Ohio, I am happy to see Congressman Rodney Love. I hope and I believe and I will pray that we work with all of these fine Congressmen again in the 90th Congress on better programs to make this a better country.

I am pleased that this platform is shared with me today by our brilliant Secretary of Labor, Willard Wirtz.

I am glad to have the leaders of the labor movement here, such as my friends Walter Reuther, Joe Keenan, Jim Suffridge, Al Barbour, Gus Scholle, Al Barkan, the leader of COPE, and many others--Roy Wilkins, an old friend and an able exponent of justice for all, who is universally respected throughout this land; Hobart Taylor, Director of the Export-Import Bank and a longtime leader in this great State.

Two more gentlemen are here, Zoltan Ferency, [See APP Note.] your State Democratic Chairman and John Bruff, a longtime key employee of the Senate Labor Committee under the chairmanship of the able Senator Pat McNamara.

I am so happy that they could come on the platform with me--Mrs. Margaret Price, a daughter of Michigan and Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee; and my delightful and able friend since NYA days, long ago, Mrs. Mennen Williams, Nancy Williams; one of Pat McNamara's most trusted lieutenants, Bob Perrin, who is now a trusted assistant of mine. And finally, Mary McNamara.

You honor us by your presence. And your love for the man we honor is well known to all the world.

I am so happy that I could be here this morning to honor the memory of Pat McNamara. I remember him as a man whose strength and character sprang from a very clear and uncompromising regard for the interests of all the people.

In Detroit today--and wherever in America men live by their labor; wherever women pray for their children a chance to learn; wherever people who know they are equal in Gods' sight seek to live equally with God's children; wherever the aging seek a larger hope than the ticking of a clock through an empty day--wherever, wherever these people are, Labor Day 1966 is Pat McNamara's day.

Because all of them, God bless them, were Pat McNamara's constituents.

When Pat McNamara was a boy, he worked in the Fall River Shipyard as an apprentice pipe fitter at 9 cents an hour. Last year as chairman of the Labor Subcommittee in the Senate he introduced a bill carrying out your President's programs to extend the minimum wage guarantee to 8 million additional Americans and to raise the minimum hourly wage to $1.60 an hour. That bill will become law in the next few days.

Pat McNamara was a dropout. He didn't have a chance to go beyond the eighth grade. But in 1956 as a member of the Education Committee he first sponsored major school legislation. And in the last 3 years we have passed 30 education and health bills under his leadership and with his help. Because he and Phil Hart and the other members of your delegation and the other Members of the great 89th Congress knew that a nation which was built largely by drop outs no longer had any place for them.

As the first Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Aging, Pat McNamara sponsored legislation that I supported and approved, creating the Administration on Aging.

Our Nation's long neglect of minorities whose skins are dark is perhaps only a little worse than our neglect of another minority whose hair is white.

From his own experience Pat McNamara knew about life's inequities. But he also knew man's capacity to do something about them and to repair them. He did all that one human could do about them, and that is why his spirit is so alive in this hall with all of us today. If he were here in person, that rough, gravelly voice would echo on these walls: "The agenda is full. Get on with your unfinished business!"

And that is what we intend to do right now.

One piece of unfinished business is to repeal a law that gives no one the right to work, that threatens and weakens union responsibility without strengthening individual liberty, that causes endless and useless disputes in our country. And I don't need to tell you the name of that law.

But I do want you to know that on my list of major recommendations to the next Congress, again will be the repeal of section 14(b). I am going to put it there not because we are poor losers, but because we know it is necessary to achieve that equality of bargaining power from which freedom of contract begins.

14(b) is not alone on our agenda. We have passed it through one House of the Congress. We must pass it in the other House as well. If we all work shoulder to shoulder, if we are determined enough, long enough, we will get the job done.

We have already passed this year an improved unemployment compensation bill that will give our workers without jobs a better break. And I came here today to say to you that I hope some of you will be able to come to Washington to celebrate with us when we sign that law, hopefully this year.

I also want to talk to you about another subject on our agenda that demands plain language. I want to talk to you about the cost of living. We are not going to varnish the rough facts. We know easy answers to hard problems are usually wrong.

There are people--and some of them may be right here in your own State--who try to peddle easy answers. They are constantly prophesying gloom and doom about the American economy. And I have been listening to them all of my life. Every time you hear those voices--and I think you know who and what I mean--just remember four things:

First, remember the old man who said he always felt bad when he felt good, because he was afraid that tomorrow he might feel worse. These people sound just like him, because that is the philosophy of a lot of people.

Second, remember that people who really don't stand for anything usually wind up complaining and against everything--especially in election year. These people used to be called "born aginners"--they came into this world shouting "No! No! No!" Their philosophy reminds me sometimes of the answer that the great criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow gave when he was asked how he could take part in a debate when he was not familiar with the subject. "Easy," he said, "I'll just take the negative. I can always argue against anything."

These people can argue against anything. And they usually argue against everything. So beware of the complainers.

Third, remember that they never did have to worry about high wages or high employment or high prices--they only had to worry about their recessions or their depressions. They just haven't really had much experience with prosperity.

Fourth, as their wailing grows louder between now and November--and it is going to pick up in tempo as they go out across the land in sackcloth and ashes bemoaning how terrible everything is--just remember the facts and remember the record.

Since 1961 your country has enjoyed more consecutive years of uninterrupted prosperity than any other time in our history. Remember you pied for your Government to move ahead and we did move ahead by adding 8 million jobs to our economy. We have cut our unemployment in the Nation from 7 percent to 3.9 percent.

At the same time, we are required to defend freedom on a faraway battlefield that we did not choose and we are busily attacking poverty in a war that we did choose.

High employment, high wages, high fringe benefits--including such things as increased social security and Medicare that takes 6 billion out of our economy this year, high unemployment benefits that we hope will become a fact, high profits--each of these put upward pressures and bring about higher costs. Yet we have managed, despite these pressures, to raise our high, real standard of living much faster than the cost of living has risen.

We do have higher costs, but we do have higher earnings and we have larger pay checks. And that is better than having higher prices and lower income.

Real wages--what you buy with your pay check--went up every single year from 1960 through 1965. That is a long 5-year record and it has never been achieved before in the United States of America.

Now one reason our record has been so good is because most leaders of organized labor during these 5 years have made the word "responsibility" a living part of their philosophy. They know that if wages rise faster than productivity, those increases are going to be washed away by a rising tide of inflation.

I know that, too. And that is why for the past 2¼ years all responsible leaders have tried to keep wage and price increases from destroying the economic strength on which our personal security rests.

This is no time to think that vigilance is old fashioned. Inflation is a pickpocket. There are clear signs that the pickpocket is at work right now in our marketplaces. And we have to stop him. And I do not intend to sit by and watch inflation rob us of 6 years of hard-earned gains.

The President of your country will take the action that is needed to stabilize growth in this Nation.

Over the past weeks and months, my advisers and counselors and I have been giving intensive consideration to every phase of the economy. In the light of our obligations to fulfill our commitments in Vietnam, to give our full support to our armed services men who are there defending our freedom, to maintain an economic expansion and stable prices here at home, we are now seeking ways to cut down on all nonessential spending in the private and in the public sectors.

We are now examining carefully the measures which may be overheating our economy and which should be postponed. We are now determining whether we should limit certain sales of Government securities in our private market in the hope that by so doing we can bring about a reduction in interest rates.

Our goal in America is stable growth.

Stability and growth must go hand in hand. We must not ever succumb to the temptation of buying price stability at the expense of stopping growth. We will not stop the economy in its tracks; we will not put men and machines out of work again. We will not stop our effort to improve living standards and essential public services.

We are a nation of compassion. And when we are prosperous we care more and we ought to do more about our Nation and our poor.

We will not beat a shabby retreat from the challenges that face us. The Nation would suffer as it suffered in the late 1950's when that strategy was the policy in high places.

We learned then that a sluggish economy is a weak economy that is unable to resist the disease of recurrent recession. And we learned then that the first victims of a sluggish economy are the poor, the Negro, the wage earner, the farmer. And this is why I came here to pledge to you today that we shall not repeat in the sixties the mistakes that we made in the fifties.

Growth without stability is deception. Booms generate busts. Inflation gnaws at the pillars of prosperity. We must pace our progress. I have spent much of my time this year working on policies to meet the twin essentials, growth and stability.

The decisions are difficult. I have asked-and I will continue to urge--labor and management to face up to the decisions and to make their full contribution to both growth and stability.

Business and labor must--if they are to extend their gains of the past 5 years--act wisely and act responsibly about wages and profits and prices. That 'policy is essential for us all if we are to continue to have the prosperity we enjoy today.

But it is self-defeating for everyone to favor stabilization by someone else. You may think you can win one battle by getting on inflation's side. But inflation is an enemy that eventually makes victims of all of its allies.

Labor wants, and labor deserves, a growth of real wages--not just of money wages. It wants wage gains that will compensate for rises in the cost of living. But we can't make all the gains that we desire overnight. For in the long run the strongest among us cannot secure and hold the benefits of wage increases if we contribute to an inflation that wrecks prosperity.

Every businessman should know that the abundant profits he earns from keeping his plant fully used can be quickly destroyed by insisting on higher profits, if they must come from higher prices. So my Labor Day message is only to repeat democracy's oldest story: that the other side of any private right is private responsibility; that the price of liberty is continued vigilance against its abuses; and that the other face of freedom is self-restraint.

For labor, self-restraint means keeping its wage demands within reason, and its productivity at a maximum. Only in this way can we extend our record of stability in unit labor costs.

For business, it means reducing prices when costs fall, and raising prices only when cost increases dangerously threaten adequate profit margins.

Years ago, the free labor movement launched the fight for a decent life for the worker. Many of its early battles were very stormy. Its goals were simple: the right to organize, the right to a fair share of the prosperity built by its members, the right to working conditions that are fit for human beings.

These goals have not yet been won everywhere in this Nation. So the fight must go on--and it goes on with the total and the committed support of the leadership of your National Government.

Labor has many other goals. It works for civil rights, it works for an end to poverty, it works for international cooperation. Because labor knows that these things are equally important to men and women who are American citizens first and union members second.

You and I have another goal. We know that the America we dream of must be an America where every citizen can earn an annual income that is sufficient to meet his basic needs and the needs of those dependent upon him. And I pledge you that we are going to keep the workingman and his needs constantly in our sight.

We will never forget this goal.

Now another goal must be placed besides these. It is the goal of continued and stable growth. It may not be as dramatic as the causes of the past. But it is just as vital to the house of labor--and to all America.

We must have growth in this country to keep our machines and our men working and we must have stability so runaway inflation will not eat up the toils of their labor.

The cause of peace in the world is another goal. It is in the heart of every libertyloving American. All of our efforts, however distant in geography and difference in degree, from NATO to SEATO, from OAS to Vietnam, grow out of our obligations to keep the peace and to preserve freedom and liberty in the world.

That is why our gallant and our brave and our courageous young men are manning the ramparts today with the soldiers of other nations to assist the poor Vietnamese protect their liberty.

They are there at this hour because aggression is there at this hour. Those troops will come home, their bases will be turned over for constructive peacetime purposes as soon as that vicious aggression stops. And I may add to all whom it may concern: If anyone, if anyone will show me the time schedule when aggression and infiltration and "might makes right" will be halted, then I, as President of this country will lay on the table the schedule for the withdrawal of all of our forces from Vietnam.

With your strength, with your competence, with your sense of fair play, with your sense of justice and your dedication to the well-being of your neighbor and your fellow man, somehow, someway, someday, we shall attain these goals I talked to you about this morning. And as you the leaders of the workingmen, as you the spokesmen for the house of labor, as you the individual members of the various unions--as you work forward toward peace and prosperity in this land and in this world, I pledge you that you will be joined shoulder to shoulder by your fellow worker in the White House.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in Cobo Hail, Detroit, Mich., at a rally honoring the memory of Patrick V. McNamara, who served as Senator from Michigan from January 3, 1955, until his death on April 30, 1966. During his remarks the President referred to Al Barbour, president, Wayne County AFL-CIO, Mayor Jerome P. Cavanagh of Detroit, Governor George Romney, Senator Philip A. Hart, Senator Robert P. Griffin, Representatives John Conyers, Jr., Lucien N. Nedzi, William D. Ford, James G. O'Hara, Billie S. Farhum, Charles C. Diggs, Jr., Martha W. Griffiths, John D. Dingell, Weston E. Vivian, Raymond F. Clevenger, and Paul H. Todd, Jr., all of Michigan.

The President also referred to Walter Reuther, president, United Automobile Workers of America, Joseph Keenan, international secretary, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, James Suffridge, national president, Retail Clerks International Association, August Scholle, president of the AFL-CIO for the State of Michigan, Alexander E. Barkan, national director, Committee on Political Education (COPE), AFL-CIO, Roy Wilkins, executive director, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Hobart Taylor, Director, Export-Import Bank, Zoltan A. Ferency, [See APP Note] Democratic State Chairman of Michigan and Democratic candidate for Governor of Michigan, John Bruff, a staff member of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, Mrs. Margaret Price, Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mrs. G. Mennen (Nancy) Williams, Robert Perrin, Assistant Director for Inter-Agency Relations in the Office of Economic Opportunity, and Mrs. Patrick V. (Mary) McNamara.

The rally was sponsored by the AFL-CIO of Wayne County, Mich.

APP NOTE:  The correct spelling of Mr. Ferency's first name was and is Zolton, not Zoltan.  This error appeared in the published version of the Public Papers of the Presidents, and as usual, we have tried to reproduce the original text, including errors.   

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at an AFL-CIO Rally in Detroit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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