Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Atlantic City at the Convention of the United Auto Workers

March 23, 1964

Mr. President, Senator Williams, Senator Bayh, Mrs. Peterson, my good friends of this great convention:

I am unaccustomed to such large crowds and such unrestrained enthusiasm. I have been addressing some of these $100 victory Democratic dinners down in Washington, and after a fellow pays that much for a ticket, he doesn't have quite as much enthusiasm as you have here today.

As a matter of fact, a little boy down in our country who was having quite a problem with his family's eating wrote the Lord one day and said, "Dear Lord: I wish you would send mother a hundred dollars to help us get along." The letter wound up in Washington on the Postmaster General's desk, so the Postmaster General still had a little money left over from the days when he worked with Prudential. He reached in his billfold and pulled out a $20 bill and sent it back to the little boy. A few days later he got another letter from the little fellow, and he said, "Dear Lord: I want to say much obliged for that 20 bucks you sent us. The next time, though, please don't send it through Washington because they took a deduct of 80 percent." So we won't have any deducts on our meeting here today.

The first thing I want to say to you is that I am very glad and very happy to appear today before this great convention of a clean and honest and progressive union. Led by President Reuther and his fellow officials-all elected democratically by your votes--the men and women of the United Automobile Workers have made and are making a great contribution to responsible industrial democracy in our country, and to respect for our free system among working men and women throughout the entire world.

I am deeply conscious that I stand today in the place of one of the truest friends the working men and women of America have ever had--John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

History is often cruel. But it was a kindness of history that last year, only 7 days before his voice was stilled forever, President Kennedy was able to speak before the AFL-CIO at its November convention in New York.

Whatever the challenges or the complexities or the crises beyond our shores, the American Nation never stands taller or straighter or stronger in the world than the individual American is able to stand in his own free land at home.

This Nation is strong militarily. No other nation is stronger. Our times have been dominated by a cold war, but now our times require that here at home we pursue a warmhearted war, a war of compassion, for the well-being of all of our people here at home.

All Americans, whatever their party or their persuasion, can know that this administration is going to be prudent, that we are striving to fulfill that great Democrat Thomas Jefferson's admonition to always be wise and be frugal. Some have criticized me taking from the haves and giving to the have-nots.

Well, I want you this morning to read me loud and clear. When Secretary McNamara can eliminate an obsolete military base that is a have in our old budget, I am not going to hesitate to let Sargent Shriver use it to save a have-not, perhaps a delinquent high school dropout, from 50 years of waste and want.

Let all Americans know that this administration intends to be progressive, intends that our people shall move forward without hesitation and without discrimination.

Our blessings are many, and it is good that we count them. Last year was the most prosperous year that we have ever known in our history. National production rose $30 billion. By the end of the year, production passed $600 billion. Employment during the year passed 70 million. For the first time, average weekly wages went above $100 per week, and there were 1 million more people at work than the year before. This economy was never stronger in your lifetime.

But statistics must not be sedatives. Economic power is important only as it is put to human use.

So let me speak to you earnestly this morning--and quite seriously. What I say to you now I say also to businessmen. What I say to you I say to the Nation. I come to you seeking your help, asking your counsel.

I have set a course for myself and I intend to follow it. I don't know how history will treat me as a President. However much time I am given to lead this Nation, I shall lead it without fear and without bias and with the sure knowledge that if I try to do what is right, our Nation, in God's mind and in history's imprint, will ultimately be the beneficiary.

I am here to tell you that we are going to do those things which need to be done, not because they are politically correct, but because they are right. We are going to pass a civil rights bill if it takes all summer. We are going to pass it because no nation can long endure--or prosper--if millions of its citizens are barred from their purpose and are denied the use of their talent. We are going to free the logjam of pent-up skills and unused opportunities, because until education is blind to color, until employment is unaware of race, emancipation may be a proclamation but it will not be a fact. That is why I care about this civil rights bill, and that is why it shall be passed.

We are going to pass a medical assistance bill for the aged, no matter how many months it takes. The sensible and prudent and lasting way to do this is through the social security system. In every county of this land, there are older folks who don't ask much. They simply want to keep their dignity; they simply want a sense of independence and a chance to overcome the inevitable visit of sickness. They cannot survive medical expenses that they cannot pay. Not only because it is decent but also because it is right, we are going to pass this medical assistance bill. You can be sure of that.

The great challenge of the sixties is the creation of more jobs. This challenge confronts the business community, the labor community, and the whole Nation. Each year a net 1 million to 1 1/2 million new people enter the labor market. We have met this problem head on with a revolutionary decision-the decision to cut taxes. I thank you for your help, because even to get this tax bill out of committee, I had to leave some of my own blood all over the Capitol. But today, $25 million a day extra is going into the hands and the purchasing power of the American consumer, and over $21/2 billion a year is a source of new investment for the business community.

I have said to hundreds of businessmen that I have called to the White House, "Here is your opportunity to prove your responsibility as one of the creators of prosperity. Use this tax cut to do the one thing that is most important to this country: Use it to create more jobs." One businessman told me that he would use it and create 18,000 new jobs with new investment. Another businessman told me last Saturday that because of the tax bill, his company would spend this year for new investment $1,000 million.

The tax cut is one of our weapons against the threat of automation for the expansion of industry, the construction of new plants and factories, because they build new jobs. I am convinced that the tax cut is the largest economic stride forward in the creation of new jobs that we have taken in the 20th century.

We have declared war on poverty. As long as I head this administration, and I believe as long as Walter Reuther heads the Auto Workers, the terms of this war on poverty are unconditional surrender. I want to read just one sentence from your President's wire that gave me great strength and encouragement: "On behalf of the officers and 1 1/2 million members of the UAW, I am pleased to advise you that in answer to your call, we enlist with you for the duration in the war against poverty." It is signed by Walter Reuther.

Let all those who oppose just for the sake of opposition, and all those who are blind partisans, and all those who pick and peck at our plans, let them know that they may temporarily deter us, but they will never defeat us.

I should tell you that we won't win this fight in a day or in a year, or perhaps in this generation, but let no man be deceived. This is a fight that we will win. Poverty may be the oldest scourge, but tools available for fighting it are man's newest tools--in our vast new technology, in our expanding science, in the steady growth of all of our resources. This, in fact, is how I see the war on poverty. I see it above all a fight for opportunity, not a handout, not a dole, but a vast upgrading of all of our people's skills. This is also the basic sense of the wider struggle that we wage, the struggle to extend these opportunities to the whole family of man.

Nations, like families, are poor because they lack the technology and the capital, and the scientific attitudes to break through into the modern world. We must seek to do for them what we want to do for our own people, to give them the skills to help themselves. This surely is the essence of our vital policies of economic assistance and development. Again, it is not doles and it is not handouts, but it is a wider and wiser investment in the productivity of societies and men.

Today the wealthy one-third of the world have unlocked the secret of abundance and skill. Shall we not use these new resources with vision and audacity? Could anything be more challenging, could anything be more exciting than to set them to work for better skills, for better opportunities, for better hope for all mankind everywhere?

So I say give me your heart and your voice and your vote, and stand up with me and be counted. We want free enterprise and free collective bargaining to support each other. They stand as the cornerstones of the labor policy of this administration. All our experience teaches us free collective bargaining must be responsible. And so long as it is responsible, it will remain free.

I hope that responsibility will be present on both sides of the table at the automobile industry bargaining, and that peaceful and responsible settlements, safeguarding the public interest, will be reached. It will be determined, too, in collective bargaining, how machines are to be made to be men's servants instead of their enemies or their masters; how machines can be made to produce more jobs, not fewer jobs; how their fruits can be distributed among all and not just among some. This is where I am going to need the help of my beloved friends Pete Williams and Birch Bayh, who are on the platform.

I have already made positive recommendations to the Congress. I have asked the Congress to act upon this problem and to come up with specific ways to solve the problem of automation. There can be and is legitimate disagreement about what should be done by law about the length of the workweek, and about penalties for overtime. But there can be no disagreement about the desirability of facing squarely up in collective bargaining to the question of what distribution of the workload and of man's time between work and leisure will be good business and will also recognize the human values that are involved.

I should like for you to know that it is part of our measure of progress that in two generations the workweek in the mines and the mills has dropped from 56 to 40 hours a week; that in the last 25 years the full time workers in this country have gained 155 hours a year in leisure time through changes in the workweek, through vacation, through holiday practices. That is a tribute to your leadership, and that is a tribute to you.

We will rightfully expect to purchase with our rising productivity not only more goods but also more time--more time to spend with our families, more time to spend in recreation and relaxation, in study and thought and rest. We know it is this union's established policy to seek gains at the bargaining table out of the greater abundance made possible by advancing technology and not out of the pockets of American consumers through higher prices.

You are right in your repeated insistence that progress be made with the community and not at the expense of the community. You will be serving your interests in negotiations with the automobile industry knowing that they are served only as the broader public interest is served.

That broader public interest today, more than ever, requires that the stability of our costs and our prices be protected. The international position of the dollar, which means our ability to do what we need to do beyond our borders, demands that our prices and our costs not rise. We must not choke off our needed and our speeded economic expansion by a revival of the price-wage spiral. Avoiding that spiral is the responsibility of business. And it is also the responsibility of labor.

Now I want you to listen to me closely:

"I speak as President of the United States, with a single voice to both management and to labor, to the men on both sides of the bargaining table, when I say that your sense of responsibility, the sense of responsibility of organized labor and of management, is the foundation upon which our hopes rest in the coming great years. This administration has not undertaken, and will not undertake, to fix prices and wages in this economy. We have no intention of intervening in every labor dispute. We are neither able or willing to substitute our judgment for the judgment of those who sit at the local bargaining tables across the country. We can suggest guidelines for the economy, but we cannot fix a single pattern for every plant and every industry. We can and we must, under the responsibilities given to us by the Constitution, and by statute and by necessity, point out the national interest. And where applicable we can and we must and we will enforce the law--on restraints of trade and national emergencies."

The words I have just read are the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, spoken to this same great convention on May 8, 1962. It was the policy of this Government then; it is the policy of this Government today.

Now, finally, I want to say to you good men and women, my friends of the UAW, to your leadership, to your good citizenship, to your high responsibility within the labor movement in the world, it means much to this land and it means much to our people. But I have also come here to ask your help not for myself and not for my administration, but for America, itself. Together we can all keep America strong. With our strength we can try with all of our energy to keep the world at peace.

With peace, we can focus our efforts and our talents to make sure that in this first age of plenty, men and women the world over, whatever their race or religion, whatever their section or station, can, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, lead a finer, a happier life and, in my own words, can look forward to the promise of a better deal.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at the morning session in Convention Hall. In his opening words he referred to Walter Reuther, President of the United Automobile Workers, Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr., of New Jersey, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, and Mrs. Esther Peterson, Special Assistant to the President on consumer problems and Assistant Secretary of Labor for labor standards.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Atlantic City at the Convention of the United Auto Workers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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