Remarks in Berlin to the Trade Union Congress of German Construction Workers.
I AM NOT a stranger to trade union meetings and therefore I feel most at home here today. I appreciated the invitation which was extended to me through George Meany to join you, Mr. Rosenberg, Mr. Leber, your distinguished Mayor, your distinguished Chancellor, and have an opportunity to talk to those of you whose work is essential in these very difficult and dangerous days.
Below is written a quotation in this building from Benjamin Franklin, which says, "God grant that not only the love of liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say 'This is my country.'" West Berlin is my country.
Benjamin Franklin once said to Thomas Paine, the great American revolutionary, "Where freedom is, there is where I live." And Paine replied, "Where freedom is not, there is where I live, because no man or country can be really free unless all men and all countries are free." It is no accident that during the last 40 years the prime target of the Communist movement has been the destruction of the free trade union movement. Once the free trade union movement is destroyed, once it is harnessed to the chariot of the state, once trade union leaders are nominated by the head of the state, once meetings such as this become formalities, endorsing the purposes of the state, the trade union movement is destroyed and so is democracy. Therefore, what you do in this country to maintain freedom, the contributions that you make to improve the welfare of your people, the great sense of responsibility you feel not only towards your members, not only towards your country, not only towards other trade unions, in other countries, but your sense of responsibility for the whole movement of freedom, so long as that exists the world can look to the future with hope.
So I am glad and proud to come here today. In the United States in the last 30 years, all of the great efforts that were made at home and abroad, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, President Truman's efforts through Marshall Plan and NATO and Point 4 and all the rest, and the efforts that President Eisenhower made--all of these great international efforts, as well as great progressive national movements, had the strong endorsement of support of the AFLCIO, led by Mr. George Meany, who has stood for freedom in the United States and around the globe. Therefore, I urge you, gentlemen, in meeting your responsibilities to those who belong to your unions, to also realize that your unions will not survive except in a world of freedom. I urge you to hold out, as we are trying to do in the United States in the AFL-CIO, a helping hand to those who seek to organize trade unions in Latin America and Africa and Asia. This is how a free society remains free and, in addition, while freedom is an end in itself, it is also a means. I think that nothing has been more destructive to the myth that once existed that while communism meant a loss of personal liberty, it was a means of economic advancement. If there is any myth that has been destroyed in the last 10 years, it has been the concept that communism and economic welfare go hand in hand. I believe our times have shown that freedom is the handmaiden of economic advancement, that through a system of freedom, through a system of progress, through a system of responsibilities within a free society, that is the best way that people can live, not only peacefully at night and in the daytime, but also can enjoy an increasingly high standard of living. That is what we want freedom for--not only so we can exist ourselves and develop our own personalities, but so that our people can move ahead: the people in my country who are entitled to an equal opportunity which we are now fighting to give them, the people in this country who desire not only to be free but to make it possible for their children to live better than they lived. And here in Western Europe and in the United States, where the trade union movement has played such an important role, I hope it will be an example to those who live to the south of us, who stand on the razor edge of moving into some kind of totalitarianism or developing a free, progressive society, where, through the trade union movement, the fruits of progress, the fruits of production, can be distributed fairly to the population-not by a leader, but by the people themselves.
So I regard this movement as important, this meeting as essential, and I regard it as a privilege to come here. This is a great city. It has meant a lot in the history of the last 18 years. I am proud to be here with General Clay. Americans may be far away, but in accordance with what Benjamin Franklin said, this is where we want to be today. When I leave tonight, I leave and the United States stays.
Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the Congress Hall. In his opening remarks, he referred to George Meany, President, AFL-CIO; Ludwig Rosenberg, President of the German Federation of Trade Unions; Georg Leber, President of the Building Trades Union; Willy Brandt, Mayor of West Berlin; and Chancellor Adenauer.
John F. Kennedy, Remarks in Berlin to the Trade Union Congress of German Construction Workers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236850