Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at Ceremonies Marking Issuance of Stamp Honoring American Labor.

September 01, 1956

Secretary Mitchell, General Summerfield, President Meany, Members of the McGuire family, friends gathered here, my fellow citizens:

It is a rare privilege indeed to participate in the dedication of a Stamp that is designed as a tribute to American labor. It is an attempt on the part of the Post Office and of the artist to put in symbolic form the respect and admiration we have for that vast army of people who with their hearts, their minds, their hands, have in the past and are now developing all of the wealth of America. They are its producers.

Now, as President Meany has said, in America labor is free. It is because we have free governmental institutions in this country--a form of life based upon human liberty and human dignity. And so labor is free to work at the job of its own choice, to worship, to think, to speak--just as all other Americans--to retain its earnings for the benefit of each individual and his family and his community; to bargain collectively. This so priceless privilege is something that men did not gain without effort. And it cannot be retained without effort.

Someone once said, "The mind, like steel, keeps bright through use."

I am quite certain that we can transfer that meaning to freedom and to liberty. Freedom will remain ours if we use it. Each citizen of our country, if he is free, has a comparable responsibility. He must do his part. He must go through the processes of voting and doing every other thing in our country that means he is really ready to do his part as an American citizen. In so doing he will make certain that freedom remains with us strong--ever stronger--as the years roll on.

Now quite naturally labor in our country has always rightfully striven for a rising standard of living, just as every other American. And it is sometimes well to pause for a moment and to think how far--under this system of freedom, with intelligent working men--how far we have come, with sixty-six million people employed at the highest real wages that have been experienced in the world's history. In so doing they have produced the strongest economy, an economy whose productivity is the envy of the world--and I am proud to say the terror of any who would be our enemies.

Moreover, as the years have rolled on, and with governmental cooperation and leadership, there has been built around all labor a system of protection represented in our old age security, unemployment insurance, minimum wage laws, and the rights for collective bargaining.

Labor--like all other Americans--wants peace. It needs peace--requires peace. It must be ready to work for peace, just as do all others. I am happy to pay tribute to the great results that have been achieved through labor in advancing this cause.

Wanting to dwell with greater opportunity for the pursuit of happiness, it has applied itself in such a way that other nations-working men and women in other corners of the world--have examined its methods, its opportunities, and have indeed wanted to copy them. It has been quick to make its skills available to the working men and women of other nations.

Labor has, therefore, been doing far more than working merely for its own continuous rise in living standards. It has helped others both in America and abroad.

It has helped create respect for the ideals of freedom and of human dignity. And it is today the greatest enemy of enslaved labor in any corner of the earth of which I am aware.

America is fortunate in its labor force--which I like to believe is all of us. This stamp bears a slogan from Carlyle, "Labor is Life." Certainly we can say truthfully: A free labor is a free America--the great ideal of all of us.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke on the south lawn of the White House. His opening words referred to Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell, Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield, George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, and members of the family of Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor and founder of Labor Day.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at Ceremonies Marking Issuance of Stamp Honoring American Labor. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233100

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