Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Harley-Davidson Company Employees in York, Pennsylvania

May 06, 1987

Thank you, Vaughn Beals, and thank all of you very much. And let me answer that question about Nancy. [Laughter] The government gets one employee free: the First Lady. [Laughter] You've heard about politics making strange bedfellows; I found out politics, with their scheduling, can kind of break up some bedfellows. [Laughter] They've got her on another schedule today.

But let me say a special thank you, also, for that great music to the William Penn High School Symphony Band. I was a drum major of a band like that once in my hometown. We were marching in a Memorial Day parade, and the fellow on the horse that was supposed to be leading the parade rode back down the line to see how everything was coming along. And suddenly, I began to think the music was getting rather faint—and I'm pumping that baton. And the man on the horse caught up just in time to turn the band. They turned the corner, and I was going down the street all by myself. [Laughter]

Well, after being shown around this plant, it seems to me I've come to hog heaven. One thing's for sure: When it comes to motorcycles, this is the home of the all-American A-team. Of course, that's not what a lot of people were saying about you just a few years ago. Some people said that you couldn't make the grade. They said you couldn't keep up with foreign competition. They said that Harley-Davidson was running out of gas and sputtering to a stop. Well, the people who say that American workers and American companies can't compete are making one of the oldest mistakes in the world. They're betting against America itself, and that's one bet no one will ever win. You know, those people who place their bets on someone other than you is a little bit like the fellow that was going to the races. And for three nights he dreamed of the number five. So, when he got to the track, he opened a program to the fifth race, and he looked down to the number five horse. And the horse's name was Five-by-Five. Well, that did it. He bet the whole bundle on that horse, number five in the fifth race, and the horse came in fifth. [Laughter]

Well, while others may bet on horses, I'll put my bet on you and on America. And that was what we did 4 years ago. You asked us to give you breathing room so you could finish getting into shape to meet unexpectedly strong foreign competition. It was like giving a boxer a few extra weeks of training before a fight. We looked at you carefully. We asked, "Is Harley-Davidson really serious about getting into shape?" And the answer came back a resounding "yes." Harley was hard at work with new products and finding better ways to make better bikes. And Harley's shape-up was not relying just on the top management. Everyone from the boardroom to the factory floor was involved. No matter how we looked at it, we could see that everyone at Harley-Davidson was serious about getting into fighting shape. So, when I was told that you wanted a little more time to train, I said, "Yes, kick on the engine, Harley, and turn on your thunder!"

And that's just what you did. You cut the hours of work needed to make a motorcycle by one-third. You cut inventory by Two-thirds. You tripled the number of defect free machines you shipped. And with productivity up, you kept price increases small, and on some bikes even lowered prices. You expanded your product line from 3 models 10 years ago to 24 today and once again became a leader in developing new motorcycle technology. And each year, on virtually every continent of the Earth, you're selling more and more bikes compared to your competition. You're the only major motorcycle manufacturer in the world to have increased production last year. Like America, Harley is back and standing tall.

Last weekend I read a statement by Harry Smith, the president of Local 175 of the International Association of Machinists, and said—who said—he said, I didn't—he said: "The tariffs helped to slow up the imports, and that helped us. But the backbone of our comeback as a company is our people here. They have a lot of skill and craftsmanship, and they went through a lot of hardship to get the company where it is today." Well, this is what we need to ensure a more competitive future for America, and this is precisely what I was talking about when I called for a "quest for excellence" in my State of the Union Address.

Earlier this year, I said it was time to begin a great American discussion about our future and how to prepare America for the world of the year 2000 and beyond. What kind of a country will we pass to our children? It includes being sure we make the best use of our science and technology; improving the climate for entrepreneurship and growth; working to build a fair, open, and expanding world economy; and finally, making sure that American education is the best in the world. Yes, it's a challenge for every American, the challenge of preparing America for the next century, and it's a challenge being met by those of you here at Harley-Davidson.

You know, when I heard your can-do spirit and then saw it confirmed here in my brief tour of your plant, it reminded me of something having to do back in a younger day of America, when Americans weren't the most popular people back overseas in the home countries from whence all of us sprang, because, I guess, when we did go back, we were a little brash as tourists. And this story has to do with an elderly couple who made their first trip back over there to the old country. And one point in their sightseeing, they were down below Mount Vesuvius—you know, Pompeii was buried in ashes from the explosion there—and the guide was telling them at great length about the force and the power and the heat energy and so forth—all that Mount Vesuvius had. And in the midst of all of this talk about Mount Vesuvius, the old boy turned to his wife and says, "Hell, we got a volunteer fire department home put that thing out in 15 minutes." [Laughter]

Well, you may not be putting out the fire of volcanoes, but you've shown you're just as effective. Just a few weeks ago, a year ahead of schedule, you said to us you didn't need any more breathing room. You were ready to take on the world. And in doing that, you gave some folks in Washington an important lesson about how we go about buying and selling with other nations. You see, we've shaken hands on an agreement with most of the other nations of the world, an agreement that sets the rules for international trade. We have problems, of course, with some of those nations—the ones that don't let us sell to their people as freely as they sell to ours. But the agreement, called the GATT agreement—that's the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade—gives us ways of dealing with those problems, and it also gives us ways of giving industries the kind of breathing room we gave you. And if they're as serious as you were about shaping up—now we're about to begin worldwide talks on how to make this agreement even stronger.

Because of the GATT agreement, when you were ready to sell more bikes around the world, no one stopped you. But now there are some in Congress who say, in effect, that the United States should break its word with the other countries. They say American workers need to run and hide from foreign competition, even if that means other countries will strike back by not letting you sell your bikes to their people. Well, Harley-Davidson has shown how wrong that is and what the truth is. American workers don't need to hide from anyone. America does best when America sticks by its word. And American workers can take on the best in the world, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. No one is better than you are.

You may have heard that my temperature's up about some trade legislation that's before the Congress right now. On TV the other night, it was called one of the toughest trade bills of this century. I remember the last time we had a so-called tough trade bill. It was called Smoot-Hawley, and they said it would protect American jobs. Instead, after other nations were through retaliating, it helped us—or it helped give us, or at least deepened, the Great Depression of the 1930's. I'm probably the only one here that's old enough to remember that. I was looking for a job then. [Laughter] Twenty-five percent were unemployed, including me.

The Harley-Davidson example makes a very strong statement about how government, through the judicious application of our trade laws, can help the best and the brightest in American management and labor come together in ways that will create new jobs, new growth, and new prosperity. Government's role, particularly on the trade front, should be one of creating the conditions where fair trade will flourish, and this is precisely what has been done here. Our trade laws should work to foster growth and trade, not shut it off. And that's what's at the heart of our fair trade policy: opening foreign markets, not closing ours. Where U.S. firms have suffered from temporary surges in foreign competition, we haven't been shy about using our import laws to produce temporary relief. Now, there are those in Congress who say our trade policies haven't worked, but you here at Harley-Davidson are living proof that our laws are working. The idea of going to mandatory retaliation and shutting down on Presidential discretion in enforcing our trade laws is moving toward a policy that invites, even encourages, trade wars. It's time to work to expand the world market, not restrict it.

Today, as many as 10 million American jobs are tied to international trade, including many jobs right here at Harley. For more than a century, when America's trade with the world has grown, America has created more jobs. When trade has declined, so have the number of jobs. So, when it comes to making new jobs, free and fair international trade is America's big machine. It's time to gun the engines, not put on the brakes. Your chairman, Vaughn Beals, summed it up when he said, and I will quote him: "We're sending a very strong message to our competitors and to the international industrial community that U.S. workers, given a respite from predatory import practices, can become competitive in a world market."

The best way to meet foreign competition is also the right way: by sticking to our agreements with other countries and not breaking our promises, by making sure other countries also stick to their agreements with us, and by being the best. As America prepares for the 21st century, you've shown us how to be the best. You've been leaders in new technology. You've stuck by the basic American values of hard work and fair play. And I've heard that you have outstanding schools here in York that are teaching those values, too. I can't say that everyplace I've been, because we're still having a job getting some of our schools to catch up. Most of all, you've worked smarter, you've worked better, and you've worked together. And that's the American way.

You know, I received a letter not long ago. And I've been sharing this with some of your fellow Americans from podiums like this, because this letter pointed out something that I don't think any of us have ever stopped to think about. This man said that you can move to Greece, live in Greece, but you can't become a Greek. You can move to Japan, live there, but you can't become Japanese; or France and become a Frenchman; or German—or become a—all of these things. But he said, everybody or anybody from any corner of the world can come to America and become an American.

Well, as you've shown again, America is someplace special. We're on the road to unprecedented prosperity in this country—and we'll get there on a Harley! Thank you. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:27 p.m. in a warehouse at the Harley-Davidson plant. He was introduced by Vaughn Beals, chairman of the board. In his opening remarks, the President responded to an audience member who shouted "Where's Nancy?" Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Harley-Davidson Company Employees in York, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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