Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Meeting With the AFL-CIO Executive Council.

December 04, 1963

Mr. Meany, Mr. Secretary Wirtz, members of the Cabinet, members of the AFL-CIO:

I have said before, and I say again to you now: I regard achievement of the full potential of our resources--physical, human, and otherwise--to be the highest purpose of Government. In every area of human concern, the AFL-CIO can take pride in itself as an instrument to bring a better life to more people.

Since January 1961 the economic and legislative gains by labor have been cheering and substantial. Let me cite this afternoon for the record, and to each of you here, what I think you can really take justifiable pride in:

Gross national product is up $100 billion since January 1961.

Civilian employment is up 2 ½ million.

Total labor income is up nearly $50 bib lion, or 17 percent.

Average weekly earnings in manufacturing are up to $100.53 per week, or 13 percent.

Average hourly earnings of production workers in manufacturing are up 8 percent, to $2.47.

These are gains, not illusions. They have not been wiped out by inflation. Wholesale prices are still below those of early 1961. Consumer prices, mostly of services, are up only 1.2 percent per year.

Your legislative gains have also been solid and visible:

There is the Area Redevelopment Act of 1961. Over 1100 projects have been started, costing $200 million and creating 58,000 new jobs. Over 24,000 workers have been helped by training programs under this act.

There is the Public Works Acceleration Act of 1962, where more than $717 million has been committed for projects that will create 1,026,000 man-months of work.

There is the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962, where more than 140,000 workers will have received training or retraining in this fiscal year.

There is the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1961, which was extended to 3.6 million additional workers. The minimum wage was raised to $1.25 per hour.

I know something about minimum wages. When I was a young Congressman, I voted in 1938 for a 25-cent minimum wage per hour. Only two other Congressmen from my State supported in the caucus the signing of the petition to bring up this bill on the floor of the House of Representatives, and both of those Congressmen were defeated in the next election.

There are the Social Security Amendments of 1961. These amendments lowered the retirement age for men from 65 to 62. It also increased minimum benefits and broadened coverage. I remember so well working with this group some years ago to lower women's age for Social Security to 55.

There is the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation program. It gave 2.8 million unemployed workers additional benefits in 1961 and additional benefits in 1962.

These are gains and advances that you know about and that you men standing here on this platform with me today have helped to bring about through your leadership.

But what you and I are most concerned about is not yesterday. What concerns us is tomorrow. The number one in priority tomorrow is more jobs, and the goal of this administration is 75 million jobs in America. This is our dominant, relentless domestic problem and we have to face it head on with all of our resources.

The tax cut bill now pending in Congress is the most massive single attack that we can make on this problem. This bill has been delayed in the Congress. It has lain unenacted when it ought to be alive and working. It can pour an additional $11 billion into our gross national product.

Despite the continuing economic growth, I am dissatisfied with the persistence of high unemployment. That the ancient enemy of poverty should thrive and fatten in this abundant land is a vile and shameful thing. The tax cut is our modern weapon today against unemployment, which breeds poverty and ignorance, the inconsiderate allies of apathy and neglect.

I don't intend to stand idly by while this problem of unemployment swells and coarsens. This tax bill must pass.

Before the Congress also is a civil rights bill that is denied a hearing in the Rules Committee. The endless abrasions of delay, neglect, and indifference have rubbed raw the national conscience. We have talked too long. We have done too little. And all of it has come too late. You must help me make civil rights in America a reality.

I commend this labor leadership for the enlightenment that you have shown in moving to abolish discrimination in labor's ranks. Even as I compliment you for your action, I ask you to hurry even faster.

Before the Congress is a medicare bill that cries out for enactment. The cost of personal health care has taken off on a straight line upward. In 1950 the annual cost of personal health care was 10.6 billion. Today it is 28.6 billion. So the peril must be plain. Unless we can enact an adequate medicare program, a large segment of our population will be denuded financially by severe illness.

Is it too much to ask the national community to agree to a simple, low-cost program in which an American worker puts in $1 a month of his own money, and his employer puts in $1 a month of his company's money that is tax deductible, and the Government puts up nothing, so that the worker can solve his medical cost problems with dignity and not disaster? I hope that we will be able to pass a medicare program before this Congress adjourns.

This Government is committed to stimulating the economy with a tax cut; to removing injustices, too long sustained, with a civil rights bill; to a compassionate program to help those in our society who cannot take full part in the competitive race--the aged, the handicapped, the mentally retarded, the illiterates, the dropouts, the unemployed and their dependent children, the uneducated.

But we can do none of this, or only a tiny part of it, unless you here on this platform with me today rise up, roll up your sleeves, stick out your chin, and let it be known that you are in this fight, that you are in it for keeps, to the finish, without doubt or without reservation.

I am the President, but I can do nothing without the people. You represent the people. I need you. I want you. I believe you should be standing by my side in the fight ahead as you are this evening. This Nation will be grateful to you if you do-and so will I.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to George Meany, president, AFL-CIO, and W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Meeting With the AFL-CIO Executive Council. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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