Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at a Reception for Foreign Labor Leaders.

October 17, 1972

Mr. Secretary, Mr. Kirkland, ladies and gentlemen:

I am delighted to welcome all of you to the White House on the occasion of your tour of the United States. I understand that most of those who come from the 24 countries represented here speak English. I understand that there are a number from the countries to the south who speak Spanish. My Spanish is very poor, but let me give you all a welcome in Spanish, which I think is better than the words we would use in English. In English we say, "Make yourself at home," which is a nice way of welcoming somebody. But the Spanish welcome is much warmer. They say, "Estan ustedes en su casa," which means "This is your own home," and that is the way I want you all to feel here.

I want to congratulate the AFL-CIO and thank the AFL-CIO for participating in this program and sponsoring it around the world. As I read the list of countries that were represented here, I realized that many are young countries, relatively new countries. Some are very old, with a long tradition in labor-management relations.

Therefore, I thought that my remarks should be directed to what a free trade union movement means to any country, but particularly to a new country.

Now, the United States of America, by most standards, even though it is part of the New World, is like most of the countries in Latin America it has a long and old tradition. In fact, we will celebrate our 200th birthday just 4 years from now. We have a very strong labor movement in this country, a free labor movement. And if someone were to come on the scene today, he would think that that labor movement had been part of the American tradition from the beginning.

You have all heard of the American Revolution, of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, and many get the impression that it sprang full blown with a free trade union movement and all the other institutions that we now have in this country.

However, any student of American history knows that is not the case. There was no free trade union movement of any strength in the young America, not even in Lincoln's America, not even in the late part of the 19th century. There were labor unions, but they had to fight all the way for recognition, recognition not only in their bargaining with management, but recognition in terms of their relations with government.

As a matter of fact, as far as the labor union movement in the United States was concerned, it wasn't until the 1930's when the Wagner Act was passed and at the highest level in our government collective bargaining was recognized in the United States.

Now having said that, I am suggesting to the labor union leaders here, who come from relatively new countries or who represent union movements that are young, that are trying to gain recognition, that you have, in looking at the American experience, an indication of what lies ahead for you. It is inevitable that you will develop a strong labor union movement in your country. It is inevitable also that that movement will be recognized by government in your country.

And also, another point I want to make is this: The AFL-CIO, from the dues of its members in this country, helps free labor unions around the world. They have groups in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. They do that for two reasons: One, because they feel that they have a bond of brotherhood with working people all over the world, but second, they do it for another reason, because the leaders of our free trade union movement are devoted to the survival of freedom and to the growth of freedom all over the world.

And one very important point should be made: I have visited most of your countries, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And on occasions when I was able to have more freedom and more time, I have met with many labor union leaders in the various countries represented here.

I am going to make a statement now that is tremendously important, that I trust all of you will remember and that will be recorded by those here from the press.

When we think of dictatorship and when we think of a free trade union movement, the two cannot exist together. There is no country in the world today in which there is a dictator and in which there is also a free trade union movement. And there is no country in the world today which has a free trade union movement in which there is a dictator. And so we see that a strong, vigorous, free trade union movement is essential if we are going to have free governments in this country or in this world.

That is the American experience. It will be, if it has not been already, the experience in your country.

So I feel as I speak to you that I am speaking to men and women who are devoted to the cause of freedom as well as to the cause of working for the interests of working men and women in your countries, and for that reason you have a bond of brotherhood with the workers in America, where the free trade union movement is proud of the fact that it stands for freedom here and for freedom around the world.

Let me say also that I know you are here to examine an American political campaign. That will be very interesting. The last 3 weeks are always the most important weeks of a campaign. The British have a much better system, incidentally, speaking as one who has campaigned, going back 25 years, virtually every 2 years.

Our campaigns seem to go on all the time, and traditionally they last 8 weeks, 12 weeks, even 3 or 4 months. By the time the campaigns reach this stage, the candidates are tired and the people also are a bit tired.

The British, as you know--and many of you come from the parliamentary systems-have rules whereby they call an election and the campaign is only 3 weeks.

But in reality let me tell you, in observing the American political scene, the last 3 weeks are the most important, because that is when the people are listening, that is when the people are going to make up their minds.

So as you travel around the country, as you observe the candidates of the various parties for the House, for the Senate, for Governor, and, of course, for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency, you are here at the time when many important decisions, as far as voters are concerned, will be made.

In looking at our political scene, I do not suggest that each of you in your country should have the same system, because the hallmark of freedom is diversity. We have different backgrounds. We have different governments. A parliamentary system is different from the kind of system that we have in the United States. The kind of system you have in France is different from that in the United States. And yet, freedom flourishes in Britain, in France, in the United States, and in countries that have our kinds of systems of those free countries all over the world.

I will simply conclude by saying that we welcome you here very warmly, because we are always glad to have visitors from abroad. Particularly, I am glad to have visitors from countries where I have been so warmly received, along with my wife, going back over 25 years.

And second, we wish you well in your work for the men and women, the working men and women of your countries. And third, we hope that as you travel the United States over these next 3 weeks you will enjoy it, you will go back, that you will enter politics, and that all of you will win all of your elections in all the years ahead.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:22 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. He spoke without referring to notes. The labor leaders from 24 countries were in the United States to study the national elections in an exchange program sponsored by the Department of State and the AFL-CIO.

George P. Shultz was Secretary of the Treasury, and Lane Kirkland was secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at a Reception for Foreign Labor Leaders. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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