John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America, Special Convention, Chicago, IL

September 26, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. Mr. Hutcheson, Mr. Lee, officers of the Carpenters Union, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate very much your generous invitation to come here today. I have served on the Labor Committees of the House and the Senate for over 14 years. I am now chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor of the Senate, and I hope in that time I have come to have some idea of the problems that you face, the opportunities that are yours, and the responsibilities that are common to us as citizens of this country. This has been billed tonight as a great debate. But in effect the Carpenters Union today have heard one phase of the so-called great debate. [Laughter and applause.]

This morning you heard from the Vice President of the United States, who spoke on behalf of his party and his views, and I speak today as the standard bearer for the Democratic Party. The fact of the matter is that though we may debate tonight, and though we may discuss issues which face the United States in the domestic sphere, we have been debating in a very real sense these issues through all of the 20th century. I think since the beginning of Woodrow Wilson's administration, the two parties have taken different positions on the domestic problems that face the United States. I think the Democratic Party has said "Yes" to the future. I think the Democratic Party has recognized that there are obligations which the people have to serve the people, that the function of the Government is to serve the public interest, and I think it is for that reason that the Democratic Party nominated Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. I think the Republicans have had a different conception of their public responsibility, and I think it is because of that reason that they nominated McKinley, Taft, Harding, Coolidge, Landon, Dewey, and now we have today. [Applause and laughter.] The Vice President stated the issue as a simple one. He said the question is whether the private sector or the public sector moves ahead. He said the question is whether those of us who come with promises for the future, that we are going to be taking money out of the pockets of people that we promise to help. I don't see it that way at all. I don't think that there will be many carpenters working in the United States, and I don't think that there will be many homes built in the United States if there was not Federal guarantees for the building of those homes. Do you think many GI's would have come back at the end of World War II and bought new homes which your people helped to build unless they had been given guarantees of Federal credit? Do you think that there would be enough homes built in the next 15 years, and we are going to have to build more homes every year for the next 25 or 30 years than we have ever built in the past - do you think they could possibly be done without Federal credit, without urban renewal, without home loan guarantees? I don't think they could be at all.

I think there is a great place and a major place for private responsibility and for individual enterprise. It is the system upon which our country is founded. It provides great prosperity, and it provides great freedom. But there is also a responsibility for the people, working as a whole, if they are going to develop the resources of our country, if they are going to provide employment for our people, if they are going to provide homes for our people, and Federal policy affects that program as sharply as any other factor. Do you think that your people will work as much when interest rates go to the highest they have been in 20 years? Frank Church said at the Democratic Convention that Rip Van Winkle could go to sleep and could wake up and tell whether the Republicans or Democrats were in control of the Government by asking how high the interest rates were. [Laughter and applause.]

Now let us get it clear on the record, because there are sharp differences between our two parties. The Democratic Congress passed a housing bill last year which I think would have met the needs of our economy, the needs of our people, and that bill was vetoed. This year, the Democratic Congress in the Senate passed another bill and it went to the Rules Committee of the House, and we could not get a single Republican in the House Rules Committee to vote to send it to the floor. They joined with three Democrats who were opposed to the program and they killed the housing bill this year which our people need and which will cause your people to work.

So the record is very clear. I support the affirmative policy which will move this country's economy ahead, which will build homes, which will keep our people working, and provide an unparalleled level of prosperity. If that is the issue, let us join it, because I never voted against any program which I felt would serve the people, which was soundly financed, soundly based, which was within the means of our people to afford, and which would sustain our prosperity. If the housing industry fails to move ahead, we not only find our people badly housed, but we don't find our people working. The automobile industry, the steel industry, and the housing industry are the three industries that must move if the economy of our country is going to move. And I don't think you can possibly feel satisfied when there are 15 million American families living in substandard housing; when there are 5 million American homes in the cities of the United States which lack plumbing of any kind; when at our present rate of constructing homes you are going to have more slums by the year 2000 than you have today: when urban renewal, which is the hope of the older cities of the East from where I come, our only hope of sustaining ourselves, when urban renewal is opposed, and vetoed and blocked, and when interest rates are so high that if a man buys a $20,000 house today, he pays over a 30-year mortgage nearly $8,000 more than he might have paid in 1952. So I would just as soon join the issue, and I would just as soon debate this matter, and I would just as soon have the American people make their decision. I am no Johnny-come-lately to situs picketing, either. [Laughter and applause.]

I don't know what that means [laughter] I will tell you what my position is. I am in favor of amending the Denver Building Trades case, and so introduced a bill, so supported it, so tried to get it out of the subcommittee and did, so tried to get it out of the full committee where it was filibustered to death in the last session of the Congress. So while we may not be Johnny-come-latelies, I would like to know what our individual position is on this question. I want to make it clear what my position is. It is my understanding that when the Taft-Hartley Act was passed, it was very clear by the remarks of Senator Taft, that he did not envision that there would be a prohibition against the union activities at a primary site in order to protect its working standards. It would not be called - when there were subcontractors involved - it would not be called a secondary boycott. That is what I mean by changing the Denver case. And I think that the next Congress of the United States, and whether I sit in the office of the Presidency or whether I continue as chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, we are going to move again on that next January, and we invite all those, early or late, to come and join us. [Applause.]

Finally, let me say that I know Mr. Khrushchev, too, but Mr. Khrushchev is not the enemy. Mr. Khrushchev could pass from the scene. He is 65 or 66 years of age, and all men are mortal, and he could pass as Stalin passed, and the enemy would remain the same. The enemy is the Communist system, and the enemy of the Communist system, the chief adversary of the Communist system, is our system. Therefore, the question before us is not the question of comparative growth and statistics, compared to what we did 10 years ago or 15 years ago or 20 years ago. The question for the American people to decide in the sixties is are we doing enough to defend ourselves, are we doing enough to sustain ourselves, are we strengthening ourselves and the cause of freedom around the world? That is the question before us. Not argument with Mr. Khrushchev. The system that is opposing us is strong and powerful, both because of its ideology and because of the productive power of the Soviet Union. We are strong and powerful and I think stronger and more powerful because we believe that freedom, and because of our productive capacity in the United States, and therefore the people of this country have to decide by November 8 which way they want to go; whether they feel that everything that could be done is being done, whether the program offered by the Republican Party offers hope to the people, whether in 1964, at the end of the next President's administration, our power and prestige will be increasing relative to that of the Communists or whether we will be standing still and the world will begin to move in the direction of the East rather than in the direction of the West. That is the issue and it cannot be dismissed, and it cannot be put aside by saying we need an argument in a kitchen or out of a kitchen. What we need is strength. [Applause]

I don't care how skilled Mr. Khrushchev is or how skilled the next President is in debate. What counts is the power of the two systems, and where they are going, and what they stand for, and how they associate themselves with the people of the world. I am confident we have the greatest system. I am confident that what we want they want. I am confident that the future can belong to us. But it can only be done so by recognizing the realities of the struggle that face us, and that can only be done by our willingness to recognize the unfinished business that faces our society, the unfinished agenda which Franklin Roosevelt set before the American people in the thirties, the next President of the United States must set before the American people in the sixties. When he does so, I think this country will move again. Thank you. [Standing ovation.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America, Special Convention, Chicago, IL Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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