John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks to Students from Latin America and the Caribbean Attending the Institute for free Trade Union Development.

August 08, 1962

DO ALL of you speak English? Who does not speak English? Hablo Espanol un poquito.

In any case, Mr. Meany, I want to express our very warm welcome to all of you. I don't think there is any effort which could be made at this time which can be more fruitful than this common effort by the American labor movement working with the labor movements of other countries to strengthen the societies of these emerging nations which you represent.

All of the countries from which you come are in different stages of development, and it is not necessarily true that everything that you see here or every experience which our labor movement has had can be transferred to your own country and your own experience. But I think that two or three points can be transferred. You cannot maintain a free society today, in my opinion, unless you have a free trade union movement, and the trade union movement is effective not only because it is a means of securing a fair share of national productivity for the men and women who labor but it is also the means of supporting a broad program of social progress.

The great pieces of legislation passed in Franklin Roosevelt's administration of the 1930's were passed with the strong support of the American labor movement. The American labor movement emerged into its present preeminence in those years, and those were also the years in which the United States moved in the most vital way in the whole field of social legislation, social security, unemployment compensation, minimum wage, and all the rest.

So that when you go back to your country, I hope that you will carry with you techniques for the organization of trade unions, for the betterment of the lives of the members of your unions and also for emphasis upon social progress by the Congress, by the political parties of your country. The trade union movement does not fulfill its responsibilities unless it carries out this emphasis on a broad base.

for example, the American labor movement has made as one of its central objectives two programs which do not benefit its members directly. One is the minimum wage. Every member of the AFL-CIO is paid above our minimum wage but, nevertheless, they have fought for an adequate minimum wage. They've also fought in the last session of the Congress for medical care for our older citizens. These programs do not directly affect the active members of the unions, but they affect our whole society. Because the labor movement in this country has looked beyond its immediate responsibilities to its members and to its responsibilities to society as a whole, I think it's fulfilled a great role in our country. I hope that you will fill the same role.

We've put the greatest hope in you, those of us who believe in freedom. A strong trade union movement is essential for the maintenance of freedom, and we believe that freedom is the best way of solving not only, of course, living our political lives but also our economic lives. So it all depends on you.

I'm delighted that you came here. I congratulate the AFL-CIO for its work, for your devoted work, sir, and for all this effort. I hope that you're the first of an increasing number of labor leaders who will come to this country and go back to their countries, and labor leaders from the United States who will go to your countries, so that we will have a great union of free trade unions in this hemisphere expanding throughout so much of the underdeveloped world. We are glad to see you here.

[At this point George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, introduced Secretary of Labor Arthur I. Goldberg, who spoke briefly. Mr. Meany then introduced Eric Lloyd Harris of Jamaica who, on behalf of the group, read a note to the President expressing appreciation of the opportunity to visit the White House. The President then resumed speaking.]

Thank you very much.

Gentlemen, we are delighted to have had you here and you are most welcome.

Note: The President spoke on the South Lawn at the White House.

In introducing the group of 43 students, Mr. Meany explained that they were members of the first class of the Institute for free Trade Union Development. The institute, he added, created and supported by American labor and American business, would enable similar groups to study here for 3 months before returning to their home countries under a 9-month grant, in order to spread what they had learned here.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks to Students from Latin America and the Caribbean Attending the Institute for free Trade Union Development. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives