John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks in Tampa to Members of the United Steelworkers.

November 18, 1963

Mr. Garrison, members of the Steelworkers Union, Governor Bryant, Senator Smathers, Congressman Gibbons from this District, Dante Fascell and Claude Pepper from Dade County, myself from Palm Beach, ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate the invitation to come here and I am very grateful to the Steelworkers who I have visited on many occasions. I appreciate their district director organizing this meeting. I spoke the other day to the AFL-CIO National Convention in New York. I hope that as we look ahead to not just 1964 but really to this decade, and we see something of the political debate which takes place in this State, and in my own State of Massachusetts, and in the United States, we see in some ways a repetition of the struggles of the 1930's. And it always has seemed to me that the best answer to those who oppose those measures which we advocate-to try to provide greater prosperity to our country and provide jobs for our people and security for our older citizens, and education for our children--I think the clearest answer to them is to contrast our experience from 1945 through to the coming year of 1965, to the 20-year period from 1919 to 1939.

Now, if you just look at the extraordinary economic progress of this country, we have had difficult times it is true, we have had recessions, but on the whole this has been an extraordinary period of economic growth, with productivity going up, with the age of automation, and all the rest.

While I do not in any way downgrade the serious problems we still face, it has been a most extraordinary record of meeting our obligations here in the United States and meeting them around the world. Now, why did it happen? Well, it happened because, I think, of a lot of things, of a lot of leadership given in a lot of different places in the 20 years from 1945 through to 1965. But I think more than that it happened because of what was done in the 1930's. From 1919 to 1939 we went through the depression of the early twenties, an 11-year depression, and we wouldn't have gotten out of it, perhaps, until we had World War II, and you had extraordinary governmental spending which began to really prime the pump. You had depression on the farms of America.

The fact is, though, in the 1930's there was written into the statute books legislation and a philosophy of governmental action which I think has provided us security from 1945 to 1965. Things don't happen, they are made to happen. And the reason why we can trace the clear contrast between those wasted years, from 1919 to 1939, and these years of promise is due to what Franklin Roosevelt and what organized labor, what the Democratic Party, and what the people who believed in progress did in those years which make it possible for us now to put our money in the bank and have it guaranteed, to buy a house with a guaranteed mortgage, to belong to a union and find the union protecting our bargaining rights and our job rights, the social security system, the unemployment compensation system, the SEC, and all the rest. And it is because of this commitment to progress which was made then, and which was reinforced in the Employment Act of 1946, that we have made this extraordinary economic progress since then.

I take some pride in the fact that even in the last 3 years we have made almost unique economic progress, even though we have to move tremendously fast just to stand still. I have said before that in the next 2 1/2 years in the United States we have to find 10 million jobs to take care of those who are out of work now, those who will be thrown out of work because of machines, and those who are pouring into the labor market because of the baby boom right after the end of the Second World War. Ten million jobs in 2 1/2 years. We have had an extraordinary economic record in the last 3 years, and yet we still have an unemployment rate of 5 1/2 percent. Yet in this 36-month period from January 1961 to January '64, we will have a hundred billion dollar increase in our gross national product.

In the last 18 months we have grown faster than they have grown almost any place in the world, faster than any country except two in Western Europe, which is almost unique as a record for us. Still, even to hold our own at 51/2 percent, even with this extraordinary economic record, we just have to run very fast to stand still. I think, however, we can take those measures in the Congress now and in the next year provide for a tax cut which can put nearly $40 billion of stimulation into our economy and give us the chance to absorb these people who are going to be looking for jobs, and to get our unemployment rate down to 5 percent and possibly below. And if we don't get it, as I said earlier this afternoon, by April of this year, we are going to have the longest peacetime expansion in the history of the United States. We had a recession in '58 and a recession in '60. And if we want to prevent a recession in '64 or '65, we need the stimulation that you can get from the tax cut which is now before the Senate Finance Committee, which has already passed the House.

If we can do that on urban renewal, on aid to education, on medical care for the aged, these programs which are regarded as controversial now--as the programs which Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats stood for in the thirties were regarded as controversial--can help lay the foundation for a decade of prosperity. If we fail, if we cannot get the support from the Congress, and the country, and the people, then in my opinion we will drift, as we drifted in '58 and as we drifted in '60, into two recessions in a 27-month period.

So that is what we are attempting to do, and we ask your help in doing it. Organized labor can look back on 30 years of supporting progressive causes, not only at home, which happened to benefit their members, but also around the world. The Alliance for Progress and all the others--the Marshall plan, NATO, Point 4--all these efforts which were made by others in earlier times, the labor movement supported. They didn't just apply immediately to labor; they applied to the country. And we ask that kind of support today.

This country faces many serious problems at home and abroad, but I think we have a good deal to be thankful for. This is a rich country. We want those who come after us to have the same chance that those who came before us have had. We want them to live in a secure world. We want them to live in an America which is committed to progress. The Steelworkers are, organized labor is. I believe, contrary to what we read in some papers, that a majority of the people of the United States are. I am. And I am glad to be here today with you.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke in the Crystal Room at the International Inn in Tampa, Fla. In his opening words he referred to O. L. Garrison, district director of the United Steelworkers of America, and to Governor Farris Bryant, Senator George A. Smathers, and Representatives Sam M. Gibbons, Dante B. Fascell, and Claude Pepper, all of Florida.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks in Tampa to Members of the United Steelworkers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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