Remarks at the 75th Anniversary Banquet of the International Association of Machinists.
Mr. Hayes, Secretary Wirtz, Mr. Meany, ladies and gentlemen:
The last occasion on which I addressed this organization was in October 1960, and it is a pleasure to come again on this more peaceful occasion to congratulate you upon your 75th anniversary.
I spent 14 years in the Congress of the United States as a member of the labor committees of the House and the Senate. Therefore I come to this organization on this occasion with some understanding of the contribution which the Machinists have made to the American labor movement, and the contribution which the American labor movement has made to this country.
One of the great things about this country has been that our most extraordinary accomplishments have not come from the Government down, or from the top down, but have come from the bottom up. And the organization of the Machinists 75 years ago in Georgia, until now, today, they represent one million men and women in Canada and the United States as part of the whole AFLCIO, representing nearly 13 million Americans, have represented one of the most powerful forces for progress, one of the most powerful forces for stability, one of the most powerful hopes for the future that we now have.
I don't think that it is any accident that we have passed from the years 1945 to 1963 without a repetition of the depression of '21 and '22, and the depression of '29 to nearly 1940. All of the efforts which were made in the 1930's by President Roosevelt, which were made by the trade union movement, I think have laid a solid basis for the general well-being which has benefited so many of our people over the last 18 years.
This has not been an easy fight. Way back in 1901 it took this organization striking, as Secretary Wirtz has said, for a 54-hour week. Way back in the mid-1930's this organization, and the labor movement in general, was strongly behind the minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. So we have come from a long journey in 75 years, to 1963. And I think as President Hayes has told us and has reminded us of the unfinished business of the 1960's, as your predecessors and my predecessors, and the Members of Congress who are here tonight, their predecessors, provided well for us in the thirties and forties, I think it is incumbent upon us that we provide for the members of your organization, for the trade unions in general, and for the country in general in the 1960's.
It was not until a year ago that the Congress of the United States provided for benefits for children of chronically unemployed workers. It was not until a year ago that we set the minimum wage at $1.25 an hour. It was not until a year ago that we provided a housing bill and urban renewal which meets at least part of the demands of the United States in 1963.
I am astonished, as President of the United States, with some understanding of the problems that this country faces in the sixties, to see how difficult it is for us to pass assistance to education so that your children and the children of fellow Americans can go to college in 1970. I am astonished that it is so difficult for us to provide transit so our people and our workers can go to work. I am astonished that it is so difficult for us to provide in the 1960's assistance for our youth who are out of work, who are pouring into our labor markets.
The fact of the matter is that the problems are not. so dangerous as they were in the 1950's, but they are still with us. I don't think that any American can be satisfied to find in McDowell County, in West Virginia, 20 or 25 percent of the people of that county out of work, not for 6 weeks or 12 weeks, but for a year, 2, 3, or 4 years. So I am very conscious, as President of this country, that this is a rich and prosperous and growing country, but I do think that we have an obligation to those who have not shared in that prosperity. And I cannot think of a force over the last 30 years that has contributed more, not only to its own membership, not only to the membership of the Machinists, not only to the membership of the trade union movement, but for the wellbeing of our country. The fact of the matter is that all of the things that we now take for granted, all of the progress that was made over the last 30 years which is now written into the statute books that all groups in our society now believe are part of the American tradition, were fought step by step, as we must fight step by step in the sixties, dealing with different problems, some of them more complicated, in a much more difficult and dangerous world, in a world in which war and peace hang in the balance, challenged, as we are, by the most dangerous forces. But nevertheless, step by step we must make progress so that when this organization celebrates its 85th, its 95th, its 100th anniversary, the people who sit here in this room can feel that those who occupied positions of responsibility in national life and those who occupied positions of responsibility within the union, met their responsibility in the sixties as our predecessors did in the thirties and the forties.
So I am glad to come here tonight. This organization has every reason to be proud. Your president, Mr. Hayes, is not only president of this organization, but chairman of the Ethical Practices Committee of the AFLCIO. That organization and the AFL-CIO, looking back on its resolutions over the last 30 years, can feel that time has dealt kindly to the positions that it took not only at home, but abroad. And those who may find fault with the American labor movement today in the United States, as they find fault with so many things in this country, need only to look abroad in Latin America, in Europe, in all parts of the world, and see labor unions controlled either by the Communists or by the government, or no labor unions, and when they find either one of those three conditions, they find inevitably poverty or totalitarianism. And therefore I think it is a free judgment to make that a free, active, progressive trade union movement stands for a free, active, progressive country, and that is the kind of country I am proud to be President of.
Note: The President spoke at a dinner held at the Sheraton-Park Hotel in Washington. His opening words referred to A. J. Hayes, President, International Association of Machinists; W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor; and George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO.
John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the 75th Anniversary Banquet of the International Association of Machinists. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/236100