Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Alameda County Labor Day Picnic in Pleasanton, California

September 04, 1995

The President. Thank you. Can you hear me in the back? Good. Ladies and gentlemen, I am so glad to be here to share Labor Day with you, to count our blessings and to embrace our challenges. But let me just begin by thanking you for that wonderful welcome. I feel right at home, and I'm proud to be with the working families in this country.

I also want to say how very pleased I am to be here with all the distinguished labor leaders and public officials who are here behind me from the State of California—some from our administration—to be here with President Donahue. You know, this is his birthday. He has to celebrate his birthday on Labor Day. He gets a two-fer today, so we ought to say happy birthday, Tom.

I'm delighted to be here with Jack Henning, who still gives one of the best speeches I ever heard; with John Sweeney and Lenore Miller and Chuck Mack and George Kourpias and all the other labor leaders who are here. I thank Judy Goff and Owen Marron for having me here. And I want to say a special word of thanks to the people who represent you in Congress, two of the finest people in the entire United States Congress, Congressman Ron Dellums and Senator Barbara Boxer. They are great people.

You know, we are going through a sea change in American life. You know it, and I know it. What I want to tell you is I believe that when the history of this time is written and people look back on how you and other ordinary Americans lived, they will say that this period represented the biggest challenge and the biggest change to the way we live and work and raise our families of any period since 100 years ago, when we changed from being a primarily agricultural and rural society to being an industrial society and a more urban one.

All of you know the facts. We've ended the cold war. We're moving into a global economy. We have more and more competition and more and more technology. We have more opportunities and more fears. And there are a lot of good things that are going on today, but there are a lot of troubling things as well.

And I came here to tell you that in the next 90 days in Washington, DC, we're going to make some decisions that will say a lot about what kind of people we are and where we're going. And I believe—I believe that if we decide to work together and work for the future, the 21st century and the global economy will be America's time. But we have to make that decision.

I want a high-wage, high-growth, high-opportunity future, not a hard-work, low-wage, insecure future for the working families of the United States of America.

I've worked as hard as I know how to bring the economy back. But let me ask you this: You all know what the problem is. If I had told you 30 months ago, the day I became President, that the following things would happen— just listen to this as a good news, bad news story. In our country we have over 7 million new jobs. We have 2 1/2 million new homeowners. We have 1 1/2 million new small businesses. We have reduced the deficit from $290 billion to $160 billion a year. We have done it while increasing our investment in education and training and technology and research to generate new jobs. We have doubled the loans of the Small Business Administration to try to create more small business opportunities.

We have done all these things. In California, as hard hit as you were by all the defense cuts, the jobs that were lost in the previous 4 years have been replaced and then some. And we're overcoming the impacts of earthquakes and fires and defense cuts. And California's coming back. But you know what? In spite of all of that, the median wage has dropped one percent. That means most working people are working harder for the same or lower wages that they were making not just 2 years ago but 10 and 15 years ago. That is the great challenge of this time.

Are we going to be a smart-work, high-opportunity, high-wage country, or a hard-work, lowwage country where the middle class is dividing? And that is the thing that ought to inform every decision we make. I think I know what we have to do, and I want you to stand with me because you know what we have to do.

The first thing we ought to do—the very first thing we ought to do is to say we are going to do no harm; we're going to stop trying to undo the protections in the American law for working men and women. We're going to stop trying to weaken workplace safety. Let's work in partnership with managers to make it a safer workplace in America, not walk away from our obligations to the safety, health, and welfare of the American workers.

Then, what is our affirmative agenda? Number one, don't cut education and training; spend more on it. And for those who say we have to do that to balance the budget, I say, that is wrong. My balanced budget plan gives the working families of America a tax deduction for the cost of all education after high school. Our balanced budget plan would give working people who lose their jobs the right to a voucher worth $2,600 a year for 2 years to take to the nearest community college or other education and training institution to get a better start in life. Increase our investment in education; don't cut it.

The second thing we ought to do is to have fair as well as free trade. That's what the fight with the Japanese over autos and auto parts was all about. I'm all for more trade, but it's got to be fair. It's got to be fair to American workers. We can now compete with anybody in the world and win if we're given a fair chance to do so.

The third thing we ought to do is raise the minimum wage. Let me tell you, there is no evidence to support the claim that opponents of the minimum wage always make, that it costs jobs. But we know one thing for sure: On January 1, 1996, if we do not raise the minimum wage this year, it will drop in terms of what the money will buy to a 40-year low. Two-thirds of the people making minimum wage are adults. Forty percent of the people making the minimum wage are the sole support of their families. We have children growing up on it. It is wrong to expect people to work for $4.25 an hour. Let us raise the minimum wage and do it now.

In California, we have a lot of other things to do. We have to maintain the defense conversion programs that our administration has put in place. We should not cut the attempts to build people's future. I have worked as hard as I could to make sure that you knew that the defense contractors and the people that worked on the military bases, who won the cold war for this country, would not be left out in the cold when the defense budget was cut. And we have to keep working on that.

Let me give you an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about. Today, it is my honor to announce that our Department of Transportation is going to give to Cal-Start, a consortium of California companies, $3.4 million to help them start building electric cars for the future of America.

Men and women who used to weld Bradley fighting vehicles together for our national defense will now build family vehicles that will use smart technology, help the environment, and give people good jobs for a good future for their families. That's the kind of thing we ought to be doing more of in this country. They will be made at what used to be the Alameda Naval Air Station. This is the kind of thing that I want our Government to do, to work with you in partnership for the future.

And just today, right before I came out of here, the head of Amerigon, Lon Bell, and George Kourpias, the head of the Machinist Union, signed an agreement that commits both sides, management and labor, to teamwork and a true partnership on the shop floor, working together, working for tomorrow. America ought to follow that model. We need more of it.

Folks, this is happening all over California. Earlier today, in Monterey, I dedicated the new campus of Cal State on the grounds of Fort Ord. They had—instead of a place that is a shell, an empty shell, they're now going to have a vital university. They had 4,000 applications for the first 600 places open there. And within just a few years, they'll have thousands and thousands of people there, creating more jobs than were there when Fort Ord was running at full steam. That is the future of America, working together, working for tomorrow.

In Sacramento, Packard Bell has already hired about 5,000 people, including 500 people where they've moved jobs from overseas back to the United States to northern California to assemble personal computers at a former Army depot, with more jobs there than were lost at the height of the defense production. That is the future of California and the future of America.

Let me just say one more thing on this Labor Day. In the last 2 1/2 years, we had 7 million new jobs, 2 1/2 million new homeowners, 1 1/2 million new businesses, record corporate profits, the stock market's gone to 4,700. I think it is time for American businesses to follow the lead of our best employers and share more of those profits with their working people. The Government can't do that; business has to do that.

Thirty years ago, in the biggest companies in this country, the average executive made about 12 times what the average shop worker did. Today it's 120 times. It's time for the working people——

Audience members. Boo-o-o!

The President. All right, let me tell you. I'm all for people becoming millionaires. We've had more self-made millionaires since I've been President than any comparable period in American history. And I like that. That's the American idea. But the people of this country that make it go are the average working families. And they deserve their fair share of their own productivity and competitiveness. And it's time to do it.

So when I leave you today, I'm going back to Washington for the critical struggles over the budget in the next 90 days. And I will say again, this is the period of biggest change we've had in 100 years. We are going to shape the future. Are we going forward together, looking toward tomorrow, or are we going to be divided? Are we going to have a high-wage, high-growth, high-opportunity future for your children, or a hard-work, low-wage future for half of the working people in this country? Those are the questions.

Yes, we have to balance the budget, but let's do it in a way that increases our investment in education, technology, research, and the good jobs of tomorrow. Let's don't walk away from it.

Yes, middle class people ought to have tax relief for education and childrearing. But let's don't cut taxes so much just to find tax cuts for people who don't need it and, in turn, turn around and raise the cost of Medicare, raise the cost of nursing home care on ordinary elderly people and their middle-class children who cannot afford it. That is wrong. We should not do that.

Yes, we ought to reform regulation and reduce cumbersome bureaucracy. You know something—this is something you ought to tell tomorrow when you're talking to people—our administration has reduced the size of Government, the number of regulations, and the number of Government programs more in 2 years than the previous two administrations did in 12. But I did not reduce worker protections and our commitment to clean water, clean air, and safe food. That is nuts. We should not do that. It is not good for America.

So as Congress comes back to work, as you send Ron Dellums and Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein back to their labors, let me tell you, folks, send a message to everybody. This country, it got where it is today because we pulled together and we worked together and we worked for tomorrow.

I just got back from Hawaii, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. I met with veterans from all different races and all different backgrounds who forgot all their differences and worked together. And that's why we won. And when they came home, the GI bill gave them all the chance to go to college and to own their own homes and to educate their children. And that's why America won the cold war and did so well.

This idea, this crazy idea that somehow we can go into the 21st century by weakening our middle class, by dividing our people against each other, by convincing hard-working middle class people that the reason they don't have a good income is because of welfare or affirmative action or immigration—all of which need improvement, and we've done more on that than the guys did before as well—but that's not what's holding your wage down. What's holding your wage down is the inability to get a fair deal in a competitive global economy because we need more investment in education, more investment in training, more investment in highwage jobs. And you know that in your heart of hearts.

This country never got anywhere being divided against one another. So let's go forward together for a better future.

God bless you all, and thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:30 p.m. at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. In his remarks, he referred to Tom Donahue, president, AFL-CIO; Jack Henning, secretary-treasurer, California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO; John Sweeney, president, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO; Lenore Miller, president, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, AFL-CIO; Chuck Mack, secretary-treasurer, Local 70, and president, Joint Council, International Brotherhood of Teamsters; George J. Kourpias, president, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO; Judy Goff, president, and Owen Marron, secretary-treasurer, Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO; and Lon E. Bell, president, Amerigon.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Alameda County Labor Day Picnic in Pleasanton, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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