Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization's General Board Meeting

September 04, 1980

First of all, let me thank you, President Lane Kirkland, for the introduction and also for the good news.1

I'm very glad to have with me a man who I believe has never been exceeded as Secretary of Labor in his commitment to the working people of this Nation, Ray Marshall. He makes a good partner and a good teacher, and I've been a good student and a good partner of his and of yours.

It's an honor for me to be here. I've gotten to know a lot of you personally, and I've also benefited not only from Ray Marshall's advice but also from yours. For instance, one board member advised me, "Mr. President, the best way to get your point across is to be soft-spoken. That makes a greater impression than raising your voice." And Jerry Wurf, I want to thank you for that advice. [Laughter]

Another board member, by the way, advised me, "Mr. President, don't ever be inflexible, be accommodating, work out matters among the people who are in dispute; the best approach is compromise." And I want to thank Teddy Gleason for that advice. [Laughter]

Another board member said, "Mr. President, remember that you set an example for the whole Nation; always watch your language very carefully." George Hardy, I appreciate that. [Laughter] That's not the only good advice I've gotten from you all, but I think that's about as far as I ought to go in public. [Laughter]

As you may remember, almost exactly 4 years ago to the day, I met with this General Board, and soon after that Fritz Mondale and I were elected as Vice President and as President of the greatest nation on Earth. And I can tell you without any fear of being contradicted that we would not have been elected without your endorsement and your support in 1976, and we know it.

We'll always be grateful, but I looked on that endorsement and that support not as a gift, but as an obligation on my part to be a good President for the working people of this country. I believe in renewing good contracts, and with your help we're going to renew that contract on November 4 for another 4 years.

An election can make a great difference, and enthusiasm can also have a profound effect on the history of a nation. Twelve years ago, in 1968, our country made a serious mistake in not adequately supporting Hubert Humphrey; Richard Nixon was elected. Four years ago with your help we had a change of guard in the White House, and we ended 8 years of Republican neglect of our Nation's most complex problems. Instead, we began to face up to those problems, to tell the American people the truth, and began to build lasting solutions. These last 3 1/2 years have not been easy ones for me nor for you nor for our Nation nor for the world. But for us they've been creative years, and today we can face the future much better prepared than we were when that change of guard took place in January of 1977.

A changing of the guard of a different kind has taken place in the labor movement. We all miss President George Meany deeply and profoundly and personally; for a quarter of a century he embodied the American labor movement. As President of our country I recognized that he was the spirit and the strength of working America. The torch has now been passed to the able hands of Lane Kirkland and Tom Donahue, and it's fallen to them and to you to carry on the great unfinished work of American labor.

Change has also come to your executive council. I share with you the loss of a man who was among my closest friends in this entire board, and that was Paul Hall. It was a time of sadness for me when he passed away. He gave me encouragement when even many of you did not know who I was. And I share your pride in knowing again that the torch has been passed to some worthy people. And I'd like to congratulate your newest executive council members, Bill Konyha and John Sweeney and Joyce Miller. You might be interested in knowing that I set history 5 minutes ago by riding here in a White House limousine driven by the first female Secret Service agent who ever drove a President. And I felt perfectly safe. [Laughter]

And I've been pleased to see the growing leadership that the labor movement has set in establishing bonds among us, because as leaders we share not only a commitment to specific programs and the winning of elections, but you and I share the responsibility for something even more important, and that's the future. All of us know that there are no shortcuts; there are not any substitutes for hard work in the struggle for a humane and more decent world that we can pass on to our children. This country has never made progress the easy way.

The November election will decide whether or not our struggle is successful. Seldom in the political history of this country has the choice been more clear. Not just between two men, not just between two parties, but, as I said in New York a few weeks ago, between two futures. I believe that America must once again choose a future of thoughtful change, because change is inevitable, and human progress, because human beings are our responsibility. We've got to get on with the job we've begun.

In recent days our country has drawn inspiration from the courageous workers of Poland. We've been inspired by their discipline, by their tenacity, by their courage under the most difficult possible circumstances. They've shown the world not just how to win a victory for labor but also that the hunger for human rights is still alive worldwide. They and the Government of Poland have shown how a society that deals frankly with its problems free from interference by foreign powers can strengthen itself. And we are pleased at what's happened in Poland, and we wish them Godspeed toward a future of prosperity, peace, and freedom.

And I'd like to add this: In our country, some people who've raised the Polish workers strike and praised it seem to be a lot more supportive of strong trade unions overseas than they are here at home. To me there's only one standard: free trade unions for working people everywhere.

The Polish workers have demonstrated something that you and I 'have known for a long time, that free trade unions are a basic instrument of democracy and that human rights and labor rights are indistinguishable. The Polish Government and the workers have hammered out this achievement by themselves in the best interest of their own people and their own nation. I cannot but believe that the resolve of the Polish workers was strengthened by the solidarity of trade unions-free trade unions around the world, including of course the AFL-CIO. You all have been an inspiration to people in this country and to workers all over the world, and I thank you for it on behalf of all Americans.

At home, the AFL-CIO has helped lead this country through a half century of unprecedented social and economic progress. Every advance in this half century-social security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education—one after another came with the support and the leadership, not just the support, but leadership of American labor. You've represented all the people, not just your own members. You've been the voice of forgotten people everywhere.

Thirty-two years ago Harry Truman said, "It's time that all Americans realize that the place of labor is side by side with the businessman and the farmer and not one degree lower." We can no longer ignore this advice. The economic stakes are too high. It's time for our country to accept labor as an equal partner in our economic life and in our political life.

In the last 3 1/2 years we've begun to establish this goal bit by bit—such a partnership of government, labor, and business. We expanded Construction Coordinating Councils to ease local problems in that key industry. We brought labor into international negotiations in a very meaningful way. We established the Coal Commission, the Steel Tripartite Advisory Committee, and the Automobile Industry Committee to help chart the future in these areas. To fight inflation we established the national accord and the Pay Advisory Committee to seek lasting equitable solutions. And last week we took another step forward with what can be central to rebuilding our Nation's industrial base—the President's Economic Revitalization Board, composed of leaders from American labor, industry, and the public. Heading the Board will be Irving Shapiro of du Pont and Lane Kirkland, your president, and I'm now in the process of choosing the other board members to work with those two fine leaders.

It would be a mistake for you to underestimate the profound consequence of that decision which I made. For the first time, we can build a consensus for our economic future—a consensus. The Board will advise me on a full range of issues. It will recommend the outlines of an industrial development authority to help mobilize both public and private capital, including employee pension funds, to restore and to create jobs in areas affected by economic dislocation.

We're involved in nothing less than the redefinition of the way labor, business, and government work together. It will not be easy, because we are plowing new ground. But you and I realize that it's absolutely essential to have creative ideas from all segments of our country, to iron out differences as much as we can, preserving our own integrity and our own autonomy and to approach the very difficult challenges which face our Nation in a cooperative spirit.

I see rich dividends coming from this, not only in the relatively narrowly defined revitalization of American industry but in other elements of life of working people, who have better understanding before legislation is presented to the Congress and before decisions are made among labor, business, and governmental leaders. This consensus building must mean that once and for all we recognize the legitimate rights of labor to be full participants in shaping the future of our country. I want to continue this relationship that we've enjoyed the first 3 1/2 years.

I'm still with you for passage of common situs legislation. And I will veto any attempt to repeal Davis-Bacon. And I will continue to resist any sort of effort to weaken minimum wage or occupational safety and health protection and I believe and am convinced that this country needs, and I support, labor law reform, and I'll stand with you until we get it passed.

That would be good for our country. We missed by one vote in the Senate in getting cloture the past time we tried. The Senate leadership is still with us; the House is still committed to this legislation. And as soon as the November 4 elections are over and we see the makeup of the Congress, it's important that we start working together then to get the assured votes to pass this bill.

As I've faced the immense economic problems of the last 3 1/2 years, I can't forget the great help that labor has been to me. You've helped to forge our Nation's first energy policy, something that was long overdue. As a nation we've learned that we absolutely must reduce our dangerous overdependence on foreign oil. We have been remarkably successful, although we were delayed 3 years because of political considerations in the need to educate our Nation in the final passage of important bills to establish this policy.

We've already been able to cut oil imports this year, compared to last year and 1977, by more than 20 percent—24 percent to be exact. And every day in 1980 we import 1 1/2 million barrels of oil less than we did when I took over as President of this country. This is a good sign for the future.

There are two ways to cut imports. One is to have good, sound conservation measures, which help every family in this country, and the other way is to produce more American oil, gas, coal, shale, solar power, synthetic fuels, gasohol, and other matters that can be used to address a very serious threat to our country.

We will have with the new-found legislation, including the windfall profits tax, a tax on the unearned income of oil companies-the most massive peacetime commitment that the world has ever seen. It's greater in its totality than the entire Interstate Highway System, the entire space program, and the entire cost of the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe combined. If we address this opportunity carefully and successfully in a spirit of cooperation and commitment, the energy crisis that we've experienced since 1973 can turn into a great and exciting new life for the American people, because we not only are embarking on saving energy and being more cautious about removing the potential blackmail of our Nation, but we're going to create an entire new synthetic fuels program, a new industry for our country using American resources, American ingenuity, American education, American free-enterprise system commitments, American capital, and creating in the process millions of exciting new American jobs.

When the history of these years is written, it'll be said that on energy we fundamentally altered for the better our Nation's future. And I believe it will also be said that we began a fundamental rebuilding of our Nation's industrial base. The program that I announced last week, which you helped to write, will continue to fight inflation and, in addition to the ongoing programs that we have already on the books, those that already have been presented to the Congress, and normal recovery benefits, will add an additional 1 million new jobs in the next 2 years for our country's benefit.

More important—we'll put new and more efficient tools in the hands of American workers. We'll provide jobs in growing and competitive industries which can meet and turn back foreign competition. I have no doubt that American workers can compete with any in the world if we give them the tools and the technology to do the job, and together that's exactly what I intend to do.

We'll direct investments to communities and industries which have been hard hit by economic change. I'd like to point out to you that the economic change is inevitable. We'll help to retool the automobile industry. That's moving forward very well, to produce the fuel-efficient cars that American consumers want now and will want in the future. We'll help to modernize our basic industries like steel and encourage the new high-technology industries, some of which we've not even yet been able to encompass in our mind. We'll help to rebuild our cities and towns with job-producing investments. And we'll rebuild our transportation system both to carry goods and to improve public transit. Finally, we'll invest heavily in our human resources. We'll provide new training and new skills to workers which have been hit by sudden economic change. We'll strengthen existing programs for those who lack the skills to face the future.

Two years ago we passed the Humphrey-Hawkins act to reaffirm our commitment to the goal of full employment. This year we're laying the foundation for reaching that goal; a foundation of secure energy supplies, greater productivity, steady economic growth and stable prices. In the next few years we'll also continue our urban policy. It has begun to reverse the decline of many cities.

When I campaigned around this country 4 years ago that was the greatest crying need. The sense of discouragement and despair in the hearts and minds of mayors and other local officials was sobering indeed. And I believe that any broadscale conversation with the same officials now would show that the spirit and confidence about the future has been changed drastically.

We must gain passage of our welfare reform proposals that would lift 1 1/2 million more families out of poverty, emphasize work for able-bodied people, and reduce the financial burden on local and State governments. And we must enact our proposed expansion of the youth employment programs to provide skills and jobs for hundreds of thousands of young people.

And I stand ready to implement with you national health insurance. This is long overdue. But I believe we've put forward now to the Congress a carefully planned, carefully costed national health insurance program that will go into effect with an emphasis on cost control, with an emphasis on the prevention of disease, and the emphasis on fairness and equity to give American families adequate health care.

We must strengthen the maritime industry, both for our own economic security and our military security. And finally, I want the United States to stand for peace in the world. We've been at peace for the last 3 1/2 years; a peace based on our military strength and on America's will and our moral strength. With your help we have reversed an 8-year steady decline in defense spending under the previous Republican administrations. Our military power is unsurpassed today, and it will stay that way as long as I'm President. And I believe that you and the Congress will support me in that commitment.

A nation's strength gives us confidence to carry out our purposes well. That strength allowed us to negotiate the SALT II arms control treaties successfully. I look forward to further negotiations in the future on a balanced and equitable way to remove a threat of nuclear destruction from the world. With your help we ratified the Panama Canal treaties, which has brought a new atmosphere in this entire Western Hemisphere. We've sustained our foreign aid programs, the best way peacefully to compete with alien philosophies different from our own.

We've helped to bring two ancient enemies, the people of Egypt and Israel, who no longer face each other across barbed wire, but now are willing to face each other across the negotiating table and through their Ambassadors in Tel Aviv and in Cairo. Three years ago few people dreamed that such a thing would be possible, that the Jerusalem Post would be sold on the streets of Cairo and that tourists would be going back and forth across the borders between those countries.

A few minutes ago I got a call from Prime Minister Begin, who expressed his deep satisfaction with the success of Sol Linowitz' present trip into the Mideast to get the negotiations started again and to lay the groundwork for a future summit meeting which Prime Minister Begin and I discussed this morning.

And we can be proud that the United States once again stands up in defense of human rights, including trade union rights throughout the world. And let me add that we must expand human rights here at home also by ratifying the equal rights amendment to give our women an equal opportunity.

Well, to summarize, let me say that we've accomplished a lot, often against great odds. In some cases the achievements would not have been deemed possible 4 years ago, when I first met with you. We've had to take the heat on many occasions for unpopular decisions, but we've spoken the truth, and it has not always been welcome.

We've faced our problems squarely because we've faced them together. As you know, as union leaders, above all, solidarity is important. I can think of no finer recent example of solidarity than your support for the tough measures that I took in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Our solidarity helped to strengthen the will of the Nation, to marshal support of other nations around the world for our position, and to make sure that we had in our own country a commitment to preserve peace through strength.

I got a report this morning from the Director of the Selective Service System, who informed me that 93 percent of our young men have registered for the draft during the first month. This is a much greater percentage of participation than we've had in draft registration in the past. And I expect this number to rise very rapidly in the future. These young men, like the membership of the AFL-CIO, contradict those who say that America lacks the courage to face the future. We're meeting the Soviet challenge despite controversy and despite political opposition as a free democratic society first by facing the facts and by acting together.

The American labor movement was built on realism, on persistence, and on democratic values. Our Nation's future depends on those same qualities exactly, qualities which today are still abundant in the American people. More remains for us to do. We must fight for progress. It will not be easy, but we're fighting for it the way the labor movement has always fought for progress—shoulder to shoulder. And as has been the case with the labor movement in this country and increasingly around the world, we fight to win. And I do not intend to lose along with your help.

Thank you.

1 Earlier the General Board had voted to endorse the President for reelection.

Note: The President spoke at 11:46 a.m. in the Cotillion Ballroom at the Sheraton-Washington Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization's General Board Meeting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250643

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