Richard Nixon photo

Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "An Open Door for American Labor"

October 21, 1968

Tonight, I would like to discuss with you the future of the workingman in America.

Take a look at the average factory pay check today and compare it with the pay check of three years ago. The numbers are higher — $11 a week higher. But when you cash that check and take the money to the supermarket, what happens?

This is what happens: the average weekly pay buys less than it did three years ago. Higher taxes and a spiraling cost of living have wiped out the increases.

In terms of real income the average workingman has two dollars less in his envelope now than he did in the first year of this administration. All those hard-won increases at the collective bargaining table have gone for naught.

That's not prosperity — that's treadmill economics. That is where the cost of living undermines the living wage.

Of course, the retired worker is even worse off. He bought his insurance with real dollars; he paid for his Social Security with real dollars; he deposited real dollars in a savings bank.

And what has happened to those real dollars? In eight years they have become 85 cents: the man with the prudence to plan ahead has been sold out.

It wasn't his union who sold him out, and it wasn't his employer; the family on a fixed income today was sold out by an administration that did not have the courage to stop inflation.

If the policies of the past are continued, if the old leadership stays in, what can the workingman expect?

Even the old leadership is alarmed about the highest rate of increase in the cost of living in almost two decades. Now, belatedly, my opponent is thinking of doing something about it.

No, he's not thinking of cutting unnecessary spending programs. He's not thinking of cutting government waste, or reducing your tax burden.

He's not thinking of treating the causes of the high cost of living today. The old leadership is thinking of treating the symptoms of inflation by bringing to bear the most harmful tool in the economist's kit: Wage and Price Controls.

As recently as one week ago, Hubert Humphrey called for a conference to define what he called "responsible wage and price behavior" and propose "a realistic figure for the year's average rate of wage increase." If labor does not accept the dictates of such a conference — and here I quote directly from the Humphrey task force report on inflation — "a statutory approach will become unavoidable."

In plain language that means the government will say, "Take what we give you — or else." And Hubert Humphrey accepted that report and made it his own policy.

If wage controls go in, the bargaining table will become a bureaucrat's desk — and there'll be no bargaining at all.

It can happen, unless you do something about it this November.

New leadership is determined to protect your earnings, and to increase your ability to earn more real dollars than you are earning today.

Wage security is just one of the issues on the mind of the American worker.

Another is job security.

The election of 1968 has brought a new concern about labor's oldest worry out into the open. A great many union members are troubled about what they suspect is competition for their jobs. They wonder about the impact of competition from people who were disadvantaged before, and who now want — and should have — their share of American opportunity.

Let's get to the heart of the matter: it seems that many wage earners feel that the civil rights movement has come into conflict with the labor movement. And it appears that the basis of this conflict is not racism, but rather the competition of economic interests.

As more disadvantaged Americans are being trained for jobs, the question on many a workingman's mind is this: "Is that my job he's being trained to take over?"

It's a direct question and a real fear. Whether reasoned or valid, we all know that this fear exists, and we must deal with it head-on. It cannot be met effectively by blasts at bigotry or exhortations of equality, because far more often than not, that concern is not rooted in prejudice at all. It is rooted in self-preservation, self-defense — human instincts not easily set aside.

The worker wondering whether his livelihood is threatened is entitled to an answer, not a tirade.

Here is my answer:

Certainly we intend to provide incentives to private industry to help train the unemployed and re-train those displaced by technology.

Certainly we intend to provide educational development and vocational training to the urban poor and the rural poor. They must have an equal chance at the starting line, which is the threshold of genuine economic opportunity.

But we will do this in a way that will help, and not harm, the man with a job today. Our next Administration will offer the workingman more job protection, not less; more security, not less; more opportunity, not less.

In the next four years we must help create fifteen million new jobs. And I mean jobs with futures, jobs that give a man's work meaning, not government make-work jobs. More than eight million of those jobs will be needed for those displaced by automation; nearly seven million more will be needed to provide opportunity for those who do not have it now and for the young people entering the work force.

Economic growth is the answer to job security. Economic growth is the best assurance for a workingman that his job will be secure, his real earnings on the rise, his route to advancement open.

Who can best provide that business growth without inflation? The old leadership, with its treadmill economics, has failed; if it adds wage and price controls it will only fail again. The American workingman need not turn to this extreme for his answer. The new leadership we offer will provide the best job protection; an expanded economy will give the present work force a chance to move up, all Americans a chance to move in and up — and nobody need move over.

As we remove that fear of job competition, we will see those who are fearful today not only permitting, but demanding, the training of the disadvantaged.

That's because the unemployed man today is the workingman's burden. Nobody has a greater motive to get the out-of-work to work than today's worker.

When we take a man off the welfare roll and put him on a payroll, we lighten the tax load of the workingman. When the next man is pulling his weight, the strain is less on all of us.

Let's remember that there appear to be at least two forces at work in the mind of the man concerned about the security of his job and his job rights. One is to protect what he has, which is human enough; and the other is to resent the fellow who he believes is taking a free ride on the taxes that he, the worker, pays.

As we increase the number of jobs in the next Administration and end the fear of job displacement, we will turn that natural resentment into a constructive channel. Those truly in need of welfare will receive welfare; the man in need of a job will get off welfare and get on a job.

One area that offers labor and management a chance to broaden the base of taxpayers and meet their own needs is in developing more imaginative training programs. For example, the Transport Workers Union is arranging with the New York City Transit Authority ways to plan ahead to meet the requirements for 1200 to 1500 new, skilled transit workers each year. The program would begin in the first year of high school, as future workers would be paid to train at the transit facilities one day a week during the school season, and all summer long for four years. Upon graduation they would work up to top-rated jobs in two or three years in what is practically a guaranteed lifetime job. A number of these youngsters will come from ghetto communities; many of the jobs they fill will be new jobs. Labor and management, in this case, are cooperating to meet future needs.

Under this Administration something has gone terribly wrong with relations between government and public employees in far too many of our states and cities. We must all recognize that there is no right of public employees to strike in a manner that will endanger the public health or safety. Indeed union members have a responsibility to resist efforts to strike against the public interest.

How do we avert these strikes? How do we plan ahead to avoid crisis before it is upon us?

Early in the next Administration, the new Secretary of Labor — someone in the tradition of the late James Mitchell — will assemble a conference of labor leadership, individuals in all these fields, and public officials on every level of government. Their objective will be to draw up and seek legislative approvals for an Economic Bill of Rights for Public Employees.

Any man who chooses his career working for the public must do so under the clear understanding that public service must not and will not be disrupted.

But the public that rightly demands this has the responsibility to provide acceptable alternatives for these 12 million public employees. Tenure and seniority are a part of it; continuity of employment is another incentive; vastly improved grievance procedures are still another; and improved impasse procedures are vital.

The public interest, of course, is affected by strikes outside the public sector. In this past year alone there have been more strikes than during any year in the past decade. In many cases the public suffered most.

Here is how I feel about the proper role of government in the bargaining process. I believe the Federal government ought not to intervene with the give-and-take of collective bargaining unless there are compelling reasons.

But when those compelling reasons exist, and the government is forced to intervene to safeguard the national health and safety, that intervention must be as a neutral, favoring neither management nor labor.

To be effective in actually resolving disputes, government must have the confidence of both sides; it cannot be under the control of one or the other; it cannot be a captive of either. The President of the United States is the willing captive of the public interest; once he begins to lean one way or the other, he loses his value to both sides and abdicates his responsibility.

For example, in the steel strike of 1959, I recommended a settlement that did not fully satisfy the steel industry nor David McDonald, then the President of the Steelworkers. But it was the best settlement for the nation, and both sides felt treated with complete impartiality.

I do not agree with those who say that government should sit at every bargaining table; that would destroy collective bargaining and undermine free enterprise. In the next Administration hard bargaining will be the order of the day; the Federal government will step in only when the failure of that process endangers the health or safety of our nation, or when other legislation such as the Railway Labor Act requires it.

What can labor expect from a Nixon Administration?

•   First, income security: the confidence that the dollar earned and saved today will be worth a dollar tomorrow.

•   Second, job security: the greatest protection of all is in an expanding economy — in the next four years fifteen million new jobs to replace those lost to automation and to provide opportunity for all.

•   Third, impartial, even-handed fairness and justice to labor and management.

•   Fourth, an open door for labor's spokesmen: The Department of Labor will be strengthened, with national labor programs administered in the Department, where they belong. This is where the voice of every workingman will be heard and his rights will be protected.

•   Fifth, leadership by example: I believe better occupational safety laws are needed on both Federal and state levels. A good place to begin would be with proper and uniform safety standards on all Federal construction.

•   Sixth, an understanding that the workingman in America is not set apart from other citizens in the all-American demand for an end to crime and violence in this nation and for peace without surrender abroad.

• Finally, an identification with the great social goals of the labor movement: In its analysis of the 1968 party platforms, the AFL-CIO wrote:

"The difference between the platforms is less one of ends than of means." I agree. And I believe a great many Americans, weary of failure, are turning to new means to achieve those ends.

There are new needs to be met, new goals to be set. I believe labor will insist on new techniques to make social security truly secure; new incentives to improve the quality of medical care available to the next generation of Americans; new bridges to human dignity that will break the cycle of dependency and despondency.

In the quest for these new goals I believe labor's leadership and labor's rank and file will achieve the best kind of solidarity — the solidarity that aligns itself with all the forward-looking forces in American society seeking new means to accomplish "more" for every American.

In the American system labor is not a class apart, and organized labor is not a separate party; labor is a movement, a progressive force, and now more them ever we need that movement and that progress.

In America's solidarity of purpose, in the new alignment of forces that has come into being, in the exciting new coalition of ideas where labor's voice is heard and heeded, lies hope for a new and creative American unity.

APP NOTE: From section three of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "For a Dynamic Economy".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "An Open Door for American Labor" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project