Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to the Members of the International Labor Press Association

April 27, 1964

I am happy to be in the same room with Willard Wirtz, with whom I have spent most of the last 2 weeks.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome you, the members of the International Labor Press Association. All of you here are in your own right, you are the voice of millions of workers, men and women whom we are here to serve, and men and women who share the ownership of this house that you are meeting in this evening, men and women whose welfare is your principal concern. I came over here to talk to you about it because the welfare of those men and women is also my principal concern.

I understand from what Secretary Wirtz has told me that you have been listening today to members of this administration talking about the Nation's economy. You have heard about the activities and programs that are needed to make our economy meet the untilled needs and the unrealized hopes of all Americans. So I am glad that after you have seen everybody else that you could come here and be my guests, even if you are members of the press.

I told a group that I met with the other evening at the Gridiron Club that in the light of developments recently I am not sure whether you are safer being a guest of the press or having the press as your guests!

We have the highest employment in our history as we meet here today. The vast majority of Americans are doing very well. In the midst of such prosperity it is too easy for people to lose sight of the problems which have not been solved, the difficulties which have not been mastered, and I assume that is one of the reasons for your coming here, and one of the reasons for your wanting to meet with the leaders of Government.

Well, what about these serious problems? They do exist--problems of unemployment, of underutilization of plant equipment, of great discrimination against minorities, of discrimination against the aged and the handicapped, against the women, of inadequate medical care, of the inability of our educational system to equip all of our citizens to contribute to their fullest capacity.

Speaking of women, I guess there is something good that comes out of everything. When that lightning hit Lady Bird's plane the other day on her way out to Ohio she didn't exactly say she would quit flying altogether but she did drive 9 hours back that night and got in about 2:30 in the morning. There is one good thing about lightning hitting your wife's plane--it put her back to riding with me again!

But these are the problems which America faces. They are problems which can only be solved by an informed citizenship. This requirement calls all of us to give them attention. This recurrent sounding of the call to battle is one of the most valuable contributions that can be made by the labor press in the United States.

You are a part of the conscience of our society. You are always goading. You are never satisfied with the job that is partially done. You are always working and calling for the further advancement of working people, and you speak from a point of view. You speak on behalf of values.

I think you generally speak out of a deep commitment to justice at the working place, to self-government in economic life, to an improvement in our society through a continuing improvement in the lot and opportunity of individual working persons and their families.

So your strength and your great influence flows from the belief of American labor that a just society can best be built within the framework of democratic institutions and through the free processes of a free country.

From this long tradition has grown the modern labor movement and its voice and the labor movement's voice--your voice, the labor press.

I think all Americans are grateful for that voice. It has spoken so often and so eloquently on behalf of programs to make a greater and a better society, to improve the welfare of all Americans. It has spoken for free labor, free from the influence of those who would corrupt this great mainstream of American life, free from those who would turn the hopes of workingmen into an instrument of attack.

You have helped to fight many battles on many fronts. I remember one that you fought and just to show you how much progress has been made, when I came here I was one of the few Congressmen the first year I was in Washington from my section of the country--only three of us from the South signed a petition to call a caucus to discharge a committee on the wage and hour bill. The other two, Maury Maverick and W. D. MacFarlane, both got defeated at the next election on account of their signing that petition. They were revolutionists and they were rebels and they kicked over the dinner pail and they caused a lot of trouble. And we actually, though finally with President Franklin Roosevelt's great support and by a fireside chat, we passed that bill that gave working people a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. That was in 1938.

So we have had battles on many fronts-the minimum wage battles, the Area Redevelopment Act, the Manpower Development Training Act--that gave me great inspiration the other day when I saw 60 girls down there learning how to fix women's hair and knowing that they could go out and get a job at $50 or $60 or $70 or $80 a week in a beauty parlor somewhere, in a year when they are finished; boys working in auto mechanics shops who had been on relief but because of this Manpower Retraining Act that Bill Wirtz and Tony Celebrezze and others have contributed to--why, we are making taxpayers out of taxeaters!

The Public Works Act, the Trade Expansion Act--all gain much from your help and your support. I even remember when the labor press, a paper called "Labor," supported me when I voted against a 25 cents a barrel increase on oil during OPA days. Oil is the principal product of my State; we make more of it than all of the States in the Union put together. They felt that they were frozen unfairly and that they were entitled to a 35 cents a barrel increase.

But there were only two Congressmen who voted against that increase. I had the support of the labor press doing it. They were pretty strong for OPA although all of my people weren't. It was an issue in the next campaign and it has been an issue in every one since. Some still remember me because I didn't give them that increase. You have no idea how long those memories are, and the Democrats have got elephant memories, too.

Speaking of OPA, I recall this story that might interest you. We had an old fellow down there that sold hams. He raised some of the best hogs in the country. We went out one day and bought five of them during the OPA days at $3 apiece and gave him a $10 bill and a $5 bill, and got through, thanked him very much for the hams, and said, "Now how many stamps do you need?" You know you had to have stamps for ham. And he said, "What do you mean stamps?" I said, "Well, the OPA, you know, you have to have so many stamps." I wanted to be careful not to violate any regulations, because the press would not only report it but you might cost yourself a good deal politically.

So I said, "How many stamps do you need?" He said, "What are you speaking about? Are you speaking about this OP and A?" I said, "Yes, sir, OP and A." He said, "Well, sir, we never have put it in down here."

Now, because the labor press--you did put it in, in a good part of the country, and you protected the workers of the country during a period of very high-rising spiral. I came over here today to put a proposition up to you. I want to ask you to do something for your country and for your kiddos and for your President. I want to ask you to enlist now in the army--some of you are above the draft age and I can't force you to do it, but I want you to volunteer to join the army in our war against poverty.

The fact I asked the Chamber of Commerce--a much larger group and much more substantial financially, I guess, than you folks--asked them this morning and ask you this afternoon is purely coincidental. As a matter of fact, I ask everybody because we are going to need everybody if we get this job going. But if you could see what I saw, and if you could observe what I observed, and if you could look into the eyes that I looked into, you could see a father with 11 children that only worked 4 days at $4 a day last week--you would want to do something about it and except for the grace of God, it might be you.

Franklin Roosevelt talked about the one-third that were ill clad and ill fed and ill housed. After working 30 years with your help and your crusades and your radical editorials and all of those things, we have it down to one-fifth, but we still have got 20 percent, 1 out of every 5, that are in the poverty group. Twenty years ago, 5 percent over a 10-year period, coming out from 1942 to 1952, and from 1952 to 1962 it was 3 percent, and now it is 1 percent that is coming out--1 percent a year. From 1937 to 1947 it was 5 percent, 1947 to 1953 it was 3 percent, 1953 to 1963 it is 1 percent.

Now it is getting a lot more difficult in this IBM age for those people that have no training, that live on the other side of the tracks--it is getting a lot more difficult for them to get out and cross the tracks and get out of that poverty classification. You have to help them by this poverty program that will provide them with training.

Forty-nine percent--1 out of every 2 boys we draft has to be sent home because he is physically or mentally unqualified. That is the kind of folks you are raising. If I had to do that with my calves, I would go broke every year. If I out of every 2 of my calves was born and I had to have rejects, I couldn't make it.

So we begin this poverty war from a position of unmatched prosperity, with national abundance. We have just concluded the most productive and prosperous quarter on record. I had the figures here a minute ago. I wanted to give them to you.

When I came to Washington in 1932, corporation profits were nonexistent. They had a loss that year of $3,400 million. In 1942, 10 years later, we got it up to $9½ billion. In 1952, 10 years later, we got it up to $17.2 billion. In 1962 we got it up to $24.6 billion. In 1963 we got it up to $27.1 billion, and the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers tells me we are not only not going to lose $3,400 million this year, as we did 32 years ago when I came here, but our profits this year are going to be $31 billion after taxes--these high taxes.

Labor has gotten about $52 billion more in wages than they got in 1961 Their wages have increased $51 billion or $52 billion in 3 years. Corporation profits have increased from a $3.4 billion loss in 1932 to $31 billion after taxes.

Now, those groups--the capitalists who make the investments, the managers who manage it, and the workers who produce it-have got to be concerned about these taxeaters. There is an increasing proof that we can at long last break this unemployment stalemate that has marked our economic life month in and month out for several years.

Total employment last month stood at 69.8 million, up 400,000 over a year ago, and the highest March ever put on the record. Nonfarm employment of 58.2 million was 1 1/2 million higher than a year ago. The unemployment rate has dropped to 5.4 percent compared to the 5.7 of last March.

The factory workweek was at 40.7 hours-the longest for any month since March 1955.

But the growing prosperity of this country, while real to millions of you people--and I assume that none of you are in the poverty group who would be here today--in the mainstream of our economic life is only a mirage, just something that you can wish and hope for to millions of others like those good people I visited in eastern Kentucky last Friday, or the woman that's trying to raise a family on her own, or the family that is headed by a man over 65 with low income and little hope of getting more, or the unskilled worker who hasn't been able to find a job in many months and sinks every day lower into debt and despondency, or the members of the Negro family in the city slum who lack the education to get even the first foot on the ladder, or the 11 million children being raised in families with incomes under $3,000 a year. To them the American dream is just a dream and it is nothing more.

So I want to ask your help to awaken the hopes of these people. When I came out of Kentucky and Pennsylvania with unemployed steelworkers and auto workers in South Bend, Ind., and coal workers in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, the thing that impressed me more than anything else was not just the dire poverty that I saw where a man had an income of less than $400 last year, with 8 children to raise, but the faith and hope that man had in the ultimate outcome of his whole situation in this country.

So you are going to have to be the crusaders that lead the parade and you are going to have to be the ones that get us at least a few Republican votes on our poverty bill that is pending up here. We don't want a Democratic bill; we don't want a Republican bill. We want an American bill, for all Americans who are in this lower group, so we can help train those people that are being rejected, so we can help prepare those people who head families that are not equipped to do anything, and I would like to have your help in awakening the conscience and the concern of all Americans who can be aroused to go to work for their fellowman. I want your help to enlist an army of Americans of every party and every region in this war.

Let this be said: That the real war to end all wars must be the war to eliminate poverty. Let this be known as a generation of Americans who made it their personal duty to give every American an equal and fair chance.

What greater legacy could you leave your children than to say, and have some little plaque on your living room wall, that somebody acknowledged that your grandchild could look up and say that his grandpa helped make it possible for every American to have an equal and fair chance, for that is what being an American means to me-equality, fair shake at all times.

So I am happy to have you here in this home that you let me occupy. I saw Dick Nixon Saturday night. I met him coming back from Viet-Nam. I told him I wondered if he ran into Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller on their way out to Viet-Nam. Now, we have got a lot to do in Viet-Nam. Of course, Nixon was out there, as I understand it, working on Pepsi-Cola, I believe it was. But we have got work to do here, too, and one of the big jobs we have got to do is we have got to pass a civil rights bill. That will give Americans equal opportunity.

Lincoln freed the slaves of their chains 100 years ago. He signed the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years ago this year, and he freed them of their chains, but he didn't free them of their color and the bigotry that goes against color in this country. Until education is unaware of race, until employment is blind to color, emancipation will be a proclamation, but it will not be a fact, and we have got to pass a medical care bill for the aged, and we are within one vote of doing it.

All we ask is that if you allow a man, when he enters the work market, to take a dollar a month out of his wages and his employer to match it with a dollar a month, and the Government match it with nothing, not even conservation--just take the $2 under social security and put it in a fund, that is $24, and if he works from the time he is 20 until he is 65, that is 45 years at $24. Forty years at $25 would be $1,000, so that makes it $1,000 or $1,200, and you multiply that by 3.75 and you get what it will amount to, and it will amount to about $4,000.

The other day that old man in Kentucky said he didn't get to sleep until late last night. I said, "What time?" He said, "3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. I was sitting up with my neighbor, who is 85, down the road." He couldn't have him in the hospital. He didn't have medicare. He hadn't built up his own through his years of working and he had managed to live to 85, much beyond the average of a few years ago, but he had no hospitalization; so we have got to have medicare.

We ought to have a food stamp plan. We have already passed it in the House--if we can just get it in the Senate. Then we ought to have a pay bill. The last man I left, resigned, one of the best men in this Government. When Wirtz calls up for an appointment, I am not going to give it to him, because I am afraid to give it to arty of my best men because they all find it impossible to live off their salaries here in Washington. Most of them have men working under them that get as much as they do, or more.

The average business executive gets twice as much as the average Cabinet officer that handles $100 billion a year, and it is just an outrage and it is a shame. You can't run a good business economically and you can't have efficient management unless you have good people, so I want you in the labor press to help us get a pay raise for these people that need it so they won't have to quit or steal.

I want to thank you again for coming to the White House. I want to tell you that I appreciate your being here and I will be glad to answer any questions that you want to ask.

[1.] Q. Mr. President, do you think in the war on poverty that it will be helpful to increase the coverage of minimum wage and increase the minimum wage?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that we have just done that. I don't think that we ought to materially increase costs in this country. We have got to be very careful not to upset the applecart that we have now. We have got to know how many people we would throw out of work by a substantial increase in total minimum wages over the country.

We carefully considered it, had a good many advocates for it, and we concluded that we ought to extend the coverage this year to those who hadn't had their breakfast, like a man told me the other day that he went into a family's home and a little girl was there and she wasn't eating. He said, "Why aren't you eating?" And she said, "This is not my day to eat." You still have that in this country.

So a good many of them are not covered and we are trying to fight an uphill battle to get that coverage increased and I doubt that we could get the wages increased this year. So I do not make that recommendation over and above the recommendations we have made. I do think we ought to increase the coverage and apply the increase we got just recently to all the people who are entitled to it.

Q. Mr. President, you asked for an enlistment in the war on poverty. Could you tell us what the expression from the Chamber of Commerce was this morning?
THE PRESIDENT I may have become intoxicated with the applause but I thought it was very good. And they accused me of talking out of both sides of my mouth because I believe we live in a country where the employer and the employee should try to get along and where they can get along if each one does his fair share.

I went over there this morning and talked to them about medicare and pay raise and poverty and told them what I thought their fair share was.

I told them the story of a man that owns a million acres of land in Texas who I used to work for and he came up to talk to me the other day in the White House. I was a secretary to his brother. And most of our conversation was talking not about his Texas land--most of it has got oil and gas under it, and he has no poverty problems--but most of our conversation was talking about that almost 100,000-acre ranch that he did own in Cuba.

I pointed out to them that if it were impossible to make orderly and peaceful changes in our society and in our hemisphere and in our world, if orderly changes were impossible, then violent changes were inevitable.

People are just not going to stand and see their children starve and be driven out of schools and be eaten up with disease in the 20th century and they are going to revolt. These fellows that own these 100,000 acre ranches better understand it and the Chamber of Commerce better understand it. I understand it, and I have a little nest egg that I want to preserve.

But the same look that I saw in my mother's eyes, when she was the wife of a tenant farmer and she wanted to see her five children get an education and she was striving to do it, I saw in an African mother's eyes when I visited a little village on the African Continent a couple of years ago. She looked up at me with faith and with hope but with almost a bitter determination and she had seven or eight children on the floor and one on her back and one on her breast and one in her stomach, but she was determined almost like an animal that she was going to see that her children had a chance and they are going to have it in this century.

They will forego stealing and they will forego fighting and they will forego doing a lot of violent things and improper things as long as they possibly can, but they are going to eat and they are going to learn, and they are going to grow. The quicker you find it out, the better.

I think we will have to increase minimum wages. I think that we will have to increase wages as we go along. We hope that we can have price stability, but we have a great group at the bottom that have no wages at all. And my answer to the gentleman back here about minimum wages this year is, our first job now is to do something about these fellows that just got 4 days a week at $4 a day and got 8 kids.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, what can we do in the labor press to help you keep the services of the men who are assisting you now and who may leave in the near future because they are not being paid--

THE PRESIDENT. I have got the most patriotic, intelligent group of men that I have ever seen assembled in this Government since 1931, when I came here, and I am not entitled to a bit of credit because I did not appoint a single one of them. Most of the Cabinet that came here didn't even know President Kennedy. They didn't come because they had a love affair with him or with me.

They came because they felt they could serve their country and they felt like they ought to do it, and they are doing it. And their children and their wives and their families are suffering because they can't make ends meet with it because the demands that are made on them--they just can't live up to those demands.

So what you can do is to try to help me mold public sentiment, to let people see that it is not smart, it is not wise, it is not good sense to have all these good men that are getting half of what business pays its men and they run the biggest corporation in all the world, one that spends $100 billion a year, and determines whether you live or die.

Now I was never prouder of labor and management than last week when the railroad dispute was settled. Each side gave more than it wanted to give and each side got less than it wanted. But the thing that I was really proud of was the collective bargaining system, free collective bargaining. And work it must, if free enterprise works, and the future of these matters must be settled by private negotiation.

The President cannot, and he should not, and he must not become a super mediator of every labor dispute. Men of good will on both sides of the fence must, and I am confident will, settle their differences through the collective bargaining process.

But here was a strike that would cost 6 million men their jobs in a month. Here was a strike that would take the gross national product down 13 percent. Here was a strike that would raise prices all over the country because of a scarcity. Here is a problem that had not been settled for 5 years and would not be settled tonight except for that man on the front row who sat up night after night after night.

Now Secretary Wirtz, Secretary Reynolds, Mr. O'Neill, the Chairman of the Mediation Board, and that wonderful fellow, Dr. Taylor, who left a sick wife just operated on that day--not one man out of a hundred would come, leave his wife in the hospital, just operated on--Ted Kheel--they all worked day and night. Now I got all the credit. They bragged on me and what I did and they said I did a lot of things I didn't do, and they said I did some things that I did do.

I did go in and make a comment every now and then and ask a question. But the net of everything I said added up to this, and you could repeat it all day long and it was about the same thing. I said: "I have not called you to the White House to bury collective bargaining. I have called you here to preserve it. You have had it 5 years and it hasn't worked, and you are about getting ready to get it in trouble."

Mr. Rayburn one time when--General Marshall asked him for $2 billion to build the atomic bomb, wanted to take him down to Oak Ridge and show him what he built. He said, "If it works, we will win the war and we will save a hundred thousand boys, and if it doesn't, I will have to leave the country." Only four men in the House of Representatives knew about that atomic bomb--Mr. Rayburn, Mr. Martin, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the ranking Republican Member.

Mr. Rayburn said, "No, I don't believe I will go, General. I wouldn't know any more about that bomb after I saw it than before I went." He said, "I am not a physicist. That is not my business, and I would not know any more about how to win a war after I went to Oak Ridge than I did before I came." He said, "If you don't know more about how to win a war than I do, we sure as hell have wasted a lot of money on West Point all these years."

So I said to these carriers, "If you don't know more about the needs and the demands and the problems and what you can afford to do for the railroad business than I do, you ought not to be president of your company. And if you don't know what your union people have to have and what they should have and what they can settle for and what a strike is going to cost them and cost your fellow-workers, if you don't know more about it than I do, you had better go back and have another election and let them elect a new president of your union. But I do know this much, and I am not very smart: I know that you ought to sit in this room until you settle it and that is what you are going to do." And that is what they did.

They are entitled to the credit for it, and it is a great tribute to collective bargaining and a great tribute to the Secretary, but primarily a tribute to the brotherhoods and to the management that put their country ahead of themselves.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, you asked for our help in your war on poverty. What specifically can we do?

THE PRESIDENT. Help mold public opinion, have people write their Congressmen and Senators, tell folks about the need for it, let them know that everybody is not eating three meals a day like they are, that there are conditions in this country that are bad, and except for the grace of God, it might be them. And we, as a Christian duty we owe it, as a social duty we owe it, as a governmental requirement we must; and we just can't tolerate 20 percent of our people having too little to eat and too little to wear when we are doing everything we are doing for 120 nations in the world.

We have got to look after our home folks, too, while we are doing it. That doesn't mean that we have got to turn our backs on the rest of the world, but it does mean that we have got to turn our eyes on our own people and do something about it, and you can help by writing editorials, by writing news articles, by querying your Congressmen, by asking them why they are against helping people get a job.

We want to take some of these boys that have been rejected in the draft that are physically and mentally unqualified to do anything and are just going to be a deduct out of your tax slip every month. We want to take them and put 200 of them in a camp and get a good doctor working on them and good teachers working on them and get good foremen to supervise them and teach them how to do something and turn them out of there where they will be able to make their own living and start paying taxes like you do.

Now, why shouldn't we do that?

The press: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Lady Bird reminds me that we want all of you to come into the Blue Room and come through the line and greet us and have a little rain water and Pepsi-Cola.

Note: The President spoke at 6:30 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In the course of his remarks he referred to W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor, Maury Maverick and W. D. MacFarlane, former Representatives from Texas, and Anthony J. Celebrezze, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to the Members of the International Labor Press Association Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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