Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the National Headquarters of the AFL-CIO.

January 13, 1969

Mr. Meany, Secretary Wirtz, my dear friends:

Woodrow Wilson said, "Labor is not a commodity. It is a form of cooperation." And before I leave this town, I asked for the privilege to come here and to talk briefly with you--when I wasn't asking anything of you, not even cooperation, but when I wanted to tell you on behalf of myself, my family, and the American people how much I think we all owe you for the leadership that I have seen you exert during my 5 years in the Presidency.

I looked over my diary last night. I have met with Mr. Meany--with his assistants many times--but with Mr. Meany himself 49 times in personal meetings in either my office, the Oval Room, or the mansion.

In addition to that, he has called me or I have called him 82 additional times. And we have had some rather extended conversations in those telephone calls.

Now during this period of 5 years, our general goal has been the greatest good for the greatest number. We have tried to improve working conditions. We have tried to improve wages. We have tried to see that profits were reasonable. We have passed minimum wage bills and things of that nature that directly applied to labor.

But the thing that we have borne down on is the education of our young, medical assistance for our old, conservation of our resources, human and natural.

Now I know of no living single group that I think has been more responsible for the advances that have been made in this field in the last 5 years than the AFL--CIO headed by George Meany and supported by millions of men and women throughout this country.

The President of the United States and the President of the AFL-CIO have not always agreed on procedure or on method. I think we have always agreed on purpose and objective

When Mr. Meany hasn't agreed, he has said so in a friendly and firm manner. And I have tried to do that also.

I remember how disappointed I was when he came to the Cabinet Room and told me that he regretted it about as much as anything he had done that year, but he couldn't go along with my suggestions to merge the Commerce Department and the Labor Department. And that disappointed me.

But I was really disillusioned when he brought about half a dozen other fellows like Joe Byrne with him to pound the table and just say, "Thou shalt not pass."

But if that was a disappointing morning, there are many, many other happy events, and I am sure that my grandchildren and your grandchildren are going to live in a more peaceful and more prosperous and better world because of the leadership you people have given the American people.

So I said to Mr. Meany in one of our little social chats not long ago, "I am going to invite myself to come over to your office. I don't think that will break the tradition or precedent because I would remind you that you have invited yourself to come to my office many times."

I have made a little investment and I wanted to bring you, from the hundreds of measures that we have passed, the hundred landmark measures--that the Cabinet presented me with a little plaque and pen set before I left. And I would like to present to the working people of this country and to their gallant and able and trusted leaders a symbol of what the last 5 years have been all about.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. in the lobby of the National Headquarters of the AFL-CIO in Washington. In his opening words he referred to George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, and W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor. During his remarks he referred to Joseph A. Byrne, President of the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO.

The President presented Mr. Meany with a framed set of 100 pens used in signing 100 major pieces of legislation of the Johnson administration. Mr. Meany's remarks in response are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, p. 51).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the National Headquarters of the AFL-CIO. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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