John F. Kennedy photo

Special Labor Day Message from Democratic Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy

September 05, 1960

May I offer my congratulations to the members of organized labor on this 1960 Labor Day.

American labor has insisted upon, and won, the highest wages and best working conditions in the world. You have not been content to sit still and let well enough alone. You have shown that high living standards can be won within the context of freedom.

Yours has been a pragmatic movement basing itself on achievement and progress rather than on some abstract economic and political theory. But you are not narrow and self-seeking. Samuel Gompers once said:

I do not value the labor movement only for its ability to give higher wages, better clothes, and better homes. Its ultimate goal is to be found in the progressively evolving life possibilities in the life of each man and woman. My inspiration comes in opening opportunities that all alike may be free to live the fullest.

This is still the inspiration of the American labor movement. Our unions have fought for aid to education, better housing, further development of our rich natural resources, and to save the family-size farm. They speak not for narrow self-interest, but for the public interest and the people.

Their generosity and help reach abroad. The free labor movement has played, and will continue to play, an important role in stopping Communist aggression. Men drawn from the ranks of organized labor are serving abroad as attaches and technical assistants, bringing to the people of other lands a clear understanding of America. Your officers have established close contacts with labor unions in Asia, Africa, and South America. The headquarters of the Kenya Federation of Labor was built with AFL-CIO funds. Our Government should be making better use of such services in letting the people of other lands know that America is vitally concerned with the problems and needs of workers.

Collective bargaining has always been the bedrock of the American labor movement. I hope that you will continue to anchor your movement to this foundation. Free collective bargaining is good for the entire Nation. In my view, it is the only alternative to State regulation of wages and prices - a path which leads far down the grim road of totalitarianism. Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor - those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized - do a disservice to the cause of democracy.

I wish it were possible to report on this Labor Day that all is well with our democratic economy. But not even the rose-colored glasses monotonously peddled by the present administration with Madison Avenue slogans can hide the problems. There have been two recessions within 7 years, and there are economists who believe a third is coming. Unemployment is dangerously high even on the national average. Workers in many important industrial communities have been still more seriously injured. Nor can we permit economic stagnation to continue in distressed areas. The administration has played politics with this issue - as well as with the minimum wage, health care for the aged, school construction, and housing programs. Every worker would do well to remember that the administration twice vetoed area redevelopment bills only to issue later pious protestations of concern and calls for action by Congress. America has had enough of such hypocrisy. Certainly union men and women want no more of it.

We need a clean sweep with a new broom to make America worthy of its great ideals and traditions. The new frontiers at home lie in revitalized and beautiful cities with good homes for Americans to live in. They present the chance to make the plentiful products of our farms and factories the real munitions in the fight for freedom. They lie in the conservation and proper development of our natural and human resources. In Gompers' words again, they lie "in Opening opportunities that all alike may be free to live the fullest."

The Presidency of the United States carries heavy responsibilities, especially in the so grave times of international tension. Because I understand this, I will always welcome the counsel and support of the American labor movement. We must return the Government to the people and make it serve the people. I pledge that, if elected, I will not serve any special interest. I shall be the President of all the people, and that includes American labor.

In the crucial years ahead, organized labor will have much to contribute to the cause of democracy. May I say, then, God bless you in your efforts. May they be rewarded in the creation of a better world for all who seek freedom.

John F. Kennedy, Special Labor Day Message from Democratic Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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