John F. Kennedy photo

Statement by the President: Labor Day, 1961.

August 29, 1961

WE COMMEMORATE today achievement in human welfare--the economic and social protections our working people enjoy, the wide distribution of our wealth, the access to advancement and education, the strength of our labor organizations, the exercise of individual decision in guiding our institutions.

These are crucial issues in most of the world's societies, especially those with new political identities and modernizing economies. The root of genuine social revolution lies deep in the desire for a life better in material terms and--we believe--freer in spiritual terms.

Thus, this Labor Day again makes the vital distinction between opposing ways of life in the modern world. We celebrate the labor of our people precisely because we believe it to be an essential to man's dignity, performed freely and in good conscience, and commanding by right a just reward. We look upon man's toil as an expression of individual personality and will, not a commodity to be exploited for the benefit of a State or ruling political party. Tyranny deprives a man of the freedom and joy of his work.

These beliefs underlie our system of self-government in economic life. Our free and democratic labor movement is based upon the advancement of individual dignity. Today, as throughout our modern history, we rely upon the men and women of organized labor to help safeguard our democracy whose freedom is inseparably linked with their own.

Now these beliefs and this system face a stern test of history.

Here in America, technological change is altering the structure of industrial production and the content of jobs across a broad range of occupations. Old skills are rapidly outmoded. The demand for new skills outreaches the supply. It is clear that the maintenance of a fully competent labor force requires constant reinvestment in skills so that greater job opportunity, resulting from an expanded economic life, can be capitalized upon.

Especially needful of attention is the situation of the older person who becomes unemployed and finds no market for his ability and the young man or woman who faces a competitive labor force without adequate training.

Perhaps in no other area of our national life is the need to realize our ideal so clearly an economic necessity as in the attainment of genuine equality of opportunity for all. We serve ourselves and the stature of freedom throughout the world by serving our moral commitment to equality. Our government, in its own employment policies, will hold to this commitment and it must predominate in the personnel and membership policies of all organizations whose power or activities affect the public interest.

Full employment through wider opportunity for the occupationally displaced and the minority group member rests ultimately, as do all of our ambitions for higher economic life, upon the ability of the economy to grow. This Labor Day we can find satisfaction that our government, this Administration and the Congress, have been successful in enacting legislation such as the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation Act, the new Minimum Wage Law, the Area Redevelopment Act, improved Social Security, and the Housing Act that contributes to the economic welfare of all of our people. The guide-posts to the further and greater progress we seek are these:

Wage and price policies that contribute to expansion without impairing our competitive posture in world markets; great productivity from a wide use of scientific discovery and the exertion of dedicated individual effort; the proper utilization of increased resources for the fulfillment of urgent national needs; statesmanship in collective bargaining that acknowledges the public interest.

We can well earn what we well need in America.

In setting the goal of our society at the realization of human dignity, we reach for the highest of stars and seek the outer limits of human capability. In this, now as always the new world for the spirit, the labor of free men is both the reward and the way.


John F. Kennedy, Statement by the President: Labor Day, 1961. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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