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Toast of the President at a Dinner Honoring Labor Leaders

September 07, 1970

President Meany, Mrs. Meany, members of the Cabinet, members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, presidents of the AFLCIO unions, and our guests:

It is a very great privilege for Mrs. Nixon and me to welcome you tonight at this dinner here in the East Room in the White House. And in talking to President Meany, I find that this is a very special dinner in the sense that one of this type honoring the leaders of the American labor union has never been held on Labor Day before in the White House.

American labor has been very properly honored in many, many ways over the years, in functions in Washington, New York, other great cities of the country, and now tonight we are very proud to have the leaders of American labor here in this historic room and through you, to honor the 20 million Americans who are members of American labor unions and all of their families that are represented here.

I speak in honoring you of a number of things that we have in common. I was going to say that this meeting was historic because it's the first time, as President Meany has said, that this kind of a dinner has been held for the leaders of American labor or for a labor group on Labor Day in this room or in the White House. Also, as I looked over the guest list, I can say without fear of contradiction that never have so many presidents been gathered in this room before.

I should make one qualification. I had in this room on a recent occasion a number of America's business leaders and a number of them are presidents, too. The difference was simply this: That never have so many presidents been gathered who were elected as there are in this room. I :think most of you won by more than I did, as a matter of fact.

I would like to take a moment, if I could, before presenting our guest of honor tonight, for a response, to introduce only a few people here. We can't introduce everybody in the room, have a number of members of our official and personal, in the yard there a wonderful program that is to follow.

But I do want to introduce the members of the official family who are here today and I would start first with the Secretary of State and Mrs. Rogers. Incidentally, not because we were showing any disrespect, for the Secretary of State and I have been working all day in our offices on the problem of hijacking. And if any of you have any good ideas as to how to solve it, please tell us first.

We also have from the State of Wisconsin and one many of you know well, the Secretary of Defense and Mrs. Laird.

You see, we shared the wives with other tables so that everybody in the room would have a good table.

The Postmaster General is here, Postmaster General Blount.

And our very good friend from Massachusetts and a great friend of the American labor movement, the Secretary of Transportation, Mr. Volpe, and Mrs. Volpe.

And a member of my Cabinet, a man who is known to so many of you in this room, who worked going clear back to the Truman administration and he says the Roosevelt administration he doesn't look that old, as a matter of fact but he has worked with me in the Eisenhower administration, Bryce Harlow, Counsellor to the President.

Now, coming up to the head table, we have a man who has served in a tremendously responsible position. I will put it this way: Of course, I am a bit prejudiced and this has absolutely no partisan connotation, but when I tried to select the man in the new Cabinet for Secretary of Labor, I talked to George Meany, as he will remember, when I was in New York. He said, "Well, if you can get somebody like Jim Mitchell,1 that will be very good."

And we think we got one in George Shultz, who is now the head of our Office of Budget and Management.

Naturally, George Shultz would have selected as his Under Secretary a man also in the great tradition, we think great tradition, of Jim Mitchell, Jim Hodgson from California, your new Secretary of Labor.

And then, of course, from your own organization, the executive secretary of the AFL-CIO, Mr. [Lane] Kirkland, and his wife.

And since we have been up to this time dealing solely with official families, Mr. Meany and Mrs. Meany both suggested that since this is somewhat a family night for all of us that you would like to see also, if you did not see before the dinner, some very special members of our family who have shared this house and known this house for many years, the grandson of a former President and the daughter of the present President, Julie and David Eisenhower.

George Meany told me that when I introduced David, what would really make a hit was to point out that he was the statistical expert for the Washington Senators.

MR. MEANY. That doesn't seem to make them win.

THE PRESIDENT. That is right. Well, [Frank] Howard has at least got 40 home runs. We will give him credit for that.

My remarks will be very brief and I think can appropriately be so, but I think that it is on this occasion very necessary to speak about the meaning of this moment in this very historic room, when we think of what has happened here. This room was not in existence when George Washington and Martha Washington were here. The Washington painting, incidentally, was painted before this house was built, Martha Washington's afterwards, and then it was put in this house.

John Adams was the first President to ever live in this house and this room then was not used for such occasions as this. His wife, Mrs. Adams, used to hang her wash out in this room.

But then after that, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, all of the Presidents of the 19th century, had their great balls and other functions here. The State Dining Room was the room where we met previously for the reception.

One historic moment to mention is that Woodrow Wilson received the German Ambassador in this room on the occasion when he told the German Ambassador that he was withdrawing his credentials and ordering him home prior to World War I and then, of course, you can imagine the other events that have occurred, the people that have been here.

The great, the near great, the ones to be great have been honored here: Churchill, de Gaulle, Nehru, from all over the world, the leaders have been here on occasions over the years in our Nation's history.

And so tonight, we honor the leaders of American labor. We do so in the sense that this room really stands for--this is not a Republican room or a Democratic room. This room belongs to all of America. This house belongs to all of America. And America tonight very proudly honors American labor and its leaders.

We honor American labor and its leaders because of what American labor has done for this country, how it has built this country, how it has contributed to this country. I could speak solely in terms of gross national product, in terms of the fact that the American worker is the most productive in the world, which he is; I could speak in terms solely of what American labor has built, its buildings, its roads, its highways, its factories, its automobiles, and all the rest.

But tonight, I would like to speak, if I could, in somewhat other terms. As a President of the United States, I have learned what it means for a President, be he a Republican or a Democrat, to have the solid support of the overwhelming majority of the leaders and the members of America's labor unions and of American labor generally for those policies and those programs which are above partisanship and beyond partisanship, but which are dedicated to preserving freedom in America and preserving and protecting freedom in the world.

I think of those difficult issues that we have had in this administration. I think of those that President Johnson had in his and that President Kennedy had in his and that President Eisenhower had in his and President Truman in his. And I was in government during all or part of those administrations or on the fringes at leash in some of them.

And I recall that when the chips were really down, when the great issue was whether or not there was to be support for not the President of the United States as a party leader and not the President of the United States as a person, but the President of the United States as the leader of the American people with its responsibility for defending and protecting the forces of freedom in the world, that American labor has never been found wanting. It has always been in the first ranks, in war and in peace.

And I think I understand the reason for that. I have traveled to most of the countries of the world. And I have been to many countries that are free countries, and I have been to many countries that are totalitarian countries, that are not! free. And this I can say based not on what I have read, but on what I have seen in country after country, because on all of my visits, as perhaps distinguished from some who go abroad, I make it a point to talk to labor leaders where there are those who are there, as well as in business and government and the rest.

But of all the countries in the world that I have visited, I have yet to find a country which is governed by a dictatorship in which there was a free labor movement, and I have yet to find a country in, which there was a free labor movement which was governed by a dictatorship.

And that to us is the message of our time.

A strong, free, independent labor movement is essential to the preservation and the growth of freedom in any country in the world. It's the bedrock of freedom, whether abroad or here. The American labor movement knows this, the American labor movement learned it in some instances perhaps through the hard way, but it knows it, it stands for it, and to its great credit it stands for it here in the United States, it stands for it abroad, and when those great hard decisions have to be made by a President of the United States for our national defense, or for our policies abroad, that have to do for preserving the strength or developing the policies that will defend freedom in the world, the American labor movement stands firmly with the American President, be he Democrat or Republican.

And now, if I could express a word in terms of our guest, our special guest, Mr. George Meany, who will respond in behalf of all of you tonight. I think perhaps the most appropriate thing I could say about him is to refer to an experience I had earlier today. Perhaps some of you were there, too.

I went over to St. Matthew's to the mass for Vince Lombardi, and talked afterwards briefly to His Eminence, Cardinal O'Boyle [Archbishop of Washington], about Vince Lombardi. And as I returned from that mass, I thought of this man and why it was that in New York, in Washington, D.C., and as a matter of fact, around the country, there was such an outpouring of respect for this man. A great football coach, yes. This doesn't happen for all great football coaches when they happen to die. And there are many great ones. But he was more than that.

He was a man who was really a man of very great character, an overused term I admit, but let me perhaps put it in more precise ways.

If anyone listened as I did to what was said at that mass, they heard that Vince Lombardi was a man who, in a time when so many people seemed to be turning away from religion, was devoutly religious and devoted to his church; at a time when the moral fabric of the country seems to be coming apart, he was a man who was deeply devoted to his family; at a time when it seems to be rather square to be patriotic, he was deeply and unashamedly patriotic; at a time when permissiveness is the order of the day in many circles, he was a man who insisted on discipline-affection, yes, a good man, yes--but discipline and strength. Here was a man who perhaps would be described by some as being square. But he was a man who when he died, not because his football teams were great, not just that, because there he was one of several, but because he stood out as a man of very great character, the whole Nation admired.

And so tonight, I would like to present Mr. George Meany to you somewhat in that way. I do not suggest that there are not times when Mr. Meany and I have disagreed--have not agreed on some matters. That will always be the case where leaders of free, independent organizations are involved with any government.

But I do know this: that in this time of turbulence at home and abroad, when the old virtues and the good virtues, many of the good ones, are being brought under question, this man has stood like a pillar in a storm--strong, full of character, devoted to his church, devoted to his family, devoted to his country, whether the President is a Republican or a Democrat, standing with that President and his country when he felt that that served the interests of freedom, that kind of freedom which is so essential if a strong, free labor movement is to survive.

And so, tonight in this room so full of history, I would propose a toast in these words: that we raise our glasses to all of those in the 190-year history of this country who have built America, the builders of America, those in American labor, and to all of those who will build a better America in the future, and in raising our glasses, since we must raise them to a man and not simply to an organization, to George Meany, a distinguished labor. statesman, a man who stands for the best in free labor and for the best of America, to President George Meany.

1 James P. Mitchell, Secretary of Labor from October 9, 1953, to January 10, 1961.

Note: The President spoke at 8:15 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. Mr. Meany's remarks are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 6, p. 1164).

Richard Nixon, Toast of the President at a Dinner Honoring Labor Leaders Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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