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Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring Labor Leaders

January 13, 1981

THE PRESIDENT. This is the last night that we'll hear the Strolling Strings in the White House for a long time. I hope that you won't have to wait as long as I do to hear them again. [Laughter]

This is the last supper we'll have with a large number of guests, and we're particularly delighted to have this particular group. We've had a lot of Prime Ministers and Shahs and Emperors and Kings and Presidents here, Chancellors. But I believe this is the most presidents we've ever had in one night. [Laughter] How many presidents do we have here? Raise your hand. And I guess all the rest of you intend to be president later on. [Laughter]

MR. KIRKLAND. 1 Don't encourage them. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Lane says don't encourage it.

It's always a delight to have our friends here with us. Later on tonight we'll have some delightful entertainment in addition to the Strolling Strings and the Marine Band. The enjoyment that we derive from these is memorable. We will never forget some of the fine experiences we've had here, and, of course, the conversations are always scintillating and very helpful as well.

I was talking a few minutes ago to Terry Herndon. 2 We talked first about Israel and how the teachers in Israel have brought about a prospective change in the government there. [Laughter] Terry said that a few years ago he was in Ethiopia, and the head of the teachers organization said that they were the only group in the country that might bring down Emperor Haile Selassie. They later struck. The students supported them. The parents supported the students. The Emperor fell, and the government changed. And then our attention shifted to the Reagan administration. [Laughter] That's as far as we got before the Strolling Strings came in. [Laughter]

We've got a very fine spokesman in here, and I would like to make a toast in a few minutes. But first I would like to say that I know all of you are outstanding men and women who have spoken loudly and clearly for the best interests of the working people of this Nation—Lane Kirkland and others as well, Doug Fraser3—but I would like to ask one particular friend of mine who's one of the finest spokesmen for the labor movement and for the working people of this Nation that I have ever known just to say a word. Vice President Fritz Mondale.

THE VICE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mr. President, Rosalynn.

Earlier this evening most of us were at an event at the AFL-CIO national office, where Lane Kirkland and Tom Donahue4 conferred upon Ray Marshall one of the most moving awards that I've seen in a long, long time. I make that point because as I went around the campaign trail, I often said Ray Marshall is the best Secretary of Labor in the history of that Department. [Applause] I always got a good hand, as I did tonight— [laughter] —be. cause he is the best Secretary of Labor in the history of the Department. And Ray and Pat have, with good grace and wisdom, stood consistently and courageously for the interests of working people in this country.

The second point I want to make is that I've been in every campaign nationally since 1948. Most of you except Ev Dubrow5 and myself— [laughter] —can't remember most of them. And I was on the Truman train, and I was trained by the very best, Hubert Humphrey. And I don't recall a campaign in all those years in which I saw organized labor—the AFLCIO, industrial unions, the building trades, the autoworkers, all the teachers-the full spectrum of working men and women more actively engaged in the election, the reelection of a President, than in 1980. And the reason, I'm convinced, is just as we've never had a better Secretary of Labor in American history serving the cause of working men and women. And if I can intervene with one interjection here, wherever you find independent unions you find freedom, and wherever you cannot find them you will find a dictatorial system, whether in Gdansk or El Salvador.

The reason everyone who believes in working people in this country and their rights and their justice stood for President Carter is because he's the best President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. I might say this is the first time I've ever called on the Vice President to join in with me in making a toast. Had I done it more frequently during the last 4 years I might have come out a little better. [Laughter]

I want to add my voice to that of Fritz Mondale in praising Ray Marshall. I know you've already honored him this evening, but he's an extraordinary man who has brought to the leadership in the Labor Department a true and personal knowledge of the yearnings and desires, the commitments, the frustrations, the hopes and dreams, the aspirations and the commitments of the working people of our country. He's been a good partner of mine and you, and he and Fritz Mondale and I have faced some very serious problems in this country the last 4 years. There have been very few times when we've had a basic disagreement. There have been even rarer times when we didn't consult with one another to try to face those problems with a common front. And as Fritz Mondale has said, political liberty and a free labor movement in the history of humankind are inseparable.

Our Nation has stood as a bulwark for freedom and as a beacon light for others around the world to emulate. This has been proven many times, vividly, during the last few months in Poland, when a free people there within the labor movement expressed their voices in a courageous way, overcoming years of suppression and have made remarkable progress. The sensitivity of the American labor movement to this movement toward freedom has been notable. You have given them assistance and support in a proper fashion, and our hopes and our prayers are with Mr. Walesa,6 who left his country for the first time for the free world today, and for those who work with him. And we pray that that country will remain as it presently is at least, free of outside, direct, suppression and that breath of freedom will continue to sweep across the suppressed people of this world.

In the last few days also we recognized heroism from within your ranks directly when a fine young man who gave his life for the oppressed people in El Salvador was buried in our national cemetery here. Ray was there, the Secretary of State was there, Fritz Mondale was there. I wrote Lane Kirkland a letter expressing my admiration for Mike Hammer and wrote his family members as well.

So, your voice has not only been attuned to the special working conditions, salary scales, and voice in management of the working place of your own members, but it's reached throughout the world, indeed, in an admirable and proper fashion. And within our own Nation you always have been a strong voice for alleviating suffering, for enhancing personal freedom, and for helping those who are afflicted, sometimes poor, sometimes without an adequate voice because they don't speak good English, sometimes because they've been deprived of an education, sometimes because they've been the victims of racial or religious discrimination. And that's been an unwavering voice. And my prayer is and my expectation is the next few years that that commitment and that influence will continue.

I would like for all of you to join with me now in a toast to the free people of our Nation, inspired and assisted and often led by the free labor movement of the greatest nation on Earth: To our country, to you and its people.
Thank you.

MR. KIRKLAND. May I, Mr. President?


MR. KIRKLAND. By your leave, Mr. President, on behalf of all of my fellow-[inaudible]—that you and Mrs. Carter have been kind enough to invite here tonight, I'd like to say just a few words of appreciation.

The people of the modern world demand a great deal from leadership, and they give them precious little time to meet those demands and to live up to those responsibilities. To me it seems too short a time. We've packed a great deal into it, and in that short time the accomplishments of your administration, I think, have been extraordinary and will endure and will serve the interests of ordinary people for many, many years to come.

It seemed awfully short to me, because just for a few 4 years, I've for the first time in my experience had a President who has absolutely no accent whatever. [Laughter] And I'm going to have to get used, I suppose, to those harsh cadences of the Middle West via Beverly Hills. And it will be painful. [Laughter]

Among your achievements that I think have been significant in this country's history—one of course, you've broken an old prejudice, an old taboo, that someone from the Deep South could become President of the United States. I think that fact alone will serve the country and serve the national interest and help to build a greater unity among the American people and has gone a long way toward overcoming old and longstanding divisions. But that fact in itself is minor in contrast to what you've demonstrated, and that is that a person vigorously engaged in political life from the Southern United States is not necessarily a servant of the oligarchy, nor does he necessarily sell his people and his birthright for a fistful of dollars, for absentee interests, but that a person from the South can, with devotion, serve the interests and advance the welfare of ordinary people, of working people, of the wretched of the Earth in a single-minded way. And that, I think, is the real message of your administration and the real service that you've done to those of us who share your southern heritage.

There has been little time. But in that time you have crammed accomplishments that we are all in the trade union movement very proud to have been a part. You have shared our struggles. You have gone to bat for us when you knew that we were right and, I guess, sometimes when you may have thought we were wrong—which is how we measure friendship. [Laughter] We have come to have an enormous respect, an enormous admiration, an enormous affection for yourself and for Mrs. Carter.

And, well, we in our line of work, we're not unaccustomed to taking bloody noses and coming back up fighting. It goes with the territory. And we know that it only hurts for a little while, and you can't be whipped unless you whip yourself. And the people make mistakes in a democracy. The great thing about democracy is that they'll have a chance to correct them. It's not that they're always right. If I believed they were always right, I'd have to believe that I was wrong this time, and I cannot believe that. [Laughter] I won't accept that.

I want to add one word to Mrs. Carter, a great lady who has graced this house and done honor to us all as few, if any, First Ladies have ever done before. And I would like to ask you all to join me in a double toast to Mrs. Carter and to the President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Lane, very much.

1 Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO.

2 President, National Education Association.

3 President, United Autoworkers of America.

4 Secretary-treasurer, AFL—CIO.

5 Vice president and legislative director, International Ladies' Garment Workers Union.

6 Lech Walesa, president of Solidarity, the Polish labor union.

Note: The President spoke at 9:47 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring Labor Leaders Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250662

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