Jimmy Carter photo

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Remarks at the Union's Founding Convention.

June 07, 1979

President Bill Wynn, United Food and Commercial Workers:

I want to thank you for that introduction and also that reception. I've always known that Bill Wynn was a man of great vision, but I never knew before that he was such an accurate analyst of recent history, and I thank you very much. [Laughter]

I'm honored in several ways to be introduced by one of the most decent, effective, and respected labor leaders in America, your president and my friend, Bill Wynn; to be able to join your secretary-treasurer, Sam Talarico, the members of the executive board, and the first delegates to the newest and now the largest union in the AFL-CIO, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

I'm honored to be with one of the most committed and the most caring men who've ever served on a President's Cabinet, Ray Marshall; and to be with the president emeritus of the Amalgamated Meatcutters, one of the fine leaders of the American labor movement, a man that I revere and respect, Paddy Gorman; and with a friend of yours and mine—who, coincidentally, joined me and my wife last night for supper at the White House with his wife—a great labor leader in America, Lane Kirkland.

I understand this is your inaugural convention. When I heard you were having an inauguration, I came right over. [Laughter] I had to walk all the way. As a matter of fact, I walk a lot these days. They've taken my parking place away, too. [Laughter]

I just left Fritz Mondale, who's meeting with the six New England Governors about the energy question. As I left, Fritz said, "Did you hear that Bill Wynn has endorsed you for reelection?" And I said, "Yes. And did you also hear that Bill Wynn has appointed 50 vice presidents in this new union?" And Fritz said, "Well, nobody's perfect, Mr. President." [Laughter]

I'm going to make kind of a different speech to you this afternoon, relatively brief, from my heart, as President of our great country. This historic merger of two unions, each with such a proud history, is a notable achievement not just for the labor movement itself but for our country. When this great new organization of working people speaks out for social justice and for improvements in the American way of life, your voice, the voice of the United Food and Commercial Workers, will be heard throughout the Nation. And I guarantee that your voice will always be heard in the office of the President of the United States.

I need the advice and the counsel of Bill Wynn, because I know that Bill Wynn believes in this country and he has shown over and over that he is never afraid to speak his own mind. And I'm sure that that's one of the major reasons that you chose him as your first leader.

Your new union was born out of a spirit of high principle and compromise. Each union could have jealously fought for every inch of territory, every office, every perk, every privilege, but instead you have pooled your strength and your resources in a common cause. And in the process, you have greatly magnified your strength and your resources.

Bill Wynn has outlined some of the achievements which you and I have realized together. There's no need for me to repeat them. This is not a time to rest on our laurels. We still have tough problems to face and tough problems to solve together. Today, all Americans face the same basic choice that you have just faced with such courage. Each of us can choose to be part of a stronger, more confident, and more prosperous nation, united through a sense of common purpose, or we can worry only about our own interests. We can be weakened and divided as a nation and be afraid of the future until all of us suffer in the end.

More than two centuries ago, the founders of our country expressed grave doubts whether a free people in a democracy like ours could ever rise above special personal or regional interests to deal with a crisis or a serious challenge with courage and in a sense of unity.

I see this concern every day in Washington. You see it on the evening news, the greatest democratic system of government which has ever existed on Earth, twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed, powerful, sometimes quite selfish special interest groups.

We see every extreme, one-sided political positions defended to the last vote by one unyielding, powerful group or another. We see every compromise, every evenhanded, fair solution that asks for just a little sacrifice from everyone abandoned like an orphan, without support and without friends.

We see our country facing serious problems in energy, inflation, and we see the threat of stagnation or paralysis and drift brought about by fear of the future and a lack of common purpose, courage, and unity.

I'm tired of seeing America pulled apart by selfishness, and I believe that you are tired of this prospect also.

But if we are united, I am not afraid of the future. I look forward to the challenges, and I look forward with you to the great victories ahead, if we work together.

Our country was not built, it has not prospered, by people who said, "Me first, me last, me always." We've not prevailed as a nation of free people for 200 years, continually enlarging freedom and dignity and opportunity, prosperity, hope for all Americans, by practicing the politics of selfishness. You know that. Neither the Retail Clerks nor the Amalgamated Meatcutters ever drew a line through the Nation and said, "We will look out for just our own dues-paying members, and the rest of America can take care of itself." You never said that, and as President, I thank you for it.

You've always used your influence and your power to fight for decency and to fight for opportunity for all Americans, for the working family, for the poor, the elderly, the black, the handicapped, those who don't speak English very well, disadvantaged kids who would never have a chance without your help. That's the spirit we need across our country. It's time to put first the interests of our Nation and our children in the United States of America.

Now, I'm not here to tell you that there are any cheap or easy or painless solutions to the serious problems that we do face. For too many years, our leaders have tried to postpone the hard decisions and to duck the unpopular choices. Now is the time for truth. The days of the quick fix and the painless cure, if they ever did exist, are gone.

The inflation which has been building in our Nation for more than 10 years will not recede overnight. Yet it can be controlled if we are determined, patient, persistent, fiscally responsible, and if each one of us, based on a belief that we're being treated fairly, is willing to sacrifice just a little.

There is no single stroke of the pen that can cure a 30-year growth of dependence by our own country on foreign oil. But we have the resources of our people, that God gave u% with our intelligence and our technology and our natural resources, to overcome the energy crisis if we have the will to face the challenge together.

Every generation of Americans has shown a willingness to sacrifice when necessary, through depressions and through war, to pass on to the next generation a freer, stronger, and more prosperous America. We must and we will do the same.

This is not a time for politics as usual. America was not built by political leaders who got up every morning and predicated the day's decisions on popularity polls. Harry Truman said, "America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job."

I did not campaign across this country 2 or 3 years with all the members of my family just to sit in comfort at the White House or to read in some future history books that I was the 39th President of the United States. I sought this office to lead, to face problems frankly and without timidity, regardless of their difficulty. If the decisions that I have to make to safeguard the future of our country cost me some political support, then let the chips fall where they may.

I hope that God will never let me take the cheap and easy way around a difficult problem, that faces the country that I lead. I will not slap mandatory Government controls on wages and prices just before the 1980 elections,. as one of my predecessors did, and then later watch inflation skyrocket out of control. And I will never fight inflation by deliberately throwing millions of Americans out of work, as has been done in the past.

I tell you what I want. I want to build an economy in our country that is growing and producing so that my Amy and your children, in 5 years, 10 years from now, can look forward to a steady job. I want to see a country where every American can work and save and build for the future without fear that the dollar you earn this year will be worthless next year.

If we can join in a common purpose now, then the 1980's will be a time of hope, a time of rebuilding America, a time to fulfill some of the many dreams which we share: a dream of better cities, better education, health care, human rights, and peace.

No American should ever have to live in fear of bankruptcy because of a serious illness or a serious accident. No poor person should go without decent medical care in the richest nation on Earth. This is easy to talk about. We've heard speeches, we've heard testimony, we've had press conferences in support of national health insurance for 30 years. But not a single bill has passed either the Senate or the House. The time has come for us to quit talking and get down to work.

I'll send my national health program to the Congress next week. Together we can move towards— [applause] . Yesterday, I might add, I met with Russell Long, who is supportive. He had talked to Abe Ribicoif, who is supportive. Senator Kennedy shares the same goal I do. I met last week with Al Ullman, with Charlie Rangel. We've consulted very closely with leaders of the Congress, some of whom have not been willing to move in the past. But I think now, together, we can move towards the goal that we share: a comprehensive system of national health insurance to protect every American citizen.

Together, we can continue the civil rights revolution. We can offer jobs and training to minority teenagers who now grow up with no hope. We can rid the legacy of prejudice and discrimination from our society.

American women have waited 203 years for full equality. It's time to make the equal rights amendment the law of the land. If this great union would take as a major responsibility and goal the focusing of your own attention on individual members of the State legislatures in those four or five States that now face the final decision on the equal rights amendment, with my help and my wife's help, my family's help, and many others, I believe that we can prevail.

Together we can continue the worldwide struggle for human rights. There are brave men and brave women in many nations striving against great odds to taste the kind of freedom which you and I take for granted. They look to America to hold high the lamp of freedom and liberty, and they must know that they are not alone. I pledge to you that as long as I am your President, our Nation will always stand up in defense of freedom and human rights in every nation on Earth.

Last week I welcomed several hundred Vietnam veterans to the White House. I told them that Americans feel love and respect and gratitude for the heroism and the sacrifice of every young American who served in Vietnam. You could see among that group of veterans, many of whom were in wheelchairs, the terrible cost of war. When I leave this office, I have no higher prayer than to be able to say that no young American has had to fight or die in combat and that all Americans have lived in peace.

Lasting peace in the Middle East and around the world can mean much more than just the absence of war. Together, we can begin to remove the specter of a nuclear holocaust from the world.

Next week I will go to Vienna to sign a treaty with the Soviet Union limiting nuclear arsenals on both sides. There is no doubt that SALT II will enhance the security of the United States. There is no doubt that the SALT treaty will leave our Nation stronger to compete peacefully and successfully with the Soviet Union. There is no doubt that the SALT treaty goes a long way toward controlling present and future nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the SALT treaty helps us to prevent other nations who don't presently have nuclear weapons from developing those weapons for themselves. And there's no doubt that the SALT treaty will help prevent a nuclear war and will contribute to world peace.

And I want to make it very clear that verification of the SALT treaty is not based on trust of the Soviet Union. We can verify Soviet compliance with our own Nation's technical means.

SALT II is part of a long process that began with President Eisenhower. If SALT II is not ratified, if, after 7 long years of detailed, tedious negotiations under three Presidents, a carefully balanced agreement in our Nation's own interests, contributing to our Nation's strength, preserving world peace, if all that is lost, then the process of controlling nuclear weapons in future years would be very difficult to resurrect.

There is no decision that we face as a people more crucial to our Nation's security, our hopes for the future, or the chance of our children to live in a safe and secure and a livable world than to see the conclusion of the SALT II treaty and the commencement of a SALT III negotiating process with more drastic reductions in nuclear weapons. I hope you'll help me. Together, we must choose the side of peace.

In closing, let me say this: We have such enormous freedom as Americans-to debate, to criticize, to argue, to dispute, to complain, to resolve our problems openly—that we sometimes remember the transient problems and troubles and we forget how much we've accomplished together and the basic, tremendous inner strength of our country.

We live in the strongest, most open, most prosperous, most generous, most hopeful, most free nation on Earth. The problems we face are serious and they are real, but they are manageable. The challenge that we face is to use the basic spirit which is a characteristic of the American people.

We live in a time of rapid change. We must not permit the power of fear that Franklin Roosevelt warned us against-fear of the future, fear of uncertainty, fear of futility—to paralyze our will. We can make our economy work. We can be both strong and at peace. We can solve our problems as we always have, not through gimmicks or slogans, but through hard work and persistence and, occasionally, through pain and sacrifice.

John Gardner once wrote, and I'd like to quote, "A nation is never finished. You cannot build it and leave it standing like the pharaohs did with the pyramids. It has to be built and then rebuilt. It has to be recreated in each generation by believing and caring men and women."

It's our turn now. If we do not believe or do not care, nothing can save and preserve our Nation. If we believe and care, nothing can stop us.

We are a nation. You are a union of believing and caring men and women. I'm a working man, a farmer, a father, a President, and I look forward to the future, because I know that the people of the United States have the will and the strength of character to make those years still to come even better in the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:40 p.m. in the Sheraton-Park Ballroom at the Sheraton-Park Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Remarks at the Union's Founding Convention. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249925

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