Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 911, Folder: "United Chemical Workers Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 19 September 1960".
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SENATOR KENNEDY: Officers of the Chemical Workers, ladies and gentlemen: I am delighted to be here today, and I am delighted to be in the company of my colleague in the Congress of the United States, my colleague on the Labor Committee, your next speaker, Congressman James Roosevelt. (Applause) And with the distinguished Governor of the State of New Jersey, Robert Meyner. (Applause)
I come here today not only as the candidate of the Democratic Party in this most vital election, but I come here as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor of the Senate, after having served for over 14 years on the Labor Committees of the Congress. The United States is faced today with a difficult and dangerous period of history, and I think that in the coming week or two, the greatest sense of responsibility, the greatest restraint will be placed upon all of us, those of us who conduct the campaigns in this difficult time, upon the President of the United States, upon the Secretary of State. So that when the present period of tension which now exists at the United Nations shall be over, we shall find, I hope, the United States in a stronger position rather than in a weaker position. Therefore, what I say to you today is devoted to what we can do in our own area of competence in order to strengthen the United States.
I think that those of you who are members of this important union recognize that the 1960's are going to bring you union problems because it is going to bring the United States many industrial changes, and many problems which will affect your union, and also affect the men and women who work in the chemical industry.
In your paper, the Chemical Workers, which is distributed here and which I was just looking at, there is an article on Page 9 which I would like to see the next President of the United States study very carefully, whoever he may be, and that is the article which says, "Automation turns from blue to white." (Applause)
I have traveled in the last two years to every state in the United States. I spent a month in West Virginia, and I saw not only the coal mines of West Virginia and the coal miners who had been displaced - I spent some days in McDowell County, West Virginia, which mines more coal than it ever has in history and has more families receiving surplus food packages than any county of the United States. But I also traveled in the Ohio Valley, and in the Kanawha Valley, which has two great industrial complexes which particularly feature chemical production, and there we would drive for yard after yard or walk yard after yard and every 100 yards we would see one worker or two workers, and this tremendous industrial complex, administered by relatively few men when I am sure 15 or 20 years ago in a comparable output we would have seen dozens and hundreds of men and women working in those plants.
The task which faces you as a union is to adjust yourselves to these tremendous industrial changes which are going to bring white collar workers where blue collar workers once dominated. The problem for us as citizens of the United States, the problem for us, those of us who serve in the government, in the Congress or in the Executive Branch, is how we can maintain full employment, how we can absorb the production of our industries, how we can provide for the orderly transition from present production methods into new production methods without displacing our workers, how we can in short in the steel industry, in the chemical industry, in the oil industry, in the newspaper industry, how we can provide labor-saving machinery at the same time maintaining full employment, at the same time making sure that those machines produce a better life rather than a life of unemployment for so many of our citizens. (Applause)
I consider that to be in agriculture and industry the No. 1 domestic problem which the next President of the United States is going to have to face. I don't think this administration really has thought about it at all. I do not recall except occasional speeches, spaced months apart, where this government has turned its attention to the problems of automation, to the problems of employment, to the problems of maintaining full employment in a technological revolution here at home as well as around the world.
I would think that one of the first things that the next President of the United States must do is to call a conference of the Federal Government of the basic industries, the managers of the basic industries, the leaders of organized labor in the basic industries, to consider what steps can be taken to provide for the orderly transition of new machinery into our government, into our industry. In other words, to address ourselves as a national problem, not as an industry problem, not as a company problem, but as a national problem to the problem of automation in the early 1960's. I think it is an entirely new problem, it is a problem which did not disturb the Administrations of Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman. It is a problem which is now on the horizon no bigger than a man's hand. But it is a problem which will disturb the lives of all of us in the next decade unless we move to it at once. I can assure you that if I am elected to the office of the Presidency, or if I maintain my position as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, that I think it is a problem to which we must address ourselves early in 1961. We will require the cooperation of the members of the Chemical Union. We will require the cooperation of the leadership of this union – the kind of studies which you are undertaking today, in cooperation with management in these companies, and in other industries stretching across the United States.
It is the kind of new problem which I think our Party, which I am a member of, the Democratic Party, is best equipped to meet. (Applause)
If there is one contribution or one quality for which the Democratic Party has been noted since its earliest beginnings, since the time of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, stretching through the Administrations of Wilson and Roosevelt and Truman, it has been its willingness to break new ground, to look ahead, not to stand still. No Democrat has ever run for the Presidency with a motto, "You never had it so good." Every Democratic President who has served this country in times of crisis has looked to the future. The slogans of our party in this century tell the story of our party; Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry Truman's Fair Deal, Adlai Stevenson's New America, and now I talk today in 1960 about the New Frontiers of the 1960's. (Applause)
No Democrat has ever run for the Presidency standing pat with McKinley or returning to normalcy with Harding, or keeping cool with Coolidge. (Applause) Those who are satisfied with things as they are, those who wish to stand still, those who look back to the good old days, I don't think they should come with us in the 1960's. (Applause) But those who want to move this country, those who think we can do better, those who think that there are better days still ahead, those who think that it is time that the government and the people devoted themselves to the great unfinished business of our society – as Franklin Roosevelt did in his administration, and Woodrow Wilson in his, and Harry Truman in his – I hope they will come with us. (Applause)
We don't promise an easy future at home and abroad because there is no easy life for a citizen of the United States who bears his responsibilities in 1960. But we can say to you that the Democratic Party as it has so often in the past is prepared to lead, and if we are successful this country will move again. Thank you. (Standing ovation.)