This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of the press release and the first and second reading copies are available.
I come to you today as a friend of labor.
I have worked with the leaders and members of organized labor for fourteen years as a member of the House and Senate Labor Committees. My credentials are written in the record of that fourteen years. On the basis of that record, I hope I can - in the words of the old-time orators - claim kinship here and have it allowed.
The cause of the friends of labor has not been an easy one in the past few years. Unfortunately the headlines, the speeches, the attention has been largely focused on the few hoodlums and racketeers who have insinuated their way into the labor movement - plundering its members, destroying the hard won gains of the workers, and harming the reputation of the entire, great brotherhood of organized labor.
But these men are just the few parasites on the body of a great, vital group of men and women - a group that has contributed more to the economic health, the well-being and the strength of this country than any other organized group, in any other country, in any other period of human history.
And it has been this same labor movement - not Congress or its Committees - which has been the most ardent and effective champion of clean, honest unions in America. I know of no parallel instance in American history when a large and important part of our society so frankly recognized its own internal problems and set out to correct them - even though it meant expelling a large portion of its dues-paying members.
I know of no business organizations which have disciplined their members the way labor has - even though some of those members have been engaged in activities which deserve the just condemnation of a law-abiding society. And I know of no voluntary organization which has set any higher standards of discipline than the Ethical Practices Codes adopted by the AFL-CIO - even though our hearings showed that higher standards of ethics are often badly needed in these other groups. Labor is cleaning its own house - let business do the same.
There are those in America today who say that labor is too big - that it has grown too strong. But I say that the size of organized labor is a blessing - and its strength is a powerful force for the good of all America.
Throughout its history, the labor movement has used its growing strength to eliminate industrial terror, sweatshops and inhuman working conditions, to give to the worker - for the first time - a voice in his own economic destiny.
And equally important is the way in which labor has served the entire nation.
George Meany has truly said that the record shows beyond contradiction that the trade union movement "has consistently used whatever power it has to raise the American standard of living, to promote the interests of all the American people, and to enhance the power and prestige of the nation as a whole."
That record can be seen in every city and town - every household and factory in America. We can see it in the thousands of hospitals which organized labor has built. We can see it in the new schools and roads which the unremitting work of labor - on every level of government - has helped to bring about.
Labor has also played a vital and a constructive role on the world scene - resisting Communist expansion - helping the underdeveloped nations - encouraging the struggle for freedom wherever it is waged - and, at home as well as abroad, constantly demonstrating its dedication to the cause for which it will continue to fight until the last oppressed group is guaranteed that equality which is his right as a member of the human race.
But despite these great achievements of organized labor - labor has not solved all its problems or won all the battles. It must summon all its resources of strength and mind and vision if it is to meet the new problems and the new challenges of the sixties.
First on the agenda is a vast new program of social welfare legislation - increased minimum wage, adequate unemployment compensation, medical care for the aged - and all the other many extensions and expansions of New Deal programs which are no longer adequate to meet the needs of the sixties.
Second, we must end the interminable and unjustified delay in the handling of certification proceedings and unfair labor practice charges by the National Labor Relations Board. As a result of these delays the controversy is often over, labor is defeated, and the worker has suffered - long before the Board acts. We must have an NLRB which understands the problems of labor and is not merely an instrument of management.
Third, we must act - and act soon - to meet the growing challenge of automation. We cannot - and we would not - halt the steady advance of technology with its promise of economic growth and increased productivity for the future. At the same time, government, industry and labor must collaborate in planning for the important social and economic changes which automation is certain to bring. Workers must be retrained - factories must be relocated - and, above all, we must be certain that the worker himself shares in the fruits of his increased productivity - in terms of greater leisure and higher income.
Fourth, we must halt the growing deterioration of the basic natural resources on which the welfare of labor ultimately depends - our vast resources of land, water, power and timber. Here in Eugene the prosperity of much of your industry - and your own prosperity depends upon the development and preservation of our great natural forests. Yet valuable timber is going uncut, reforestation has virtually come to a halt, and vital access roads are not being built. And despite these immediate and pressing needs this administration has requested less than half of the amount which its own Secretary of Agriculture has said is absolutely essential to the preservation of our forests. A Democratic Administration - acting in the great conservation tradition of Franklin Roosevelt - will rebuild the resources on which the strength of labor - and of all America - depends.
Fifth, we must work to defeat legislation designed to repress labor - to destroy its power - and render the worker helpless to advance his own welfare. Let me make it clear once again, as I have in the past, that - whatever office I shall hold - I shall always be unalterably opposed to so- called "right-to-work" laws at any level, Federal or State. And I shall oppose, as I have for 14 years, any and all other such devices which are sure to spring from the fertile minds of labor’s powerful foes.
Guided by these principles - and with a plan of action based on its magnificent heritage of the past - and its hopes for the future - American labor can advance into the sixties unafraid, and with full confidence in its strength and in the righteousness of its cause. For as Abraham Lincoln said of labor:
"All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms labor is treason to America. No line can be drawn between these two.
"If a man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar.
"If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.
"There is no America without labor, and to fleece the one is to rob the other."