This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the text of this speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.
President Hanover, Chairman Hollander, Secretary-Treasurer Garno, Legislative Director Corbett, and my friends of the New York State AFL-CIO:
I truly regret that I cannot be with you in person today, but I know you will understand what keeps me here in Washington. As this session of Congress moves into its final stages, the long overdue improvements in the Minimum Wage Law still await final action by the Congress. As you know, this matter is now in Conference. It was therefore impossible for me to leave the capitol at this critical time.
I accept, with gratitude, your endorsement of my candidacy. The support and encouragement which I have received from your organization, and from the rest of the American labor movement, fill me with pride.
I am proud of this support. I know that the American labor movement wants for America what I want for America: the elimination of poverty and unemployment, the re-establishment of America’s position of leadership in the world, the end of racial discrimination everywhere in our society. I know the American labor movement opposes what I oppose: complacency, unemployment, economic stagnation, and national insecurity.
I believe in the things the labor movement believes in and fights for. You have indicated, by your endorsement, that you believe that I, and the Democratic Party, can provide the leadership which will win that fight. I promise you that I will do my best to be worthy of your expression of faith in me.
Let me give you a report on the progress we have made this session. I had hoped that we would be able to enact an amendment to the social security law which would provide prepaid medical insurance for our retired citizens. I had hoped that we would be able to amend the Taft-Hartley Act so as to validate common situs picketing. I had hoped that we would be able to enact much needed legislation on the problems of housing and education.
There appears to be no chance for any of these measures at this session. I am still trying to put together an up to date Minimum Wage Law which will provide a more realistic minimum and will extend the protection of that humane law to millions of under-paid workers. Even on this bill, however, we are meeting determined Republican opposition.
It is inconceivable to me that anyone could oppose these measures. How can a nation as rich as ours tolerate substandard wages? How can we justify the absence of a decent program of health care for our older citizens? Why must so many of our children attend crowed and inadequate schools, and live in squalid homes? Why must we continue to have unfair and arbitrary restrictions on labor’s right to use its economic power in support of its legitimate collective bargaining objectives?
But, we have just begun to fight. If the American people give us their support at the polls in November, and elect a Democratic administration and a liberal Congress, we will be able to give this country the legislation and the leadership which it so badly needs.
The Republicans tell us that we are dreamers, and that we are making impossible promises and misleading the American people. This charge is one which we of the Democratic Party are quite used to. And it is one which the American people are used to. This country was built by men who were called “dreamers” by those of weak heart and little faith.
In 1776 there were men who said that the idea that this nation could be free and independent was an idle dream.
In 1789 there were men who said that the idea that the several states could be molded into a strong union was an idle dream.
In 1860 there were men who said that the idea that the slaves could be freed was an idle dream.
In 1932 there were men who said that the idea that we could once again regain full employment and a booming economy was an idle dream.
Yet all these things were accomplished, in spite of the doubters. And I say to you that the great program of the Democratic Party will also be accomplished, in spite of the doubters.
Fifty years or so ago the American Labor Movement was little more than a group of dreamers, and look at it now. Nearly 14 million men and women belong to unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO. From coast to coast, in factories, stores, warehouses, and business establishments of all kinds, industrial democracy is at work. Employees, represented by free and democratic trade unions of their own choosing, participate actively in determining their wages, hours, and working conditions. Their living standards are the highest in the world. Their job rights are protected by collective bargaining agreements. They have fringe benefits that were unheard of less than a generation ago. Is there any better monument to the unlimited ability of Americans to turn dreams to reality than the American Labor Movement?
As we enter the new decade of the sixties, America faces challenges greater than any which it has faced before. This is no time for complacency. This is no time to abandon the drive and the optimism and the imaginative creativity which has characterized this country since its birth. This is no time for timidity or doubt. This is a time for boldness and energy. This is a time for stout-hearted men who can turn dreams into reality. This is a time when America once again needs the leadership of the Democratic Party, which has led this country successfully through every major challenge it has faced in this century.