Remarks of John F. Kennedy, Fitton Council, Knights of Columbus, East Boston, Massachusetts, May 18, 1947

The Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, the rail-splitter, has just held its national convention. But in this solemn hour I would remind you that it also, and since the days of Lincoln, has been the Grand Old Party of General Grant, full of graft and inefficiency; the Grand Old Party of Harding and the Forty Thieves; of do-nothing Coolidge and impotent Hoover and the inflation of the 1920’s which hurled our country into the worst depression in our history.

All of you of voting age remember that depression. It affected every family in the United States. Ten million unemployed walking the streets. Families broken up. Men, women and children hopeless and on the verge of starvation.

And the man, who was more responsible than anyone else for the huge campaign funds which elected Harding, and Coolidge and Hoover, is the man who maneuvered the nomination of the present Republican candidate for President.

I’m talking about old Joe Grundy of Pennsylvania... Old High Tariff Joe... the man who pulled the strings and gave us the Smoot-Hawley tariff act through the votes of those Grand Old Party members of Congress elected through his largess. That act hastened the end of world trade and paved the way for Hitler and World War II. If you doubt that Old Joe Grundy is manipulating the puppets who are the front men in this campaign, look at what happened immediately after the candidates were named in Philadelphia just a few days ago. The newspapers had been filled with stories of the smooth efficiency of the organization which conducted the campaign for the nomination of the Republican candidate for President. But who is running the Grand Old Party campaign? Why, it’s no one but Old Joe Grundy’s hand-picked Congressman from Philadelphia – Hugh D. Scott, Jr. – Congressman Scott who voted against extending the Reciprocal Trade Agreements for three years and followed that up by voting for the crippling amendments to the Trade Agreement Act which have caused consternation and worry throughout the world.

Old Joe Grundy is a very interesting fellow. They had him up on the witness stand when the 1929 Depression started. They asked him how much he had raised from among his friends in Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association for the Coolidge campaign which passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. Why, about $700,000 he said. Then they asked him how much he raised for the Hoover campaign. About the same – another $700,000 he figured. Is it any wonder, ladies and gentlemen, that Old Joe Grundy’s man was named Chairman of the Republican National Committee to run the 1948 campaign? They’re expecting a million from the Grundy people this year. And they’ll probably get it. But Old Joe Grundy didn’t make his millions by collection these huge sums for sweet charity’s sake. He knows the pay-off will come and he’ll collect, with interest. And you, the voters, are the only people who can stop him.

Old Joe Grundy is repeating just what he did in 1920. Then he was behind Boise Penrose, the Pennsylvania Senator and political Boss. But Penrose was most famous for dominating, from his sick-bed, the events in the smoke-filled room which made Harding the nominee of the Grand Old Party in that year.

When Old Joe Grundy was on the witness stand back there in 1929, after the country was plunged into the depression, he was asked about his political philosophy.

Well, he said, when it came to writing a tariff law, he would exclude such states as Arkansas and Idaho. Then he listed some other states which he called “backward.” These included South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, as well as Georgia and South Carolina.

When he was reminded that each of these states also has two Senators in the Congress of the United States, he made this classic remark: “That, unfortunately, is true.”

Along with Old Joe’s hand-picked candidates, the Grundy Old Party, at its Philadelphia convention, adopted a platform. It contains many nice phrases and pledges of what the Party will do if the legislative and the executive branches of government are entrusted to it for the next four years. But most of those phrases and those pledges were contained in the platform adopted by the Grundy Old Party four years ago. They were filled with hopocrisy then. There is nothing in the record of the past two years when both Houses of Congress have been controlled by the Republican Party which can lead any person to believe that those promises will be fulfilled in the future. They follow the Hitler line – no matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as truth.

If anything stands out in the history of the Grundy Old Party during the past two years it is that its majority in Congress has waged perpetual, unending war on all fronts against the rights and the aspirations of American workers. I was there ... I speak from what I have seen. The Republican members of Congress have been vicious in the passage of laws which restrict and deny fundamental rights to all those in America who have to work for a living. But meantime profits for the bosses have steadily increased. The bosses, I might add, are the members of the National Association of Manufacturers and other selfish employers who provide the treasure chest by which the candidates of the Grand Old Party seek to have you vote for them.

Not only has the Republican Majority in Congress passed laws against the interests of American workers – in cases where relief for the people demanded action they have followed the dictates of the army of lobbyists and denied action, when action was imperatively called for. This is not campaign oratory. It is all in the record. Let me cite you a few instances.

With their right hand they have increased the amount of rents that millions of Americans are compelled to pay – and with their left hand they have steadfastly refused to enact legislation which would provide housing for millions of Americans now crowded into the homes of relatives, or worse.

They have paved the way for the destruction of American unions of working men by hampering both the structure of their organizations and their traditional methods of free and equal collective bargaining. Through the passage of the pernicious Taft-Harley Act, which I have described to you before, they have sowed the seeds of discord in labor-management relations, under the hypocritical guise of “protecting” the worker. Well, what they have done is to give protection – protection to the rugged individualists who consistently fought the provisions of the Wagner Act which compelled labor-baiting bosses to bargain with their employees through representatives of the employees’ choosing. Already the evidence is piling up. Under the Taft-Hartley Act court actions aimed at destroying unions are depleting union treasuries of the dues you pay and hampering the activities of your officers.

And these results, mind you, are when the Taft-Harley Act is barely a year old. Rather than reducing the number of strikes, it has been directly responsible for many work-stoppages involving hundreds of thousands of workers. Six thousand cases were filed with the National Labor Relations Board in the single month of April. It has compelled the government to go into court and seek injunctions against unions, thus encouraging union-hating employers in their labor-baiting activities. Its expensive and time-consuming provisions for certifications and elections are all part of a design aimed at the ultimate destruction of unions and the loss of all the gains which labor attained through 14 years of Democratic Party control of Congress.

The perfidy of the demagogic declarations in the Grand Old Party platform of 1944 is illustrated in what the Republican majority in Congress has done to the Department of Labor since the 1946 election. The 1944 platform pledged the Party to strengthen and unify the Department of Labor. But on every occasion since the Republicans assumed control they have viciously opposed every effort of President Truman to rebuild and strengthen the Department.

Here, again, the Taft-Hartley Act was used as the vehicle to hinder and hamper the one agency in government dedicated to improve the conditions under which American workingmen and women earn their daily bread. This masterpiece of Grand Old Party legislation enacted over the veto of President Truman, took away from the Secretary of Labor the United States Conciliation Service which for a third of a century had gone along quietly and effectively settling disputes between management and labor – 90 percent of them without work stoppages where the service was called in before a strike had actually begun.

The Grand Old Party twice refused to approve reorganization plans submitted by President Truman which would have permanently kept the United States Employment Service within the Department of Labor. Why? Certainly not because bringing the right man and the right job together is not a function of the Department of Labor. No, it was because the National Association or Manufacturers wanted the Employment Service dominated by the Interstate Conference of Unemployment Compensation Commissions. Then, if a worker refused to take the first job the Employment Service offered him, regardless of the reduction in pay it meant to him, he could be denied unemployment compensation. That’s a neat way of cutting wages all along the line.

To make sure that the Democratic Congress which will be elected in November did not reverse this control, while the USES was in the Labor Department under a war-time executive order, the Grand Old Party took another step. That was to attach a rider to the Employment Service appropriation bill which required that the USES be transferred to the Social Security Board on June 30 of this year. They couldn’t take the chance of waiting for the election. Now this rider was not introduced by the Education and Labor Committee of the House, where all legislation affecting labor and education matters properly should originate. It was introduced by a sub-committee of the House Appropriations Committee. And it was jammed through Congress by the Grand Old Party of Grant and Harding and Coolidge and Hoover.

That was not the first action of the Appropriations Committee to reduce the Department of Labor to the status of a small Bureau of the Federal Government. In 1947, the Committee cut the appropriations recommended by the Bureau of the Budget by 30 percent. The result is that the Department of Labor, already the smallest executive department, in the two years of Grand Old Party control of Congress, has had its modest staff of 7,000 reduced to 3,000 employees.

It must be perfectly obvious that this is all a part of the design, and the plan of the forces which control the Grand Old Party to destroy the Department of Labor, the one agency created to protect the interests of American workers.

I have discussed briefly some of the things that the Grand Old Party by positive, affirmative action did to defeat the legitimate aspirations of American Workers. Now I want to talk about some of the things that the Grand Old Party majority in Congress did not do. Here are some of the bills introduced in the Congress which they allowed to die:

1. The bill which would have increased the minimum wage for workers from the present 40 cents an hour, passed way back in 1938, to 75 cents, as requested by President Truman and urged by the Department of Labor and all American unions.

2. An increase in unemployment compensation, old-age assistance and survivors’ benefits in keeping with the increased cost of living.

3. An extension of the Social Security law to include 20,000,000 workers not now covered by the Act.

4. The request of President Truman for an appropriation of $6,000,000 for the prevention of industrial accidents which last year exacted a toll of 17,000 dead and 91,000 permanently crippled.

The cost of living is of vital interest to everyone of us. You may remember that in large advertisements the National Association of Manufacturers and their spokesmen in Congress in 1946 assured the American people that once OPA controls were removed, the cost of living would decline.

Well, OPA was killed. I don’t have to tell you what happened. But I want to give you some of the details and leve it up to you to decide whether or not President Truman, and Democratic spokesmen in Congress were right when we predicted that the end of controls on the vital necessities of life, such as food, rent and clothing would start the nation on a spiral of inflation exactly like that of the Harding-Coolidge-Hover era.

Here are the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures which show how the cost of food has gone up in Boston since May, 1946, just before the Republican Congress emasculated OPA and later killed it.

Well, the average price of round steak in Boston butcher shops in May, 1946, was 45 cents a pound. In March, 1948, it was 86 cents. Hamburger cost 29 cents, and in March of this year it was 52 a pound. Butter jumped from 54 to 87 cents a pound; and eggs from 50 to 69 cents a dozen.

Pork chops in May 1946, under OPA controls, cost 38 cents a pound; in March, 1948, the average price in Boston butcher shops was 72 cents. Salt pork, in the same period jumped from 19 to 38 cents a pound. Coffee was 32 cents a pound in May, 1946, and in March of this year it cost Boston housewives 54 cents. Lard went up from 19 cents to 30 and oleomargarine from 24 cents to 40 cents.

I’m sorry I can’t give you the figures on clothing, and public utilities and rent for the same periods. The Grand Old Party majority in Congress slashed the appropriation for the Bureau of Labor Statistics so sharply that BLS can no longer make all the monthly surveys covering all the items that go into the cost of living. What happened was reported in the New Yorker magazine a few weeks ago.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the cost of living keep going up,” this article said. “And so,” the writer continued, “Congress decided to kill the BLS.”

Well, they haven’t quite done that – yet. The latest report from BLS on the Consumers’ Price Index shows that from the middle of April to the middle of May in 1948 the cost of the essentials of living – food, clothing and shelter – increased another 1.4 percent. That brings it up to 170.5 percent of what the same items of groceries, apparel, rent and house-furnishings cost in 1939. In other words the groceries that cost you $1 in 1939 cost you $1.71 today. What is more important, in the three years from 1943 to 1946, under OPA, theses same items increased only 8 percent – from 125.0 percent of 1939 costs to 133. And wage increases had kept your ability to purchase in line. But since OPA was killed by the Republican majority in Congress the gap between wages and prices has widened almost every month. And the end is not yet in sight.

There it is, ladies and gentlemen. The forces of reaction are at present in control of the Congress. They are the same forces dominated by the National Association of Manufacturers and other employers who for more than 50 years have sought to enslave American workingmen and women; they bitterly fought every effort of President Roosevelt and President Truman to protect your rights. They now seek to eliminate the influence of these great leaders of our country by placing their own agent, or tool, in the White House.

Ladies and gentlemen: The hour of great decision is at hand. The fate of our country – the destiny of the world – is soon to be determined. They will be determined by you – how you vote in the election in this fateful year of 1948.

Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. House of Representatives Files. Series 2.2. Boston Office Speech Files, 1946-1952. Box 94, Folder: "Fitton's Knights of Columbus Council, 18 May 1947".