Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964

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Author: Lyndon B. Johnson  | Date: May 9, 1964

334
Remarks in New York City Before the 50th Anniversary Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers.
May 9, 1964

Mr. Potofsky, Mayor Wagner, my good friends Alex Rose and David Dubinsky and all honored guests on the platform, ladies and gentlemen:

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I do find it somewhat difficult to follow the eloquent Mayor and my wife on this platform. I think that Mr. Potofsky would have been well advised to have just cut the program off a moment ago.

I do want to observe that rarely have I been more stimulated or interested in any public address than the one made by the distinguished Mayor. I want a copy of it.

What Sidney Hillman advocated, what Franklin Roosevelt and Bob Wagner, Senior, fought and died for, what Bob Wagner, Junior, recommends today, what Mr. Potofsky and this fine union urges, I feel deep in my heart and I am preaching it from one end of the country to the other.

Some of you may know that I almost did not make it here today. Mr. Potofsky called me and said, "Mr. President, I am afraid I will have to ask you not to come to New York Saturday."

I asked him why and he said, "Well, Mr. President, these people are pretty mad because you pulled the ears of a ’bagel.’" But here I am among fine friends and good neighbors and out of the doghouse finally, at least for the time being.

I read that man is the only animal that has a legislature. Well, I found out one thing-beagles have a constituency.

And unless you have one you really don’t know how to handle them but you are long on advice. As the husband of a wife and the father of two active daughters, I am happy to have this opportunity to meet with the representatives of the clothing industry to which I owe much—literally.

In the 29 years of married life, I have learned that if clothes don’t make a man, they can certainly break him.

I know what the fellow meant when he said that a woman is often responsible for her husband’s success—because of the money her clothes make it necessary for him to make—and for him to spend on his own clothes if he is going to hold on to her.

This was an expensive trip to New York.Lady Bird had to have a David Dubinsky dress. I had to have a Potofsky tie and somebody went and got me my old Alex Rose hat. But I am glad to be here with a fighting and forward-looking union.

For 50 years you have worked to make your dreams come true, first with Sidney Hillman at your helm and now with my good friend, Jacob Potofsky.

You pioneered in arbitration, you pioneered in low-cost cooperative housing. You pioneered in health and retirement insurance. You pioneered in higher work standards and medical centers for your members and above all, you pioneered in the concept of the minimum wage. I can testify to it because I cut my eyeteeth on the first minimum wage bill that provided 25 cents an hour for minimum wages in 1938.

A few years later, Mr. Rose and Mr. Dubinsky and Mr. Potofsky came back in my office and they weren’t asking for 25 cents that they had talked about a few years earlier—in 1938, under President Roosevelt-they were asking for $1.25. I rather am expecting them to come back before long with another proposal.

I am not going to make any premature announcements here today.

But I was honored by what they told me on that occasion. They told me not to yield a moment on the $1.25, to get all the coverage that I had the votes to cover. Then Mr. Dubinsky left the office by saying, "I have been coming here for more than 20 years and I haven’t always got all I asked for, but I have always gotten more than I was promised ."

So I think that all of you can be proud that the heresies of your past have become the accepted practices of the present.

As a young Congressman from Texas back in those days that I just recalled, I was one of three Congressmen from our State and from our section of the Nation to sign a petition forcing a vote in the caucus on the fair Labor Standards Act. You and I stood together then and we are going to stand together now.

I want every member of this union to remember this and never forget it. Your leaders already know it but I want the members to know it. The work of people like you have made it possible for Members of Congress to support progressive legislation and still stay in Congress.

I appreciate the help that your efforts gave me and, who knows, it may be that sometime down the road you can help me out again.

I might give you some indication of what I am talking about but I promised to be nonpolitical until after the convention.

But I will talk about some nonpolitical subjects this morning.

First, we must all stand together on the civil rights bill. I want to say in New York this morning what I said in Atlanta yesterday morning, and I quote: "Because the Constitution requires it, because justice demands it, we must protect the constitutional rights of all of our citizens, regardless of race or religion or the color of their skin." for no one of us in America is fully free until all of us in America are fully free. The rights of no single American are truly secure until the rights of all Americans are truly secure.

Not from charity, not from condescension, not from coercion, but from a deep commitment to justice must we open wide the door of equality and invite all Americans to walk through that door.

The civil rights bill now before Congress is a far-reaching step in the direction of equality. It may—I pray it won’t—but it may take all summer—it may take sessionsaround the clock, but I promise you here and now that we are going to pass a civil rights bill.

We are going to bring new hope to 20 million Americans who, for 2 centuries of our history, have been on the outside looking in.

I would remind you that this is the centennial year, this is the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves of their chains, but he did not free America of her bigotry or he did not free the Negro of his color. Until education is unaware of race, until employment is blind to color, emancipation may be a proclamation but it is not a fact.

So there is a job to do in all the 50 States, and let’s get on and do it.

Second, just as you and I stand together in this cause, we must also join forces in the war on poverty that Bob Wagner told you and that Sidney Hillman so eloquently talked about.

The march of progress in America has left 30 million hungry, aimless, forgotten refugees in its wake.

I saw many of them in the Appalachian States this week: farmers on doles, deprived of their dignity; young men and women out of school, surrounded by squalor; idle workers on relief, robbed of their self-respect.

But poverty stalks not only in the hills and the valleys of Appalachia. It is here today. It is here in this city on all sides of the track right around where you live. It is the widow around the corner barely surviving on a pension of $70 a month. It is the teenager down the block unprepared by schooling and unwanted by an employer. It is the retired factory worker, sick of body and tired of soul, depending on charity for his medical needs.

Steadily and surely this poverty is eroding the welfare of these Americans—and the welfare of all Americans as well. For poverty is malignant; no part of our society is immune from its terrible consequences. Don’t think you can escape it. Something must be done to end poverty. Something must be done now or one day a future generation of Americans will rise up to curse us for the bitter legacy of despair that we passed on to them.

Well, I am here today to prophesy and to predict and to tell you that we are going to do something.

This administration has declared unconditional war on poverty, and I have come here this morning to ask all of you to enlist as volunteers. Members of all parties are welcome to our tent. Members of all races ought to be there. Members of all religions should come and help us now to strike the hammer of truth against the anvil of public opinion again and again and again until the ears of this Nation are open, until the hearts of this Nation are touched and until the conscience of America is awakened.

So, without regard to party we ask every able person to come and join in this attack, for in this war there must be no conscientious objectors.

The one-fifth of America that is still ill fed, that is still ill clothed, that is still ill housed cannot be saved from or saved by Washington alone. President Roosevelt talked about the one-third that was ill clad and ill housed and ill fed in Georgia in 1934. I talked about the one-fifth that were ill clad and ill fed and ill housed in Georgia in 1964. We moved from one-third to onefifth but we have just begun to fight.

So you must help in the planning and in the support. You must help in your own neighborhoods. Napoleon is said to have lost the battle of Waterloo because he used only his cavalry and forgot his infantry. Well, you are the infantry of this war, andwe need the infantry to win it because local initiative and individual efforts are the keystones of our poverty program.

I am happy to announce this morning that this administration—through the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency-has approved a grant of $1 million to help the people of Harlem fight juvenile delinquency. This money will help bring about needed improvements in schools, vocational training, employment services, crime prevention, improvements planned and carried out by people right here in your city.

This initiative and this foresight we hope to see wherever poverty preys on the people of the land. I charge you as members of a great and progressive union with a great and marvelous history to lead your people into this war with their chin up and their chest out. You can count on us.

Now, I am here this morning asking you, can we count on you?

There is a third program where you and I must stand together today. We must unite in passing a bill in Congress to help our older citizens secure decent medical aid under social security. Inadequate hospital care is an indecent penalty to place on old age.

In the hills of eastern Kentucky, one of the 13 States that I visited in the last 13 days in a program to meet the people and to know the country and to do something about the problems—in that program I sat next to a father that had 11 children, that had worked 4 days last month, that had made $4 a day and had had to feed those little hungry mouths largely from surplus commodities. And he told me because he believed in the admonition of "Love thy neighbor as thyself," that he had been over and sat up with an 85-year-old man until 4 o’clock the night before the President visited him. Why? go to and there were no resources to pay the hospital bill

Because there was no hospital for him to

Situations like that must end in America.

All we are asking for is a program under social security which will let the worker put in about $1 a month from his average lifetime earnings. The average manufacturing earnings in this country are now $100 a week. We ask $1 per month when he enters the labor market from the employee and $1 per month from his employer and the Government does not put in a single cent. But under this plan all Americans, not just the rich and affluent Americans, all Americans can face the autumn of life with dignity and security. Twenty-four dollars a year, if you enter the labor market at 20 and stay until you are 65—45 years at $24 makes a little over $1,100, multiplied by the formula 3.75 and you have almost $4,000 when you are 65 in your account to take care of your hospital needs.

What little you may have saved during that time can go to pay the doctor of your choice. He is not interfered with in any way. He is really served by having a fund to pay your hospital bill because, as it is now, he has to wait until the hospital is paid for and the nurse is paid for and the medicine is paid for. If there is anything else, he gets it, so why in the name of goodness are they fighting this bill, I don’t know.

But remember, the same ghost writer that wrote the phrase about Roosevelt’s social security bill in 1936 and called it a "cruel hoax," for Alf Landon, is now writing a phrase about my poverty bill and calling it a "cruel hoax." The same old words-written, I think, by the same old man, for the same old purpose, to try to preserve the status quo. Well, who doesn’t want better than the status quo?

These older citizens deserve a more decent chance to stay well or to get well, and this administration, with your support, intends to see that they get that chance. But we must not stop there. This is a long and winding road, but it will have a wonderful ending. We must extend the fair Labor Standards Act to include more than 2 million workers who now lack this basic protection, because what is good for you is good for them.

We must establish Federal benefit standards for State unemployment insurance programs and a Federal supplementary program to extend benefits for an additional period of up to 26 weeks, because I saw too many people yesterday whose unemployment insurance had already run out.

We must press forward in our efforts to achieve full employment in America—and to achieve it in our time. Our unemployment has dropped from 5.8 to 5.4, and God willing and business helpful, we are going to drop it, we hope this year, below 5 percent. But one man out of work is one too many. If you are enjoying your conference, you just remember that except for the grace of God that one man could be you.

Not long ago I read of a man who said that the "frontiers are closed, there is nowhere else to go in America, and we can prepare for a long period of grace from the strenuous demands of a restless society."

Ladies and gentlemen, that man does not know our country. That man does not understand America, for democracy is an everlasting frontier.

As I look into the next generation, I see in America where every citizen has an opportunity to live a useful life—where every family lives in a good home in a healthy neighborhood—where every worker has a decent job at decent wages—where every young person has good schools and good teachers. I see an America where every older citizen is free from fear and where every American is free from discrimination, and where equal opportunity is known and received by all. Yes, I see in America where every citizen can vote as he pleases and worship God as he chooses.

I know that this union sees this in America, too. For half a century you have labored to bring it about. You have fought for progress. You have fought for justice. You have fought for decency and fair play. And you have fought for a better America and a greater society.

Well, I am not telling you any secret when I tell you those are the goals of the Johnson administration.

So, at the end of a somewhat active and tiring week, I have come here to New York this morning to say: Let us work together. Let us stand together, shoulder to shoulder. Let us build together for tomorrow—for America, for everybody, for all time to come.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke in the morning in the Singer Bowl at the New York World’s fair, following brief remarks by Mrs. Johnson. His opening words referred to Jacob S. Potofsky, president, Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, Mayor Robert F. Wagner of New York City, Alex Rose, president, United Cap, Hatters, and Millinery Workers International Union, and David Dubinsky, president, International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

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Chicago: Lyndon B. Johnson, "334 Remarks in New York City Before the 50th Anniversary Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers.," Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1673-1674 656–658. Original Sources, accessed September 21, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAMDIV9S2MBRZZV.

MLA: Johnson, Lyndon B. "334 Remarks in New York City Before the 50th Anniversary Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers." Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1673-1674, pp. 656–658. Original Sources. 21 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAMDIV9S2MBRZZV.

Harvard: Johnson, LB, '334 Remarks in New York City Before the 50th Anniversary Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers.' in Public Papers of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1673-1674, pp.656–658. Original Sources, retrieved 21 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DAMDIV9S2MBRZZV.