Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1980-1981

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Author: Jimmy Carter  | Date: September 1, 1980

Labor Day
Remarks at a White House Picnic ]or Representatives of Organized Labor.
September 1, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. We just got back from Tuscumbia, Alabama. It was kind of warm down in Alabama. [Laughter] I hope it stayed cool here in our Nation’s Capital today.

The first thing I want to do on behalf of myself and Rosalynn is to welcome you to the White House. As you all know, Labor Day is a uniquely American celebration, designed to let the world know the history and the contributions of working people of our great country. But that’s not all that Labor Day is about. LaborDay is also about freedom. It’s almost impossible to separate the trade union movement of this world from freedom. It’s also about a struggle of American workers to organize and to .demand for themselves, legitimately, better working conditions and at the same time to extend democracy for all Americans.

I’d like to say a special word about Poland. Celebrating our own labor holiday, Americans can look with gratitude and admiration at what the working people of Poland have accomplished. We’re inspired and we are gratified by the peaceful determination with which they acted, by their discipline, their tenacity, and their personal courage. The working men and women of Poland have set an example for all those who cherish freedom and honor human dignity. They’ve shown the world at least two things: one, how to win a victory for labor, and the other one is that the hunger for human rights covers the entire world.

I’m particularly grateful that the workers of Poland accomplished this by themselves, without outside interference, but with quiet prayer that their struggle for freedom would be successful. We’ve seen how a society that deals frankly with its problems can strengthen itself in the process. We pray for the well-being of the people of Poland, for the independence of their nation, for the freedom of their people, and for their future prosperity.

I think it’s important for us to know that in our own country, as manifold as our blessings are, and despite steady progress, many of our own goals are still not fully realized. But we share an unshakable commitment to a more humane and a more decent future.

We’ve had a chance for the last 3 1/2 years to work together. We’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve cut our dependence on foreign oil drastically in just a short period of time. We now import 20 percent less oil than we did when I first took office. This is 1 1/2 million barrels every day that we do not import which we formerly bought from overseas. And now these billions of American dollars can be used to create American industry, American energy, American jobs for millions of American workers, and to give us a stronger nation in the process, and to remove the temptation from any nation on Earth that might think they can blackmail the United States of America.

Almost everyone on this lawn has been involved in this struggle. And you know how difficult it has been to finance this tremendous program of conservation and energy production from the windfall profits tax on the unearned earnings of the big oil companies. It’s not been easy. But now with that new energy base of a permanent national policy, we can afford to look forward to the future with a great deal more confidence that an exciting, dynamic, bright, productive life can be possible for all Americans.

We can create new energy industries. The scope of this commitment is far beyond anything that the world has ever seen—much bigger than the total space program, the Interstate Highway System, and even the Marshall plan all combined. What this can do to give Americans a better life, a more secure life, a more productive life can not even yet be fully imagined. We also will be able now to improve our entire public transportation system. And I’m particularly eager to take
the first strong moves to replace the world’s excessive dependence on OPEC oil with the purchase of American coal.

We have now laid a foundation, and we’re ready to build on it to renew the industrial strength of this Nation. For too long we’ve expected American workers to produce more with machinery that eachyear was less efficient. After close consultations with labor, and with a firm urging from Lane Kirkland1 I set forth last week an economic renewal program to rebuild our industrial might. We’re going to restore the competitive edge in world markets by encouraging new industries and by revitalizing our most basic ones like steel and automobiles. In 2 years, above and beyond what we already encompass, with programs on the Hill and just put into effect, and above and beyond what normal economic recovery will bring us, this program will create more than a million new jobs for American workers—productive careers in strong and growing industries. We bring business and labor and government together as equals, an unprecedented commitment in the history of our Nation. And we’ll be able, now, to combine public with private investments, including the use of employee pension funds in revitalization projects to give us better communities throughout our Nation.

1 President, AFL-CIO, and Cochairman of the Economic Revitalization Board.

Also in the next 4 years, we’ll continue our urban policy, which has reversed the decline of many of our cities. And I want to enact new welfare reform proposals, as well as to expand our youth employment programs, and I stand ready with you to fully implement a national health insurance program for the people of the United States.

I just want to mention two more things. I hope that the labor movement has not given up and that you will join with me in achieving, next year, labor law reform. I believe that in any progressive industrial policy that fair labor laws are essential. And my hope is that this new working partnership, with increased trust, increased communication, increased understanding of one another will help to alleviate a major portion of the unwarranted business opposition to labor law reform that let us lose by one vote in the Senate when we tried so hard before. But I’m determined, no matter what the obstacles might be, to work with you toward success and a victory with labor law reform in the coming year.

And finally, I want the United States, through its strength, military and moral strength both, to continue to stand for peace in the world. With your help, we strengthened our defenses. We negotiated a successful SALT II agreement. We ratified the Panama Canal treaties. We helped to bring peace between Egypt and Israel. We’ve sustained a level of foreign aid, and we’ve relighted and kept bright the beacon of human rights. In all these elements of an enlightened American foreign policy, designed for peace abroad and for peace here at home, your support has been invaluable. The American labor movement was built on realism and persistence and our future depends on these same qualities, combined with the idealism which keeps hope alive in the human breast. I look forward to working with you to make our dreams for the future come true.

Let me conclude by noting that this is our first Labor Day in many years without the presence of President George Meany. We all owe him a great debt, and we miss him greatly. He symbolized the heart and spirit of American labor. At my request, in tribute to his memory and to the achievements of American labor, the United States Postal Service is issuing today a special commemorative stamp.

I want to introduce Postmaster General Bill Bolger and Lane Kirkland to make a few remarks at this time about this stamp.
Bill and Lane.

POSTMASTER GENERAL BOLGER. Thank you, Mr. President.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here today for this auspicious occasion. We have come together to dedicate a postage stamp which honors not only the American labor movement but also George Meany, who championed the development of trade unionism in the United States.

Under longstanding postal policy, memorial stamps for other than Presidents may not be issued sooner than 10 years after an individual’s death. However, I believe there’s every reason to recognize George Meany’s influence on all levels of American life by hereby honoring all of organized labor in his name. I was therefore happy to respond favorably to you, Mr. President, when you asked me to issue this stamp that is being dedicated today.

Under Mr. Meany’s leadership, the labor movement was and continues to be a force for freedom and democracy. Mr. Meany’s dedication to and support of the working man earned respect, dignity, and security for millions of his countrymen. In an effort to incorporate those high ideals in the design of the stamp, we chose our national symbol, the American eagle for the central design element. The eagle, of course, symbolizes democracy, individual liberty, social justice, and human rights-goals shared by organized labor. The image is purposely strong and bold, and the message beneath it is unequivocable-organized labor, proud and free.

While the Postal Service’s primary role is to move the mail, we welcome our related opportunity to mark significant events in American history and life and to honor distinguished individuals through our stamp issuance program. I hope that the millions of copies of this stamp flowing throughout the mailstreams of the world will remind everyone of the high value America places on the singular role of organized labor, a role reinforced by the 500,000 or so men and women who belong to American postal unions and who do move the mail.

And now it gives me great pleasure to present a souvenir album containing a sheet of the new stamps to the President of the United States—by tradition always gets the first album. Mr. President.

And the second one to Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall. Mr. Secretary. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Bill, for those remarks. And, Lane, I’d like very much for you to make your remarks now, and I want to present you a special edition of the stamp.

MR. KIRKLAND. Mr. President and Mrs. Carter, on behalf of the AFL-CIO I want to thank you for your gracious hospitality. We look forward to returning to celebrate Labor Day here with you for the next 4 years if I am reelected. [Laughter]

I also want to thank Postmaster General Bolger and the Postal Service for issuing the stamp honoring organized labor in memory of George Meany. He was our strength and inspiration, and we are honored that others have drawn similar inspiration from a man that we revered. We appreciate the fact that the free trade union movement of America is honored by its Nation through this stamp and by the President through his kind invitation to celebrate this holiday at his house, the Nation’s house.

We do not take for granted the rights and liberties enjoyed by American workers. Those rights and liberties are both precious and fragile. Just how precious they are is sharply revealed by the courage shown by workers in other countries, particularly today those in Poland. Their fragility is obvious from the measurestotalitarian regimes have used to deny working people the free trade unions so necessary to enforce their rights and to realize their aims. Our thoughts and prayers on this day are with those workers in Poland who have shown such valor and self-sacrifice in placing their lives and safety on the line for the rights of all workers-the rights that all workers need and must have to be truly free.

If George Meany were here, I believe that he would declare that the fighting eagle on the stamp honoring our labor movement is for now a Polish eagle, a stirring emblem of the desire of all workers for freedom. Long live the free workers of Poland. Long live the cause of free trade unionism everywhere.
Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. I’m very delighted that we have with us also one of the daughters of President George Meany, Eileen Meany Lee. I’d like to ask her to come forward now. And I want to present her with a special edition of this stamp, and to give Eileen with two other editions for her sisters, who could not attend today, Genevieve Meany Lutz and Regina Meany Mayer. Eileen, this is for you and for your sisters.

The memories of Mr. George Meany flood my mind and heart. I didn’t know him as long as many of you, but the last time I was with him, the next to the last time I was with him at a public event, was on this South Lawn when Pope John Paul II was here. The Pope made his speech from over near the White House. Mr. Meany was in the front row, and afterwards the Pope went down and shook hands with Mr. Meany, pointed out that he was a famous man, because worldwide he had always stood for human rights and for basic freedoms. It was one of the thrilling moments of my life as tears came into Mr. Meany’s eyes, and the emotion of the moment also filled the face of Pope John Paul II.

Now, I would like to point out to you that as you leave this evening, you’ll receive one of a limited edition of a lithograph depicting Americans at work. There’s a small reproduction of it on the back of the program. This lithograph evokes the spirit of Labor Day, and Rosalynn and I hope that it will be a reminder of the fellowship and the good spirits of this day for many years to come.

I’d like to introduce the artist, Jacob Lawrence, professor of art at the University of Washington. Mr. Lawrence. And I would also like to thank Ken Brown, president of the Graphic Arts International Union, and all his members who donated their labor and printed this beautiful poster as a souvenir of this day. Ken, why don’t you stand and let us all thank you, too.

And finally, there’s one other person here whom I’ve come to know and to respect as a friend and trusted ally. I don’t believe America has ever had a Secretary of Labor who worked harder on behalf of working people or one who cared more deeply about people who need their help than Ray Marshall.

Ray, I want to present this copy of Jacob Lawrence’s poster to you, and if you don’t mind, when you get it unwrapped, I’d like to share the inscription on it with all of your friends who are here. That shows the nimble fingers of the Secretary of Labor. [Laughter] And it’s inscribed at the bottom, "With appreciation to Ray Marshall for being a great leader for the working people of America," and it’s signed "Jimmy Carter."

And now with happiness on your faces, you’ll be glad to hear that we come to the music, which to me is the highlight of this evening.

We often overlook the rich heritage of songs that the American labor movement has given our country. It’s one of the purest forms of folkmusic, but it’s folkmusic with a serious purpose. The songs often come out of the bitterest periods of our history. The first songs I ever heard, maybe outside of Sunday school, were the ones I heard in the cotton fields and the peanut fields of south Georgia. They evoke from working people the inevitable triumph of human aspirations, that enduring idealism and optimism of American working men and women.

I know you will enjoy the musicians here tonight. You already have. To introduce each act, which we now have a chance to enjoy, we have with us one of our Nation’s leading labor folklorists, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and a personal friend to many of us, Dr. Archie Green. Dr. Green, please come and take over.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:13 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.

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