Here’s What a Progressive President’s Labor Day Statement Should Look Like

Statement by President Lyndon Johnson, Labor Day, 1968.

THE TRADEMARK of the American labor movement has long been an unyielding stand for individual dignity and economic justice.

On this Labor Day, with employment hitting an all-time peak of almost 78 million and a record proportion of citizens sharing in our Nation’s vast wealth, this stand is paying off better than ever.

America’s record prosperity stands as a monument to labor’s unflagging efforts to guarantee working men and women, and their families, their rightful stake in our national life.

It was not by mere accident that America’s major thrust for social justice came after the Wagner Act of 1935 established our first national code of free collective bargaining.

For this law, assuring our working people a much stronger voice in their own destinies, helped pave the way for an impressive stream of humanitarian programs over the next three decades.

These programs–and countless others-have elevated the quality of American life to levels unimaginable by most in the early part of this century. They pointed the way to greater achievement.

Opposed by the forces of reaction and narrow self-interest in the beginning, these programs are now woven into the fabric of our democratic way of life. They are part of our national vocabulary:
social security,
unemployment insurance,
the minimum wage,
workmen’s compensation,
manpower development and training,
civil rights,
Federal support to education,
Medicare,
truth in lending.

In the 1960’s alone, America has made greater strides toward human dignity than during any comparable period in its history. But we have only scratched the surface, for we have set our goals high.

We must continue to move forward. We must cut new trails leading to human justice-toward insuring that all citizens, not just some, have full opportunity to live and work in self-respect.

American labor is accustomed to meeting new challenges, to adapting to changing conditions.

Once, in the time of the exploited many, labor’s fight was for job security, decent wages and hours, pensions, a stronger voice for working men and women in what affects them.

Today, in the time of the affluent many, labor’s fight, America’s fight, must be on behalf of the disadvantaged few–the victims of racism, poor education, no skills, language barriers, hunger.

Together, Americans of all colors, of all ethnic groups, of all faiths, must open their hearts and work with a new sense of purpose to help the disadvantaged enter the mainstream of our society.

To achieve our highest goals, every American must move with a new spirit of responsibility.

We must revitalize our blighted cities and make them livable for the large throngs of dispossessed citizens who have been untouched by our prosperity.

We must put a college education within the reach of every American boy and girl– regardless of the color of their skin or their family finances.

We must bring the unemployment insurance system into the 1960’s by extending coverage and increasing benefits to help ease the financial burden between jobs.

We must see that not a single American child or adult goes to bed at night without the basic nourishment they need to lead a dignified and productive life.

Never before has a nation been so well equipped to wipe out poverty, ignorance, want, and other ugly forms of human misery.

I am confident, on Labor Day, 1968, that America will continue its march toward universal human decency.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: “Statement by the President, Labor Day, 1968.,” September 2, 1968. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29097.

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