Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

September 3, 1999

VARIOUS PRESIDENTS of the United States of America have said various things about workers, unions and the labor movement.

In the 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln said:

"All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms is treason...If a man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar."

Lincoln also said in a letter to an early-day union: "The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting all working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds."

PRESIDENT WILLIAM McKINLEY said in 1900: "For labor a short day is better than a short dollar."

President Theodore Roosevelt said in the early 1900s: "If I were a factory employee, a working man on the railroads, or a wage-earner of any sort, I would undoubtedly join the union of my trade...I believe in the union and I believe that all men who are benefitted by the union are morally bound to help to the extent of their powers in the common interests advanced by the union."

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served in the 1930s and '40s and was the only president elected to four terms, said this:

"IF I WORKED in a factory, the first thing I would do would be to join a union."

FDR also said: "I believe now, as I have all my life, in the right of workers to join unions and to protect their unions."

President FDR's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, was the only First Lady to join a labor union while living in the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt, whose many activities included writing a newspaper column, joined the American Newspaper Guild, CIO, in the years before the merger of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. She proffered this advice to working women: "...And I would urge every woman who works to join the union of her industry."

FDR's successor, President Harry S. Truman, made this statement on the subject of unions:

"THE RIGHT TO JOIN a union of one's choice is unquestioned today, and is sanctioned and protected by law."

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as the nation's chief executive from 1953 until January 1961, had this to say on the subject of unions: "Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions and of depriving working men or working women of the right to join the union of their choice." President Eisenhower, who was a leading U.S. Army general in World War II, also expressed a similar thought in these words: "Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice."

PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY, who served from '61 until his assassination in November '63, said this to an AFL-CIO convention: "The American labor movement has consistently demonstrated its devotion to the public interest. It is, and has been, good for all America."

President Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded JFK, put his views on the labor movement in these words: "The AFL-CIO has done more good for the people than any other group in America ... It doesn't just try to do something about wages and hours for its own people. No group in the country works harder in the interests of everyone."

LBJ's vice president, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, said this to a convention of the Minnesota AFL-CIO:

"THE HISTORY of the labor movement needs to be taught in every school in this land ... America is a living testimonial to what free men and women, organized in free democratic trade unions, can do to make a better life ... We ought to be proud of it!" HHH, a U.S. senator from Minnesota before he was vice president, ran for president in 1968 but lost a close election to Richard Nixon.

Some of these quotations were compiled by the Service Employees International Union, which said of them: "We agree with all these presidents of our country and so do millions of workers and their families who make up the American labor movement.

They have made the lives of their families fuller and happier and they have made their jobs more secure...and built a better America in the process."


FROM THE SUBLIME to the ridiculous - The earlier quotations of U.S. presidents on work, workers and unions stand in sharp contrast to the following inane comment by President Calvin Coolidge, who occupied the White House in the 1920s: "When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results." That sounds like something Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra might say. Before he became a White House occupant, Coolidge broke a strike of Boston police officers while he was governor of Massachusetts.


JACK ROSENTHAL, a prize-winning editorial writer and reporter for the Labor Press in 1960, has been promoted by The New York Times, where he's worked for 30 years. On Feb. 1, 2000, he will become president of The New York Times Company Foundation.

Currently, he's an assistant managing editor and also editor in chief of the NYT Magazine. Rosenthal, 64, won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1982 when he was the editorial page editor. He wrote for the Labor Press in the first year of the strike against the Oregonian and Oregon Journal. He was a reporter for the Oregonian before the strike.

While writing for the Labor Press, he also worked for the Portland Reporter, a tabloid newspaper started by the strikers and their unions. In 1961, he joined the Kennedy Administration as a public information officer for the Justice Department, and later worked for the State Department.

An editorial he wrote for the Labor Press won a first-place plaque from the International Labor Press Association. He's a graduate of Portland's Grant High School and Harvard.


TRENT (VACANT) LOTT, one of the backward state of Mississippi's contributions to the United States Congress, has said he worries about the cost to the federal government of President Bill Clinton's proposal to provide prescription drugs to Americans on Medicare. The Republican majority leader in the Senate ought to be told that some of us worry about the cost to taxpayers of the extensive and expensive health insurance coverage, including prescription drugs, dental care, eyeglasses and Viagra, provided to Lott and other members of Congress. Some of us also worry about the cost to taxpayers of the unconscionably high pensions which senators and representatives have bestowed on themselves. And some of us worry about the reported ties of Lott and one or two other Southern lawmakers to white supremacist Dixie whackos. Lott has, of course, denied that he's in bed with the white sheets. (For the record, Lott and his buddies have among the worst voting records on labor issues, according to the AFL-CIO.)


PAUL LOEB of Seattle, a member of the National Writers Union, has penned a newly published book, "Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time," which is a study of the psychology of the social movement. It was published by St. Martin's Press.

John Sweeney, president of the national AFL-CIO, said of it that Loeb "examines the roots of disengagement from community-economic disparity, job insecurity and a culture that values profit over people." Author Studs Terkel said: "Like few other chroniclers today, Paul Loeb uncannily captures the thoughts and hopes, inchoate though they may be, of America." A union publication, Newspaper Guild Reporter, said, "Cuts through the Generation X media hype of campus social and political life in an age of rampant materialism and individualism."


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