Legislative Conference, Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), (16 September 1977) Washington, D.C.

Speech Text

[1] President Madar, sisters and brothers.  It is a pleasure for me to be with you today, and to bring you the best wishes and greetings of the AFL-CIO.

[2] I was not surprised when the Coalition of Labor Union Women was formed.  People who have common problems and common goals must work together for their common good.  So, as I said, I wasn’t surprised when the CLUW was formed.  I was only surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner.

[3] The idea that women workers have special problems is not a new concept.  Back in 1891 the AFL convention directed the hiring of a woman organizer.  Sam Gompers reported to the 1892 convention – a year later – that the work of Mary Kenny was “rather missionary in its character.”  It still is and – my fellow missionaries – I’m delighted you have that old spirit and that you are demonstrating it, both within and without the labor movement.

[4] Within the labor movement, your efforts have helped encourage women trade unionists to seek leadership roles.  You have assisted them in developing the skills necessary for leadership – for dealing with the myriad problems ranging for government regulations to lobbying.

[5] You have provided special expertise to the labor movement – on such issues as day care, minimum wage, pregnancy benefits and national health insurance.

[6] CLUW has been the focal point for labor’s support of the Equal Rights Amendment.  That’s a rough battle, as all of you here know – but it is not a lost battle.  We still have a fighting chance – and we – and I am sure you – intend to give it our best shot.

[7] Your officers and the staff of the AFL-CIO have worked closely in attempting to secure the greatest possible support for ratification, and we are ready, willing and able to continue that battle.  Even together, we may not produce miracles, but we can do our level best to produce ratification.  And, I still think ERA can be won.

[8] But in 1977, the issue is more than ERA – as important as that issue is.  The issue is jobs for everyone willing and able to work. The issue is a decent minimum wage.  The issue is labor law reform. The issue is every fight for human betterment.  And you – and the entire labor movement – have the same stake every time.

[9] Take the need for a better minimum wage – a minimum wage that won’t constantly be falling further and further behind.  Well, women workers are just as involved as anyone else in that fight.  After all, women work for the same reasons men work – to earn money to raise their families and make life better for themselves and their children.

[10] Recently, an economist told a House committee that the minimum wage was so weighted toward women workers that George Meany must be a closet feminist for supporting it.  Well, if supporting a living wage makes me a feminist, move over, sisters.  I’ve been called lots worse.

[11] Another issue of major concern to the labor movement – and to all of America – is the economy.  Unemployment remains terribly high – almost 10 percent overall by our calculations when you include those too discouraged to even look for jobs and those forced to work part-time because full-time jobs are not available.

[12] One out of every 10 workers jobless – that’s not only discouraging news for the labor movement, it is a statistic that means the American economy is still in bad shape.

[13] Add to that unemployment figure the fact that more than 16 percent of the nation’s plants and machinery are standing idle and you have a big part of the reason for continued inflation.  Idle machines and idle workers contribute nothing to America’s productivity and they constitute a drain on its resources.

[14] Add to that the continuing increases in interest rates, resulting from the policies of Dr. Arthur Burns, and you find clear evidence that everything you buy is going to cost more in the future.

[15] The Burns policy of high interest rates and high unemployment has not been the cure for inflation, as he claimed when he started it in February of 1969.  What he did was create simultaneously both recession and runaway inflation, something economists said just couldn’t happen.

[16] Well, Dr. Burns is still prescribing and the economy is still suffering.  And the tragedy is that President Carter seems to still be listening to Dr. Burns rather than retiring him.

[17] Throughout last year’s campaign, Mr. Carter attacked the economic policies that had created recession and he puts jobs at the head of his priority list.  Unfortunately, at least for the first seven months of his Administration, he has failed to follow his campaign priorities.  Now, the White House indicates, priorities are being reassessed.  I hope so.  A change in direction can’t come a minute too soon.

[18] The White House is also sending up signals about the Humphrey-Hawkins bill.  A hard new look is being taken, we’re told, and the Administration might be willing to support some sort of legislation to plan for full employment.  Well, once again, I hope so.

[19] There is no earthly reason why this nation cannot plan for and achieve full employment.  Full employment is what America needs above all else – a job for every man and woman willing and able to work.  For more than eight years now, America has been planning for unemployment.  We think it’s time for a change.

[20] Also of major importance to the American labor movement is the need for labor law reform.  In this fight we have the complete support of President Carter.  He has asked Congress to pass a measure which we are wholeheartedly supporting.

[21] Boiled down to its essentials, it is simply a measure that will guarantee to workers the rights spelled out 42 years ago when the National Labor Relations Act was passed.  That law said that workers had a right to freely join unions and bargain collectively but for 42 years – and increasingly in recent years – certain employers have made a mockery of that law.

[22] They have illegally fired workers for the “crime” of being union members.  They have stalled NLRB elections, sometimes for years.  They have appealed NLRB and court decisions until the workers are so demoralized and so fearful that they often don’t dare to vote for a union.  And, when a union is chosen as the bargaining agent, employers fail to bargain in good faith.  And they get away with it.  J. P. Stevens is a prime example of these corporate law breakers, but it isn’t alone in its defiance of the United States.  It is just the biggest and the worst.

[23] All the Carter Labor Law Reform bill will do is to curb these law breakers and make them pay for their law-breaking.  And, it’s about time they were brought to the bar of justice.

[24] I don’t have to remind this group of the stake women have in this fight.  After all, it is frequently women workers who are the most exploited.

[25] That’s why it was no surprise to me that many of the worker witnesses for labor law reform have been women.  Equally, I have not been surprised that many of the employer witnesses, so clearly anti-union, also have the lousiest records when it comes to equal employment opportunities.  After all, scratch an opponent of ERA, and you’ll find a dedicated supporter of the so-called right-to-work law.

[26] Really, it isn’t just unions or women workers that these employers oppose with such vigor.  What they are really fighting is the democratic nature of the labor movement, the industrial democracy of collective bargaining.  That is what has them scared.

[27] You see, the theory of democracy is that people count more than money and they can’t stand it when we make our votes count.

[28] So the AFL-CIO – and I am sure CLUW feels the same way – is in this fight to stay.  It is all one fight – with a lot of separate battles.  ERA, full employment, minimum wage, labor law reform, pregnancy benefits, national health insurance – these are not women’s issues, they are labor issues, trade union issues.  They are fights all of us must win and win together.

[29] Speaking for the AFL-CIO Executive Council, let me express our sincere appreciation for the support CLUW and your officers have given in this year’s legislative fights.  We know that we can count on you.

[30] You’ve proven that CLUW is an organization working to benefit all working people.

[31] Labor history has many chapters about the role of women in the labor movement.  You are writing a new chapter, and I’m confident you intend to make it the greatest chapter yet.  I am proud to be here with you today.