Address to the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department Conference, (24 March 1964) Washington, D.C.

Speech Text

[1] President Lyndon B. Johnson: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Haggerty, distinguished and beloved Secretary of Labor Mr. Wirtz, ladies and gentlemen:

[2] It is my high honor and very great privilege to come here this morning to fraternize and visit with not only the great workers of this country but, I am very proud to say, the great builders of this land.

[3] I have been asked to perform a very pleasant task—to present the Distinguished Service Award of the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped to a most distinguished American. When we talk and think and work for the employment of the handicapped, we should all be reminded of the text, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of thee, my brethren, ye have done it to me.”

[4] So it is a great honor to me as president and a great privilege to me as a human being to present this Distinguished Service Award to Mr. Walter Mason.

[5] Walter Mason:  Thank you very much Mr. President. I greatly appreciate this award. And I can assure you, that it will rest with me always.

[6] President Lyndon B. Johnson: I would be less than human if I didn’t tell you that I observed and enjoyed your welcome to this meeting. I am not like that preacher down in our country was when he showed up at his congregation one Sunday morning and much to his surprise the congregation had gone out and bought him a new Ford automobile for a present. And the preacher was so frustrated that he got up to acknowledge the wha—the generosity and the welcome and he said, “I do deserve it, but I don’t appreciate it.”

[7] I don’t deserve it, but I do appreciate it.

[8] As we meet here today, I think we should be reminded that more Americans are more prosperous than at any time in the history of America. In the past twelve months, we have set these records:

[9] Seventy million jobs for the first time in our history.

[10] National production over 600 billion dollars for the first time in our history.

[11] Average earnings in industry over one hundred dollars a week for the first time in our history.

[12] Over one million—600 million new homes—one million 600 thousand new homes in a year for the first time.

[13] New construction over 60 billion dollars for the first time.

[14] And by all these measures, our prosperity continues to grow. In new construction we should exceed 65 billion this year. The growth rate of our economy should be better than 6 percent—about double the rate of the last decade. Our economy was never stronger and never better, and times were never so good.

[15] But it is still not good enough. It is not good enough because the prosperity of which I speak is not being shared by every American. And I will not be satisfied until it is.

[16] Many people have jobs, but too many don’t. Many families are living well, but too many families are not.

[17] In 1946 this Nation, by an act of their Congress, made a solemn national commitment—a commitment to full employment for every American who needs a job. That national commitment still stands. But it is not yet fulfilled. I will not be satisfied until it is.

[18] In 1964 this Nation, by act of Congress, will make another and equally solemn national commitment: to abolish poverty in these United States of America.

[19] And we must not be satisfied until that is accomplished.

[20] These two goals—full employment and an end to poverty—depend on one another. As long as there are not enough jobs, there will be needless poverty, and as long as children and young people are raised in deprivation, not given a decent start in life, not given an equal chance for education and training they need to get to hold a decent job, then there will be needless poverty. We will achieve these twin goals not through any one measure, but through many.

[21] The tax cut just enacted is one of the most important actions ever taken by any Government at any time. Its deliberate purpose is to help make good our national pledge of full employment. It restored to the pockets of the people of America 25 million dollars per day that they could use for purchasing power—almost 900 million dollars per month. This bill should create directly and indirectly between two and three million new jobs.

[22] The President of one company told me last week that his company alone would use the benefits of this bill to provide 18,000 new jobs. Another President told me Saturday afternoon in the White House that he would use the benefits of the tax bill to spend a thousand, million dollars on new construction in the next few years.

[23] Now, we must be job conscious. We must be job hunting. We must be job finding. There are other job-creating measures on our agenda, and I want to tell you about them.

[24] One is the housing bill now before the Congress, aimed at raising the rate of new home construction from one and six-tenths million last year to two million by 19 and 70. We are aware of what the goal of full employment means, and I thought as I walked down that line and shook hands with the men who represented the laborers and the painters and the carpenters, I thought what these bills would mean to the folks that they spoke for back home. It means enough new jobs to employ the present excessively high number that are unemployed, plus enough to replace the jobs that have been lost to machines, plus enough for the record one and one half million net additions to the labor force each year as more and more young people join the search for work.

[25] Many of these new jobs must be and will be in the industry in which you are directly involved—construction—and a full employment economy… in a full employment economy, total construction for houses, for schools, for hospitals, for highways, for industry, should by the end of this decade reach a level double what it was in 1960, and that’s stepping it up quite a bit.

[26] To double what you have in ten years is something to take pride in. The war against poverty, therefore, is going to be fought on many fields.

[27] The retired, the elderly, the senior citizens of our land—they all deserve and are going to get a better deal.

[28] They need a program for medical assistance through social security, and they need it now.

[29] We are not going to sit idly by and let older folks fight high medical expenses in their late years all alone. We are going to join them. We are going to help them. We are going to fight with them.

[30] And that is why we are going to pass a medical assistance bill—if not this week, if not this month, if not this year, the earliest possible date.

[31] A national food stamp plan will improve the diets of the old and the young alike, and that’s why we must pass the National Food Stamp Bill, and we are going to do it.

[32] The minimum wage law should be extended to millions that are not now covered, and unemployment insurance should be strengthened.

[33] The Manpower Development and Training Act will have provided training opportunities for 125,000 Americans by the end of this fiscal year. Twice as many will be given training next year.

[34] The Economic Opportunity Act, which I submitted to Congress last week, will offer education and training opportunities to more than half a million young people and adults each year.

[35] These training programs will in no way diminish the opportunities for those already skilled, such as the craftsmen in your unions. They will not lower the skill requirements of jobs. But they will make employable many thousand who now live in idleness simply because they have no equipment for today’s complex world of work. So neither unemployment nor poverty can be conquered unless we vanquish also their ancient ally—discrimination.

[36] The recent progress toward complete integration has been greatly encouraging. And I am glad to have the presidents of the International Unions affiliated with the Buildings and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO as allies. The call last year for an end to discrimination, because of race or creed or color in hiring lists, in referral systems, in apprenticeship programs, or in membership, was a progressive and an advance and a welcome announcement.

[37] And as good citizens and as good friends, we mean to work together in carrying it out.

[38] We can all take pride in the success of the Missile Sites Commission. It is a vivid demonstration of what can be done when we all pull together in the national interest. The problem of work stoppage at missile bases has been minimized. It has been done by the voluntary cooperation of management and labor. You recognize that the national interest was greater than any individual interest. And by serving the Nation you added to the security of every citizen of this Nation.

[39] In no other industry of this scale and complexity do labor and management work harder or more earnestly or more successfully for understanding, and I am proud to pay tribute to you for that.

[40] As I said yesterday in Atlantic City, and as I repeat here again, I have emphasized many times before that we must not choke off our needed and our speeded economic expansion by revival of the price-wage spiral. Prices and wages must be arrived at freely, but they must be arrived at responsibly. You are builders and I ask your help in building the kind of America that we ought to build and that we can build together.

[41] I ask your help in redeeming the futures of the poor and the disadvantaged and those who have suffered from discrimination. The measure of our Nation’s greatness is not how high we can raise our urban towers but rather how high we can lift our peoples’ aspirations.

[42] Our work may be measured by how many homes we construct, but our work is measured by the fulfillment of the dreams of the people who live in those homes.

[43] And before I conclude, for a moment, if I may, I would just like to simply talk to you about your family and mine, about their future and their country.

[44] Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, as I sat in church, I thought about all the problems that faced this world—ancient feuds and recent quarrels that have disturbed widely separated parts of the Earth. You have seen five or six different quarrels appearing on the front page of your morning newspaper, and you’ve heard about our foreign policy.

[45] The world has changed and so has the method of dealing with disruptions of the peace. There may have been a time when a commander in chief would order soldiers to march the very moment a disturbance occurred, although restraint and fairness are not new to the American tradition. As a matter of fact, some people urged me to hurry in the Marines… when the air became a little hot on a particular occasion recently.

[46] But the world as it was and the world as it is, are not the same anymore. Once—once upon a time even large-scale wars could be waged without risking the end of civilization. But what was once upon a time is no longer so—because general war is impossible. In a matter of moments you can wipe out from fifty to a hundred million of our adversaries, or they can in the same amount of time, wipe out fifty million to a hundred million of our people, taking half of our land, half of our population in a matter of an hour. So general war is impossible and some alternatives are essential. The people of the world, I think, prefer reasoned agreement to ready attack. And that is why we must follow the prophet Isaiah many, many times before we send the Marines and say, “Come now, let us reason together.” And this is our objective: the quest for peace and not the quarrels of war.

[47] In this nuclear world, in this world of a hundred new nations, we must offer the outstretched arm that tries to help instead of an arm-length sword that helps to kill.

[48] In every troubled spot in the world, this hope for reasoned agreement instead of rash retaliation can bear fruit. Agreement is being sought and we hope and believe will soon be worked out with our Panamanian friends. The United Nations peacekeeping machinery is already on its merciful mission in Cyprus and a mediator is being selected.

[49] The water problem that disturbed us at Guantanamo is solved not by a battalion of Marines bayoneting in to turn on the water, but we sent a single admiral over to cut it off.

[50] And I can say to you that our base is self-sufficient in lean, lean readiness. And a source of danger and disagreement has been removed.

[51] In Vietnam, divergent voices cry out with suggestions, some for a larger scale war, some for more appeasement, some even for retreat. We do not criticize or demean them. We consider carefully their suggestions.

[52] But today finds us where President Eisenhower found himself ten years ago. The position he took with Vietnam then in a letter that he sent to the then-President is one that I could take in complete honesty today. And that is that we stand ready to help the Vietnamese preserve their independence and retain their freedom and keep from being enveloped by communism.

[53] We, the most powerful nation in the world, can afford to be patient. Our ultimate strength is clear, and it’s well known to those who would be our adversaries. But let’s be reminded that power brings obligation. The people in this country have more blessed hopes than bitter victory. The people of this country and the world expect more from their leaders than just the show of brute force. And so our hope and our purpose is to employ reasoned agreement instead of ready aggression, to preserve our honor without a world in ruins, to unders—to substitute if we can, understanding for retaliation.

[54] My most fervent prayer is to be a president who can make it possible for every boy in this land to grow to manhood by loving his country. Loving his country instead of dying for it.

[55] Thank you.