The Position of Labor Today



Radio address delivered Labor Day, September 1, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 706-707.

ON this day—this American holiday—we are celebrating the rights of free laboring men and women. The preservation of these rights is vitally important now not only to us who enjoy them but to the whole future of Christian civilization.

American labor now bears a tremendous responsibility in the winning of this most brutal, most terrible of all wars.

In our factories and shops and arsenals we are building weapons on a scale great in its magnitude. To all the battle fronts of this world these weapons are being dispatched, by day and by night, over the seas and through the air. And this nation is now devising and developing new weapons of unprecedented power toward the maintenance of democracy.

Why are we doing this? Why are we determined to devote our entire industrial effort to the prosecution of a war which has not yet actually touched our shores?

We are not a warlike people. We have never sought glory as a nation of warriors. We are not interested in aggression. We are not interested—as the dictators are—in looting. We do not covet one square inch of the territory of any other nation.

Sees Our Rights Imperiled

Our vast effort, and the unity of purpose that inspires that effort, are due solely to our recognition of the fact that our fundamental rights, including the rights of labor, are threatened by Hitler's violent attempt to rule the world.

These rights were established by our forefathers on the field of battle. They have been defended, at great cost but with great success, on the field of battle, here on our own soil and in foreign lands and on all the seas all over the world.

There has never been a moment in our history when Americans were not ready to stand up as free men and fight for their rights.

In times of national emergency, one fact is brought home to us clearly and decisively, the fact that all of our rights are interdependent.

The right of freedom of worship would mean nothing without freedom of speech. And the rights of free labor aswe know them today could not survive without the rights of free enterprise.

That is the indestructible bond that is between us, between all of us Americans—interdependence of interests, privileges, opportunities, responsibilities, interdependence of rights.

That is what unites us, men and women of all sections, of all races, of all faiths, of all occupations, of all political beliefs. That is why we have been able to defy and frustrate the enemies who believed that they could divide us and conquer us from within.

Naval Strength Cited

These enemies all know that we possess a strong Navy, a Navy gaining in strength. They know that that Navy, as long as the navies of the British Empire, and the Netherlands, and Norway, and Russia, exist, can together guarantee the freedom of the seas. These enemies know also that if these other navies are destroyed the American Navy cannot now, or in the future, maintain the freedom of the seas against all the rest of the world.

These enemies know that our Army is increasing daily in its all-round strength.

These enemies know that today the chief American fighters in the battles now raging are those engaged in American industry, employers and employees alike.

These enemies know that the course of American production in the last year has shown enormous gains and that the product of these industries is moving to the battle fronts, the battle fronts against Hitlerism, in increasing volume each day.

But these enemies also know that our American effort is not yet enough, and that unless we step up the total of our production and more greatly safeguard it on its journeys to the battlefields, these enemies will take heart in pushing their attack in fields old and new.

The Right Time to Strike I give solemn warning to those who think that Hitler has been blocked and halted, that they are making a very dangerous assumption. When in any war your enemy seems to be making slower progress than he did the yearbefore, that is the very moment to strike with redoubled force, to throw more energy into the job of defeating him, to end for all time the menace of world conquest and thereby end all talk or thought of any peace founded on a compromise with evil itself.

And we know that a free labor system is the very foundation of a functioning democracy. We know that one of the first acts of the Axis dictatorships has been to wipe out all the principles and standards which labor had been able to establish for its own preservation and advancement.

Trade unionism is a forbidden philosophy under these rule or ruin dictators. For trade unionism demands full freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Trade unionism has helped to give to every one who toils the position of dignity which is his due.

The present position of labor in the United States as an interdependent unit in the life of the nation has not come about by chance. It has been an evolutionary process of a healthy democracy at work.

Labor's Fate Under Hitler

Hitler has not worked that way. He will not, he cannot work that way. Just as he denies all rights to individuals he must deny all rights to groups—groups of labor, or business, groups of learning, of the Church. He has abolished trade unions as ruthlessly as he has persecuted religion.

No group of Americans has realized more clearly what Nazi domination of the world means than has organized labor—what it means to their standard of living, their freedom, their lives. No group has a greater stake in the defeat of Nazism, in the preservation of the fundamental freedoms, in the continuance of democracy throughout the world. We have already achieved much; it is imperative that we achieve infinitely more.

The single-mindedness and sacrifice with which we jointly dedicate ourselves to the production of the weapons of freedom will determine in no small part the length of the ordeal through which humanity must pass.

We cannot hesitate, we cannot equivocate in the great task before us. The defense of America's freedom must take precedence over every private aim and over every private interest.

Yes, we are engaged on a grim and perilous task. Forces of insane violence have been let loose by Hitler upon this earth. We must do our full part in conquering them. For these forces may be unleashed on this nation as we go about our business of protecting the proper interests of our country.

Assails Appeasers

The task of defeating Hitler may be long and arduous. There are a few appeasers and Nazi sympathizers who say it cannot be done. They even ask me to negotiate with Hitler—to pray for crumbs from his victorious table. They do, in fact, ask me to become the modern Benedict Arnold and betray all that I hold dear—my devotion to our freedom—to our churches—to our country. This course I have rejected—I reject it again.

Instead, I know that I speak the conscience and determination of the American people when I say that we shall do everything in our power to crush Hitler and his Nazi forces.

American workers, American farmers, American businessmen, American church people, all of us together, have the great responsibility and the great privilege of laboring to build a democratic world on enduring foundations.

May it be said on some future Labor Day by some future President of the United States that we did our work faithfully and well.