Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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Harry S. Truman
1945-1953


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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  128. Address in Butte, Montana  
May 12, 1950

THANK YOU very much. I appreciate that introduction very, very much.

It is a pleasure to be here in Butte. I can remember, not quite 2 years ago, you gave me a grand reception. I drove through the town at that time, for I had a little more time, and I remember the grand performance which this wonderful band of yours put on for us that night. I will never forget it.

I remember that I was told by the then mayor of Butte that there were more people at the meeting than lived in the town. And I asked him how that happened, and he said, "Oh, they come from 50 miles around, they just want to see what you look like."

It looks to me like you not only want to see what I look like, but you want to understand what he stands for, and I appreciate it.

I thank you most cordially, Mr. Mayor, for the welcome this morning. I am very highly pleased with the way you have come to hear the report I have to make.

I came to the Pacific Northwest to dedicate Grand Coulee Dam. That dam is one of the most remarkable engineering feats ever accomplished. More electric power is generated there than in any other plant in the world. It will bring immense benefits to the people in the region that it serves and to our whole Nation. It is an outstanding example of how we can use our Federal power and our Federal Government to perform tasks that are so big they are beyond the power of any other agency through which the people can act.

This trip is giving me an opportunity to report to the people about their Federal Government. It is your Government. Every year the President reports to the Congress on the state of the Union. That is a good thing. But it seems to me that it is just as important for the President to report directly to the people who elected him. And that is what I am doing now.

In our democracy the Government is responsible to the people, and they are entitled to know just what the Government is doing. I find that one of the best ways for me to report to you is to come out here where I can talk to you face to face. And where I can say in clear, plain English that we all understand, just exactly what I am doing, and it can't be garbled by anybody.

I understand that some people have objected to my doing that. They give all sorts of reasons for their objections, but I think the real reason is that they are afraid the people might like it too well when the President comes out to see them. And I think that is exactly what is the matter with them.

Today, I want to report to you on some of the Government's activities and programs that are of particular interest to working men and women. But, first, I want to remind you that the welfare of all groups of the population is inseparable. Workers, businessmen, and farmers all depend upon one another-they all prosper together or they all suffer together.

I understand that you have had a clear demonstration of that fact here in Butte within recent months.

This city depends very largely upon the production of copper. When the demand for copper fell off last year, it affected the Anaconda Copper Company. But the results didn't stop there. The men who worked for the company were also affected. There were layoffs in the mines and smelters.

Well now, things are looking up again. The market for copper has improved. The company's business is better again, and the men who had been laid off have been put back to work. In fact, I saw where someone was advertising in a Colorado paper the other day to get more hard-rock miners to come up here to work. And I have got a copy of that advertisement, and it is right interesting: "One hundred hard-rock miners wanted in Butte, Mont. Apply Colorado State Employment Service. The company recruiter will show you what to do and where to go. Anaconda Copper Company."

I am mighty glad to hear that there are jobs for people in Butte, and I hope it will always be that way.

However, you cannot be prosperous here unless the rest of the country is prosperous. Your jobs and the company's profits depend on what people are able to buy in New York, in Georgia, in Texas, and all over this great country of ours.

You have a vital and direct interest in the economic welfare of the entire Nation, and therefore have an equal interest in what the Government does to maintain the economic welfare of the Nation.

The Federal Government has always taken a hand in the country's economic affairs. Indeed, one of the purposes for which our Union was formed was to promote trade and commerce among the several States. Some people seem to forget that sometimes, but it is just as true now as it was when the Constitution was ratified.

During the last 17 years, however, the Government has played a larger part in our economic life than ever before. There is a reason for this, and one that is not hard to find. The reason is the great depression of the early 1930's--and the lessons we have learned from that depression and from the events since then.

We have learned that in a dynamic, highly industrialized economy such as ours, the Federal Government must use its strength and resources to prevent violent cycles of boom and bust. We learned during the period from 1929 to 1933 what happens if the Government stands on the sidelines-with men in high places merely smiling cheerfully and saying that everything is going to be all right. We have learned since 1933 that a government which takes positive action can supplement and support the efforts of private business in such a way as to keep our economy steadily expanding.

These lessons have been hard for some people to take. In fact, they deny them still. All of you, I am sure, have heard many cries about the Government interference with business and about "creeping socialism."

I should like to remind the gentlemen who make these complaints that if events had been allowed to continue as they were going prior to March 4, 1933, most of them would have no business left for the Government or anyone else to interfere with--and almost surely we would have socialism in this country, real socialism, not the kind they define.

The truth is that Government action during the last 17 years has been the salvation of private business in this country and has strengthened the private enterprise system against socialism, communism, and all the rest of the "isms."

Don't let anyone tell you that the Government should retire to the sidelines while the national economy goes back to the days of "boom and bust." The power of the Government exists for the people to use. It would be folly for the people to be afraid to use their collective strength through the Government. And again I reiterate that it is your Government, and you run it.

The strength of the Government is being used now--and so far as I am concerned, it will continue to be used--to protect your jobs and improve your welfare. If there is anything wrong with that, I would like to have somebody tell me what it is.

Perhaps our most important single economic goal is to see that there are enough jobs for those who need them. This was the purpose behind the Employment Act of 1946 That act pledged the resources of the Federal Government for the maintenance of maximum employment, production, and purchasing power. We are now committed to using the full strength and resources of our national Government to keep our country prosperous. No one was more influential in getting that act adopted than your own Senator--Senator James Murray. And I am most sincerely sorry to hear of the illness of Mrs. Murray. I sincerely hope that she will have an early recovery.

You sometimes hear it said--and I think this comes mostly from the lunatic fringe among the reactionaries--that the Government promises to make it possible for people to live without working. You know, you are a reactionary lunatic to stay in the Government. They say our Government programs would make us a nation of deadbeats and loafers. Of course, that is just as absurd as it can be.

I think it is the responsibility of Government to help those who, because of old age or other disability, are unable to work, and those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to find work. I believe that the strong should help the weak, and I make no apologies for that belief, either.

But for men who are able to work, I want jobs--and not idleness. That's what they want, too--an opportunity to earn their own living. I have too much faith in the American workingman to have any doubt about his willingness to give full value received for the wages he is paid.

There is one thing I am accused of sometimes to which I will have to plead guilty. I am in favor of good wages. I think that the people who do the work are entitled to a fair share of the income from the product. I believe that they should share in the benefits of technological improvements and increased productivity. I believe that one of our goals should be a steadily improving standard of living for the American working man and for his family.

Our main reliance for seeing that the workingman gets a fair share of the benefits of our economy, is upon collective bargaining between employees and employers. This bargaining process is carried on between private parties, but it vitally affects the public interest. It is of the utmost importance to the whole Nation that negotiations between labor and management be conducted in good faith, with sincerity and patience, by parties who are able to bargain freely as equals around a table.

Before the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, the status of collective bargaining in the United States was at a low ebb. Under the Wagner Act, great progress was made in the field of industrial relations. All too often we fail to realize that the progress achieved under that act had a lot to do with the improvement in our economic conditions which we have enjoyed. Make no mistake about it, the Wagner Act was one of the bulwarks of American liberty and prosperity.

Then came 1947 and Taft-Hartley. The Taft-Hartley Act emasculated the Wagner Act and subverted its purposes. The avowed intention of its sponsors was to strengthen the hand of management. To do this, they devised a clever law which insidiously undermines the strength of labor unions.

The Taft-Hartley law hangs over the head of labor, threatening to destroy the gains of 15 years. There it will hang until we are able to replace it with a law that is fair both to management and labor alike.

That is something we must do--not only for the sake of labor, but for the sake of the whole country. I believe profoundly that the Taft-Hartley law is a substantial infringement of the basic freedom of collective bargaining.

I will not cease to fight for its repeal. That was in the Democratic platform. I made speeches all over the country in support of the Democratic platform, and I am still going to carry out that platform, because you elected me to do it.

In other fields we have made considerable progress since I last visited with you here in Butte.

Last year we increased the minimum wage under Federal law from 40 cents to 75 cents an hour. That probably did not have a direct effect on many people in this city. For, I am glad to say, most people who are employed here, in jobs which that law covers, already made more than 75 cents an hour. However, you will all benefit from the improvement it brings about in other parts of the country.

In the social security field the Congress has been considering a bill to strengthen our system of old-age and survivors' insurance. You will recall that I have pointed out many times how pitifully small these social security benefits now are, and how a great many people are left out altogether. I am confident that the Congress will complete action at this session on legislation which will do much to remedy both these shortcomings. However, I must confess that I have been disappointed at the inadequacy of some of the provisions which are in the bill in its present form.

There is one governmental program with which some of you probably have had firsthand experience lately--that is, one of unemployment compensation. I am sorry if you had to fall back on it, but I am mighty glad that it was there for you to rely on, and I'll bet you are mighty glad of that, too.

This is an insurance system to help tide workers over periods when they are temporarily out of employment through no fault of their own. This system has thoroughly proved its value, both as a means of alleviating hardship among workers and their families, and as a support to our general economy by helping to maintain purchasing power.

However, this system--like the old-age insurance system--also needs modernization and strengthening. Benefit rates should be brought up to date, in line with today's prices. The duration of benefits should be extended. Additional workers should be given the benefits of the law's protection.

I have made recommendations of this nature to the Congress, and I hope that the necessary improvements in this law will be made.

I expect that you people are also interested in housing. You are interested in houses as homes for your families; and, if Butte is like other places, houses have been rather scarce lately.

Moreover, you people here in Butte have a special interest in seeing a high level of housing construction all over the country, because people who build houses use copper, and that's your main product here.

I have some things both good and bad to report about housing--mostly good.

Today, home construction is at an all-time record volume. Now, that did not happen all by itself. One of the main reasons for it is that the Government has been helping to make credit available at low-interest rates for long periods.

However, not enough houses are being built for low-income families and middle-income families, who too often cannot pay today's prices for housing.

We have made real progress on one of these points. Last year we passed a law to provide assistance to the cities of the country in building low-rent public housing. It took a long time to get that law passed over the opposition of the real estate lobby, but we finally got it through in the first session of the 81st Congress.

So far, we haven't done so well on our proposal to build more housing for middle-income families. But we are going to keep on trying--just as we did for the public housing bill--and I am sure that we will get it eventually.

I have talked to you mainly today about programs which are of special significance in a great mining and industrial center such as this one. But these programs are important not only to this community; they are part of a broad national effort to achieve higher incomes and better standards of living for all the people.



That is important to us.
It is also important to world peace.

We are now engaged in a great worldwide struggle to demonstrate that the free way of life is the way to the highest level of well-being for all the peoples of the world. To that end we must make our own economy even stronger, and must constantly improve the welfare of our people.

That is a job for all of us, whether we are in private life or in public life. We will attain these goals by working together for a common cause.
Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:55 a.m. from a platform erected in front of the Northern Pacific Depot, at Butte, Mont. In his opening words he referred to Governor John Woodrow Bonnet of Montana and Mayor Thomas R. Morgan of Butte. In the course of his address he referred to Senator James E. Murray of Montana.
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.