Sargent Shriver today asked union members to join the war on poverty by helping young men and women qualify for a job.
Shriver particularly asked retired union craftsmen to step forward as advisors, consultants, teachers and leaders in the Job Corps Centers which will train 40,000 young Americans in the first year of the anti-poverty program.
Shriver is the designated director of the newly created Office of Economic Opportunity, the agency charged with fighting the war on poverty.
"We need you help in teaching the skills you possess. We need members of your union - and all craftsmen - to serve as consultants, advisors, teachers and leaders in our Job Corps Centers.
Those youngsters are smart and they are eager. They want to learn. They have respect for a man with a skill, a man with a craft and a trade of his own. They would come to him, not just for training but for advice. And he could give them a kind of supervision and training and guidance such as these kids never have had before.
"We could use every retired member of your union in the towns and cities of this nation to give youngsters respect for quality work and to give them a pride in crafts and skills that they have never developed before.
"You can play a leadership role in communities everywhere - in awakening them to the need to act and then in shaping programs that will really do the job. Nobody could be of greater assistance than you in helping to decide training needs, in advising on the content of training courses for community groups and for high schools seeking new ways to prevent school dropouts."
Shriver warned against campaign "scare tactics" that would make union men believe that "if you help the poor they will come in and take your jobs, destroy your job security, threaten your pensions, your work hours, even your property."
"These are dangerous arguments and they are seductive ones. But they should be stated in all their ugliness with the kind of bluntness and frankness you men respect.
"First, no one is saying that the working man is rich, that he has no problems or worries. By comparison with the poor, the really poor - the family that has to live on less than thirty dollars a week - we are all rich. But none of us has everything we want - or even everything we need.
"But let's get it straight right now: The poverty program was not built on the notion that the union man or the business man and the rest of America could be ignored. It was only built on the belief that there was one fifth of America that should not and could not be ignored any longer.
"Second, no one is trying to take anything away from anybody. The war on poverty is not in the business of taking away jobs, or homes, or TV sets. We are in business to create jobs, to provide training and to give people a chance.
"Third, we are not giving out doles to the poor. We are not taking money from the rich to give to the poor. We are not distributing checks. Every cent that the poor get under these programs they will be earning - by working at jobs that badly need doing, by sticking it out through a tough training and apprenticeship program that will equip them for future jobs. But we are not saying that the poor are entitled, as a matter of right - and for free - to everything that you have earned by the sweat of your brow.
"Fourth, the poor are not poor because they are lazy and shiftless. Thirty-five million Americans are not wastrels and derelicts. And we know, for a fact, that one third of the poor are the aged - people who have to pay rising living costs and ever higher medical bills on a fixed income. We know, for a fact that one third of the poor are children. These are boys and girls who never had a chance and, without these programs, never would get a chance. They started kindergarten with a handicap. By the time they reach fifth grade, or sixth, they're way behind. By high school, they know they are beaten. And they drop out of school and look for jobs - for which they don't qualify. But can we call them lazy and shiftless? The truth is licked before they start."
At the heart of this new anti-poverty program is a recognition of the need for a new kind of relationship between the poor and the rest of society -- a relationship of trust, of mutual understanding and mutual respect. We can make that relationship work. But we have to communicate in the language of human feelings and needs. This is the common language of all mankind. The voices of humanity, of compassion, and of calm concern must prevail. Distrust, fear, and resentment breed all too rapidly. The best intentioned efforts can be misconstrued and the best intentioned of persons misbranded and misunderstood. Somehow, through your help, the voices of men of good will must come through loud and clear. You can help, help immeasurably, to make sure that the still small voices of compassion, of human understanding, and indeed, of love, are not distorted, do not falter and grow silent. And you can do much to help us listen for the first time to the voices of the poor. For the first time, those voices, through you, can begin to speak hesitatingly and fearfully, but with hope.
Let me read you the words of one such voice. They come from a letter written by a 17-year-old delinquent who participated in a Job Corps pilot project in Philadelphia. He writes: "This is the next to the last day...Even though I didn't think I would, I think I am going to miss this place. I have met a lot of different people here and found out how they lived. Perhaps some of them I'll never see again. Maybe I'm wrong but I think this program was to draw people together who probably would fight on the outside. If I go back to the way I used to live I think I will be able to think before I do something, and I found out something that I need a hell of a lot of growing up. I don't know but I think I've grown up a little since I've been here."
And then he continues in a postscript:
"This is night time of that same day. I just came back from my graduation, and I saw something I either never saw before or never cared to look. I saw my mother being proud of me, maybe it might seem stupid but it made me feel good."
And that's what this war on poverty is really all about.