"The Resurgence of Labor - Workers and the Quality of Life in America"

September 7, 1972

...the history of the Democratic Party has been closely linked to the history of American labor. The fortunes of the Democratic Party have risen and fallen with the fortunes of the American working man. When labor has marched, we have won. But not only has the Democratic Party won. The American people have won.

I speak to you today in the wake of a great resurgence of labor in America. From the young workers at Lordstown, Ohio who would not stand for an assembly line which would- make them robots executing their tasks once every 36 seconds,-- to the lettuce workers of the great corporate farms of the Salinas Valley of California, the sound of the marching feet of labor can be heard once again.

The voices of labor are raised once again in protest. It is a protest against rising prices. It is a protest against rising taxes. It is a protest against a government which has vetoed job and child-care legislation...opposed job safety and a higher minimum wage, and vetoed government jobs for the unemployed. The labor protest we hear today spares none of those who have held positions of responsibility and yet neglected their, trust. The wave of protest is breaking over employer, politician, and union executive alike. It is a resurgence of the rank and file working men and women of this nation.

There are those in this country who do not understand why it is that over 17 million Americans find their jobs unsatisfying, grew and why job dissatisfaction grew by 73% between 1969 and 2971. There are those who would resist the new strikes that have swept our public employees. And there are those who call it rebellion because oppressive jobs caused the absentee rate at major automobile companies to double between 1960 and 1970.

They would call it rebellion. But I say to you as professor of psychology Erik Erikson has said, them is a little of the rebellious chevalier in every American. And I say to you today, that the cause of labor is the cause of all America. As in to many great days in our history, from the days of Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan to the great F.D.R., and now today, labor has taken up the cause of a moving, daring, progressive America.

There have been many sporadic protests the last decade, for particular needs, and against particular injustices in our nation’s life. Many have been valid protests, which have called our attention to crying needs. But with the resurgence of labor, I believe we see a reassertion of a great tradition of progressive politics--- a tradition which includes men and women, black and white, immigrant and citizen. I believe we wee the reassertion of a grand coalition of reform. And I believe in the very campaign we wage this autumn, we shall see again as so many times before, two historic truths bearing fruit. For the truth is that labor is the backbone of America. And the truth is, that labor is the muscle of the Democratic Party.

Those who are truly listening to the working men and women of America know that they are calling us again to new frontiers. Their protest is not only about jobs and wages, though jobs and wages are important. Their protest is not only about work safety and the plight of the elderly or the injured, though these things too are still important. The newly resurgent labor movement is warning us that in the dynamo of technology, we may be losing the soul of America. How else do we explain the recent findings of social scientists that workers are as concerned about the nature and content of their jobs as they are about their pay? How else do we explain the fact that in a sample of more than '200 workers over 40 years of age it was found that 36 percent had thought often about making a serious effort to change occupations? How else do we explain the five o'clock rush away from the factory gate? And how else does a country so concerned about productivity explain away rising absentee rates, rising turnover rates, and rising disciplinary layoff rates?

Some people will be surprised at these findings. But those who have been listening to working men and women have been, aware of the severity of the problem for a long time; Senator George McGovern has said:

"I find many workers caught up in meaningless experiences, boring work, and plant conditions which remind them from the moment they step inside the door that they are second class citizens."

The fact is that we did not need efficiency experts or even social scientists to tell us that something has gone wrong with the way we run our production in America. The rising tide of job dissatisfaction in our country is a source of concern; but I think there would be greater cause for concern if workers did not resist a system which threatens to dehumanize us all.

A generation ago, in a dark hour, when a great economic depression enveloped this nation; Franklin Roosevelt met the crisis in the perennial spirit of the Democratic party-- the spirit of healthy pragmatism and experimentation. Today it is George McGovern who has taken up the standard of that great tradition. I am proud to join with him. And as our Party did a generation ago, we seek to learn from the working man, and to join with the working man, in striking the sledge-hammer blows of reform.

For the fact is, that today as in the past, the solutions to the problems which we face will come not from abstract and theoretical formulations, but from the practical daily experiences of working people.

They will come from the workers on that T.V. assembly line who demand to work in a team, putting together individual sets, instead of each man turning one, bolt in isolation all day long.

They will come from people like the woman who once spent her day pulling checks from envelopes, stacking them in piles, who now handles total corporate accounts for her bank.

For workers are telling us that instead of breaking down jobs into smaller and smaller pieces, we should put them back together. The solutions will come from fitting the job to the worker instead of the reverse. "Gliding work times" might allow a worker to take his eight hours at any time of the day. Innovations in compensation might key wages to the number of different skills a worker possesses, and require employers to provide the necessary training for advancement.

White collar as well as blue collar workers will help us find the solutions. Data indicates that white collar people are as dissatisfied with their jobs as blue collar people. As one management consultant reported, "there are very few at any level who are getting any kicks out of work. On Wall Street, you stand by the elevator doors at 4:30 and its all you can do not to be trampled to death."

So it is, that the men and women who have been trapped by the dehumanizing effects of our technology will be the ones to help the rest of us find away out. Employers will find that workers with rewarding jobs are more productive-- where programs of job redesign have been instituted, the consequent stimulation of interest has raised quality and slashed error rates.

But the new voice of labor calls us to more than a repair job on our productive engine. It is calling us once again to what must be done to build a decent America.

What is needed is not only having new efficiency experts come down to the plant to institute so-called job enrichment programs. It is well and good for management to dream again of the happy productive worker. But the working man must get his cut of the higher productivity that will come from treating people not as robots but as humans.

What is needed is not only job redesign, semi-autonomous work groups, job rotation, innovations in compensation, and government support for pilot projects in job content, and new regulations in federal agencies and on federal contracts. It is well and good for us to experiment with all these matters. It is even necessary. But it is not enough. The new voice of labor calls us to all of these tasks. But it calls us to much more as well.

The voice of labor calls upon us to humanize American life. It calls upon us to make the productive machine once again an extension of man instead of the reverse. And by calling our attention to job dissatisfaction, labor is forcing us all to look anew at the effect of the industrial system on the American character. In complex modern organizations as in the simpler agrarian Republic from which we have grown, there is only one way we can insure the individual dignity and well-being which is the birthright of every American:

We need not only rewarding jobs.

We need not only towns and cities which are productive and growing.

What we need is a national community based on equity, security, and democracy. Yet if we are honest with ourselves, we must recognize that America under the current administration falls short of this goal. And that, is the critical issue in this campaign.

We certainly cannot call a system equitable where giant corporations make millions of dollars and yet pay no taxes, while the wage earner always pays and pays.

And we certainly cannot call a people secure where seventeen million Americans find their jobs unsatisfying and 2.4 million are caught in dead-end jobs with little chance for advancement. The Nixon administration talks much of national security; but it has not produced genuine security in our own country. It is bad enough that the administration has turned the 3.5% unemployment rate it found on assuming office into a rate of nearly 6%. It is a travesty that so many million more Americans who are working, are caught in a blind alley. There are countries among our friends in Western Europe where workers (who in the middle of their lives seek new occupational training) not only receive government grants for their education, but where the family needs are met by a stipend which measures about 70% of the worker's last wage. Such an expenditure is an investment in the productivity of the nation. In the United States, inflation has grown, in part, out of a slowing down in productivity due to lack of training and retraining among those who have been technologically unemployed. But retraining is more than an investment in productivity. It is an investment in human capital. There is much that deeds to be done to alter the face of the factories, workshops and offices of America; but there is no higher priority than turning out the administration which could veto manpower training, and federal employment for the unemployed, and electing a ticket and a party which hears the voice of labor--which hears the voice of the American people.

Finally, we cannot call a nation truly democratic where men not only lack control of their government, but control of their own jobs and lives. The executive does not punch a clock nor is he docked pay when he takes working hours to go to the dentist. For the wage laborer it is different. And so, in calling upon us to humanize American life, the voice of labor calls upon us above all, to return to a concern for the individual working man, a concern for genuine decency. Irving Bluestone of the United Auto Workers has said, "job functions should be engineered to fit the worker… our current system is to make the worker fit the job." Harold Sheppard of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research has found that to design a satisfying job, that is to make the job fit the worker, the job must contain the key components of variety, responsibility, and autonomy. It is this which is the crux of the matter. Whatever we do, fancy labels and even government funds are not enough. Whatever else we do, we must assure that the individual worker has control of his own time, his own job, his own life.

In large matters and in small, we must heed again the voice of the working man. We must heed again the voice of labor. For in calling us to humanize our society, labor calls us again to our most humane traditions of security, equity, and democracy.

The history of the oldest continuous democratic political party in the world--- the history of the Democratic Party--- has been closely linked to the history of American labor. The fortunes of the Democratic Party have risen and fallen with the fortunes of the American working man. When labor has marched, we have won. But not only has the Democratic Party won. The American people have won. For the working men and women of America have again and again awakened our conscience and sounded a call to progress and reform. And so this ticket, this Party, this country, are not distressed that the knights of labor are on the march once more-- that the voices of labor are heard once more in the land. We welcome the resurgence of labor. We hear the voices of working America. We believe as the philosopher, Albert Camus said, "Without work all life goes rotten. But when work is soulless, life stifles and dies." And we are ready to join the working men and women in an effort to humanize our society. That is the meaning of this campaign. We join the working men and women of the land—we join them proudly as we have so many times before—in an effort to transform the face of America; and bring our country back once more to her most humane traditions.