Address to the Illinois State Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
"Our job is not just getting people out of poverty. It is keeping them out. We are not going to win this war if, for every poor person who gets out of poverty, another person falls in. Illness, old age, automation menace us all. That’s precisely why we all have to stick together."
Our American Revolution -- the political revolution which gave birth to the. USA -- started with the cry!
“Taxation without representation is tyranny.”
The industrial revolution produced the Labor Movement --- and that movement had a similar slogan --- “employment without representation is tyranny” – collective bargaining is a fundamental democratic right.
Today, that slogan is being updated again. The poorest people Nation say: Welfare without representation is tyranny.
Education, housing, counseling, handouts, without representation, without a chance to be heard and represented -- that is tyranny.”
And overseas the peoples of the world are crying out for the same kinds of representation or participation in the political and social activities of their own countries.
The Peace Corps has taught us a number of lessons concerning the social and political revolution now going on all over the world. The Peace Corps volunteers have learned to say to poor people in Africa, Asia and Latin America: “Maybe our way isn’t best for everybody. We’re here to help you on your terms -- not to make you do things exactly the way we want, you to.”
Tom Carter, a Peace Corps volunteer who served in Chimbote, Peru, wrote: “Our school has no roof. It would be a $10-project and about one day’s labor for two or three Peace Corps men to build that roof. Yet, we don’t do it. If we gave my school a roof, it would always be that, a gift, the ‘Gringos’ roof. When it needed fixing, no one could fix it.
If it takes me a year to talk my neighbors into putting on that roof, it will be worth it. Because then it will be their roof, on their school. It would be a small start, but in the right direction. Maybe then we would take on a little harder project and step by step build up a powerful organization interested in progress and strong enough to do something about it.”
You in the labor movement know what Tom Carter meant. Translated into union slogans, it meant:
-- Let’s build our own union, our own organization
-- No company unions
-- Let’s elect-our-own leaders, no paternalism from the boss
-- Let’s get our own money
-- No doles -- and no sops -- to cool off discontent
In the labor union movement it meant grassroots organization democracy!
Here, in the United States -- in the War Against Poverty -- we are following those union principles through a three-fold strategy.
First we are insuring that the boards of all local agencies running antipoverty programs have adequate representation from the poor. That representation is not token. It is participation! Participation in policy, in plans, in action! We have already obtained compliance with that requirement in over two-thirds of all local community action governing boards and a survey of those communities reveals that there are 1,488 representatives of impoverished neighborhoods on the boards --"and that these representatives constitute 30.9 percent of the total- composition of governing boards.
Second, we are hiring the poor. During the first ten months of the program, 70,000 such jobs for the poor were created. This figure excludes the positions created for Job Corps enrollees and Neighborhood Youth Corps members – programs for youths who are earning money while working and learning.
Other programs have created self-employment possibilities heretofore nonexistent. Adult Literacy, Work Experience Programs for families receiving public assistance, Rural Farm Loans, Small Business Loans all are contributing to self-sufficiency and personal independence.
Finally, we have financed a series of projects to train indigenous leaders capable of organizing the poor. Special schools like Labor Union Schools. For instance, in Berea, Kentucky in Manhattan Community College, and at New York University -- special programs are underway for students who never would have been admitted to college -- let alone have been eligible for scholarships. From NYU comes the report that within the first six weeks of the program, these youngsters had jumped three years in reading level. Those are the kind of young men and women who will provide a new supply of teachers, civic leaders, hospital attendants and advocates on behalf of the poor.
One of our more controversial grants -- dating back to last January deserves special note. We gave a grant to Syracuse University to demonstrate that the poor can organize to improve conditions such as unemployment and housing. We came under fire for that grant. Do you know what the critics said? They said the poor would learn “union organization-tactics” to enable them to stand up on their own two feet and speak out for what they wanted. We gave that grant anyway -- and now eight months later, we can talk about it; not in the abstract, not in dollars and cents. We can point to 500 refrigerators, 350 stoves and new linoleum installed in a public housing project and adequate police protection in publics housing, because those “students” -- you might call them “students of the union movement” -- they had demonstrated their own capacity to assess their own needs and work constructively with city officials. They learned to state their needs.
They learned the arts of collective bargaining. That’s what we call “self-determination.” And that victory is not just to be tallied in refrigerators and stoves. We don’t count our victories in the Peace Corps in terms of roofs or schoolhouses repaired. The real victory – the real accomplishment is measured by a sense of self-determination and of hope! You may call those intangibles. But those are the intangibles on which the union movement was built.
In 1915, long before the right to organize unions was protected, long before the importance of collective bargaining was fully appreciated, long before union leaders could afford to wear businessmen’s suits, Louis Brandeis said:
“Unrest, to my mind, never can be removed -- and fortunately can never be removed -- by mere improvement of the physical and material condition of the working man. If it were possible, we should run the great risk of improving their material condition and reducing their manhood. The social justice for which we are striving is an incident of our democracy, not the main end. And therefore the end for which we must strive is the attainment of rule by the people, and that involves industrial democracy, as well as political democracy. That means that the problems of a trade should no longer be the problems of the employer alone...There must be a division not only of profits but a division also of responsibilities. The employee must have the right to assist in making decisions. The right of making their own mistakes, if mistakes there must be, is a privilege which should not be dented to labor.”
In Job Corps, we’re watching the same kind of grassroots democracy. But it isn’t run by Robert’s Rules of Orders! When somebody calls you “Nigger” it isn’t necessary to rise and say -- “Point of personal privilege.” And Robert’s Rules lists no suitable parliamentary maneuver to cover the situation when one corpsman says; “You don’t smell so hot, .Weasel! When you going to take a shower?” Job Corps kids are learning more about justice, in making decisions for themselves, than any series of lectures or civics: courses could have taught them. One of them came up to me after a dormitory meeting. They had just voted sanctions against one of their fellow members. He said:
“It may seem rough to you what we did. But we didn’t have any choice. He had been bugging us all week --things we never mentioned -- and everyone of us tried to put up with it. We talked to him, we pretended we didn’t notice -- but finally it got to the point where if we didn’t do something, some of the guys would have jumped him one of these nights.”
“Now, when we came here, we all knew this was a ‘no touch'- program -and we knew we had to go along with that to make this place work.”
That’s the kind of responsibility these boys are taking. They’re not just looking out for themselves! They’re looking out for this new society in miniature in the Job Corps.
That’s what we mean by involvement of the poor. The right to participate, the right to make mistakes, the right to dream!
And that war is the war which is bursting out in fronts all across this globe -- in Viet Nam, in Panama a year ago, in the Dominican Republic and yes, in the Watts Area of Los-Angeles. Behind those picturesque palm trees in Watts those nice lawns with sprinklers turning, those clean little stucco houses is a poverty, of the spirit – a drabness that the textile workers fought with the song: “Give us bread -- but give us roses, too,”
And that fight -- for the self-determination of individuals -- and neighborhoods and communities and Nations, requires many weapons -- as varied an arsenal as any we are employing in Viet Nam.
Congress provided for a battery of a dozen different programs, but it also provided that local communities should have primary responsibility for initiation—for innovation -- for trial and error -- for evolving local solutions to local problems. In two days now -- this war on poverty will have been underway for exactly one year. October 8 is a kind of birthday -- the day when Congress appropriated 750 million dollars to launch this “War on Poverty.”
This is our record to date --.of offensives launched -- weapons developed, strategies mapped out and mobilization of resources underway:
COMMUNITY ACTION PROGRAMS: More than 1100 grants totaling $218,520,599 have been made to over 1,000 cities and .counties in all 50 states.
HEAD START: More than 560,000 children given pre-school training and physical check-ups in 13,344 Child Development Centers in all 50 States.
JOB CORPS: Nearly 13,000 young men and young women are, enrolled in 66 centers.
VISTA: 1213 Volunteers in service; 264 in training. 29 urban projects and126 rural projects approved.
NEIGHBORHOOD YOUTH CORPS: 348,338 youths working in 916 projects
WORK EXPERIENCE: 98,136 heads of families working in 188 projects.
COLLEGE WORK STUDY: 105,030 students in 1,092 educational institutions at work to help pay tuition.
ADULT BASIC EDUCATION: 43,000 persons are receiving literacy training. 34 state plans have been finally approved, 11 state plans have conditional approval.
RURAL LOANS: 14,162 loans to individuals totaling $22,990,200; 174 loans to cooperatives totaling $2,063,850. But numbers isn’t the whole story. We’ve won victories over some ancient enemies. Take the religious issue -- the church-state issue: Just three or four years ago it was practically impossible for a Federal agency to give a direct grant to a religious group. Today, we have given hundreds without violating the principle of separation of church and state.
In doing so, we’re fulfilling the mandate of Congress -- to mobilize “all the resources of the Nation.” And all denominations are working together. In San Antonio, Texas, a Jewish Synagogue rented a hall to a Lutheran Church Group to conduct pre-school classes for kids from a predominantly Catholic area!
Take the race issue -- two weeks ago, Martin-Luther King, Sr. came to our Office in Washington along with other members of the local community action program -- white and black. The mayor of Atlanta, Ivan Allen, was there a press briefing was scheduled for 4 P.M. As the hour approached, the biggest press assembly we ever had was milling around -- waiting to see whether “It” would really happen. And “it” did. Elevator doors opened and out stepped, Herman Talmadge and Richard Russell of Georgia to shake hands and have their picture taken with Negro leadership. White and black had joined forces in the War Against Poverty.
That has never happened before in the history of this country. And Senator Richard Russell had never come to the executive branch to announce any grant in all his years in Congress.
Take the birth control issue. Eighteen months ago it was like, syphillis. Politically, you couldn’t talk about it. Today, OEO is the first agency in the history of the Federal government to give public money directly to private agencies for family planning purposes. We’ve been doing it for a year. We’re still the only one. And we’ve done it in a way which avoided arousing the sensitivities or religious convictions of any group.
Let’s turn for a second, to that hot political issue --The Governor’s Veto. As of midnight last night those 50 different umpires had been standing behind us for 11 months calling “safe or out.” They’ve hadto make 6,000 decisions on 6,000 different specific grants. And only four times have they said, “You’re out.”
That gives us an average of 99 and 6/10,000ths %. How pure can you get? Like ivory soap we’re floating! And like ivory soap, we will stay afloat no matter what the turbulence of the sea around us.
These aren’t dollar achievements, but two years ago no one could have bought them with the entire federal budget. Ivory soap got started in 1879 and it’s still selling. We may not be as durable and I hope we won’t have to be, but we are in this war to win.
That’s the box score so far as Governmental activities are concerned but the War on Poverty is not simply a Governmental effort. Our best efforts can only help the poor to help themselves. But whether we eliminate poverty depends on how the poor are treated and welcomed into “the other America,” the affluent society in which most of us live.
Government officials don’t usually talk about failures -- but I want to relate one such failure -- because it sums up the whole problem in a nutshell.
A month ago, we graduated four boys from a Job Corps Center. They received jobs -- good paying jobs -- starting at $2.53 an hour as welders, in Chicago. All of them were skilled. They had the technical proficiency, and they had learned the steady work habits it takes to hold down a job.
Within three weeks after starting work, all four had departed for home --one because of a family illness -- the others without explanation of any sort.
But I think the explanation is pretty clear. These boys had to deal – not just with a job -- but more important with, a whole city -- with the vast, impersonal life, the complexity, the temptations and the of a great metropolis.
Within a month, they were lost, swallowed up -- they felt like they were nothing. Their sense of identity -- the desire to “be somebody” (and that is the recruiting slogan we use in Job Corps) -- their sense of “being . . somebody” had been eaten away --and finally, they broke free and left. But if there had been a union steward or a group of union members who had taken personal interest in them -- if the union had recognized and acted in advance to respond to the needs, of these lonely young men -- maybe they would have stayed. That’s what unions have always done -- for new comers, for immigrants. And trivial though it may sound, the fate of many a job corpsmen will depend on whether there is an opening for that youngster -not in a factory -- for that is already promised by business—but whether there is an opening in the union’s bowling league!
And that’s where you come in. These Job Corps boys need half-way houses -kind of like USO Centers for veterans of this War Against Poverty. They need community orientation programs, guidance and counseling services. They need a chance to start sorting out the future--and they need help and sympathy and patience in doing so. They need, in short, to be adopted by-the union.
There are other jobs for unions which you can play-- on a local and state level. Some of them -- a great many of them are set forth in your publication: “What Labor Can Do In The War Against Poverty.”
But there has been -- to be perfectly honest --- a dragging of feet at the local level.
The War Against Poverty needs you in VISTA, Job Corps, in the Neighborhood Youth Corps -- in every, program we are running. In Community Action – In People Action!
And you are needed in new programs, like Medicare. 1.7 million people who are eligible for medicare have still not applied. Many of these are the poor. Many probably have never heard of medicare! Isn’t it your job -- not just to support passage of the medicare legislation – but to make sure it works -- to insure that it reaches the people it has to reach in order to bring security both fiscal and physical to the aged?
And there is another job which we need the labor unions to perform – the job of being the independent watchdog.
We are charged by legislation with the mandate to manage the War on Poverty and to inspect it and evaluate it. But who shall watch the watchers? The Romans had a saying that is particularly applicable here: “Qui Custodiet Ipsos Custodes.” It is all too easy for us poverty fighters in Washington to become bureaucrats preoccupied with papers and prestige and preference. We need you to watch us! Keep us on the track. Lest we lose sight of our ultimate goal and our ethical mandate.
Labor has already taken steps in this direction. Labor has helped to create a new organization -- the citizens’ crusade against poverty. In doing so, it is joined with Farm groups, cooperative groups, civil rights, groups and others, to make sure that this War Against Poverty is not just a governmental program; but a peoples’ program which means that unions as well as government must welcome the poor.
Some union leaders will tell you that this threatens your job. But that’s not true. The poverty program is not going to take anything from anybody. The War on Poverty is not in the business of taking away jobs, or homes, or TV sets! We are in the business to provide training and give people a chance -- a first chance -- or a second chance -- but a chance.
Our job is not just getting people out of poverty. It is keeping them out. We are not going to win this War if, for every poor person who gets out of poverty, another person falls in. Illness, old age, automation menace us all. That’s precisely why we all have to stick together.
The time to act is now-- not tomorrow. Otherwise we will never reach that goal of the textile workers -- the goal of the great society: “Give us Bread -- but give us Roses, too.”
A textile worker expressed the situation in the1949 hearings before the Senate Labor Committee: “My youngest girl, she’s 9 now, goes straight to the piano when we go to a house where they have one. She does want to play the piano so bad. I’ve thought that maybe I could save 50 cents or a dollar a week to buy a second-hand piano for her. But I haven’t found a way to do it yet. Maybe I’ve been foolish to talk to you people about music for one of my children when the main question is getting enough to eat and wear, or blankets for the bed, or a chair to sit on. But down in Tennessee we love music, and factory workers don’t live by bread alone any more than anyone else does.”
That piano -- those roses as well as a job -- that is what this War on Poverty is ultimately all about.