“The cause of labor is the cause of all America ...”

“There are those in this country who do not understand why it is that [...] million[s of] Americans find their jobs unsatisfying [...] But...I say to you today, that the cause of labor is the cause of all America [...] and [...] labor has taken up the cause of a moving, daring, progressive America.”
Sargent Shriver |September 7, 1972

In a speech given 49 years ago this week, Sargent Shriver addressed American workers and articulated all of the issues facing labor that he saw at the time. This is one in a of a series of speeches that Shriver made on the campaign trail in 1972, when he ran for Vice President on the McGovern ticket. He stresses the importance of having adequate employment and good wages, but says that these are not enough, that in order for people to thrive, it is the quality of their work that matters. Focusing on job productivity, safety, and the rapid changes that technology is bringing, Shriver emphasizes that there is much more to job satisfaction than merely being employed. It is in this context that he speaks of labor taking up “the cause of a moving, daring, progressive America”.

Many of the basic worker protections that define our lives today, the 40-hour work week, the eight-hour work day, the minimum wage, the right to overtime, were put in place thanks to the efforts of workers. Still, as a society, we have much, much further to go to protect our workers. Too many in the US go without health insurance, adequate vacation time, parental and sick leaves, and other protections.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to remind us of the importance of workers and the risks of neglecting their needs. As we look at the stories of people on the front lines of the pandemic, from nurses and doctors to farmers, teachers, restaurant staff, and transit workers, we have hopefully become more aware of the value of labor.

As COVID restrictions have eased, reports of “labor shortages” in several sectors will hopefully cause a shift in business models, particularly in larger companies that have historically provided low wages, created unsafe working conditions, and refused to pay benefits to their workers. If the patterns in mass resignations are any indication, more and more of us are demanding working conditions that address our human needs.

Today and every day, we are grateful for the protections and benefits that our labor force has fought for over the decades, and we support a transition to a society in which the well being and dignity of all workers is protected.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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