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National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace
Chicago, Illinois, November 11, 1967
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, my brothers and sisters of the labor movement, ladies and gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this afternoon and to be some little part of this extremely significant assembly. . . . I don’t feel that I come among strangers today for I feel that I’m an honorary member of many labor unions all across the country. (Applause) In fact, I think Cleve Robinson and Dave Livingston of District 65 in New York made me an honorary member a long time ago and I’ve been a 65er a long time. . . . I want to try to talk very honestly and frankly about this great problem, this great issue that we face as a result of the war in Vietnam. Some of my words may appear to be rather harsh, but they will be as harsh as truth and as gentle as a nonviolent devotee would be. (Laughter)
I want to use as a subject “The Domestic Impact of the War in America.” This question is historic because it is an authentic expression of the conscience of the labor movement. As has been said already this afternoon, tens of millions of Americans oppose the war in Vietnam. Never in our history has there been such a passionate, popular resistance to a current war. In addition to the millions upon millions of ordinary people, eminent scholars, distinguished senators, journalists, businessmen, professionals, students, and political leaders at all levels have protested the war and offered alternatives with an amazing tenacity and boldness.
But one voice was missing—the loud, clear voice of labor. The absence of that one voice was all the more tragic because it may be the decisive one for tipping the balance toward peace. Labor has been missing. For too long the moral appeal has been flickering, not shining as it did in its dynamic days of growth. This conference, a united expression of varied branches of labor, reaffirms that the trade union movement is part of forward-looking America. (Applause) That no matter what the formal resolutions of higher bodies may be, the troubled conscience of the working people cannot be stilled. This conference speaks for millions. You here today will long be remembered as those who had the courage to speak out and the wisdom to be right.
It is noteworthy that the Labor Party of Great Britain, which, of course, has no responsibility for our actions, nonetheless went on record on October 4 in a formal national resolution calling upon its Labor government to dissociate itself completely from U.S. policy in Vietnam. (Applause) It urged its government to persuade the United States to end the bombing of North Vietnam immediately, permanently, and unconditionally.
Now what are some of the domestic consequences of the war in Vietnam? It has made the Great Society a myth and replaced it with a troubled and confused society. The war has strengthened domestic reaction. It has given the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and antihumanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House. It hopes to use national frustration to take control and restore the America of social insecurity and power for the privileged. When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor [Ronald Reagan], can become a leading war-hawk candidate for the presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events. (Applause)
The war in Vietnam has produced a shameful order of priorities in which the decay, squalor, and pollution of the cities are neglected. And even though 70 percent of our population now lives in them, the war has smothered and nearly extinguished the beginnings of progress toward racial justice. The war has created the bizarre spectacle of armed forces of the United States fighting in ghetto streets in America while they are fighting in jungles in Asia. The war has so increased Negro frustration and despair that urban outbreaks are now an ugly feature of the American scene. How can the administration, with quivering anger, denounce the violence of ghetto Negroes when it has given an example of violence in Asia that shocks the world? (Applause)