Century of Service Honor Roll of American Labor Organizations

Remarks of Secretary of Labor Lynn MartinDedication of "Century of Service Honor Roll"

September 4, 1992

It is my special privilege to welcome you to the opening of this exhibit. This "Centennial Wall" gives permanent testimony to the great trade unions that have served America's working men and women for over 100 years. This Honor Roll of American Labor Organizations recognizes the contributions of America's labor unions and their unique place in the rich history of this country.

I'm especially pleased to welcome those of you who are able to be with us today and represent your union.

Almost one hundred years ago, Walt Whitman wrote a poem, "I Hear America Singing." When I read this list of honor roll members, I think: This is America's song:

"International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers;"

"Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers;"

"United Mine Workers of America;"

"International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots."

These are some of the anthems of America that Walt Whitman heard — the rhythm of America's workers and their unions — the rhythms of strong people and a strong country.

The history of America is painted in vivid colors. Since the first colonists arrived in the early 17th century, American workers have struggled for better lives.

In 1719, a young boy named Samuel Sparepoint was apprenticed to a New York shipwright. The master agreed to teach or "cause the said apprentice to be taught the Art or Mystery of a Shipwright," allowing unto the said apprentice "Meat, Drink, Washing, Lodging, Apparrell and all Other Things Necessary and Convenient..."

Seven years later, young Sam was the proud owner of "a sufficient New Suit, four shirts, and two Necletts." Much more important, after seven years, he was ready to be a journeyman — he could work in any master's shop.

Always seeking greater opportunity — and the goals of economic and social freedom — America's working men and women have not only participated in the American dream. They have, in fact, defined it.

But the building of our nation has sometimes been achieved at tremendous human cost.

More than 13 million people boarded ships to come to America between 1865 and 1900. Immigrants who brought their many skills to this country were often persecuted — yet they continued to build the American dream.

"That's not cobblestones," the Irish said of the streets of Boston, "that's Irish heads."

Who spoke for these people? Who measured the weight of a man's worth? Who took up the cause of the men and women — and sometimes children — who shaped this country?

Workers joined together to solve common problems and the trade unions fought the injustices and eased the anguish. And they served others as well as their own; they set patterns that brought better wages and benefits for all workers.

The ability of honorable people to negotiate their differences has been the cornerstone of our democracy. The willingness to bargain freely, compromise when necessary and create new policies to meet new challenges is the hallmark of a free society.

We are on the doorstep of the 21st century. We must prepare for the future as well as reap the benefits of past accomplishments.

We must confront this new century, and a new global economy, with the same spirit and determination that we've had for over 200 years.

As technology and industry become more complex, training and education become increasingly vital. We must train our workforce of the future and give them the skills necessary for high-wage jobs. We must continue to set high standards for the safety of American workplaces and the health of American workers. We must be vigilant against the exploitation of children, and we must shatter the glass ceiling that keeps minorities and women from realizing their full potential.

I believe we can do all this and more — if our resolve is strong and our goals are clear. I believe we can do it together. And what a day that will be.

I know that we don't always agree on the why and how of every issue. But all of us here today are dedicated to a better future for the American worker. I hope we can work together toward our common goals. And I hope we can debate our differences without bitterness and rancor.

It is a great honor to be able to celebrate with you today this centennial of American trade unions. This honor roll will be an inspiration for the future. The history of the American worker and American free trade unions is far from ended. The job that you began over a hundred years ago is not over. And our job here is not over. Let us go forward together. We can grow together, and we will not be diminished.

As labor marches into the 21st century, I recall a quote I once read, "We fight not for lost causes, but for causes yet to be won."

Thank you.

About the Exhibit

The Inductees

Secretaries' Speeches