Franklin D. Roosevelt Speeches: May 24, 1937
A Fair Day's Pay for a Fair Day's Work
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The time has arrived for us to take further action to extend the frontiers of social progress. Such further action initiated by the legislative branch of the government, administered by the executive, and sustained by the judicial, is within the common sense framework and purpose of our Constitution and receives beyond doubt the approval of our electorate.
The overwhelming majority of our population earns its daily bread either in agriculture or in industry. One third of our population, the overwhelming majority of which is in agriculture or industry, is ill-nourished, ill-clad, and ill-housed.
The overwhelming majority of this nation has little patience with that small minority which vociferates today that prosperity has returned, that wages are good, that crop prices are high, and that government should take a holiday.
Today, you and I are pledged to take further steps to reduce the lag in the purchasing power of industrial workers and to strengthen and stabilize the markets for the farmers' products. The two go hand in hand. Each depends for its effectiveness upon the other. Both working simultaneously will open new outlets for productive capital. Our nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers' wages or stretching workers' hours.
Enlightened business is learning that competition ought not to cause bad social consequences, which inevitably react upon the profits of business itself. All but the hopelessly reactionary will agree that to conserve our primary resources of man power, government must have some control over maximum hours, minimum wages, the evil of child labor and the exploitation of unorganized labor.
Nearly twenty years ago in his dissenting opinion in Hammer v. Dagenhart, Mr. Justice Holmes expressed his views as to the power of the Congress to prohibit the shipment in interstate or foreign commerce of the product of the labor of children in factories below what Congress then deemed to be civilized social standards. Surely the experience of the last twenty years has only served to reinforce the wisdom and the rightness of his views. And, surely if he was right about the power of the congress over the work of children in factories, it is equally right that the Congress has the power over decent wages and hours in those same factories.
"I had thought that the propriety of the exercise of a power admitted to exist in some cases was for the consideration of Congress alone and that this Court has always disavowed the right to intrude its judgment upon questions of policy or morals. It is not for this Court to pronounce when prohibition is necessary to regulation if it ever may be necessary -- to say that it is permissible as against strong drink but not as against the product of ruined lives.”
But although Mr. Justice Holmes spoke for a minority of the Supreme Court he spoke for a majority of the American people.
One of the primary purposes of the formation of our federal union was to do away with the trade barriers between the states. To the Congress and not to the states was given the power to regulate commerce among the several states. Congress cannot interfere in local affairs but when goods pass through the channels of commerce from one state to another they become subject to the power of the Congress, and the Congress may exercise that power to recognize and protect the fundamental interests of free labor.
And so to protect the fundamental interests of free labor and a free people we propose that only goods, which have been produced under conditions, which meet the minimum standards of free labor, shall be admitted to interstate commerce. Goods produced under conditions which do not meet rudimentary standards of decency should be regarded as contraband and ought not to be allowed to pollute the channels of interstate trade.
Our problem is to workout in practice those labor standards which will permit the maximum but prudent employment of our human resources to bring within the reach of the average man and woman a maximum of goods and of services conducive to the fulfillment of the promise of American life.
Legislation can, I hope, be passed at this session of the Congress further to help those who toil in factory and on farm. We have promised it. We cannot stand still.