Labor Quotes

Below are inspirational quotes from labor leaders, politicians, authors, and activists regarding the Labor Movement.

Stewart Acuff

"You see, Dr. King understood that it is organizing that makes us most human. He knew that when we use our social nature to lift each other up, we express our full humanity. We don't realize our potential in life the way corporate America and their media tells us -- not by pushing others aside or crawling over anyone else's back or kissing somebody's a**, but by linking arms and lifting everyone, everyone's family, everyone's kids, everyone's standard of living. And so today, my brothers and sisters, we are confronted by his memory. We are called by his struggle. We are challenged by his sacrifice." 

"They have waged class war on us. It is time for our class to fight back. It's time for us to reach out to one another to fight for the right to organize, to fight corporations that would fight us, to demand that trade agreements protect workers and workers' rights, children, our environment, and our quality of life, and to fight for human dignity." 

Alice Adams

"When you say fiscal responsibility, it seems to me that you really mean rich people keeping their money."

Saul Alinsky

"I tell people the hell with charity, the only thing you'll get is what you're strong enough to get."

"Power goes to two poles -- to those who've got the money and those who've got the people." 

Adrian Alvarez

"Yes, you need the water. Yes, you need the sun. But that alone won't give you the plant. You need the working hands to give it life."

Roger Baldwin

"Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below."

Senator Joseph Biden

"If you saw tonight's debate, you saw Governor Sarah Palin give a spirited defense of the same disastrous polices that have failed us for the past eight years. She couldn't identify a single area where she or John McCain would change George W. Bush's economic or foreign policy positions... Let's be clear: Governor Palin and Senator McCain are offering nothing but more of the same failed Bush policies at home and abroad, trying to disguise them in the rhetoric of change... Americans need real solutions and real change... This is the most important presidential election you'll be part of in your life... Now let's get to work and change this country."

Boris Block

"When employers in this country say labor costs are too high, what they're really saying to you is, you have it too good. What they're really saying to you is, all you need is enough to get you into the plant and work."

Barry Bluestone

"People at Bear Stearns get tens of millions for doing a terrible job at manipulating financial markets. And people get minimum wage for taking care of our grandparents." 

Emmett J. Bogdon

"We are not complaining about the work. We want to see our hard work reflected in our pay." 

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

"We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; but we can't have both." 

Harry Bridges

"Labor cannot stand still. It must not retreat. It must go on, or go under."

"The most important word in the language of the working class is solidarity." 

William Burrus

"Those unions that enjoy the right to strike have no guarantee that sacrificing their jobs and their livelihood will result in victory but they nevertheless engage in lengthy strikes, not because they are assured of winning but because they are determined to fight."

William Cahn

"The history of America has been largely created by the deeds of its working people and their organizations. Nor has this contribution been confined to raising wages and bettering work conditions; it has been fundamental to almost every effort to extend and strengthen our democracy."

Cesar Chavez

"You are never strong enough that you don't need help." 

William Clay Sr.

"If you object to unfair treatment, you're an ingrate. If you seek equity and fair consideration, you're uppity. If you demand union security, you're un-American. If you rebel against repressive management attacks, they will lynch and scalp you. But if you are passive and patient, they will take advantage of both." 

Calvin Coolidge

"Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."

Clarence Darrow

"With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men (and women) that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men (and women) than any other association."

Eugene Debs

"Solidarity is not a matter of sentiment but a fact, cold and impassive as the granite foundations of a skyscraper. If the basic elements, identity of interest, clarity of vision, honesty of intent, and oneness of purpose, or any of these is lacking, all sentimental pleas for solidarity, and all other efforts to achieve it will be barren of results."

"Ten thousand times the labor movement has stumbled and bruised itself. We have been enjoined by the courts, assaulted by thugs, charged by the militia, traduced by the press, frowned upon in public opinion, and deceived by politicians. But not withstanding all this and all these, labor is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission is as certain of ultimate realization as is the setting of the sun."

"I seek to rise with workers, not rise from them."

Declaration of Independence

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Salvatore DiMasi

"On health care it's nothing new from Mitt Romney - he supports our law when it suits him and runs away from it when it suits his political ambition. His vetoes gutted the very essence of the bill, and if his ideas stood, the number of uninsured in Massachusetts would have only grown. It's fairer to say our bill, with the hallmark provision of shared responsibility from individuals, employers and providers, became law despite Mitt Romney, not because of him." 

Thomas Donahue

"The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor."

Fredrick Douglass

"Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will." 

W.E.B. DuBois

"The cost of liberty is less than the cost of repression."

Marion Wright Edelman

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."

Albert Einstein

"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."  

T.S. Eliot

"For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning."

Bergon Evens

"Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think."

Eddie Fitzpatrick

"We paid the price to get here. We'll pay the price to stay."  

Samuel Gompers

"Time is the most valuable thing on earth: time to think, time to act, time to extend our fraternal relations, time to become better men, time to become better women, time to become better and more independent citizens."

Labor Day "...the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."  

"The trade union movement represents the organized economic power of the workers... It is in reality the most potent and the most direct form of social insurance the workers can establish." 

"Our movement is of the working people, for the working people, by the working people."

"Labor Day differs in every essential way from other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflict and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation."

Former Senator Phil Gramm

"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession. We've sort of become a nation of whiners... You just hear this constant whining, complaining... We've never had more natural advantages than we have today...We have benefited greatly from the globalization of the economy in the last 30 years."

Woody Guthrie

"Some men rob you with a six-gun -- others rob you with a fountain pen." 

Robert J. Haynes: Mass. AFL-CIO President

"One preventable death is unacceptable; the 76 workplace deaths of 2006 represent not only great personal suffering for loved ones but also signify that we are not making enough progress for all workers. No progress is no good. Our fight for good jobs, safe jobs and worker protections will continue until all workers are able to go to work and return home with their lives, their limbs and their health in tact."

"This is a great holiday if you think about it. All these people in this park are all working people and we're celebrating their contributions, all the good things they do. They built this economy. They built this society. It's good to honor working people. We honor enough other folks." 

"Our elected officials have made it clear that they respect and defend the right of workers to organize. I want to acknowledge the continued support of the state legislature in this fight for workers' rights. I thank the bill's lead sponsors, Chairman Robert DeLeo and Senator Robert O'Leary, and I am profoundly grateful for the leadership shown on this issue by Speaker DiMasi and Senate President Murray. A year after Mitt Romney's veto, we have a new Governor, one who has pledged to sign the bill, one who is committed to improving the quality of life of working people, and together with the legislature we have won a major victory for workers in Massachusetts." 

"It is such an honor to be this organization's President since 1998, and an officer of this organization for over 20 years. I am thrilled, humbled, and honored to have been re-elected unanimously today by delegates representing the entire scope of organized labor in Massachusetts. It is the greatest honor of my life to be President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. I love this Labor Movement and the unions in this Commonwealth, and I look forward to fighting with, for and next to our wonderful Executive Council, Central Labor Councils, and our affiliate unions, for another four years on behalf of our members and all workers. It is nice to win, but to borrow a line I heard recently, the winning is in the work. And I'm excited to continue working on all the challenges that face working families." 

"It is not an overstatement to say that the installation of this Edward Cohen plaque in the State House is one of the greatest moments in our history. Where else is there a bronze plaque that is dedicated to a slain labor leader and which captures all the amazing contributions of the Labor Movement in such a prominent location as between the offices of the Governor and the Speaker in our esteemed State House? It is truly remarkable."

"Thanksgiving is about family, and is a special  opportunity to reflect on what we are grateful for in our lives. This year, I am thankful for the strong Labor Movement in Massachusetts and across the country, and for my union brothers and sisters who fight to make sure family comes first."   

"The holidays are a time for peace, brotherhood, and goodwill. This season my thoughts are with all my union brothers and sisters, I wish everyone a very happy holiday." 

"If he wasn't so good at being so disingenuous this latest campaign spin from Mitt Romney would be one heck of a punchline. It is absurd on its face that Mitt Romney could say with a straight face that he would bring labor, business and government together. This is the man who, as Governor of Massachusetts, was the first and only governor in the 120-year history of the Massachusetts AFL and Massachusetts AFL-CIO that never met with the President of the state AFL-CIO and never made any overtures to meet with anyone in labor, ever. He was pathologically disdainful of organized labor and working men and women and I hope America doesn't have to make the same mistake Massachusetts did with this guy to learn its lesson."

"We are not a one issue organization or Labor Movement. We never have been. But every so often an issue arises that requires us to advocate a little harder and mobilize our grassroots network to impress upon our elected representatives just how important certain issues are to us. The proposal to establish destination resort casinos is one such issue. We look forward to working to convey the merits and benefits of destination resort casinos to the members of the General Court..... Just as they have been tremendous fighters for workers over the years, we are confident that when confronted with the facts and presented the merits of destination resort casinos, state legislators will see why we took such a strong position and respond favorably." 

"The people of Massachusetts, especially working families, deserve a fair hearing on destination resort casinos. I am confident that if we have a fair hearing and can focus on the merits and policies of destination resort casinos, it will be clear to legislators that we can bring high quality economic development to our Commonwealth. And that it is the right thing to do as it will bring thousands of family-sustaining construction and permanent jobs, as well as much needed public revenues. Let's put some life back into our economy and we can start by having a fair hearing on destination resort casinos."  

"On behalf of the 40,000 workers who were denied paychecks by their legislators yesterday I am profoundly upset and disappointed that the debate about a real, quality economic development initiative focused on insider procedures, rather than the merits of a piece of legislation that had certain job creation and revenue generating possibilities. At a time when economic insecurity and real angst among working people is at its highest, it is a historic shame that fewer than 50 State Representatives demonstrated the courage and independence to do the right thing for working people, and by advocating for an extensive, thorough, democratic, debate on the merits, do the right thing for democracy. Yesterday working families and democracy lost to politics." 

William Dudley Haywood

"If the workers are organized, all they have to do is to put their hands in their pockets and they have got the capitalist class whipped."

Joe Hill

“If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains;

Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains.

Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill;

Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still.”

Sidney Hillman

"We want a better America, an America that will give its citizens, first of all, a higher and higher standard of living so that no child will cry for food in the midst of plenty." 

Myles Horton

"If you ever get to the place where injustice doesn't bother you, you're dead."

Molly Ivins

"Although it is true that only about [13 percent] of American workers are in unions, that [13 percent] sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts."

Mother Jones

"My friends it is solidarity we want. We do not want to find fault with each other, but to solidify our forces and say to each other: We must be together; our masters are joined together and we must do the same thing."

"Mourn for the dead. Fight for the living."

"The next generation will not charge us for what we've done; they will charge and condemn us for what we have left undone."

"I live in the United States, but I do not know exactly where. My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression. My address is like my shoes; it travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against wrong." 

"Some day the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit." 

John F. Kennedy

"Let every nation know that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe in order to ensure the survival and success of liberty."

"The labor movement is people. Our unions have brought millions of men and women together, made them members one of another, and given them common tools for common goals. Their goals are goals for all America - and their enemies are the enemies for progress. The two cannot be separated."

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

" The American Labor Movement has consistently demonstrated its devotion to the public interest. It is, and has been, good for all America." 

Edward Kennedy

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

"The way you spell Kennedy is L-A-B-O-R and don't you ever forget it."

"Unfortunately, the current union election system is broken. The nation's labor laws are too weak and too weakly enforced, and union elections are often neither free nor fair. Everyday, employers violate workers' right to organize and write off the minor penalties as the cost of doing business. It's time to fix this broken system. That's why I'll be introducing the Employee Free Choice Act in the Senate."

"The American people spoke up - loudly and clearly - in the last election, saying they want a Congress that stands up for working families. The Employee Free Choice Act is exactly the kind of bold action they were calling for. It is a key part of the Democratic plan to help the struggling middle class and restore the economic security that has been lost during the Bush years." 

"Make no mistake about it! There is an organized movement against organized labor and it's called the Bush Administration." 

"The Employee Free Choice Act is about more than changing our labor laws - it's about giving workers basic dignity and respect in the workplace. It's the first of many steps we need to take to restore the voice of the American worker, which has been silenced far too long."  

Robert F. Kennedy

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." 

Senator John Kerry

"The Republicans have nothing to run on, no ideas to push, no solutions for America. They'll run a campaign of laughable gimmicks and outright distortions and lies. But we can fight back with the truth - and the truth can win this time."

Martin Luther King Jr.

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

"As I have said many times, and believe with all my heart, the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined."

"It is in this area (politics) of American life that labor and the Negro have identical interests. Labor has grave problems today of employment, shorter hours, old age security, housing and retraining against the impact of automation. The Congress and the Administration are almost as indifferent to labor's program as they are toward that of the Negro. Toward both they offer vastly less than adequate remedies for the problems which are a torment to us day after day."

"You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth."

"The Labor Movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress." 

Lane Kirkland

"The plain truth is that labor is the chief representative force that keeps the real special interests from dominating American political life."

John L. Lewis

"The labor movement is organized upon a principle that the strong shall help the weak. The strength of a strong (wo)man is a prideful thing, but the unfortunate thing in life is that strong (wo)men do not remain strong. And it is just as true of unions and labor organizations as is true of (wo)men and individuals. And whereas today the craft unions of this country may be able to stand upon their own feet and like mighty oaks stand before the gale, defy the lightning, yet the day may come when those organizations will not be able to withstand the lightning and the gale. Now, prepare yourselves by making a contribution to your less fortunate brethren...Organize the unorganized!"

"Increased interest and participation by labor in the affairs of government should make for economic and political stability in the future. Labor has a constitutional and statutory right to participate." 

"Let the workers organize. Let the toilers assemble. Let their crystallized voices proclaim their injustices and demand their privileges. Let all thoughtful citizens sustain them, for the future of Labor is the future of America."

Abraham Lincoln

"If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool."

"All that harms labor is treason to America."

"The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people people of all nations and tongues and kindreds." 

[Theories say] "it is assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible. According to that theory, a blind horse upon a tread-mill, is a perfect illustration of what a laborer should be - all the better for being blind, that he could not tread out of place, or kick understandingly....[therefore] labor insists on universal education." 

Ed Markey

"...Under the current law, it's the EMPLOYER'S choice. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, it's the EMPLOYEE's choice...James Madison famously wrote that 'If men were angels, no government would be necessary.' Mr. Speaker, if all companies were angels, this bill would not be necessary."

Donald Robert Perry Marquis

"When (someone) tells you that (they) got rich through hard work, ask (them) whose."

Massachusetts AFL-CIO Executive Council

"No matter which of the Democratic candidates wins the Primary Election...we vow to come together behind the Democratic candidate immediately and dedicate our resources, our organization, our passion, and our energy in a campaign of steadfast solidarity to educate our members and their families as to the abysmal record of sixteen years of Republican governors and highlight the 'bread and butter' issues that should be the focus of this election in order to ensure a Democratic victory on November 7th."

George Meany

"The American trade union movement - unlike any other labor movement in the world - is committed to working within the American political and economic system in order to achieve the social and economic justice promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

"Every piece of progressive social legislation passed by Congress in the 20th century bears a union label." 

"The basic goal of labor will not change. It is - as it has always been, and I'm sure always will be - to better the standards of life for all those who work for wages and to seek decency and justice and dignity for all Americans."

Phillip Murray

"Unions were created to make living conditions just a little better than they were before they were created, and the union that does not manifest that kind of interest in human beings cannot endure." 

Senator Barack Obama

"Politics didn't lead me to working folks; working folks led me to politics."

Tip O'Neill

"All politics is local."  

Pope John Paul II

"Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all responsible for each other."

Pope Paul VI

"The important role of union organizations must be admitted: their object is the representation of the various categories of workers, their lawful collaboration in the economic advance of society, and the development of the sense of their responsibility for the realization of the common good."

A. Phillip Randolph

"The essence of trade unionism is social uplift. The labor movement has been the haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden, the poor."

"A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess."

Ralph Ransom

"Before the reward there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy." 

Walter Reuther

"There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls."

"Labor is not fighting for a larger slice of the national pie - labor is fighting for a larger pie."

Eleanor Roosevelt

"Courage is more exhilarating than fear, and in the long run it is easier." 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level - I mean the wages of decent living." 

"True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made."  

Rose Schneiderman

"We have tried you good people of the public - and we have found you wanting...I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves."

"What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist -- the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too." 

Barney Smith

"We need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney."

John Sweeney: President of the AFL-CIO

"The union movement stands for the fundamental moral values that make America strong: quality education for our children, affordable health care for every person - not just some - an end to poverty, secure pensions and wages that enable families to sustain the middle-class life that has fueled this nation's prosperity and strength. Union members and other working family activists don't just vote our moral values - we live them. We fight for them, day in, day out. Our commitment to economic and social justice propels us and everything we do." 

"We want our tax dollars to provide a hand up for the millions of working people who live on Main Street and not a handout to a privileged band of overpaid corporate executives."

Harry Truman

"It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours."  

Studs Terkel

"The issue is jobs. You can't get away from it: jobs. Having a buck or two in your pocket and feeling like somebody." 

Richard Trumka

"There's no evil that's inflicted more pain and more suffering than racism - and it's something that we in the Labor Movement have a special responsibility to challenge. It's our special responsibility because we know, better than anyone else, how racism is used to divide working people. We've seen how companies set worker against worker - how they throw whites a few extra crumbs off the table - and how it's black and Latino workers who get the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs. But we've seen something else too. We've seen that when we cross that color line and stand together no one can keep us down." 

Unattributed

"Without Labor no one prospers." -Popular Banner

"May the warmth and glow of each candle you light make your heart and home and your Hannukah bright." -Traditional Hannukah Greeting

"If you come only to help me, you can go back home. But if you consider my struggle as part of your struggle for survival, then maybe we can work together." -Aboriginal Wise Saying

"St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time - a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic." -Irish Proverb

"We'll hold this line until hell freezes over - then we'll hold it on ice skates." - Anonymous Picket Sign

"Better to starve fighting than to starve working." - A slogan of the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts Strike

"Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it." - Chinese Proverb

"I find the intellect of the intellectual much less discerning than the common sense of the common man." - sign in the campaign office of Anthony Galluccio

"Our work continues." - Written on the historic Edward Cohen "Labor in Massachusetts" Plaque

Frank Lloyd Wright

"If capitalism is fair then unionism must be. If men and women have a right to capitalize their ideas and the resources of their country, then that implies the right of men and women to capitalize their labor."