John F. Kennedy: National Security and Future of the Space Program Depend on Ending Labor Strife Delays

May 16, 1961

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John F. Kennedy: National Security and Future of the Space Program Depend on Ending Labor Strife Delays
Typed Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 523

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      Background

      On July 20, 1969, an American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, became the first man in history to leave a footprint on the moon. The race to the moon was won.  

      Faced with work stoppages in missile base construction, Kennedy wants Goldberg to tell the labor and industry representatives with whom the Secretary was to meet, that the President has personally expressed a sense of urgency about “the task they have before them.” Nothing less than the security of the nation, “and the lives of each of us,” are tied, he says, to the missile program. 

      At stake, too, is the progress of the space race to put a man on the moon. The United States cannot afford the luxury of avoidable delays in its missile and space programs, Kennedy says; nor can it tolerate “wasteful and expensive habits and practices which add to the great financial burden our defense effort already places on us.” The nation expects uninterrupted and economical production of its missile and space programs - and Kennedy expects that from Goldberg’s “deliberation will come a voluntary and equitable solution to labor-management problems in this vital area, fair to the workers, the managements and the public alike.”
           
      For the space program, the wildcat work stoppages Kennedy protested could not have come at a worse time. On April 12th, the Soviets launched the first man into space and the United States, furiously playing catch-up, sent its first astronaut up on May 12th. Kennedy, who viewed Space as the symbol of the New Frontier, was obsessed that between the Bay of Pigs fiasco, on April 17th and 18th, and the Communist victory in the space race a month before, America’s world prestige was eroding before his eyes. The United States, he felt, had to win the next lap, and so, on May 25th, he announced to Congress that the nation should, before the end of the decade, commit itself to landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to earth. No single project, he said, would be more impressive to mankind. He was hardly in the mood then, as this letter evinces, to let a local labor dispute over wages and union concerns stand between the Free World and the Moon.


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      THE WHITE HOUSE
      WASHINGTON

      May 16, 1961

      Dear Mr. Secretary:
       
      I wish you to convey to those representatives of industry and labor with whom you are meeting today my personal expression of the urgency of the task they have before them.

      The security of our nation and the lives of each of us are today tied inexorably to our missile program and may well depend tomorrow upon what we do now in space.

      The United States cannot afford the luxury of avoidable delays in our missile and space programs. Neither can we tolerate wasteful and expensive habits and practices which add to the great financial burden our defense effort already places on us.

      Please tell those with whom you meet that their nation expects them to provide uninterrupted and economical production in our missile and space programs.

      I am sure that from your deliberations will come a voluntary and equitable solution to labor-management problems in this vital area, fair to the workers, the managements and the public alike.

      Sincerely,

      John F Kennedy [in Kennedy's hand]


      The Honorable Arthur J. Goldberg 
      Secretary of Labor
      Washington, D.C.