The PJ Tatler

Web Gem: Ronald Reagan's 1980 Labor Day Speech

This article was originally published September 1, 2014.

Ronald Reagan kicked off his general election campaign on September 1, 1980, at Liberty State Park in New Jersey with Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop. The crowd was strategically filled with flag-waving Americans who were there to raise Reagan’s profile with blue-collar, ethnic Catholic voters. Though Reagan arrived at the venue wearing a sports jacket and tie, Mrs. Reagan convinced him to discard both because of the extreme heat that day. The result was a tanned, handsome Reagan in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and top buttons undone, his hair blowing in the breeze.


Reagan told the crowd he was the first Republican to visit the Democrat stronghold of Hudson County since 1968. “I’m here because it is the home of Democrats, because I believe today that in this country there are millions of Democrats who are just as unhappy with the way things are as all the rest of us are.” The newly minted Reagan Democrats cheered wildly.

Referring to the families that had passed through Ellis Island on their way to freedom Reagan said, “They came to make America work. They didn’t ask what this country could do for them but what they could do to make this refuge the greatest home of freedom in history. They brought with them courage, ambition and the values of family, neighborhood, work, peace, and freedom. ” All came from different lands but shared the same values and the same dream, Reagan said.  He added, “Today a president of the United States would have us believe that dream is over or at least in need of change. Jimmy Carter’s administration tells us that the descendants of those who sacrificed to start again in this land of freedom may have to abandon the dream that drew their ancestors to a new life in a new land.”

Reminding the crowd of Carter’s terrible economic record, Reagan vowed he would bring a “renewed dedication to the dream of an America, an administration that will give that dream new life and make America great again!”


Reagan also promised to care about the needs of workers. “Beginning in January of 1981, American workers will once again be heeded,” Reagan said. “Their needs and values will be acted upon in Washington. I will consult with representatives of organized labor on those matters concerning the welfare of working people of this nation.”

He explained his vision for rebuilding the American economy. “When we talk about tax reduction, when we talk about ending inflation by stopping it where it starts, in Washington, we’re talking about a way to bring labor and management together for America. We’re talking about jobs and productivity and wages. We’re talking about doing away with Jimmy Carter’s view of a no-growth policy, and ever-shrinking economic pie which means smaller slices for everyone of us,” Reagan said. “That’s no answer. We can have a bigger pie and that’ll mean bigger slices for every one of us. And I believe that together — together you and I can bake that bigger pie. We can make that dream that brought so many of us or our parents and grandparents to this land, we can make that dream live once more.”

In contrast, President Obama demanded a higher minimum wage and more “rights” for workers in his Labor Day address in 2014. Evoking Jimmy Carter’s ever-shrinking economic pie model, Obama lauded the president of Kentucky State University for chopping up his piece of the pie (cutting his salary by $90,000) so it could be redistributed it to lower wage workers at the university.


Watch Reagan’s speech on the next page.

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