December 2, 1919–The State of the Union address
Wilson’s 1919 State of the Union address covered a wide array of huge topics. This specific quote deals with growing labor unrest in both the United States and abroad. Europe was still rebuilding and with massive numbers of displaced, unemployed men, the risk of radicalism was high (as evidenced by the rise of Nazism). The Wilson administration rightfully feared any extreme political position, obviously not wanting to get the US involved in another war.
Even though the US was spared of direct fighting, the Wilson administration did not plan for postwar demobilization. This led to significant financial problems in agriculture, major industrial strikes, and large urban race riots. Thus, one of the largest postwar questions was that of the worker’s right to unionize. In Wilson’s address, he clearly recognized that the current state of affairs was unacceptable. If companies continued to outright bully their employees’ unions, then the economy would suffer greatly.
“No one who has observed the march of events in the last year can fail to note the absolute need of a definite programme to bring about an improvement in the conditions of labor. There can be no settled conditions leading to increased production and a reduction in the cost of living if labor and capital are to be antagonists instead of partners. Sound thinking and an honest desire to serve the interests of the whole nation, as distinguished from the interests of a class, must be applied to the solution of this great and pressing problem. The failure of other nations to consider this matter in a vigorous way has produced bitterness and jealousies and antagonisms, the food of radicalism. The only way to keep men from agitating against grievances is to remove the grievances. An unwillingness even to discuss these matters produces only dissatisfaction and gives comfort to the extreme elements in our country which endeavor to stir up disturbances in order to provoke governments to embark upon a course of retaliation and repression. The seed of revolution is repression. The remedy for these things must not be negative in character. It must be constructive. It must comprehend the general interest. The real antidote for the unrest which manifests itself is not suppression, but a deep consideration of the wrongs that beset our national life and the application of a remedy.”