Ronald Reagan on Labor Day 1980: Make America Great Again

Ronald Reagan giving a speech at Liberty State Park in Jersey City New Jersey on September 1, 1980
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign for the presidency on the banks of the Hudson River, overlooking the Statue of Liberty, on Labor Day in 1980 with a promise to “make America great again.”

Standing side-by-side with the father of Poland’s Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa, Reagan proclaimed that “where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”

The event was billed as an “ethnic picnic.” According to the New York Times, the flags of several eastern European countries flapped in the wind.

Reagan touted the wisdom of George Meany, the AFL-CIO’s first president and America’s most important labor leader from the 1950s until his death in early 1980.

One year ago today on Labor Day George Meany told the American people, “As American workers and their families return from their summer vacations, they face growing unemployment and inflation, a climate of economic anxiety and uncertainty.” One year ago, George Meany predicted just exactly what has happened to us.

Well I pledge to you in his memory, that the voice of the American worker will once again be heard and heeded in Washington and that the climate of fear that he spoke of will no longer threaten workers and their families.

Reagan wrapped up his speech with words that will sound familiar today: “Let us pledge to each other, with this Great Lady looking on, that we can, and so help us God, we will make America great again.”

You can watch the full speech here:




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