475. Letter from Eleven Congressmen to President Kennedy, August 211

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Dear Mr. President

This letter is a desperate appeal for action to save the domestic wool textile industry. There can be no doubt that the time for such action is long overdue.

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As you know, the steady deterioration of the nation’s wool textile industry has contributed substantially to the growing and unsolved problem of chronic unemployment. While there may be honest differences of opinion as to the efficacy of programs which purport to create new jobs, there can be no dispute as to the wisdom of guarding against the further loss of jobs in an industry already determined to be necessary to the nation’s security.

The impact of the depression of the wool textile industry has already been felt in related domestic industries—from wool growing to apparel manufacture. The circle of uncertainty continues to widen.

It is with reluctance that we remind you of the direct and explicit promises that have been made by you, Mr. President, and officials high in your administration, that relief would be forthcoming. For example, on August 31, 1960, you wrote to Governor Hollings of South Carolina as follows:

“Clearly the problems of the Industry will not disappear by neglect nor can we wait for a large scale unemployment and shutdown of the Industry to inspire us to action. A comprehensive industry-wide remedy is necessary. . . .

“Imports of textile products, including apparel, should be within limits which will not endanger our own existing textile capacity and employment, and which will permit growth of the Industry in reasonable relationship to the expansion of our over-all economy. . . .

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“The Office of the Presidency carries with it the authority and influence to explore and work out solutions within the framework of our foreign trade policies for the problems peculiar to our Textile and Apparel Industry. Because of the broad ramifications of any action and because of the necessity of approaching a solution in terms of total needs of the textile industry, this is a responsibility which only the President can adequately discharge.”

On June 30, 1961, you wrote Congressman Carl Vinson as follows:

“It should be borne in mind that the contemplated (cotton textile) negotiations are designed as one of the series of efforts to assist the textile industry. Our objective is to assist the industry to overcome all of the handicaps which it faces. The State Department is being instructed to get the best possible relief, not only for cotton, but for other fibers.”

In January 1962, your Special Assistant, Lawrence F. O’Brien, wrote Congressman Vinson and Senator Pastore, saying:

“After the conclusion of the permanent (cotton) textile agreement, the problems of the wool and man-made fiber industries will certainly be attacked.”

On February 26, 1962, in a letter to Congressman Vinson, you stated:

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“I have also requested the Departments involved to implement my program for the wool, man-made fiber and silk divisions of the industry. Almost all of the points in the program announced on May 2, 1961, apply equally to each of these.”

On August 28, 1962, your Secretary of Commerce, Luther Hodges, in a letter to Congressman F. Bradford Morse, stated:

“We are determined that imports of wool textile products will not be permitted to exceed current levels and we will take all necessary steps to prevent this.”

On January 18, 1963, a Washington press dispatch stated:

“A group of Senators from wool and wool textile states said they received assurances from President Kennedy today that ‘something will be done’ to restrict imports on wool products. Senator John O. Pastore (D–R.I.) told newsmen . . . that the President promised to propose within a month measures to limit such imports.”

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In spite of the foregoing promises and commitments, Mr. President, no action has been taken to stem the flood of woolen textile imports that threaten to destroy the industry.

1. Wool textile imports increased by 78 per cent between 1961 and 1962.

2. The record shows that wool textile imports in the first quarter of 1963 were 41 per cent above the comparable 1962 figure and are currently at an annual rate in excess of 160 million square yards.

3. In the year ending March 30, 1963, 85.4 million pounds of wool textiles were imported.

4. The ratio of imports to domestic production rose from 15.1 per cent in 1961 to 23.2 per cent in the year ending March 30, 1963.

5. 305 woolen textile mills have closed their doors in the past fifteen years displacing 105,000 workers.

It has been clear for some time that this situation is not going to improve unless prompt action is taken by your Administration. We cannot wait for the conclusion of an International Wool Agreement. As the Senate Special Subcommittee to Study the Textile Industry said on July 18, “We favor resolution of the problems by such means as an effective international agreement to limit imports of wool textile and apparel products. If this is not achieved, however, the United States must take unilateral action to insure that the defense-essential wool textile and apparel industries are not irreparably damaged by the unrestrained flood of imports.”

Each of us has seen the personal hardship and despair of the people who suffer from the decline of the domestic wool textile industry. The remaining plants and mills are struggling to keep their place in the market and provide jobs for 60,000 textile workers.

But they cannot keep their heads above water for very long without executive action. Not long ago a plant, newly modernized, was forced [Typeset Page 1877] to shut down due to the competition of goods produced abroad by workers who are paid as little as 14 cents an hour.

It is too late to save the jobs and the investments in the mills already closed. But you can still preserve the livelihood and self-respect of the 60,000 remaining textile workers and their families; they deserve the relief that has been promised for so long.

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We believe, Mr. President, that your first-hand knowledge of the problem faced by the people in our districts would make a meeting with you particularly productive. We respectfully request an opportunity to discuss this matter with you personally at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely yours,

Joseph W. Martin
James C. Cleveland
Hastings Keith
F. Bradford Morse
Robert T. Stafford
William H. Bates
Silvio O. Conte
Clifford G. McIntire
Abner W. Sibal
Stanley C. Tupper
Louis C. Wyman
  1. Domestic wool textile industry deterioration. No classification marking. 4 pp. Kennedy Library, Herter Papers, Congressional Relations, Box 8.