JULY 27, 1962
NEW YORK—The House of Representatives has just approved a bill to assure equal pay for equal work, regardless of the sex of the worker. This bill is one in which women have been interested for a long time, for it applies to an area where flagrant discrimination has existed. Time and again, women have done similar work to that done by a man without the pay ever being equalized.
The bill, of course, must now go to the Senate and be passed there. Apparently a considerable group of Republicans and Southern Democrats did not vote for the bill and there will undoubtedly be lengthy discussion in the Senate. Those women who watched this bill for a long time will be grateful to Representative Herbert Zelenko, Democrat of New York, for getting the bill through the House and they will also be watching with interest its fate in the Senate. Many people in the U.S. take it for granted that once a bill has passed one house it has become a law. They don't seem to realize that it must pass both houses and be signed by the President before it does so. Women feel sure the President will sign it when it reaches him. Now for the next step, and let's hope the women will watch their own representatives very closely.
It is of particular interest to those of us who have followed the growth and development of Puerto Rico that Governor Munoz Marin has informed President Kennedy of his intention to ask the Puerto Rican Legislature for a law providing for a plebiscite on the island's future political status.
For some time there have been rumors of unrest in Puerto Rico. Some people have felt that the island should have complete independence from the U.S. But many of those advocating complete independence have failed to calculate what would be the disadvantages of being completely free from the U.S. and having no economic preference. Puerto Rico exists under a difficult economic situation. It imports much of its food. It must find outlets for its ever increasing population, and while the people of Puerto Rico love their island and would prefer never to leave it, the pangs of hunger occasionally drive them out.
A plebiscite would offer them three choices: one for complete freedom, one for the commonwealth status they now enjoy (but more clearly defined), and one for statehood such as Hawaii and Alaska have acquired. I think it is very fortunate that this question has come up at a time when Governor Munoz is able to bring the whole situation before the people. He has their confidence. He will take the trouble to go from place to place and inform them as to the alternatives before them. The decision will be up to the people, but at least they will understand what the alternatives mean. There was a time when education was at such a low ebb on the Puerto Rican island that I doubt if even Munoz Marin could have explained the situation to them. But in the last 30 years there has been a very great change in Puerto Rico's standard of living, and with improved living conditions the education of the people has made big strides.
I saw a preliminary report not long ago made by Dorothy Bourne on the social conditions on the island. To anyone who remembers conditions as they were in the thirties it makes most enlightening reading. In the first place, industrialization is moving in and with it organization. I remember, for instance, that it was a common sight to see the little girl in her school lunch hour dashing to find her little piece of embroidery, usually a handkerchief of very cheap material, on which she was doing very fine hand embroidery. The little girls would work at this every minute until the bell rang for school to begin again. If you visited one of the little rural homes you found the women busy, usually again on cheap material, but all of it hand work. They would make up bundles of handkerchiefs and nightgowns and send them in to the factories, where the piece work was poorly paid indeed. Today this whole situation has changed. True, the sugar workers still have work for only a part of the year, but an effort is being made to fill all their time through industrial development.
I think we owe Munoz Marin a tremendous debt of gratitude and I hope that in time the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico will come to be far better off than they are at present.