LABOUR, INDUSTRY AND THE WAR
AN ADDRESS BY WILLIAM GREEN
President, American Federation of Labor
The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Tuesday, October 6, 1942
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: I think it would be appropriate, before we ask Mr. Green to address us, that I should introduce at least two or three head table guests. We have Mr. Percy Bengough, of Vancouver, who is Acting President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada-(Applause) Mr. John W. Buckley, Secretary of the Trades Council of Toronto(Applause)-and Mr. North Winship, the United States Consul. (Applause.) We regret that the Hon. Humphrey Mitchell and the Hon. Frances L. Perkins are not with us. They were unable to accept our invitation this afternoon.
Our regular day for meeting is Thursday and it is only to entertain an outstanding guest that we make any change. Today is one of those occasions, for today we are privileged to entertain and take counsel from the very head and front of the American Federation of Labor, the Chief Executive Officer of some five and a half million Trade Unionists in the United States and Canada.
Since people "rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things", a glance at some of those stepping stones in the career of our guest would indicate his rise. He was born in Ohio and is a family man, the father of six children. He started his career in the field of diplomatic labour in 1900, as Sub-District Chairman of the United Mine Workers of America. He served two terms as a Member of the Senate of Ohio and became International Secretary of the United Mine workers of America in 1912. He became a Member of the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor in 1913, and, on the death of the late Samuel Gompers, President of that body in 1924.
He has not neglected the domestic political field but has been three times a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Committee on International Security. He is a Member of the Academy of Political and Social Science and the author of Ohio Workmen's Compensation Law.
For his efforts in the promotion of industrial peace, he was, in 1930, awarded the Gold Medal of Honor by the Roosevelt Memorial Association. (Applause.)
May I briefly complete the frame for the picture by saying that at first he approved of the strictest neutrality for the United States of America, that in 1940, he advanced to the position of all aid short of war, and that his position now, as he expressed it yesterday, is "Men on the production lines will win the war in that front line of battle". (Applause.)
His economic aversions are Communism and Socialism. He is a peacemaker, a moderate, a diplomat.
Gentlemen, I present to you our guest, Mr. William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor. (Applause.)
MR. WILLIAM GREEN: Mr. Chairman, Honoured Guests and my Fellow Associates here at this delightful luncheon, and Members of The Empire Club of Canada, I am visiting with you today for the purpose of discussing with you how industry and labour can best work together to help win the war. This is our joint and primary objective. All other considerations have now become of secondary importance. We recognize our responsibilities. We must accept them and fulfill them without hesitation and without reservation.
The problems that we face in the United States and that you confront in the Dominion of Canada are so similar that I need not differentiate in this discussion. We ate both democracies. We are both in the same boat. In order to stay afloat we must win this war and achieve a decisive and complete victory over the forces of dictatorship. (Applause.) Otherwise our democratic institutions, our code of freedom, our way of life will be sunk without a trace.
This is true not only of our systems of Government but of our present industrial life. Free enterprise can exist and prosper only under the opportunities afforded by a democratic Government. Likewise, free labour can remain free only in a democracy. We need only examine conditions in Nazi-controlled nations today to realize all too clearly the fate that awaits private industry and free labour if we lose this war.
If we analyze the problem a bit further as a result of this war, labour is bound to suffer. On the other hand, if labour is enslaved or placed under rigid government control, free enterprise cannot escape similar bondage.
So it is obvious that for industry and labour in the United States and the Dominion of Canada this is truly a war of self-preservation, a war of survival. We are in a life or death struggle. All we are and hope to be depends on victory.
If we are intelligent enough to realize this, we must then consider how we can most effectively mobilize our power and resources to win the war. We know it will be a long and bitter struggle. All of us are conscious of that fact. We know that halfhearted measures will not be enough-that an all-out effort is desperately required. Our enemies are daring and vicious. They planned and prepared for this war while we were still unaware of the danger. They struck first and gained the initial advantage. We will have to work hard and fight hard to halt their advances and reverse the tide of battle.
We must also remember that Hitler and his Allies need not ask their people to make sacrifices. They simply order and they take what they want by force. They are not delayed and retarded by hesitant Parliaments, by rival political groups or by open opposition of any kind within their own territory. By terror, torture and slaughter, they have forced complete obedience to their dictates.
There are some in our own countries who envy Hitler in this respect and would like to emulate him. Theirs is a dangerous and short-sighted attitude. They judge only by surface indications. If they would investigate more closely and reason more logically, they would discover the basic flaws in force and compulsion. These words are anathema to free men. Slave industry and slave labour, giving mere lip-service to hated rulers, cannot produce with the energy and spirit of free industry and free labour.
Now, it is up to us in North America to prove that-to prove it to our own satisfaction and to Hitler's discomfiture. That is the way we can, justify humanity's faith in democracy. That is the way in which we can guarantee our own survival.
Our job-the job of industry and labour, and that is inseparable-is to out-produce the Axis, to furnish our armed forces wherever they may be with an unlimited supply of the most effective weapons of war. We must provide the planes and the tanks and the ships and the guns and the ammunition without which victory cannot be achieved. (Applause.)
Our production facilities far surpass those of our enemies. Our productive genius-the vision of our industrial leaders and the skill of our workmen-cannot be matched or equalled anywhere in the world. Our resources and materials, except in a few instances, are boundless.
With these natural and physical advantages and with the psychological superiority of free men over slaves, all that we need to assure victory in the war production drive is the right method of harnessing our strength and-our resources for the successful completion of the big job ahead.
I used the word "harness" because it implies teamwork-and team-work is the prime requirement of efficient, uninterrupted and full production.
This is a total war; for that reason we must have total full production. There is a crying need today for better team-work between management and labour and better team-work between both and the Government.
Why can't we get that kind of team-work? That is the question I want to place squarely before you today in the hope that a frank and open exchange of views between management and labour may make for better understanding and promote greater co-operation.
In the first place I want to assure you with all the emphasis at my command that labour, as represented by the American Federation of Labor, is not seeking any special advantage or profit out of this war. On the contrary, we are anxious to make every sacrifice necessary for victory, short of surrendering our basic freedoms. Even in this respect, we have made a vital and sweeping concession. Immediately after Pearl Harbour, the American Federation of Labor adopted a strict no-strike policy. We voluntarily and sincerely relinquished the exercise of our right to strike for the duration of the war.
How has that pledge been kept? Almost--not quite--100 percent. There have been a number of strikes in the United States since the war-local strikes and of brief duration. I presume you have gone through a similar experience in the Dominion of Canada. We are dealing with human nature and we must take into account human nature. It isn't perfect. It has not yet reached the stage of perfection. Men are moved by emotions and by feelings and not by judgment and when they are moved by these human characteristics they very frequently do the thing they should not do. The American Federation of Labour has not condoned, supported or encouraged a single one of them. On the contrary, we condemn without reservation every work stoppage by members of our organization for whatever cause. We urge and appeal to all our local unions to submit their grievances that cannot be adjusted in the normal processes of collective bargaining to Government agencies purposely established to settle them. These agencies in the United States are first, the Federal Conciliation Service and, finally, the National War Labor Board. Our unions and their members, in the overwhelming majority of cases--yes, in more than 95 percent of the cases--have followed this procedure for the peaceful settlement of disputes without interruption of production.
There have been a few exceptions to this rule. In every case, I and my associated leaders in the American Federation of Labor have been the first to exert pressure upon those who have violated our strict no-strike policy to return to work immediately. We have invariably succeeded in obtaining prompt compliance, even in cases where the strikes were provoked by deliberately hostile acts of employers.
You know, there are a few employers in America who have sought to take advantage of labour's no-strike policy. They are not perfect either. They haven't reached the stage of perfection. They are still influenced by those human frailties and they many times follow feeling rather than judgment. Relying on our pledge not to exercise our economic strength under any circumstances, they sometimes refuse to bargain in good faith for a new agreement or by overt acts in violation of existing contracts and the national laws arouse such resentment among their employees that a strike occasionally develops. Intelligent and patriotic leaders of industry should be the first to condemn such transgressions against the national welfare by any of their associates just as the leaders of labour have condemned unions that fail to abide by our no-strike policy. Management owes an equal responsibility with labour to maintain peaceful industrial relations and an uninterrupted production. If management fails to live up to its responsibility and tries to take selfish advantage of the war emergency, the confidence and morale of workers is bound to be impaired and our entire war production effort is bound to suffer.
On the whole, however, the attitude of both labour and management since the war started has been splendidly cooperative. That is why we have been able to achieve such amazing increases in war production in a few short months. I urge you not to listen to those prophets of doom who constantly criticize and find fault. They are so blinded by minor and petty troubles in a particular plant or industry, that they fail to see the production picture as a whole. We have made glorious progress. President Roosevelt who has just completed a nationwide tour of inspection of our war industries, attests to this fact. I assure you his report is not overly optimistic. Factories and shipyards all over America are roaring full blast-and the sound must strike terror to Hitler's heart. We are producing in America as we have never produced before. Industry and labour both are working with a will. New methods and new processes are being constantly introduced cutting down production time. Workers have stepped up their pace to such an extent that in most plants two are now producing what it took three men to do before.
Let me give you a concrete example of the breathtaking achievements that are hastening Hitler's doom. And that is just as sure as that the sun will set tonight. It used to take 250 days to build and fit out a 10,000 ton cargo ship before the war. (These figures are assembled from records.) Now, in some of our shipyards these vessels are being launched only ten days after the keel is laid and they are fully ready to load cargo and sail to the aid of our fighting forces only fourteen days after they are launched. The majestic battleship Iowa just launched a short time ago in one of our well-equipped naval yards in the United States, went down the waves seven months ahead of schedule. This means that merchant ship construction has been speeded up one thousand per cent. Destroyers, cruisers and battleships also are being built in huge numbers far ahead of schedule. In most instances six month to a year have been cut from the time formerly required to construct them.
This situation is true not only of ships, but of tank and warplane production. The output of tanks in American plants now outstrips the combined output of our enemies. Just think of that-all achieved since Pearl Harbour. Mass production methods are being applied for the first time to airplane production and soon they will be rolling off the assembly lines and winging their way to the battlefronts in an unending stream.
Because of these developments, we will soon be able to match the force of our enemies with equal and even with superior force. When that time comes I predict that Hitler and his enslaved followers will crack under the punishment that we will be able to mete out to them.
Let management and labour now unite in a whole-souled effort to hasten that day! It can be done. Regardless of what has gone before, regardless of what some of us have been erroneously taught to believe, management and labour are not natural economic enemies. I have no patience with those who preach that kind of a doctrine in a democracy. It is contradictory. There is no reason, no good reason under the sun, why that doctrine should be preached. So, as the spokesman for 6,000,000 workers on the American Continent, I disavow it and disown it. (Applause.) We have, if not an identity of interest, at least a community of interest. We both want to win this war--in fact, we've got to do it in self-preservation. If private enterprise and the right to own and manage property is to continue on the North American Continent you must win this war. If labour is to be free and if it is to be accorded the right to form its own free, democratic unions and to administer the affairs of free democratic unions, then we have got to win this war. We have got an equal interest in it. We both realize that we must keep freedom and democracy alive in order to survive ourselves. We must also now realize that management and labour are completely dependent upon each other and cannot exist without each other.
In order to convince you that labour is really on the side of management, I should like to tell you something of the structure of the American Federation of Labor and its principles and policies. The American Federation of Labor is a union of trade unions. Its object is to promote the economic, social and political welfare of working men and women and to elevate their standard of living through organization, collective bargaining, legislation and education. The American Federation of Labor flatly and unreservedly stands opposed to dictatorship of any sort--dictatorship by the proletariat or by some chosen few--it makes no difference. It condemns and opposes revolution or revolutionary methods. It does believe in evolution. It preaches and it practices peaceful, democratic methods to achieve a better way of life.
The American Federation of Labor regards private ownership, private enterprise and private initiative as fixtures within the democratic structure of our Governments. If they are ever endangered, I repeat again, as a result of this war, we will be among the first to fight to preserve them.
We recognize these rights as fundamental in the organic law of our land and as inherent within democratic processes-that workers may organize into free democratic unions for the purpose of collective bargaining and that owners of property may operate and manage industry. We believe that industry is entitled to a fair profit and, likewise, that workers are entitled to fair and decent wages. As a matter of fact, we are just as anxious as industrial management that industry should prosper and expand because we know that is the way more work opportunities are created, better wages paid and tolerable, human working conditions made possible for labour.
Much of the suspicion and misunderstanding which is the basic cause of many strikes could be removed if employer and employee representatives were frank and open with each other. This should be supplemented by an increased recognition of each other's rights. It is important that this should be done even in normal times. It is imperative that it be done in our present war emergency when so much depends upon efficient teamwork between management and labour.
Again, I should like to cite an example to show how frank exchange of information serves to remove misunderstandings. Suppose a local union representing employees in a certain plant hears rumours that the management is reaping huge profits. Naturally, the workers and the union representatives would feel that the workers were entitled to share in the fruit of their labour by 'being awarded pay increases. In such a situation, if management refuses to grant wage adjustments it should at the same time fully explain its position. Have open, frank discussion-"This is what I can do and this is what I cannot do." It is the closing of doors, the secrecy, the mysterious attitude of one toward the other that creates suspicion and suspicion is the source of strife. What we need between management and labour, between the owners of property and the masses of the people is open, square dealing with each other, frankness of the most frank kind. Labour is intelligent. If you present .to them the facts they will recognize those facts. They will accept them. They cannot ignore them and they will not ignore them, but it is when they don't know, when the facts are kept from them and when through the public press or through statements made outside and around and about they are led to believe that huge salaries are being paid to corporation executives and huge profits are being distributed among stockholders, then is when they become dissatisfied and when that is never cleared up and when the facts are not brought home, then that state of mind becomes fixed. If there is any one thing I would urge should be done, and that urging is based upon my life's experience, it is that we develop frank dealing, open dealing, open-mindedness between management and labour upon all questions that affect human relations in industry. If a firm is not making huge profits, if its production costs, taxes, expansion programmes and competitive position are such that wage increases cannot be safely granted, it is up to management to show and prove these facts to the satisfaction of the employee representatives. Charges of exploitation could thus be answered in a factual way and bitterness and conflict avoided.
The procedure that I have outlined is reasonable, fair, democratic and practical. It does not involve any surrender by industry to labour of its management prerogatives. The American Federation of Labor and its affiliated unions, I may say, are not interested in encroaching upon or taking over the functions of management.
Some large employers in America used to worry themselves sick for fear of having to deal with unions. I know that many of you here, within the sound of my voice, can remember when the unions were regarded as revolutionary, destructive forces. They were classified in a classification outside of the regular order. They were referred to in terms that I could not express here in your presence today. The unions have had to fight every inch of the way. That was the time when some did not quite understand the value of organization among workers, the service they could render to democracy, to industry, to society, and to the nation. Well, when the National Labor Act, with which many of you are familiar, perhaps all of you, was passed by the Congress of the United States, a new era was ushered in. That Act confers upon workers in the United States the right to organize, free from any interference on the part of the employers, and many of the employers have learned most valuable lessons since that Act was passed in the United States. They have learned many things. That conferred upon labour the right to organize, free from intimidation or interference on the part of anyone. Now, some of the employers regarded the organization of their employees into trade unions with great trepidation and even, in some instances, sought to block such organization in defiance of the law.
Their fears were groundless, as they have discovered since they began negotiating with trade unions. Many of the leading anti-union employers of the past are now the greatest supporters of employer-employee cooperation in America.
Since the war we have sought to expand the field of such cooperation by the formation of management-labour committees in war production plants. This programme, inaugurated under the auspices of the War Production Board, has not yet been applied as widely as it should be and will be, but already highly constructive results have been reported by both management and labour alike. Management has discovered that workers can contribute from their experience on the job important and practical suggestions for improved operation and production methods. Workers have discovered that their employers are human beings like themselves and not arrogant ogres. We are confident that there will be continuing progress along these lines and that it will redound to the benefit of management and labour alike now and after the war is over.
The benefits of labour management co-operation were not a new discovery by the American Federation of Labor. We have preached it for many years and have made enthusiastic converts on our own account. The Garment Workers Union has developed its cooperative machinery to such an extent that it occasionally has been able to help an employer financially and save his business when without such help it would have gone on the rocks. The railroad industry-profiting from the Baltimore and Ohio plan of unionmanagement cooperation-made great forward strides in the efficiency of operations and in maintenance long before the war began. And that experiment was tried most successfully on the Canadian National Railways, as many of you must know, just a few years ago and it was a great success. One of our unions in the printing trades--The Printing Pressmen--has cooperated with the newspaper industry to such an extent that it has blazed the trail for most of the new printing processes that have helped the newspapers keep pace with modern times.
I think you may be interested in another phase of labour-management cooperation that is now beginning to take shape in the United States as a result of the war. A few weeks ago the national representatives of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers sat down together around a dinner table with the national representatives of the American Federation and Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Now, some of you could have believed that the National Chamber of Commerce would have done that but I imagine there are very few of you who believed that the time would ever come when the representatives of the National Association of Manufacturers would do that very thing, but they did. This meeting was arranged entirely on the initiative of the organizations of business and labour represented. The Government had nothing to do with it and was not represented at the meeting.
One of the basic purposes of the meeting, in fact, was to explore ways and means by which management and labour could reach areas of agreement on fundamental and basic problems and arrive at a basis for joint action for the solution of these problems with a minimum of Government intervention.
It was understood that our first objective, of course, was to mobilize the combined strength of our respective organizations to help win the war. As part of this understanding, it was agreed by all parties that it would be advantageous to the cause of democracy for management and labour to deal with their joint problems so constructively and efficaciously as to make Government intervention unnecessary. Let us do the job. The feeling was unanimous at the meeting that too much Government interference in the sphere of industrial relations was undesirable and indicative of a trend toward the very aspects of totalitarianism that we are fighting against at this time.
We reasoned this way-that management and labour had a job to perform and that failure to do it would be the signal for the Government to step in and take over in the interests of the war effort.
So we reached the broad conclusion that we would earnestly endeavour to chart a programme of joint effort which would promote war production and speed the day of victory. We reported this conclusion to President Roosevelt at a conference a few days later held in the White House and he gave us the broadest possible encouragement to go ahead with our plans.
As yet it is too early to predict how much can be accomplished and in what direction we can act first. A second conference of the national representatives of these four organizations was held only a few days before I left Washington to come here and more meetings will follow from time to time. I have no hesitation in saying, however, that I look for highly constructive results from these conferences. In fact, they have already resulted in the establishment of good will and a better understanding among organizations that before the war were aligned against each other on many important issues.
Management and labour, standing together and working together under our free institutions, have much to give to our countries. The success of the war effort depends very largely upon their service. If we fail to meet the challenge, we don't deserve any better fate than that which would await us at Hitler's merciless hands. If we succeed in our efforts, the world will always remember and freely acknowledge that we have earned our freedom and are entitled to continue to enjoy it in the future. Faced with these alternatives, is there any doubt in your mind how management and labour will respond? I have no doubts. As the representative of six million American and Canadian workers, I hereby give you my solemn pledge that labour will meet management more than half way during the war. We are ready to work with you and serve with management, and sacrifice with management, my friends, come what may, for Democracy's eventual and inevitable victory. (Applause-prolonged.)
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: It was most interesting, Gentlemen, to hear Mr. Green's reference to the Canadian National Railways, where this management plan has been so ably developed over a period of the last few years. Those of us who listened to Mr. Vaughan speaking from this table only last Thursday will recall his remarks in that connection. I feel that many who have listened today to Mr. Green will envy him his field of endeavour and the opportunities and interests which it offers, to say nothing of the geniality of his person and the warmth of his eloquence. (Applause.)
Capital, so-called, is of the earth, earthy; labour, socalled, is humanity, the souls and the bodies and the minds of men and women. One who has the privilege of dealing with human souls, of raising the standards of living for human bodies, of easing the burden of life for human minds, is peculiarly blessed. That is Mr. Green's unique privilege for some six millions of our fellow men.
Mr. Green, on behalf of The Empire Club, I thank you for this enlightening address. You carry away with you our best wishes for the accomplishment and achievement you desire in your great work. (Applause.)