THE CHALLENGE OF 1963
An Address by
CLAUDE JODOIN President, Canadian Labour Congress
Thursday, January 17, 1963
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Palmer Kent, Q.C.
MR. KENT: It is a great pleasure to introduce to you the Voice of Labour in Canada today in the person of Mr. Claude Jodoin, who has been the head of the Canadian Labour Congress since it was founded in 1956. We are all vitally concerned with the economic growth of Canada and in Labour-Management Government co-operation as a means to bring about that growth. We, therefore, welcome this opportunity of learning the viewpoint of labour. No one in Canada is better qualified to address us on this subject than our Speaker today.
Mr. Jodoin was born in Westmount, Quebec, where he received his early education. Later he took a classical course at Ste. Marie College and at Brebeuf College in Montreal. He became an organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1937. Since then he has climbed steadily in the ranks of labour organizations. For two periods, 1940-1942 and from 1947-1954, he served as a member of the Montreal City Council and from 1942-1944 he was a member of the Quebec Legislature for Montreal St. James.
He has been president of the Montreal Trades and Labour Council and was elected president of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada in August, 1954. He has also shown a keen interest in combatting racial intolerance and has been active in international labour organizations. Since 1949, he has been a member of the executive board of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and was a member of the Governing body of the International Labour Organization from 1951-1960.
Recently he retired as one of the labour representatives on the National Productivity Council claiming it was a barrier to effective co-operation in seeking solutions to Canada's Economic Problems. He addressed our Club on February 7th, 1957, shortly after the founding of the Canadian Labour Congress, which is the central body for a large number of unions in Canada all of which retain complete autonomy. Last spring he agreed to address us again but this was postponed on account of the dispute between the owners of this hotel and its employees. We all regretted that dispute and are delighted that it was finally settled so that we could welcome our distinguished guest today.
His subject is: "The Challenge of 1963".
NM. JODOIN: It is almost exactly six years ago that I last had the pleasure of addressing you. I recall that I tried to place some emphasis on the necessity for greater efforts toward improved labour-management relations. My remarks today may be regarded as a progress report. I'm sorry that there is not more progress to report but I think, as we enter this year of 1963, there are some indications of what may be improvements over 1957. 1 would like to examine these briefly with you this afternoon and consider just where we go from here.
In 1957 we in the labour movement, as well as many others, were concerned with the possible effects of automation. That concern is still with us, in fact in some respects it has deepened. When I spoke of this at our last meeting I used these words: "The glib suggestion that such developments always result, in the long run, in more jobs is, I suggest, merely a method of trying to avoid more immediate and pressing problems."
Developments in the past six years seem to indicate that these may not be only immediate problems but they may be of very long duration. We feel that experience of the past six years has borne this out. These smooth promises of automatic benefits from automation remain unfulfilled.
This does not mean that we are opposed to automation. We think scientific advances, such as those demonstrated by automation, are inevitable; and they can, in fact, bring great benefits to humanity. But with them come new problems and challenges. The theme of my remarks to you today is that we can only meet these challenges and we can only reap these benefits if we do it through the co-operative effort of all sections of society; and particularly through the co-operative effort of labour and management.
There is great danger in adopting the complacent attitude that automation, and all that goes with it, is merely an extension of the changes we have seen in the past. There are significant differences in the changes we are experiencing today and they will be reflected upon the lives of individuals and upon society itself. Almost everyone who has made a serious study of the effects of automation has referred to the effect on employees, individually and collectively. This is using the term employee in its broad sense because we all know that there can be marked affects on employees who have management responsibilities. I am sure some of the cartoons of employees being introduced to a robot as their new manager must have given management people some cause for reflection.
Mr. David Grenier, financial editor of the Telegram in this city, recently made reference to the effects of automation in one of his columns. He used these words: "Let's not kid ourselves about automation: It can hurt-and hurt bad." And then he went on to cite two myths, and I quote him again: "Myth One: That workers displaced through automation can find other jobs elsewhere. Myth Two: That the automation industry itself creates enough jobs to offset lower demand for production workers." I can't say we always agree with the editorial views of the Toronto Telegram-it can hardly be considered a paper leaning to the left; but I must say I share Mr. Grenier's views.
I am sure most of you are familiar with the long lists of examples of the effect of automation on employment-the story of machines replacing people. It has been reflected in factories from one end of the country to the other. But there sometimes seems to be a tendency to think that the impact of automation falls only on the so-called blue collar, or production worker. It is true that the impact has fallen there with considerable force; but it is also being felt, and going to be felt increasingly, by the white collar worker. In 1900 one United States worker in forty was a clerk. By 1930 this had changed to one out of twelve. Today it is said to be one of seven, and there are predictions that this change in ratio will continue. This rapidly growing force of white collar workers, including many of senior categories, are going to be very materially affected by automation.
I said that these changes would have far-reaching effects. Some of you may be aware of recent changes in practices introduced by the chartered banks-they had to do with methods of short-term financing for personal as well as for business reasons. This practice, I am told, had become a matter of considerable convenience to some people who might occasionally have cause to overdraw their accounts. It was abruptly withdrawn. I trust none of you gentlemen were inconvenienced. If you were, then you can thank automation because we were told that improved methods in handling the processing of records was the main reason behind this change.
We are also told that there are now machines which can handle 1,500 cheques a minute, compared to the previous processing of 1,000 an hour. Detail work that previously required days of calculation by junior engineers can now be accomplished in minutes by computers-and with greater accuracy. We are told that law clerks will no longer need to turn countless pages in law libraries in search of precedents. They can be provided mechanically. It would be possible to go on and on, but I am sure you understand my point.
Now it was said, and it is still said by some people, that automation will solve its own problems because men will be required to produce these new machines. This is true to some extent, but to some extent only. Automation feeds on itself and automation can be used, and is being used, to produce new automatic machines.
We are sometimes told that the impact of automation, especially in offices, will not be serious because there is always a heavy turnover of employees. According to this argument the introduction of machines simply means that new people will not be hired. This is surely an oversimplification. It means that instead of having the unemployed as a result of machines, we will have the unhired. These are the young people who would normally expect to find a place to work in offices. The greatly increased efforts being made to keep young people in school are an attempt to meet this condition. Certainly more education is a most commendable thing; but I need hardly remind you that these young people can't stay in school forever. Sooner or later they are going to be looking for their place in the labour force.
Another easy answer is that with automation leisure time will increase and there will be a much greater demand for services of various forms. This argument follows the line that as a result more people will be employed in the services. This may be true to a degree; but, I suggest, to only a very limited degree.
It requires little more than a casual look to realize that the services are being automated. Presumably, if people have more leisure time-and if they still have jobs-they will be inclined to travel more. Let's look at modern travel. If we go by car we are now expected by many gasoline companies to make out our own bills. If we travel by plane we find ourselves on constantly larger and faster planes with little change in crew requirements, and thus little change in employment opportunities. We find mechanical devices handling our baggage. In the hotel business we see an increasing trend toward do-it-yourself. We have self-service laundries and self-service dry cleaners. Our hospital employees' union in Vancouver reports that the ratio of service employees to patients is steadily dropping. They talk of a machine that will now wash, press and fold linen in six seconds. The introduction of automatic elevators replaced 40,000 people in New York City alone. And so I suggest to you that expansion of the service industries cannot be depended upon to provide an answer to the problems of automation.
And I am not sure that retraining is by any means a complete answer either. Certainly we need a retraining programme and we are glad that this is a matter that is receiving the attention of the present session of parliament. But it seems to me there are two points which we should remember about retraining: it is not a total solution; and it needs to be tackled with considerable care and forethought. I am sure you have heard, as I have, stories about people being retrained for non-existent jobs, or for jobs that would soon disappear. There is always a danger that pushing unemployed people into a classroom may seem to be an immediate solution to a difficult and embarrassing problem, and yet do nothing to solve our long-term problems.
Several of our unions have done some work in this matter of retraining. Let me tell you about one example. It concerns the meat packing industry and the study was made in Oklahoma City where a plant has been closed, leaving 350 people out of work. A task force was set up headed by a professor of economics, and this group combed the community looking for jobs for these people. They found that unemployed workers over the age of 35 could not even obtain an interview, much less a job. There were some opportunities in an electrical plant that was opening up and so the former packinghouse employees were offered the opportunity to retrain for these new jobs. Those wanting to retrain had to take certain tests to determine their possibilities. Out of the 170 who applied, only 60 showed promise of benefiting from retraining; and of these only eight were finally able to obtain employment.
Some people concerned with placement recently had something to say about the situation here in Toronto. Mr. John Purdy of the National Employment Service said there were not enough jobs for Grade 12 and 13 students. Those with lower grade standing were in an almost hopeless situation in looking for work. And so it seems apparent that we need to take a long hard look at all aspects of education. I hope I have not sounded too gloomy in what I have been saying. I have spoken of these matters merely to draw your attention to the situation we face and to emphasize again the necessity for all of us to work together toward a solution.
During the past year we have been very forcibly reminded of our situation in relation to world trade, and particularly with regard to the competition of European countries. We were formerly well ahead of most of these countries in regard to equipment and methods. We were, perhaps, rather too inclined to take our superior position for granted. On the other hand, these countries have been well in advance of us in regard to labour-management relations. Now they are rapidly catching up, in some instances they have passed us, in the matter of equipment and methods. But we are making much too little progress toward catching up to their standards of labour-management relations.
I spoke of my remarks today being a progress report. The chief progress I can report is what seems to be a growing awareness of the fact that something needs to be done to improve labour-management relations. There has been evidence of this from several quarters, particularly during the past year. In particular there was the study mission sent abroad by the National Productivity Council. You may be aware that we have had our differences with the National Productivity Council. We are hopeful that steps may be taken to remedy this situation and certainly we feel that the mission which went abroad last year was a very worthwhile effort.
The mission was composed of management, labour and government representatives and they visited six European countries. The mission presented a report which, we hope, may mark a turning point in industrial relations in Canada. Naturally, from a labour point of view, we were greatly interested in the mission's findings as far as trade unionism is concerned. Let me read you just one paragraph from the report on this topic:
In most countries visited there is full acceptance of the principle of union recognition by the employers' organizations and by governments, and indeed central labour bodies are accepted as the official spokesmen for labour. In certain countries, such as Sweden, Belgium and Britain, a very high proportion of the labour force has membership in strong and independent unions. Employers generally recognize these strong, independent unions and recognize the important role of such unions in the social and economic life of the country.
Of course we have always felt that one of the difficulties we face here in Canada is a comparative lack of organization on the employer side. Labour people seem to be better organized than management people. This would appear to be borne out by the findings of this mission. The report says:
In Europe, employer organizations have been highly developed and play an active and important role in negotiations with organized labour, and in various activities concerning industrial well-being and economic expansion and co-ordination. They are recognized by governments as being important instruments for indicative programming and for implementing industrial, social and economic policies.
Far be it from me to interfere with your affairs, gentlemen, but I know most of you are employers and if you would like us to help you with our considerable experience in organizing we would be glad to be of assistance.
Let me bring these two comments by the mission together in this final quotation from the report:
In particular, the Mission was impressed with the notable spirit and desire of labour, management and government to achieve the social and economic objectives mentioned earlier in this report, without submerging their own real interests. This strong desire expressed itself in a willingness to temper self-interest in the light of those measures which are obviously for the common good and to work together on a variety of joint projects to study and implement measures to achieve economic growth.
I think we should be careful, in looking at the European situation, to avoid assuming that because certain measures work there they will work here. The situations are very different. On the other hand, I think that we should recognize what has been accomplished in these countries, most of which have experience considerably older than ours. There is undoubtedly much we can learn from them, and certainly their accomplishments can and should be an inspiration to us.
It disturbs me that there is so little progress to report in the face of what needs to be done. Time moves on, far more rapidly than most of us realize, and we have been wasting too much time in tackling this vital problem and in starting to build the kind of co-operation we must have if we are to develop our country to its full potential.
We on the labour side have been discouraged that our repeated efforts to bring about at least face-to-face discussions have met with so little response. We are now hopeful that we are about to see some change in this regard. We make no apology for the role we play as trade unionists. We believe that trade unions, through the process of free, democratic collective bargaining, have made a great contribution toward a better life for all in Canada-just as this process has in other countries.
We disagree sharply with those who express the view that unions may have been needed and have fulfilled a useful purpose at one time but that they are outdated in modern times. Let me say to these people that as far as industrial relations are concerned these are not modern times. We have in Canada some very good employers, and we have companies in which relations between employers and employees are excellent. We also have plants in Canada where employees are blocked and intimidated by every possible means if they try to form their union and enter into true collective bargaining. We have some employers in Canada who try to practise the paternalism of the 18th century. I say to you in all earnestness that those who try to block the march toward better labour-management relations are saboteurs of Canadian industry.
In the brief time we have had together I have been able only to touch on some aspects of the situation we face today; but surely it is clear that it demands the best of our skill and the best of our thinking. Canada, as an industrial country, will move forward in direct relation to the extent that we apply these skills and this thought in a co-operative way.
No group or section of our society has a corner on all the skills or all the ideas. Together we, as Canadians, have, I am sure, all that is required to give our country and its people the place it deserves. We in organized labour look forward to an opportunity to contribute fully to this end.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Dr. C. C. Goldring.