Doers Not Dreamers Needed


By LT. COLONEL RALPH K. STRASSMAN, United States Army and Vice-President, Ward Wheelock Company

Delivered to the Ninth Annual Industrial Conference, held at Lancaster, Pa., December 7, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 184-185.

DURING the past few weeks, there has been much talk about national unity. The phrase is being used glibly by speakers who make little effort to explain exactly what it means. Obviously, we do not want the totalitarian brand of political unity which bars honest criticism and suggestion; nor do we want the empty unity achieved by encouraging lazy-minded citizens to let leaders in public or private life do their thinking for them.

Industry does not want the kind of surface unity which would come from suppressing important conflicts of interest rather than facing and reconciling them. We need and must have the unity of a free people, based on fundamental agreement as to principles and method.

Unity today is the particular concern of industrial leaders and those in managerial positions because of the tremendous responsibility resting upon them at this time. It is literally true that the future of America depends upon its ability to produce to capacity in a free economy; and that responsibility is yours, not the other fellows. Statesmen may talk and philosophers may dream; but oratory and musings will not shape steel and stoke furnaces—now.

Our present task is emphatically a job for the doers—not the dreamers. One compensation for the tragic necessity which is directing the course of our economy toward production of war machinery, is that it is restoring respect for the skill of the man who works with his hands. The leadership of Industry, large and small, is vested principally in men who have worked with their hands and who can combine vision and practical knowledge.

We have had legislation for labor, for the farmer, for the consumer, for the aged, and so on. We have had laws restricting the privileges which financial groups had come to think of as vested in them. Many people who have benefited directly by these laws now think of themselves as direct pensioners of the government—and consider as class enemies the people who pay the bill out of their own earnings.

American public opinion must not be encouraged to stratify in segments of group or class thinking. We have approached dangerously near a condition in which individuals think and vote uniformly in accordance with income groups, occupations or racial extractions. Without healthy differences of opinion and independent judgment in all groups, democratic processes degenerate into bloc rule and short-sighted pressure for immediate benefits.

This, then, is a definite danger which Industry must recognize and do something about, if it expects to remain free and productive. And what can we do about it? How can we, who are business men, not politicians, influence public opinion in the interests of unity?

My answer to this important question is that the job begins for every one of us at the shop bench and the factory gate. Our first concern is with the gap which has widened between employer and employee. There is no need to hold a post-mortem over the reasons for this, or to attempt to place blame. The problem exists and must be met, not by laws, but by the persuasions and attitudes of individual employers.

There are many encouraging signs that the public, labor included, is inclined to be dissatisfied with purely politicalleadership and is ready to accept the leadership of an enlightened industry. The "doer" is coming into his own and has a great opportunity as well as a great responsibility.

We are coming, as I said before, to a belated recognition of the dignity and importance of manual skill. Any false stigma attached to work with the hands must be wiped out, in every community in the land, if we are even to begin to realize the meaning of unity for productiveness. We must work constantly to dispel the idea that the man who sits behind a desk and wears a white collar has a higher social position than the man who goes to his work-bench in overalls and whose hands are stained with grease.

Inventive genius and ability to work with things made this country great. It is the privilege and duty of every one of you, in your supervisory positions, to encourage among your men a pride in their calling and an enthusiasm for their contribution to the nation.

Likewise, young people must be made to understand the dignity of skilled labor and encouraged to develop their aptitudes along "doer" lines. There exists today the vexatious problem of surplus clerical and professional applicants and the desperate shortage of young men qualified for skilled trades. We all know that the professions are over-crowded; that for years our law and medical schools have been turning out more graduates than there are opportunities.

Recent figures show that there are thirteen times as many individuals now training for the professions than are presently engaged in them. But apprentice mechanics number only one-seventh of the number now working at their trades.

The armament program has already shown the tragic shortage which exists in the field of skilled labor. While this is partly due to years of depression, loss of skills, and short-sighted limitations of apprentice training programs, the general attitude toward manual work is also to blame.

Our democracy can continue only if public opinion grants equal respect for all useful work and repudiates snobbish social distinctions dependent on false assumptions.

Democracy can last only if individuals are judged by their worth and dignity—not by their clothes and charge accounts. We must work together for mutual benefit or there will be no benefits for anyone in the long run. And we must learn to live together as equals in mutual respect for each other's abilities.

Another thing which management can do to promote real democracy is to give an increased sense of responsibility to labor. It has often been charged that some businessmen, while protesting vehemently against centralization of authority, and arbitrariness in government, are guilty of the same practices in the management of their private ventures. The growth of large units has done away with the possibility of personal contacts between employees and the heads of enterprises; but there are many ways in which employees can be given a sense of importance. These will not interfere with efficiency; on the contrary, they will increase it by building up morale. Here again, the main responsibility lies in the hands of those who are in direct contact with large numbers of employees—namely, the shop foremen, supervisors and personnel directors. Employees should be encouraged to express their own ideas about shop management.

They should be encouraged to bring complaints directly to those who can judge them, rather than to gossip among themselves over real or fancied grievances.

Employees who are fairly and considerately treated not only do more and better work, but they aid in the creation of goodwill for the employer. No long-range program of public relations can be effective for a company which does not have the confidence of its own employees and the people of its community.

While reliable labor unions have accomplished a great deal in protecting workers' rights and stabilizing employment conditions, the net result, in many cases, has been to widen the gulf between employer and employee. The individual worker looks to his union representatives to present his case; and too many unions have not encouraged a sufficiently liberal degree of discussion and adjustment. You men are experienced in dealing with union representatives and understand that mutual attitude is all-important. Individual union members should be encouraged to participate actively in union affairs and to realize their responsibility in selecting representatives who will be frank and open in their reports.

Likewise, employers must accept responsibility for doing their utmost to settle disputed matters without government intervention. The whole purpose of collective bargaining is undermined if two parties cannot find common ground for negotiation without calling in a third party to arbitrate.

Labor must be made to see the danger to itself of letting any government agency assume increasing power over individuals and labor organizations. This is the method which has wrecked labor organizations in other countries; and if benefits and freedom are to be conserved, there must be enlightened efforts on the part of unions and management to work out their own problems in the free American way.

While Industry has an obvious duty to cooperate with government, it also has the duty to protest against any policies which would lessen productive efficiency. If industry must carry the heavy responsibility of making the defense program succeed, it must also have a voice in the councils of government to insure independence of action when delays and bureaucratic hamstringing threaten production. It is the duty of Industry to be everlastingly vigilant against enemies from within as well as from without. Industry must defend a way of life and prove that it is workable. It must answer a public need for constructive leadership.

Industry has the opportunity now to regain public confidence and eliminate class hatreds. It can do this through building up in individual workers a sense of their own dignity and importance in a democratic system.

Publicity and advertising—the great instruments which have made our high standard of living possible—must be used to clear up the confusion in the minds of many as to the functioning of the American system. Industry must tell the people about itself and its part in American life. It must correct misapprehensions with facts, and label half-truths and misleading statements as what they are—namely, a conscious or unconscious effort to sabotage American democracy.

Highly technical questions, unintelligible to the average man, must be clarified so that the real issues are clear. For instance, probably not one man in a hundred has any idea what the question of amortization had to do with the delay in getting airplane production expanded; or why the failure of Congress and the Administration to act on it earlier was partly responsible for the fact that our October plane output was only 1,133 against Germany's 3,000 average.

Most people have an idea that government financing of new plants is a direct subsidy to owners. They do not realize that the private companies are merely the channels through which the connection is made between available capital and available labor.

We hear repeated talk about the failure of the profit system to bring economic recovery, while the figures show that the system slowed down through lack of profits; and that legitimate profits are as necessary as legitimate wages for the functioning of a dynamic economy. There are many points on which the public needs education, and it must look to the united efforts of private enterprise.

It is our responsibility to remain constantly watchful to oppose any efforts from whatever source to widen existing divisions among our people. We must not fight old battles over again; we must acknowledge our past mistakes and go on from here. While standing fast for the principles which have made our country great, we must accept changes in emphasis and method as affirmed by the people; we must try to find a common ground for all groups to unite in one increasing purpose—to build a happier, stronger, freer America.

And, lastly, I want to impress upon you the fact that Freedom is not a gift—Freedom is a Victory.