Lost: Labor's Love


By DR. ROBERT RIENOW, Professor of Political Science, N. Y. State College for Teachers, Albany, N. Y.

Delivered during the WGY Farm Paper of the Air—a week-day, noon-time broadcast from WGY, Schenectady, N. Y., March 26, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 471-472

IF there is anything a nation needs in time of war or "All out" aid, it is unity of purpose. We won't have that as long as Americans think about industrial and labor problems with their blood or some part of the anatomy besides what is under the skull. This is not the time nor place for a brief for employer or for labor. In fact, if I took the old Moroccan adage to heart—it runs like this:

"When you see them worshipping an ass,
Call him beautiful and bring him grass."

If I took that to heart, if Markham here took it to heart, we would avoid the topic as one too hot to handle. Instead, we might mollify our self-esteem with a eulogy on American industrial prowess. The trouble with a eulogy is that it usually precedes an elegy. Too often it is mere whistling in the dark.

If this war teaches anything it is the power of spiritual unity; from the miracle of Dunkirk to the Battle of England and the Grecian conquest of the Fascist legions, morale has been the deciding force. On the other hand, the fortresses of the Maginot line, shot through with dissension, were of no avail. The defense of France with mere engineering skill was a total failure. It ignored the human element.

We have not learned that lesson. From all sides, official and unofficial, we have been fed with the Maginot myth. It is that our superiority in production, our weight in the world, our ability to meet our international commitments, depends on two things and on those two things alone. Vast resources and the technique of mass production. We rest our defense, like the French, on our engineering skill and the accumulation of supplies. Can we make planes? For the answer we run to our captains of industry. Can we make tanks? It is a mere question of the conversion of an assembly line from the production of perhaps automobiles to tanks. If our experts tell us it can be done, so it can.

Even the most elementary study of the economics of production recognizes the error of that view. The success of the manager in peace-time production to produce depends on the capacity to mix three ingredients, not two. He brings together resources or raw materials with technical skill and

labor. The key to the success of many of our enterprises is lodged in the harmonious relationships with labor. The key, therefore, to successful war-time production depends, no less upon cooperation between labor and management.

We must, and the demand is imperative, dismiss from our minds the Maginot myth of America if the all-out effort is not to become a pass-out act.

We dare not close our eyes to the critical problem before us. We must face it, and indeed if we need another proverb to impel us on we can find in the same source one that reads like this:

"The fruit of courage makes life rich and full
If man feared sheep, then men would wear no wool."

Great Britain also launched its defense of the island on the wrong foot. It took her nine months to find out that modern war wasn't a part-time job. It took her until May of 1940 to discover that this was a war of people against people, and that most of the people were laborers; indeed, all of them would have to be to win. It was then that labor was invited to the inner councils; it was then that the common man was given to understand that he was the appointed here, not his boss. If was then and thereafter that he pitted his freely given effort against the regimented sweat of Fascist workers.

Right there was unleashed a force that dictatorship had scarcely contemplated. It was an unused page of the handbook of democracy to which England turned. On it was the formula for unifying the nation in the face of stress. For building production on the energy of human beings instead of the blueprint of the experts. It brought forth planes—3,500 a month—that will soon cloud the skies. It brought forth a spirit of brotherhood and common sacrifice never before tapped.

Why do we refuse to turn the page? Where did we start and how far have we moved? Starting with the Maginot myth, press and public have hounded labor. We think of it more as a necessary evil which only our traditional productive genius can overcome. The psychology is bad.

Have we not all seen the young boy who had been stamped as worthless by his family, his teachers and his elders? From every side he is harried and taunted with his shortcomings. Soon, convinced that the world is against him, he plays the role to which he has been assigned. He turns out truly bad.

Likewise, we Americans, if we stamp the scarlet letter on the forehead of any segment of our people, thereby invite action to suit our expectations.

Let us revise our economics. Let's begin to see that a willing labor (and the term labor really includes us all) will gather its raw materials as in England, from the ash heaps after work, will force the management to heights of accomplishment that neither the lure of profits nor the plaudits of the press can match.

Labor, the men and women who labor, is young in responsibility, and so youthful in spirit. Endow it with pride, with a sense of obligation, of new-won importance, and you reap the accomplishment of which Emerson spoke in those inspiring lines:

"So nigh is grandeur to our dust
So near is God to man;
When Duty whispers low, 'Thou must,'
The youth replies, 'I can'."

There is the key. To smear labor, to distrust labor, to chatter idly of enforced labor and outlawed strikes is to throw the laboring man and woman into the arms of the least able of its leaders. It is not labor that is opposed. It is short-sighted union leadership that is disliked. No right-minded man can bless unions for all they've done. Their record is besmudged, even as yours and mine. Too often they have blazed their path with gashes that were slow to heal. Unions like management have on occasion been guilty of pursuing their selfish course without regard to the effect on fellow men. That is all beside the point, and yet it may be the point itself.

Threaten the prestige of labor, brand the worker as an outcast in the job of creating this arsenal of democracy, deny him the recognition of the nation, and you drive him to defend himself under whatever leadership he has at hand. And that leadership, bearing our history in mind, will make its bid for permanence with increased wages won, successful strikes conducted, and victories over employers on whatever score.

But if instead, we openly admit that on the initiative of the men at the machines depends our future, if we justly dignify the laborer as the man in whose hands, as much as in anybody else's, our destiny rests, we have changed the picture. Mind you, the problem is not, I believe, one of "buying"

labor peace with either a few paltry dollars or verbal salve. It is an intangible price to pay. It is recognition. It is the slap on the back, the appreciation of fellow men, the very thing that drives you and me into arranging the program for the Rotary Club, into taking the presidency of the Parent Teachers Association, into building up our business and taking care of our front yard. It is the greatest impelling force known to mankind.

Once labor is so welcomed to the job of defense, the biggest task is over. We are really a united people. No one hates Fascism like the laborer. No one has a greater stake in the defeat of the would-be conquerors whose careers are punctuated with the successive enslavement of the workers.

Is it conceivable that this great nation has been carried to the point of all-out assistance for Great Britain without the vigorous support of labor? Is not the overwhelming public opinion which has moved a surprised and somewhat reluctant Congress to ever more aggressive action, the opinion of all of us, organized and unorganized laborers?

Labor is ready, it senses the great ends for which we fight Business is ready; it senses those ends, too. The public feels the issues that are at stake. In the words of Patrick Henry: "Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish?"

Are the bickerings of the past so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Why not state the goal? Why not tell what it is we are defending? Why not lift the veil that hangs over the word "defense"? Why not declare that we defend, not everything good and evil that we have? We defend the good we have, and it is much, together with the chance to build upon it a structure fashioned from our dreams.

There is the price of industrial peace and common victory. The sincere and honest pledge that we are not only defending America but the opportunity to better its democracy. That is all we need. Trumpet that pledge—take the dullness and the sludge from the word "defense"—and the rush of men to the posts will trample underfoot anybody, leaders or lords, who obstruct the production path.

The call is for new thinking, generous new thinking based on the democratic theme of brotherhood. It calls to mind the words of Kahil Gibran:

Life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to
yourself, and to one another, and to God.