The Right to Work


By EARL HARDING, Member, Public Relations Committee, National Association of Manufacturers

Delivered before the Institute of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, June 28, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 756-759.

THE temper of public opinion, if not our collective conscience and common sense, bids us concern ourselves more with the delays in procuring planes, tanks, guns and training to defend the America that is ours, and less with blue prints of a hoped-for future.

Blueprints, if drawn in historical perspective, will no doubt serve their purpose in good time. I appreciate the privilege of being an onlooker as architects of a better world offer their blueprints. But may I express the hope that public attention may be focused by this forum on uniting to save the present rather than dividing to plan the future.

For we have a heritage worth saving. And only by uniting to save it now can we insure our right to influence in the future the pattern of a free society which we hope to preserve.

The most valuable of all the freedoms we have to defend is our right to work. For the right to work is the right to live, the right to pursue happiness and garner its fruits.

What will freedom of speech avail if denial of the right to work deprives you of the right to earn the food that gives you the strength to speak?

What power will turn the wheels of a free press if the right to work in order to live is denied?

Protection of the right to work was wrested from King John by Magna Carta. It was won at the point of sword and spear, not reclaimed as now by bayonets. It guaranteedthat no man should be deprived of his means of livelihood. The tools of the worker were exempted from seizure by any process of law. And the decisions of English courts sustained that principle through the centuries and handed it down in the common law to become the foundation of our basic law.

In a free society the "right to work" means the right of the individual to make his own way where he can, by his own resourcefulness, industry and thrift, unmolested and unafraid.

As distorted by the corkscrew sophistries of Communism, Fascism and Nazism, the "right to work" means something entirely different. It means an assured place in the treadmill of the state. It means the "right" to a job, or to government relief, and to such sustenance as bureaucratic inefficiency sees fit to provide.

Not many Americans are interested in the Communist or the Fascist or the Nazi concept of the right to work—in slavery. Nevertheless, the American concept of the right to work has fallen to such low estate that the Army had to be called to its temporary and limited rescue.

But the Army has not restored to everyone everywhere in America his constitutional right to work. Public opinion will have to do that—by seeing to it that our constitutional right is re-implemented in a new labor law and by enforcement of laws long neglected. For the right of everyone to work, unmolested and without paying tribute, will continue to be denied until the American people recover their sanity and clear the obstruction at its source.

All that the Army did at North American Aviation, and all the United States Marines with bayonets and side-arms did a week later at Buffalo, was to stop interference with the right to work. Just a policeman's or a sheriff's job—the almost forgotten function of local self-government.

But it sounded simple and innocuous to some—this sending the Army to do what neglectful citizens had failed to do for themselves.

Necessary, under the circumstances? Yes; but a shameful necessity, and an alarming precedent; a step that everywhere has been the forerunner of centralized, and eventually dictatorial, government.

Only an uninformed, unsensitized public opinion would have tolerated conditions which created this disgraceful necessity. Only a bewildered, preoccupied, alarmed public opinion will permit the precedent to become a fixture.

And that raises the question, how did we get this way? Why did it become necessary to send the United States Army to do the rightful job of local policemen, protecting citizens at their work and in their homes?

First, we permitted labor union organizers to be trained in Communist "labor colleges," not by educators but by agitators. We even paid expenses of such "students" to Russia for post-graduate courses in revolutionary technique.

Then we let Communists impregnate, in many instances dominate, the American labor movement. And, in the name of "academic freedom," we let their poison filter into our schools.

Tolerating this revolutionary philosophy, we have permitted goon squads of brass-knuckle men to slug our police, assault and terrorize workers, bomb their homes, appropriate our highways, seize property, drive police off the streets and usurp their functions, issue "passes" for public authorities to cross picket lines and for employers to enter their own plants, and even deny to the Federal government the right to cross picket lines to take possession of defense equipment which was the government's own property—all in the misused name of Labor—Mr. Valiant-for-Truth Pegler's "Labor-with-a-capital-L."

If anyone protested, if anyone suggested a housecleaning, he was smeared as a "reactionary," a "labor-hater," "strikebreaker," "Red-baiter," "patrioteer," "stooge," or "hireling propaganda-monger."

Every recent poll of public opinion shows that these chickens are coming home to roost in steadily increasing numbers. It has dawned on the public—and let us hope on our legislative and executive departments—that the eggs whence came these defense-strike chickens were laid a long time ago.

Government was fostering and encouraging defense delays when the European war was starting.

On October 20, 1939 the Acting Secretary of the Navy, now Governor Charles Edison of New Jersey, wrote to the Chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs in response to an official inquiry. He stated that the Navy's request for permission to cross the CIO picket line at the Bohn Aluminum Company's Detriot plant in order to remove patterns and castings belonging to the Government, had been refused. That strike lasted more than two months. Acting Secretary Edison wrote:

"The representatives of Union Local No. 208 were given full access to the files on the Navy contracts and they were informed that the delay in releasing patterns for delivery was seriously jeopardizing the manufacture of airplane engines at the Naval Aircraft Factory.

"At the end of the discussion, the Union representatives stated that . . . their answer was emphatically 'No' and that they would not let patterns or inspected castings be removed. No further action was taken by the Navy Department to remove the patterns and castings."

Under whose government do we live? Obviously under a super-government of labor organizers and labor dictators.

And how did this super-government get its power? Mainly through the Wagner Act.

And who was responsible for the Wagner Act?

The public was led to believe that this law was the brainchild of Senator Wagner, and that its only purpose was to bring about industrial peace by securing to all workers the unmolested right to organize and bargain collectively through unions of their own free choice.

Industry agreed with this purpose. Industry generally had accepted the principle of collective bargaining long before the Wagner Act was proposed. The only question seriously open for argument was whether the bargainers should be employees themselves or an outside, dues-collecting, and often hostile organization imposed upon employees too often by coercion, intimidation, misrepresentation and physical force.

Furthermore, employers generally took the position that the closed shop, which organized labor sought to legalize, and did legalize by the Wagner Act, is a denial of the constitutional and inalienable right to work, and should not be imposed with the employer's assistance.

The Wagner Act had still another purpose—a concealed purpose. It was to eliminate competition from the labor organizing industry and create an air-tight monopoly protected by privately-sponsored law and exempt from public law.

This could be accomplished by legalizing the closed shop and setting up the machinery for eventually compelling every wage-earner to pay tribute to the monopoly or be denied his right to work and live.

Furthermore, the closed shop and its twin accomplice, the check-off, would remove the element of risk from the business of labor organizing. And the overhead for dues collection would be loaded off on the carefree employer.

But some 40,000 competing labor groups stood in the way of this ideal. They were groups of workers in single plants, or in all the plants or businesses of a single company. They sought and usually obtained industrial peace by dealing directly with their employers, using their own collective bargaining procedure, and avoiding the excessive fees which the outside organizers require to cover the overhead of Big Unionism.

To get rid of this competition, it was necessary to give all labor groups not affiliated with the projected monopoly a bad name—"company union." Moscow's slimiest techniques were turned to this purpose. Every unaffiliated union, whether truly independent or "tainted" by employer influence, was branded for slaughter. On this point the record is clear.

The Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor, in its report to the 1938 convention at Houston, complained that the Wagner Act

"does not accomplish to the degree intended the outlawing of company unions. There must be in the revisions and amendments of the Act definite and more specific provisions in respect to the abolition of company unions."

This complaint was made in the face of solemn assurances of the Senate Committee which reported out and recommended passage of the Wagner Act, that—

"This bill does nothing to outlaw free and independent organizations of workers who by their own choice limit their cooperative activities to the limits of one company."

Elimination of employer-dominated unions was not enough to satisfy the back-stage authors of the Wagner Act. With the aid of a partisan Labor Board, they have carried on a war of extermination against all forms of independent unionism. The disclosures of the House Committee headed by Virginia's courageous Representative Howard Smith, show that the Wagner Act has been administered on the assumption that no independent labor organization has even a right to exist.

The Executive Council of the A F of L also complained bitterly that the Labor Board has treated some of its unions no better than company unions. Apparently it matters whose ox is butchered.

But monopolistic intent was unconcealed. Speaking for the American Federation of Labor at the New York Herald-Tribune Forum in 1938, its General Counsel, Judge Joseph Padway, said:

"As President Green of the American Federation of Labor stated in Houston, before we can have anything like cooperation (between organized labor and industry) the question of union recognition and collective bargaining must be eliminated, and that means that company unions, WHETHER EMPLOYER-DOMINATED OR NOT, have got to go."

What was this but a challenge to government, a demand that the constitutional guarantee that every citizen shall be protected in his right to work must not be enforced?

As to the authorship of the Labor Act, let Mr. William Green speak. In a signed article in Liberty Magazine, March 18, 1939, the President of the American Federation of Labor said of the Wagner Act:

"We helped write it. We thought of it as 'Our Baby'."

This was long after the "House of Labor" had fallen in two. While Mr. Green and Mr. Lewis were still brethren laboring in the same vineyard, it was stated that Mr. Lewis also was consulted in the writing of "Labor's Magna Carta."

Be that as it may have been, Mr. Green was quoted as saying to a glass blowers' convention in Atlantic City on July 11, 1938:

"The A F of L is wholly and fully responsible for the enactment of the Wagner Labor Relations Act. We and Senator Wagner drafted it and supported it. No other movement can claim credit for its enactment, and no loudmouthed representatives of a dual labor movement can claim any of the credit."

Regardless of claims for credit and indictments for discredit, oft-repeated has been the assertion that the Wagner Act was a labor organizers' act, not a workingmen's act. And judged by the industrial strife it has created, it certainly was not an act in the public interest.

Public opinion samplings show a rising tide—a tide of protest by citizens and by members of organized labor as well; from the ranks of the 10 million organized and the 45 million unorganized—a tide rising so rapidly against defense obstructions and labor union lawlessness, that the good as well as the bad in existing labor laws is likely to be swept away. That would not be in anybody's interest.

Nor is it in anybody's interest—excepting the enemies of our country—to have defense plants seized or any citizen's constitutional rights unnecessarily abridged to serve a national or a world emergency. So far as it is humanly possible we should keep our constitutional freedoms, surrendering them temporarily if we must, but making sure that we shall be able to recover them when the emergency is ended.

Temporarily, the need is not seizure of defense plants after they have been blockaded, but an immediate declaration of national policy that interference with the right to work will not be tolerated anywhere at any time.

Permanently, and before we slip into relying on the armed forces of the Federal government to protect the right to work, the need is for legislation to re-implement that right.

More than "cooling-off" periods, we need a labor code just to workers, fair to employers, protective of the public interest, that will forestall the temperatures from which "cooling-off" is necessary.

That will require acceptance of reasonable restraints on the part of organized labor.

The ancient guilds in England circumscribed the right to work, but their monopolies were broken by the advent of the machine age. Slowly the trades union movement supplanted the guilds, and collective bargaining came into use.

Collective bargaining does not mean in Britain, as it does in the United States, hurling the combined economic, and often physical, force of many unions against one employer by direct and sympathetic strikes, mass picketing, violence and national boycotts. Collective bargaining in Britain is bargaining, not coercion. Under reasonable legal restraints, it is conducted so that it means the balancing of economic forces—on the one side, strong trades unions controlling an entire industry; on the other, equally extensive trade associations of employers.

The last attempt at coercive methods by British trades unions was the general strike of 1926. It quickly met its Waterloo in an uprising of public opinion that forced Parliament to pass the Trades Disputes Act of 1927.

But every suggestion that restrictive legislation comparable to the British Trades Disputes Act is needed in the United States has been met with howls of apprehension, not unmingled with abuse.

Anti-trust laws did not destroy desirable business, nor will reasonable restraints destroy desirable labor unions.

Nevertheless, wish for it as we may, voluntary reformation of the American labor movement does not appear to be lurking around any corner. Enforcement of the Wagner Act by zealots of unionism has only intensified demands for closed shop monopolies. Before the Wagner Act, it was argued that the closed shop was essential to preservation of unions. That argument is nullified now; the most antagonistic employer cannot discriminate because of union membership.

But a union is free to coerce the employer into firing the worker if he refuses to join or pay his tribute. The union is free to harass the employee at his work. It can and does hound him, his wife and his children at home, at school, at play, until he falls in line and pays for his right to work.

The categories of union terrorism defy the Devil to produce an equal. If you doubt this, come to know factory workers as I know them; become their friend as I have had the privilege of making many of them my friends; get the victims of union terrorism to tell you behind closed doors what they dare not say in public. Then you will learn what abridgement of the right to work has come to mean in this free land. And you will come irresistibly to the conclusion that unless you protect the right to work, you will in time lose all your other rights. History shows no long-sustained exception to this rule.

You will then see the wisdom of demanding enactment of a labor code—not "after the war" but now—

Defining legal and illegal strikes, protecting the right to strike or not to strike, the right to join or not to join a union, the right to bargain for oneself or to bargain collectively;

Requiring labor organizers to be licensed, and to be American citizens without criminal records;

Requiring labor organizations to be registered, to publish their constitutions and by-laws, to account publicly for their funds, to be restricted as are corporations in use of their funds for political purposes and prohibiting any interference whatsoever with the right to work.

You will see the absolute necessity for outlawing mass picketing, and strikes designed to coerce government by inflicting hardship on the community, and labor union practices that set up trade barriers, create monopolies and generally work against the public welfare.

Learn what are the back-room methods of unbridled, law-defying union organizers—the higher-ups who incite strikers to riot and proclaim in their "pep-talks" that they never knew a strike to be won without violence.

Discover for yourself the methods for marking strike ballots in advance and stuffing the returns to insure calling a strike where no strike is wanted, and the procedure in racket-ridden unions for denying secrecy of ballot and freedom of speech.

Then you will see that the ultimate good of all labor organizations demands the laying down of lawful procedurefor calling strikes—that the just may not suffer from the wrong-doing of the unjust.

You will discover the reasonableness and the necessity for requiring written complaints and written answers to be made by employees and employer in any labor dispute which may lead to a strike; and then, free discussion of the issues by employee and employer representatives in the presence of all whose jobs would be affected by a strike. Then the workers would know what they were striking about.

Only after such full and free discussion should a strike vote be permitted, and then by supervised secret ballot. Strikes pulled in avoidance of such procedure should be outlaw strikes, and those inciting or participating in them should lose the protection accorded by law to lawful strikes.

This would not prohibit striking. It would not prevent any worker quitting his job. It would not mean "forced labor." But it would be a brake on the hot-head agitator, the apostle of the class struggle, the twister of facts and the fabricator of grievances. It would bring employee and employer face to face to avoid trouble, not to settle it after trial by combat had failed.

Require truthfulness in labor organizing, as it is required by law in advertising, in selling insurance and real estate and securities. Write into a labor relations act the requirement that the rank and file worker must hear both sides of a labor dispute, honestly told him, before he can vote to strike. He will, in the long run, come to a fair decision if he knows all the facts.

This would not hurt any honestly organized and conducted union.

Nor would any desirable union be hurt by outlawing interference with the right to work.

Whatever may be your interests, your background and your viewpoint, weigh and consider the value of maintaining this fundamental right.

Surrender it to no man, no group of men, no government.

Fight for it, if necessary. No other freedom is more precious.

This underlying principle of liberty has never been stated with greater clarity than by a Presidential Commission appointed by Theodore Roosevelt. It is a declaration for all people who would be free:

"The right to remain at work where others have ceased to work, or to engage anew in work which others have abandoned, is part of the personal liberty of a citizen that can never be surrendered, and every infringement thereof merits and should receive the stern denouncement of the law. . . .

"All this seems too plain for argument. Common sense and common law alike denounce the conduct of those who interfere with this fundamental right of the citizen.

"The assertion of the right seems trite and commonplace, but that land is blessed where the maxims of liberty are commonplace."