Small Business, Labor and War Production


By DE WITT EMERY, Founder and Manager of the National Small Business Mens Association

Broadcast over the Mutual Network, February 14, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 311-312.

EVERY day more and more of the 184,000 small manufacturing plants scattered all over the country are swinging into the production of war material. Unfortunately, however, the powers-that-be in Washington have not realized the great contribution it is possible for Small Business to make to the war effort. Consequently, plans have not yet been worked out for full utilization of the productive capacity of these small plants. When this is done the volume of war material, supplies, and equipment will grow by leaps and bounds. Small Business is a giant of unsuspected and unbelievable capacity, not for the production of tanks, airplanes and ships, but for producing the bits and pieces without which tanks, airplanes and ships can not be built.

There seems to be a pretty general belief that small plants can not work to the close tolerances required by the Army and Navy. It is true that many of them can not. On the other hand, a large number of these plants can work without any strain whatsoever to one ten-thousandths of an inch. They do it every day in their regular work and think nothing of it.

One reason many small manufacturing plants have not made a more determined effort to convert to war work is that they have not been able to find out whether or not their regular output is to be classed as essential or non-essential. This Association has been trying for months to find out from Washington what constitutes essential production, but so far has been unable to get an answer. No manufacturer wants to go to the trouble and expense of changing over his plant to a different product, and then find later that his regular product comes in the essential classification.

There are literally hundreds of borderline cases. Is chicken wire an essential product? How about embroidery hoops; are they essential? Also garden tools and handpower cultivators and so on through a long list. Some one in Washington must furnish the answers so these manufacturers will know what's what.

The chicken wire manufacturer points out if the production of eggs must be increased three or fourfold as the Secretary of Agriculture says is necessary, then the manufacture of chicken wire is essential because raising more chickens to increase the production of eggs requires not less but more chicken wire. Yet, he is unable to get the material he needs to keep his plant in operation, notwithstanding that he has the largest backlog of orders he's ever had.

What about embroidery hoops? The offhand reaction is that there's nothing essential about them. But wait! We are told the most important thing in any war is morale, both of the armed forces and the civilian population. We are told that women are responsible to a very great extent for the morale of their menfolks, which means the morale of the home, the community and the nation. The embroidery hoop manufacturer contends if a woman is to maintain the morale of others she must first keep up her own spirits, and in order to do this must have an outlet, when she needs it, for irritated nerves. He says needlework is the best such outlet ever invented; therefore, since embroidery hoops are necessary for many kinds of needlework, this manufacturer insists his product is essential to the success of our armed forces. Sounds sort-of far-fetched, but there it is. That's his story. Is he right or wrong?

When you get down to bedrock, every manufacturer has what at least to him is a perfectly good argument on why his product is essential. And in this connection it must not be overlooked that even though we have ten million in the armed forces, this still leaves one hundred twenty million at home to be fed, clothed, housed, amused, and so on. This means despite the war a large volume of regular production must be maintained and in all probability will give several thousand small plants which can not convert to war production all the work they can handle. Someone in authority must decide what is and is not essential. This decision covering scores of products should be reached as quickly as possible.

The new War Production Board with Donald Nelson as chairman has not yet had time to show what it can do, but in common with most businessmen I believe it will prove to be the answer to our production problems. Mr. Nelson has already shown quite clearly the only thing he's interested in is results. His motto is—produce or get out.

In all fairness it should be stated all the blame for the slowness of small business getting into war work does not rest on the shoulders of those who have had charge of the government's program. Quite a few small manufacturers displayed little foresight and very little initiative. Others, who knew perfectly well they should be in, held back because, to put it bluntly, they didn't want to be bothered. They felt the job could be done without their doing anything about it.

To these manufacturers I want to sound a warning. They overlook the fact that even though they may own theirbusinesses outright, they are no longer their own bosses. The government is definitely in the driver's seat for the duration of the war and has full control over each and every manufacturing facility in the country. The government has full authority to reach into any plant, take out any or all the equipment it needs and give this equipment to some other plant. In a nutshell this means if your machinery is adaptable to war work it will be used for that purpose with or without your cooperation or consent.

Until a short time ago key machines were exempted, but this is no longer true. Congress recently amended the law. Now, if the government decides it wants a machine it will take it even though the removal of this one machine disrupts the operation of the entire plant. That's the law. If your plant can be adapted, and you want to hold it together, you'd better get busy on the adaptation right now. If you don't know what to do nor how to do it, go to the nearest procurement office of the Army or Navy; or perhaps your banker can help you; or write to the War Production Board in Washington; or write to the National Small Business Men's Association, Akron, Ohio.

Since I have given one warning it might not be a bad idea for me to issue another. This one to labor. Strikes, jurisdictional and otherwise, have got to stop. Also slow-downs and any and all other interferences with production, including the practice of many unions of refusing admittance to factories of men and women who have not paid their dues. Full production is of paramount importance and if it can not be maintained on a voluntary basis it will be maintained on some other basis. That basis might be full and complete conscription of labor with every workman in the country being told by direct order of the government where, when, and how long to work. This is WAR—all-out WAR. Our country is fighting for its very existence and the government is going to do any and all things necessary to win.

I don't want to give any one the impression that I doubt the loyalty or patriotism of the rank and file of labor. I don't. In fact, there isn't any place a higher degree of loyalty nor a more finely developed sense of patriotism than found among the men and women in our factories. On the other hand, I seriously question the sincerity, loyalty, patriotism and motives of some of the labor leaders. Behind the smoke screen of lip service to an all-out war effort they are moving on a hundred fronts to advance unionism and the closed shop, not caring what effect such efforts may have on war production or the safety of this country, so long as they accomplish their own selfish purposes. Refusing to permit members who are delinquent in their dues to go to work is one excellent example. If a union leader, on an entirely voluntary basis, can not make membership in the union he represents important enough to the individual so that those qualified to join are willing to do so and glad to pay their dues, then that union has no right to exist. Preventing a man orwoman from going to work because of failure to pay dues to a private organization is a direct violation of one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the people of this country by the Constitution of the United States.

Another evidence of the difference in thinking or viewpoint between the men and women who do the work, and the labor leaders is found in the reaction of both groups to the suggestion that the Wage Hour Act be revised. The labor leaders, almost without exception, said NO even before they knew what revision was contemplated. The workers, on the other hand, wanted to know all the why's and wherefore's, which were given to those we contacted about as follows:

Our armed forces and the armed forces of our allies need the extra production of a longer work week and they are going to have it. The only question is whether these extra hours, which the war makes necessary and which would not exist except for the war, shall be paid for at the straight time or time and one half.

If the extra hours are paid for at time and one half, since there is not a corresponding increase in output, it increases the cost of production, which in turn increases the cost of the war. And since the major part of the cost of the war is in the form of debts to be paid later, it puts an additional burden on the future income of all taxpayers, including the boys now in our armed forces, as they will be heavy taxpayers upon their return to civil life.

However, if the extra hours of work are paid for at straight time, the cost of the war is not unnecessarily increased; it enables labor to make a definite and effective contribution to the successful conduct of the war and eliminates any possibility of labor being accused of profiteering at the expense of the boys on the firing line. They don't work a forty-hour week nor do they get any overtime. They are on duty twenty-four hours a day whenever necessary and are paid less for a month than most of them would make in two days at home.

With this explanation before them almost without exception the factory workers we talked with, both men and women, expressed a willingness to work a longer work week at straight time.

We, of course, have not contacted a majority of those working on war production but we have talked with enough of all grades of labor, skilled and otherwise, to satisfy ourselves that the vast majority of the men and women most concerned are in favor of the Wage Hour Act being amended to permit a forty-eight hour work week at straight time. We knew beforehand that businessmen and the public in general favored amending the act. Therefore, the National Small Business Men's Association is launching a nation-wide effort to get the necessary amendment through Congress. Every man and woman in the country is invited to participate in this effort by communicating his or her views to their representatives in Congress.