Labor Unions in War Time


By REV. DR. JOHN P. BOLAND, Chairman, New York State Labor Relations Board

Delivered at special war convention of the Building Service International Union, A, F. of L.,Minneapolis, Minn., May 11, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 503-505.

I OFFER you my best wishes for a useful convention. I ask you to keep uppermost in mind the only legitimate reason for calling your keymen from every corner of the nation to this conference hall. You are an agency for collective bargaining. You are the chosen spokesmen of countless men and women who find employment in the building service industry of our great country. Much thought and unusual effort have preceded your appointment as such. You have been investigated, voted for, elected and duly accredited to represent them in negotiations with their employers. You are the agents, the delegates, aye, the servants of your unions' members. Your powers, your authority, your privileges come from them. If there were no union of building service employees, you would not function. Yours is an honorable profession. In the words of Leo XIII, you seek by ethical means to improve the condition of your fellowmen, in body, soul and property. It is a noble aim. Do not, by word or deed, permit anyone to view it with suspicion.

Their interests are your sole guide in the discussions that will occupy you these days, interests that are vital to them, interests that grow out of the catastrophic world struggle in which we are actually engaged, interests that touch their manner of living, their family and community living, the very problem of individual, domestic and civic existence.

Think of America, your thrice-blessed land, think of your members; plan for America and them. An old Irish dramatist once said of the patriots of his day, "All of them are ready to die for Ireland. Only a few will think for her." You are being called upon to serve well our armed defenders and the men and women who make the planes and ships and guns they need, if they are to defend us well. You are being called upon to provide skill in conference, keen-mindedness in weighing counter proposals, ability to render judgment in emergencies, clear vision, long-range planning, authoritative generalship.

One major subject claims the undistracted attention of Americans today and that is forging the weapons we needto defeat the enemies of our chosen way of living, the men who would take from us our precious freedom and impose upon us their own theories of total control by the state. Your union's problems must, of course, be considered. They become secondary.

There should be no special reward for unity, in our land during war time. We must presuppose it. We must have it. It is a necessary part of our thinking and of our complete absorption in the task of winning. Lack of unity is treason. Management and men are, by the action of circumstances over which our enemies assumed full control, so united by the common bonds of self-preservation, that at long last they are one.

That is how I interpret the statements of the chiefs of the organized labor groups in which they bar and ban work-stoppages of any kind, in the war industries, regardless of the causes—labor disputes, laziness or common colds. That is how I interpret similar unexpected news now appearing in the nation's press—the President's recommendation that high-bracket wages be frozen and that farm prices be kept from skyrocketing and that round-the-clock shifts be maintained to prevent the need of paying double time on Sun-ays. That is the meaning of the Governor's approval last week in New York State, of the Young-Milmoe bill facilitating the use of school children over fourteen years of age to harvest crops during school hours. That is what the War Labor Board's recent refusal of the closed shop demand means. The union's history of contractual relations with the company involved, it said, was not long enough to warrant it at this time. It is back of the rising condemnation of all who would make the war a swift road to wealth, employers or employees. It explains a new and quickened sense of justice toward all our minority groups, excluded by management or by unions from war work because of color, creed, race or national origin. I plead for a policy of rejoicing over our plentiful examples of unity in place of valueless criticism of the exceptional violations.

Plan, then, to cooperate fully and to the extent of extreme sacrifice with the President of the United States and his War administration. Support our government in its efforts to turn into war channels all the energy and all the materials and all the moneys needed to win. Think sanely about the measures required to produce now for ourselves and our Allies. Fight inflation, condemn hoarding, buy and keep buying War Stamps and Bonds. Thus may we be made one people, the great plane of the people, the mountain of the people, the river of the people, clasping one another's hands firmly and with eyes lifted to the God of Armies, pressing onward, without fear and without faltering, onward to victory!

When our world task is done, may we proudly boast that in America, men and women who toil are a necessary, thinking part of our ordered, purposeful society and that we believe in the innate dignity of work. After all, the man who sweeps our city's streets and the farmer who sweats in our fruitful fields play an official role in our economy, no less than those who blacken their bodies in our mines or blister their hands at a blast furnace door, or man the buildings in which we live and conduct our business, or turn sand into transparent glass, or legislate and adjudicate and govern as our elected representatives. What the working man does must ever be the basis of our beloved nation's future, safety and progress. Here labor has a patriotic destiny.

You will be ready to play a useful part in that uncertain future if you put your house in order now and keep it swept clean. You will be derelict in your duty if you do not condemn intelligently and without reservations the three unholy evils which so often have brought upon organizedlabor a patient public's just criticism. Look upon communism as your bitterest foe, opposed to the very wage system on which unionism is built, meddling in the field of workingmen's associations only to secure subversive control and political power. Be vigilant in unearthing and up. rooting the crime of racketeering, the game which ruthless men play to line their pockets with stolen funds while they sneer at your main objective, the democratic improvement of your working and living conditions. Drop from your roster of officials the domineering totalitarians who are ready to wreck a union or ruin a member's economic life to obtain and retain an authority which they are unworthy to exercise.

Your lofty aims, and I refer to reasonable wages, the lessening of the burdens of work by a sane reduction of hours and the promotion of adequate job security, cannot be better obtained than through the method of collective bargaining between representatives of your union and representatives of employers' or owners' associations in your industry. The resultant agreements would be truly collective and enduring.

Many years ago, in 1923 to be exact, the American Federation of Labor favored such a plan and gave it the name of Industrial Democracy. "It is not the mission of industrial groups to clash and struggle against each other", we read in Industry's Manifest Duty, the report to which I refer. "The true role of industrial groups is to come together", we are told. Organization of those engaged in management is openly recommended.

Today, Philip Murray pleads for the establishment of Industry Councils in each defense industry, through whose means problems of management, men and the consuming public may be finally handled by representatives of employers, unions and government, the agent of the latter to act as presiding Chairman. The plan would include agreements on wages and hours, as well as grievances machinery in all its hierarchical aspects.

We call it the Papal vocational group system. It is being tested in America, though not under that title. Merchants in the fur trade, manufacturers of men's clothing, most of the manufacturers of cloaks, suits and dresses, over a period of years, have associated together, and together have entered into fair contracts with the gigantic unions in their fields. It is a flowering of the theory of common interests as opposed to that of conflicting interests in employer-employee relations.

This organization of industry would be based, of course, on common work, common occupations, common vocations and a common obligation to society. The associations would be voluntary, autonomous, with full freedom to function not as monopolies, but for the common good. Government would supervise but not order their organization or continuation. Self-determination in the matter of titles, rules and regulations would be maintained. Confederation of the separate groups can be contemplated hopefully. I recommend the program to you as worthy of your study and your approbation.

You will be interested in noting a court opinion, rendered in the case of Sainer v. Affiliated Dress Manufacturers, in which it is held that a single contract with many employers, for the purpose of fixing hours and working conditions in an entire industry, is praiseworthy.

"Obviously, in an industry comprised of small units of employers, effective collective agreements can be obtained only if the trade union deals with the employers through an association. This method of dealing has the advantage of avoiding a multiplicity of negotiations at every step and enabling a better enforcement of, and respect for, the very collective agreement not only by the union, butthrough the discipline which the association exercises upon its individual members."

May I also point out that last month the Legislature of the State of New York discussed and passed a bill permitting the New York State Labor Relations Board to determine that a multiple unit of employers in an industry be regarded as the appropriate unit for bargaining whenever circumstances require such action by the Board.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the very liberty upon which we base our hopes for the future is being mocked and threatened with destruction. We have been challenged by the mostpowerful enemies that our American philosophy of life has ever encountered. We are waging a war against a civilization that does not permit the existence of unions like yours or assemblages such as this. While we plan solutions for our domestic problems, therefore, we will not forget that our discussions and our resolutions are vain indeed unless we settle that international problem successfully, and forever. With the aid of all men of good will we will win. United in the performance of a common war task and holding high the arms of our beloved Government, we will ride through the night's storm!