Mobilizing Our Manpower


By WENDELL LUND, Director of Labor Production Division, War Production Board

Delivered at "Labor in the War" Conference, University of California, Berkeley, Calif., June 6, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 581-583.

AMERICAN labor knows today that we need three kinds of power to win the war. We need fire power. We need machine power. But most of all, we need manpower. Manpower on the fighting fronts, where the guts and the discipline and the battle plans of our armed forces will spell victory. Manpower on the production front, where the skills and ingenuity and perseverance of our workers will provide the weapons of war to hurl back the forces of barbarism on the plains of Russia, on the deserts of Africa, at the frontiers of India—or to open up a second front in Norway, or along the coasts of Holland, Belgium or France.

I want to talk to you today about certain phases of our industrial manpower that are too often overlooked. Repetition has hammered the meaning out of certain words and phrases—has worn them thin. For example, many of us use the term "production war." I wonder if we realize what that really means. We are rapidly mobilizing an army of four and a half million this year. Our Navy enlistments grow by tens of thousands each week. These are the men who carry the war to the enemy, who hit him with bombs and shells, with torpedo and cold steel.

But behind our armed forces—at the plough, at the work bench, in the engineer's cab, and at the draftsman's tables— we must mobilize a vastly greater army of industrial workers.

A modern army is no more effective than its equipment. Our armies—and to a great extent the armies of our allies fighting throughout the world—must have the products of the great aircraft plants, the munition factories, the ordnance plants, and the tank arsenals of America. They must have thousands of items of equipment ranging from shoes and crash helmets to immensely complex bomb-sights and rangefinders.

To get this equipment to the fighting fronts we must have roads and locomotives and ships. We must have oil for our motors, coal for our engines, copper for our electrical instruments, metals for our fighting machines. It is the workers of America who dig the precious raw materials from the earth, transport them to the point of fabrication, and build the tools for mass production. The scope of their task is suggested by the fact that a 10,000-ton cargo ship requires 57,000 parts, a tank 17,000 parts and a big bomber 30,000 parts.

On all these workers, on their ability, on their devotion, on their determination to do the job all the way and all the time, the future of humanity largely depends.

But labor's contribution does not—must not—end with manual dexterity, with work done at the lathes and presses. The heads as well as the hands of labor must be invoked, and used as never before. Management and government must increasingly draw upon the ingenuity, the "know-how" of American labor. The American worker leads all others in resourcefulness and mechanical aptitude. In our factories we find the same ingenuity that enabled our ground crews, amid the jungles of Bataan, to repair with chewing gum and bailing wire more than a dozen badly damaged pursuit planes and to put them into the air again. With his firsthand knowledge of the job, the worker must show all of us the short-cuts, the better ways and the faster ways to turn out the weapons that will crush the Axis.

This is a war of ideas as well as a clash of arms. It is a war of ideas in more ways than one. lt is, of course, a bitter show-down struggle between savagery and civilization, between degradation and decency, between freedom and serfdom. But it is also a war of production ideas. The ideas developed in a factory to turn out more tanks, to break a bottleneck in the assembly of an airplane, to furnish precision in an anti-aircraft gun, to convert a peacetime industry to war purposes, are in large measure going to win or lose this war. The men along the conveyor belts, or cutting dies, or drilling for oil, are a great reservoir of creative and constructive production ideas that we have, as yet, hardly begun to tap.

This is what "manpower" really means. It means more than routine performance of a given task. It means more than strength or skill. It means "mind power."

The Labor Production Division has been established to act as a magnet and clearing house for labor's mind power, for labor's suggestions and criticisms that will speed war production. And I give you this pledge now: With your help the Labor Production Division of the War Production Board will become the main channel for American labor's contribution to higher war output and to better morale both in the plant and at home.

Today one of our main jobs is to intensify labor's participation in the War Production Drive launched last March by Donald Nelson at the request of the President.

The Labor Division helped initiate the Production Drive by sending representatives into the field to aid labor and management in the formation of the first 22 committees, which were established as experiments. On the basis of what was learned in these plants, 31 regional conferences of labor and management officials were held, and procedures and suggestions for the creation of committees given to the delegates. More than 10,000 labor and management people attended these important conferences and added their suggestions for stepping up production through joint action.

Now the Labor Production Division, which succeeded the Labor Division, is reinforcing the Production Drive by providing liaison between the WPB in Washington and labor engaged in war production throughout the country.

More than 800 labor-management committees are now functioning in America's war plants. Very soon thousands of additional war factories will have these joint committees.

Here in California, the State which leads the nation in aircraft production as in shipbuilding, joint committees already have swung into action in 42 war plants. Many of them report an all-out response by labor to the call for production ideas.

In one of your California aircraft plants, a drop hammerman gave us an idea of the worth of the mind power of the American worker. A part on which his department was working developed a wrinkle which was very troublesome. It required hours to straighten out. He experimented with it a little. He found that by hammering out three parts at one time the wrinkles not only disappeared but production on this part was actually doubled.

These progress reports sent in by Production Drive committees have proved that production can be increased andthe President's quotas can be met wherever modern-minded management and progressive labor work together in the war effort.

The American worker knows that he has a tremendous stake in winning the war. He insists on having a share in stepping up production. He wants to see that every machine is busy night and day—that every possible production shortcut is recognized and used—and that there is no lost motion if his knowledge can help to wipe it out.

These things he wants to do, and is doing. Through the joint labor-management committees, we are achieving real teamwork between intelligent labor and intelligent management. We must see to it that every bit of machinery in the United States and every man and woman has a place where they can do the most to lick Hitler. American workers realize that they are turning out planes and bombs that will soon step up the striking power of the United Nations until every Nazi industrial center flout another flaming Essen or Cologne—until the munitions plants of Tokyo and Osaka are reduced to rubble by our own Flying Fortresses. American workers are helping to crush the military power that has always exploited workers and thus to liberate common men from systems that make them slaves.

This awareness of labor's own military importance is brought home with special force by the War Production Drive committees. Let me illustrate with the story of a company in New York State that makes heavy steel castings for medium tanks.

A few months ago, output of heavy steel castings for medium-sized tanks was a serious bottleneck in the whole tank production picture. The Symington Gould Corporation of up-State New York, in collaboration with the entire industry throughout the country, developed a new and better kind of steel for this purpose. Then, in order to insure enough castings to meet their contracts, this corporation built several new plants. Yet production was still not good enough. The company's Production Drive committee decided that something had to be done. They arranged to bring a completed tank, made with Symington Gould castings, right into the plant.

It meant a lot to those workers to see that tank, to know that the castings they had fashioned were making that tank and thousands like it more powerful.

Production in that plant began to rise immediately and is still on the upswing.

This is only one example of what the Production Drive means to victory for the United Nations. I could tell you countless other stories—stories of labor-management committees that have speeded up war production, improved working conditions, and broken bottlenecks in transportation of war workers by share-a-ride plans. There are many other things that are being done, that can and should be done. We are planning to bring back from the fighting fronts men from your own local unions who can give you a first-hand account of the kind of job the weapons of war you are making for them do—on land, at sea and in the air.

But labor's view of its war role goes beyond its work in a single plant. It is sharing in the responsibility for making entire industries more productive—as it demonstrated at the recently concluded Shipbuilding Stabilization Conference.

Paul Porter, Chairman of the WPB Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee, reported to me after the conference that the fine cooperation displayed by the AFL, the CIO and management leaders alike, removed every obstacle to maintaining an adequate labor supply for shipbuilding. Wages in shipyards have been stabilized throughout the entire country, and the labor "pirating" which retarded production in 1917and 1918 has become practically non-existent in American shipyards during this war.

The rate of labor turnover has been reduced from an average of 25 per cent a year in the last war to only 4 per cent in this war. In itself, this means a gain of millions of additional man-hours a year, which otherwise would have been lost to the war effort.

Other important activities of the Division are carried on by our Labor Advisory Committees. Through these committees, unions in the various industries have advanced many concrete proposals of great value, particularly in regard to conversion of automotive, radio, refrigerator, washing machine and textile plants. These committees still are contributing their planning ability and experience to increasing war production.

To make certain that labor's point of view plays a part in each final decision of the Industry Branches in the War Production Board, the Labor Production Division maintains a staff of labor consultants to represent labor's interests all along the line. Each consultant is assigned to a particular industry branch and takes part in the discussion and drafting of all orders and procedures affecting labor, factory by factory, region by region. The consultants see to it that the workers' side of such questions as conversion of industry, the allocation of materials, and the training and transfer of labor, are carried directly to the industry branches.

We in Washington can only provide some of the machinery for labor's full participation in the war effort. The spirit and the will for labor's drive toward victory must come from millions of American workers themselves.

Why should we of labor fight so hard? What will victory mean to the steel worker of Pittsburgh, to the shipyard mechanic of San Francisco, to the plane builder of Los Angeles and to the machine tool operator at Detroit?

It will mean to each one that he can hold his head high as a free man . . . that he can be secure in his job and safe in his home . . . that he can think what he wants to, and say it with less restraint than anywhere else in the world . . . that he can join with his fellows to gain a decent living from his job today, and a better job tomorrow . . . that each year will bring him and his family more of the good things they want out of life . . . that he can have dignity and satisfaction from his job and call his soul his own.

Also, unlike the Nazis and Japs, the American worker knows his stake in the peace. He is determined that after the war we are not going back to things as they were. We couldn't if we wanted to. But what is more, we don't want to. And we are not going to!

Labor's aims in the peace are not merely the aims of the men and women now working under the enlightened and improved conditions secured by the unions in which they hold membership cards. Labor's aims are to safeguard and interpret the Bill of Rights, and to make them as effective in industry as in government. Our workers draw their strength from the realization that while the Axis has only bombs, we have bombs and the Bill of Rights and the challenge and the chance to build a better world.

We have already demonstrated that by using democratic methods we can carry on a worldwide war to the dismay of our foes. We have shown that we can prosecute a war by democratic planning. Now the question is, by democratic planning can we build a free and secure post-war world?

Labor knows that we can if the democratic planning and the full employment which we have been able to achieve for war is continued into the days of peace. Certainly if we have the imagination, and the initiative, and the "know-how" to mobilize our resources, our industrial equipment, our technical knowledge, and our manpower for death and destruction, we can mobilize all these even more efficiently for peace, and for greater opportunity and security for the individual.

In these months of war we have been developing techniques of teamwork, of cooperation between labor and management, that will form a pattern for the same kind of teamwork and cooperation in the days of peace. And perhaps more important than anything else, we have taken the brake off the mass production capacity of our economy. We are surprising ourselves these days by our ability to produce, once the business-as-usual limitations have been removed.

The significance of this release of our productive capacity is that while we are only now becoming a 100-billion-dollar-a-year country, there is no reason why we should not become a 120-billion-dollar-a-year country in terms of national income when the war is won. Our great natural and human resources promise a future standard of living far higher than anything we have known. To achieve it we must refuse to countenance a post-war slump such as we had last time. We must plan for public works, useful jobs, to be provided for millions of people. Human energies, along with our coal and our oil and our water-power energies, must be developed and conserved to the utmost. Our transport must be modernized—airplanes, highways, waterways, wires and pipelines. We can rebuild our cities and abolish our slums.

It is in this context that the workers and the common people are prepared to draw up a charter for freedom—for today and for tomorrow.

Labor's charter for a post-war world, in my opinion, should include these basic points:

1. The assurance of useful and creative work throughout the productive years of a worker's life.

2. A just level of pay in return for labor, ideas or other services useful to society.

3. The guarantee of proper food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

4. Security for the aged and the sick.

5. Safeguards against industrial injury, together with just recompense and security for those injured.

6. The right to live and work under a system of free enterprise without interference from private power above the law, discriminatory public authority, and unbridled monopoly.

7. Freedom of movement, of speech, of conscience, without fear of secret political or private police.

8. An end to discrimination against any person or group, because of race, creed, color, religion or national origin.

9. Equality before the law, with economic justice part of that law.

10. The opportunity for self-improvement through free education.

11. The right to leisure and recreation.

This is a charter for a greater America, the sort of America we want after this war. We are learning that it is possible to organize our economic system so that our manpower and productive capacity are used completely—something we have never been able to do in peacetime. I cannot believe that the workers of America will consent after the war to a sequence of booms and depressions with millions of men in thousands of factories producing nothing or producing only a small part of what they might produce. If we can organize effectively to build the implements of destruction, surely we can organize for the production of things that workers and their families need for a nationwide economy of plenty. And labor knows that we must never again commit the tragic folly of helping to win a war and then turning our backs on the peace. After World War No. 1, we went back on our obligations to keep the promise implied by our very participation in the war. We returned to a post-war "normalcy" that soon degenerated into the lunacy of the roaring twenties. We followed a mirage when we fostered the delusion that in this small, closely-knit world of ours, we could remain isolated and aloof. At the very moment that the airplane and the radio were annihilating space, at the very moment when the needs of world trade should have broken down barriers between nations, we surrounded ourselves with a Chinese Wall of indifference as to what was happening to the rest of the world.

Even during the 1930's when the storm clouds began to hang heavy over Europe, we held tenaciously to the myth of isolation. That myth has been exploded forever.

Today we know that we must not only wage a global war —a war involving all the continents and all the seas and the air above them—but that we must also fashion a global peaces—a peace that will proclaim and fulfill man's faith in himself, we will shape a new world where men will walk again in freedom, in dignity and in peace.

American labor is now exploring and creating new ways of making democracy work. It is creating a pattern of economic and political freedom which can light the way for the shattered nations of Europe and Asia when their peoples are again free to become part of a worldwide order.

The American labor movement has in it the vitality, wisdom, and practical idealism which make it ready to do more than merely feed and rebuild the defeated nations of the world. It is ready to join with workers of other lands in working out the structure of a new world in which all nations can achieve the freedom and security which we ourselves have inherited and are determined to preserve and extend—for ourselves and all mankind.