Labor Faces the Challenge


By WILLIAM GREEN, President, American Federation of Labor

Labor Day address delivered before an overflow audience in Vennylist Park, Omaha, Neb., and broadcast over the Blue Network, September 7, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 719-721.

EVENTS fraught with eternal significance have made this Labor Day the most fateful in our history. A year ago we were engaged in a national defense program designed to keep us out of war. But the Axis powers, hungry for world domination, launched a treacherous attackupon us at Pearl Harbor on December 7. And today everything we stand for as Americans, everything we believe in as trade unionists, everything we are proud of as human beings, is being tested in the crucible of world-wide war. We are in this fight to a finish. We are determined towage relentless warfare until our enemies are decisively defeated. There can be no compromise with the hateful forces who oppose us and no bartering with their leaders. Only unconditional surrender can be accepted. And if necessary, our unconquerable troops must fight their way into Berlin and Tokyo to enforce it.

That is American labor's immediate objective in this war. That is what we are working and serving and sacrificing for. That is the theme of this year's Labor Day's celebration—victory!

The call of the moment is to labor. It is a clear and unmistakable call for more planes and more bombs and more tanks, guns and ships. The voice of a united nation appeals to labor to produce these weapons of war in unlimited quantities for our fighting troops who are being sent across the seven seas to strike a death blow at the enemy. The Army, Navy and Air Forces will not fail us. We must not fail them!

The time has come for us to take the initiative in this war and open new offensives on new fronts. Who must get America ready for this task? Labor! Who must meet the primary military needs for these new offensives? Labor! Who must produce the implements of war to equip our armies and those of our Allies? Labor!

Thus labor faces the challenge of responsibility for advancing or retarding the launching of the crucial drive against the enemy.

What shall our answer be?

If I understand the heart and mind of labor, the working men and women of our country will grasp the hand of their fighting brothers and declare:

"You are offering your lives in defense of our homeland and for the victory of a noble cause. We can do no less. We will back you up to the limit."

Despite all his careful planning, Hitler made two fundamental mistakes. He assumed that human beings could be terrorized by force into accepting slavery. And he took it for granted that slave labor, driven under the whip, could outproduce free labor.

The people of Great Britain and Russia have now demonstrated to Hitler that they cannot be terrorized into submission. They don't know the word surrender. They are fighting back, gallantly and desperately, and every blow they strike is weakening Hitler's war machine for the final knockout.

Likewise, the workers of America, a mighty army of production soldiers, have now proved to Hitler's discomfiture that free labor will outproduce slave labor. In the few short months since Pearl Harbor, these production soldiers have built up the most remarkable record of production ever accomplished anywhere in the world. We know now that victory in our first battle—the battle of production—is in sight.

On this Labor Day, as President of the American Federation of Labor, I congratulate with all my heart the six million members of our organization for the splendid, patriotic service they have rendered to America in her hour of emergency. Our loyal men and women are proving by their daily toil the truth of the slogan adopted by our Government for this Labor Day:—"Free Labor Will Win!"

But even though labor has set high standards of service and broken all records for production, that is not enough. We must give more and serve more. We must increase our efficiency to the utmost. We must throw all our reserve strength and skill into this struggle.

The no-strike pledge for the duration, solemnly made to the Commander-in-Chief of America's war forces must be religiously kept. No action must be taken by labor whichwill cause a moment's interruption in industrial production until the war is won and Hitler and his tyrant associates go down to defeat. We are face to face with the greatest crisis of our time. We cannot continue business as usual or strikes as usual during such a period. All our liberties, including the right to maintain free and democratic trade unions and to strike for any cause, hang in the balance of this war. Isn't it obvious that labor must stay on the job now in order to preserve for all time the right to strike against injustice? Isn't it clear that strikes for any cause now will only help Hitler deprive us forever of the right to strike? Let us face the facts and act accordingly. We must refrain from work stoppages of any kind now in order to maintain our freedom and opportunity to seek economic and social advancement for labor when the war is over and peace is restored.

I appeal to the workers of the nation to make a firm and unshakable resolution on this Labor Day that the no-strike pledge sincerely given to the President of the United States will be faithfully observed by every one of them for the duration.

America was not prepared for war when the treacherous attack was made on Pearl Harbor. But now that picture has changed. American workers and American industry are making our country ready for all-out war in double-quick time. And millions of American young men, recruited from all walks of life, are now completing training and will soon take their place on the battlefronts. Through labor's efforts our armed forces will have at their command the finest and most plentiful supply of the weapons of war available. For the first time Hitler and Hirohito will have to fight on equal terms. Before long, they will be forced to defend themselves against superior forces. The battles of Midway and the Solomon Islands showed the world how Americans can fight. And Hitler is getting his first taste of punishment, too, from our Flying Fortresses. This is only the beginning. The Nazis and the Japs thought that this war was going to be a picnic. They are finding out now that something new has been added.

I do not believe that we in America need worry about when and where a second front is to be established in Europe. I think we can let Hitler worry about that. Until now he has opened every offensive according to his own plans. But from here on we are going to choose the new battlefields and start the new offensives.

I have every confidence in our Commander-in-Chief, President Roosevelt. I have every confidence in a full and complete victory for the forces of democracy.

But before the day of victory comes, every American will have to suffer. That includes every man, woman and child in our land—workers, farmers and businessmen alike. The price of victory is sacrifice. The price of defeat is slavery and degradation. We have only one choice. Let us make it cheerfully!

American workers have already made many major sacrifices in this war. We of the American Federation of Labor did not hesitate. At the outset we surrendered our economic power by relinquishing the exercise of our right to strike for the duration. We followed this up by willingly working longer hours and by gladly speeding up the pace of our toil. Like all other citizens, we have sent our sons and loved ones to fight in America's armed forces. We have not looked for what we could get out of this war but what we could give to hasten the end of world-wide bloodshed.

Now we are going to be called upon to make another great sacrifice. Tonight the President of the United States will reveal to the nation his new program for wage stabilization and farm price control. With the greater part of ournational income and our national production devoted to war use, severe measures must be taken to prevent ruinous inflation.

Knowing the spirit that animates American workers today, I haven't the slightest doubt that they will accept this sacrifice for their own ultimate good and the nation's welfare.

Many American Federation of Labor workers did not wait for the President to act. Through their union organizations, approximately two million metal trades and building trades workers engaged in ship construction and war construction have already voluntarily agreed to stabilize their wages at present levels as long as this war lasts. That's the spirit that makes me so proud to be identified with our great labor movement.

There is only one sacrifice American workers will refuse to make. There is only one thing we will not give up. That is our freedom. We are strong because we are free. We do not and cannot believe that we can win this war by weakening our great army of workers. We do not and cannot believe that the way to preserve democracy throughout the world is to impair it here at home.

Organized labor, I am happy to report, is stronger today than at any previous time in history. The American Federation of Labor, with six million members on its rolls, is at its peak strength. We are united. We are making progress. We are forging ahead with real teamwork.

But the ranks of organized labor as a whole are still divided and torn by rivalry and discord. I say here to you now and to the entire nation that there is no longer any sound reason or excuse for this disunity. On the contrary, it is of supreme importance to the national war effort that this dangerous breach be healed and that the men and women of organized labor be once more united under one banner as soon as possible.

Fortunately, the efforts of the American Federation of Labor to renew conferences for a settlement have now borne fruit. Committees representing both sides will hold theirfirst meeting in a few weeks. The task before them is a difficult one, complicated by the passage of time and the formation of rival unions competing within the same field. It is my hope and prayer on this Labor Day that the conferees will resolve these difficulties and work out a settlement fair and just to all concerned. The needs of American workers, the needs of our country, require it.

We cannot celebrate our traditional holiday without giving thought to the oppressed peoples of those nations now suffering under the yoke of the dictators of Europe and Asia. In the conquered lands and in the very countries which gave birth to totalitarianism, there is no Labor Day. The workers in these nations have no trade unions, because the dictators, out of hate and fear, destroyed them throughout their domain.

To these victims of man's inhumanity to man and to the people of our country who are fighting to save them and preserve our own freedom, I should like to read the prophetic and encouraging words of Samuel Gompers, father of the American Federation of Labor, uttered shortly before his death. He said:

"Labor Day stands for labor's faith. Faith in America. Faith in her institutions. Faith in her democracy. Faith in her representative government. And above all, Labor Day stands for faith in the workers. Faith in their ability and determination to show the world that within the field of democracy labor can forge its way straight ahead and strike from its path the barriers of reaction, greed, oppression and tyranny wherever found and by whomever planted.

"And Labor Day stands for freedom. For freedom attained and freedom demanded."

On this Labor Day let us solemnly resolve to make the words of our wise leader come true. Let us resolve to do everything in our power, without stint and without reservation, to win this war. And let us resolve to see to it that when Victory comes, an enduring peace will be established based on the extension of freedom and democracy to all peoples in all lands of the earth.