Labor-Management Dealing


By WILLIAM MARTIN JEFFERS, National Rubber Director

Delivered before the New York Herald-Tribune Forum, New York City, November 16, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 150-152.

OF all the economics that I know, I believe that I am most profoundly conscious of the economics of the man who eats in the kitchen. The prevailing hope of this man is that his children will inherit the comfort of a spick-and-span dining room. Upon the productive efforts, the fighting efforts and the future thinking of this man of the rolled-up sleeves depends, I believe, the economic freedom of the world.

Now, I am what is called a management man. At the time I was called to Washington by our government to perform a duty that obviously had to be done quickly, firmly and honestly, I was the president of a great transcontinental railroad to which is intrusted the transport of vast quantities of war materials and many thousands of troops. I am still the president of that railroad. But I was once a callboy on that railroad, responsible for calling to their regular and emergency duties the crews who handled the trains.

My father before me worked on a section gang which laid the ties and rails which helped to build this great transportation system across the nation. So I know the man who eats in the kitchen, because for the major portion of my life I ate in the kitchen—and occasionally still do.

"Too Much of Bickering"

The man who juggles his chopsticks in China; the miner who opens his lunch pail in Wales; the Russian who munches black bread on the cold steppes and fights for his home; the American railroader who struggles with wind and floods and blizzards to keep a rail line open—these are my kind of men who eat in the kitchen. Upon the way these men think, and act upon their thinking, depends the economic freedom of the world in the dire times that lie ahead.

There has been too much bickering—yes, and even more than bickering—between this man and his management. Every honest workman knows and appreciates that his labors must have guidance and management. And every honest manager ought to know that honest sweat should be properly compensated.

I know labor and I know management, having been a part of both. Only when they work in complete harmony can the economic freedom of the world be soundly determined. Much blood and tears will be wasted if we do not learn this lesson now in our moment of extreme trial.

Of course, management has been shortsighted in the exertion of its power in times past when it should have elected to guide rather than to rule. Labor has been equally as shortsighted when it tasted newborn power in recent years, and in misguided efforts to protect its gains, particularly in the last few months, has risked the good will of the public.

These things must pass in order that we may win the victory, and must permanently be discarded if we are to win the peace.

Democracy's War Strength

War is never pleasant. A democracy accepts it with less grace perhaps than other peoples. Yet with the righteousness that gives us free speech and the opportunity of open criticism comes an indignation and eventually a fierceness that is stronger than any coercion that a dictator might in any way, through fear or bayonet, bring to his people. It Is this vigorousness, now coming to fruition in our citizens, which will give us the energy, the strength, the fortitude, the men and the materials to win this war.

As we fight for victory we naturally think of what we are to do with it when it comes. This thoughtfulness need pot in any way hamper our determination to win. Rather it should strengthen it, for it shows us the gates of a new happiness at the end of the vigorous, successful fight.

War is a destructive mission of any generation. It issomething that must be forced on us. I will not dwell on the reasons for this war nor on perhaps the lethargy which for whatever reason caught us so unprepared in spirit, mind and mechanical equipment to do our best when we needed it most. Since we are in it we know the only good that can come of it is the experience we may gain from it—an experience which if properly used will give us a better world.

The only happiness in this world comes from honest work and honest achievement. Now that is a trite saying, but it is nevertheless true. Sometimes I think that we have forgotten many of these simple copybook truisms during the last decade or two. Certainly if we remembered them we forgot to apply them.

I do not subscribe to many of the ideologies of regimentation or near socialism which are at one end of our frequent national discussions. Nor would I care to defend the profligacy of the few at the other end of such diversified discussions. I do believe that one good that can come out of the war is a realignment of our viewpoints and our objectives.

Forecasts Vast Progress

I do not mean that we should be our brother's keeper, but I believe that my brother should have the opportunity to work in contentment, to live in peace and to contemplate his individual happiness in his own personal way.

Since it is my belief that happiness comes from work and that work is opportunity and that production is the only wealth we have in a nation such as ours, I feel that out of this war will come a resolution for a better nation which has been forced to pause and take account of itself and to rectify those things in which we have found ourselves wanting.

Millions of people are being taught to work with their hands and their feet as well as their minds—people who before could find no work because they knew no task. But in these days to come when we will have the victory I know will be ours, we will have these millions of men and women who will have learned how to work, how to think, how to produce, and from this production, with proper management, with honest recognition of the rights of the other, will come wealth in happiness, in dollars, in opportunity, in contentment. It is my belief that if the war will teach us these fundamentals, as I am sure it will, that we will have learned much and advanced far in the progress of our civilization and in our contribution to posterity. If we do not, we fail.

When I was a boy, we didn't have a lot of money but we were happy. We had the plenty that our countryside afforded. We worked hard; we ate in the kitchen—and we ate well—and we slept in the contentment of physical fatigue, and we enjoyed our pleasures, restricted though they were, because we had earned the right to have them.

Unity Born of War

Every nation goes through its growing pains. We are a young nation. We have been fortunate. Much has been given us that we did not sweat for because of the ingenuousness and the inventiveness of the few and its application for the many. The inventor, the industrialist, the geniuses of mass production, gave us much we did little to earn. And after the war, I hope we will be able to earn the pleasures we will have at our command and which should be ours, but which will be useful only as a reward for work, be it in the factory, in the outer office, in the executive suite, in the bank—or yes, in the halls of government.

Who can deny that ingenious and energetic management has made our nation the greatest industrial force in the world? That is our universally acknowledged power for victory. Who would deny that the brawn of the man who eats in the kitchen is virtually necessary to exert this industrial force?

The crucial war emergency is bringing man and management together—closer together—in the common cause to save the freedoms which we love most and upon which our future existence depends. The will to win will solve the problems that have beset our industrial life and give us a well forged key to world order. For the man who eats in the kitchen is thinking as well as sweating and fighting, and management must never become so busy that it hasn't time to think.

Calls for Thinking

I brought an old motto with me to Washington. It has hung over my desk in Omaha for a great many years. It says: "Never get so busy that you haven't time to think." This advice was given to me by an old-timer on the Union Pacific, a friend whom I had worked beside for years, and who as well as any one else with something real to say had free access to my office when I became president of the railroad. He was in my office one day explaining some new ideas and during the explanation my mind wandered to some other matters, and I made a stupid reply to one of his questions.

"Bill Jeffers," he said, gathering up his papers, "you are not paying attention to what I am trying to explain to you. Let me tell you something; never get so busy you haven't time to think." He was right, and his words became a motto which went over my desk. I still have it—on the wall and in my head.

Management must start thinking more about the men who must carry out the ideas and complete the guidance—and workers must think more kindly about the powers that plan. Together we can think out and accomplish the economic freedom of the world.

I remember the miracle of railroad transportation more than most of you, because as a child I saw the string of steel being stretched across the desolate Western country of the covered wagon. I saw towns grow up; I saw people shout with joy; I saw an Eastern and a Western empire of the same nation linked together to become one. In its day, that was as spectacular as the airplane is today in its bombing attacks of destruction and in its more peaceful pursuits of happiness.

It has seemed to be a part of our national philosophy to discard the conventional in favor of the sensational, and to cast aside many of the things which had given us success without making any attempt to evaluate their necessity in our national economic life.

For instance, after the last war, the railroads which had performed for us such valiant service were in pitiful, many of them in destitute, positions. They were flicked aside with an economic abandon that could be true only of a young nation rushing through its adolescence. It was only through the fortitude and the stubbornness of the few that many of these great rail systems of this nation were able to withstand the actions of those who sanctioned their extermination because they did not understand.

I ask you where would this country be in its hour of emergency, in its year of strife, were it not for this system of railroads which we attempted to destroy? We could not win this war without these railroads which some in the country wanted to discard only a few years ago. It would be impossible to move the men to camp, to the front, to get raw materials to the factories and finished products of war to the front, were it not for our great rail-transportation systems.

Never before in the history of America have the railroads been called upon to transport such a terrific load as has been given them in the last twelve months. Never before in history have these railroads performed so efficiently, so patriotically and under such almost unsurmountable difficulties. And at the same time, never before has it been so difficult because of the selective-service act and competing war industries to hold together an organization competent to take on the load.

But the oldtimers—the men who have climbed up through the ranks, whose blood is ingrained with the tradition of railroad service, are sticking it out—in heat and cold, in broiling sun of desert and howling blizzards of mountains—sticking it out because they know the man in overalls is a soldier of the home front whose glory is not midst bursting bombs and shells but in rushing precious shipments of guns and tanks, ammunition and planes, food, clothing, medicines, machines and men to shipboard, to camps, to concentration depots. These men know management and they have an unblemished record of achievement and accomplishment, gained through competent and intelligent leadership, which can be depended upon to continue when the war is over and we begin to plan the peace.

Rubber a Vital Need

It has taken a world war to teach us how dependent we are upon rubber. Second, perhaps, only to keeping the railroads operating, is the need for rubber throughout this nation—rubber for our armed forces and for our Allies, rubber for the farmer so that he may bring his crops to markets or to shipping centers, rubber for trucks, for buses, for war workers, rubber for the millions of automobiles upon the continued operation of which the civilian economics of the nation depends.

The successful solution of this problem will have an important bearing on the future of our nation—the lack ofrubber today is bringing our people closer together than they have been in many generations.

Within two weeks this entire nation will be called upon to follow regulations designed for the sole purpose of making the tires they now have last longer. People are being asked to limit themselves to essential driving, and since the individual interpretation of what may be essential is almost as varied as the number of automobile drivers, the best that can be done is to set up an arbitrary yardstick as a guide to what will best accomplish the result that is necessary.

These limitations are indeed simple—a ration of gasoline so you won't drive so far and will save your rubber; a restriction of speed so your rubber won't wear out so fast and so you will get more miles for the gasoline you do have, and a periodic inspection of your tires so that unsuspected wear may be checked and corrected. You help the program more by sharing your car with others so that they in turn may share their cars with you.

And while the American autoist is performing this patriotic request of his government, the after-the-war future of rubber is in the hands of the chemist and the technician who, in addition to solving the synthetic needs of our military forces, is opening new fields of industrial possibilities which will be developed and expanded when the world struggle ends.

Of rubber, this much may be said with assurance. When the war is over America never again will depend upon any foreign land for rubber. Men working now with management to conquer a common foe will work in the years to come to win a common happiness.

And may I say in conclusion that the men who are working in rubber, in the factories, in the field, in tire and repair shops, in garages—these are the men in overalls; they're among that balance of power in this nation which eats in the kitchen; they're my kind of men; they're the men, with their sons and brothers, their wives and daughters, upon whom will depend the economic destiny of America after the war.