The Labor Front
"LABOR ACT CREATES CONDITION OF CONTINUAL TURMOIL"
By MAURICE R. FRANKS, National Business Agent and Editor of Railroad Yardmasters of America, Inc.
Delivered at luncheon of the Executives' Club of Chicago, January 29, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 342-345.
I AM genuinely pleased to be here today, and there are real reasons for my pleasure. One of these reasons is that I am thoroughly convinced you are a sincere audience—people willing to get at the truth of a situation, even though the ideas of the propounder may not coincide with yours. These complimentary remarks are not being made right from the start just to get "on the good side of you." They are prompted through a letter I received from your President, Dr. Haake, which I will quote in part:
"May I suggest that you do not try to say anything just because it might please our members. We are anxious to get at the truth, and I have the greatest admiration for those men who talk forthrightly and say what they think needs to be said, regardless."
This statement of Dr. Haake's is ample proof to me of the caliber of audience I am now addressing. I am further pleased to be here today because when one from my walk of life is invited to express his views to members of the Executives' Club of Chicago, which, as I understand it, is comprised of business executives, it is positive proof that labor relations are on the upturn. Not many years ago a laborite would have been somewhat of an oddity in a meeting such as this. The general opinion was that business executives and labor executives were natural-born enemies. A study of this enmity proves this condition was promoted mainly through lack of understanding between these parties—by failure to do just what we are doing here today: meeting on common ground for common interests. And why shouldn't business executives, the workers and their executives exchange ideas? To put it another way, why shouldn't the partners of industry be friendly? The progress and prosperity of these parties are affected by the actions of either.
At this point, I am going to take full advantage of Dr. Haake's suggestion by being frank and calling a "spade a spade." Anyone who preaches or promotes hatred between employers and their employees is nothing more than a radical or selfish racketeer. Employers who believe workers are not entitled to decent compensation and working conditions are not only selfish, but very short-sighted and greatly responsible for our present chaotic industrial situation. On the other hand, labor leaders, who do not recognize managerial and executive ability, are not only unfit to lead, but are enemies of organized labor, industry and, in fact, enemies of our country as a whole.
We of labor must recognize and respect the God-given endowments of initiative, inventive and executive ability. Without these there cannot be industry and without industry there cannot be workers and, needless to say, without workers there cannot be unions. To brand the possessor ofthese endowments as an economic royalist—an enemy of the worker—is not only unfair, but un-American.
Then again, what right has an employer to impose upon those not endowed with his abilities? It is not the worker's fault that the Almighty did not see fit to endow him with the same abilities as his employer—and it is not his fault that he must depend for his very existence on the ability and integrity of his employer.
Now, gentlemen, I have just told you some cold facts, and if we are to hope for peace in industry, whether we be employer or employee, we must face these facts. We of labor must realize that those who create employment are entitled to a reward which will promote initiative, inventive and executive ability. To discourage these faculties is to encourage industrial turmoil. Men who have the ability to create and manage industry should always bear in mind that the success of their creation and management can only be accomplished through the help of those not so fortunately endowed.
Many people have asked me how I came about my views on labor relations. Well, just to keep the record straight, I will give you a brief background:
I have been in the labor movement since the age of 19, as a railroad worker, committeeman, delegate, business agent and editor, and these capacities have brought me in contact with many workers and many employers. This experience has taught me that, irrespective of what part we play in this industrial structure—whether we be employer or employee—we are partners in industry and partners in a common cause; a cause to promote the posterity of mankind. We all have a definite responsibility and if we are not to shirk our task, we must all realize that in the final analysis we are just human beings—we must all "give and take."
I did not come here today to express my views, expecting them to be wholly in accordance with your point of view, because after all, gentlemen, I am a unionist and believe in the true principles of unionism as taught to me by wise and genuine unionists. Yes, I have written many items condemning certain unionists and certain industrialists, but what I have done has been in the spirit of uplifting a movement I have great respect for.
Origin of Unions
Did you ever stop to consider that unions, as we know them today, would be practically unnecessary if it were not for the fact that we have unscrupulous and selfish industrialists who don't "give a tinker's dam" about their workers' welfare; who care not whether workers and their families eat and sleep? The selfish and racketeering employers are really the promoters of unionism. If all employers were just,there would be no necessity for workers to band together as an assurance of justice.
Before the coming of unions, workers had no guarantee of honest treatment. Prior to this system, workers were compelled to do the bidding of their employers and, in some instances, were jailed if they disobeyed. "Employers" is a mild word to use—"masters" would define their attitude more correctly. It has always seemed a pity to me that all those endowed with industrial abilities are not also blessed with humanitarian instincts. If this added gift existed in every case, there would be no real reason why workers should pay a toll to be treated as humans. Unions would be nothing more than educational and fraternal societies for workers.
Industrial history reeks with unfairness to workers. Fifty years ago the majority of employers, whether they realized it or not, were unfair to their workers. They did not allow them a decent livelihood. Fortunately, this condition has been greatly improved in recent years, and this improvement can be largely credited to union activity. Workers are no longer required to work sixteen hours a day for meager existence. The average working man of today, working eight hours, receives enough compensation, whether organized or not, to allow him a decent livelihood. Thrifty workers can and do own their own homes with all conveniences and enjoy such luxuries as the market has to offer, and I could go on and on with other advantages unattainable to workers fifty years ago. Whether we realize it or not, conditions for the workers have been improving. Comparison as of fifty years ago is laughable, which brings out this point:
When workers operate under better working conditions, with fair hours and adequate pay, they automatically become important consumers of their own production and are the real promoters of prosperity, not only for themselves, but likewise for the employers as a whole.
Need of Mutual Understanding
Wise business executives know commodities must be consumed by the very people who produce them. To underpay the consumers is to curtail production. Visualize industry if the automobile were only attainable by the wealthy; the telephone, radio, electric lights, etc. Why, there are not enough wealthy people in this nation to keep any one of these industries operating for more than two months out of a year. Therefore, it becomes apparent that workers must be well treated, and I believe most employers appreciate this fact today.
If employers of yesteryear were unfair through ignorance or conditions of that time, it is not the fault of the present generation of honest employers. We are not living in the past, but in the present and for the future. The mistakes and abuses of the past should be credited to experience, and belong to history. If industry as a whole is to go forward, we must meet conditions of today and tomorrow, and operate accordingly. Employers and employees must operate in unison. There must be harmony. The abuse of either is the concern of both.
To hear many employers talk, unions are an evil—something to be done away with. And to hear many of our so-called labor leaders, all employers should be put in jail. I agree that some unions are an evil and should be done away with and that some employers should be put in jail. Their actions call for confinement. And many of our so-called labor leaders should be their cell-mates. But to say that just because one employer is a crook, all employers are crooks is as narrow-minded as saying that just because one labor leader is a racketeer, all labor leaders are racketeers. Records prove the majority of men responsible for industry arehonest, and by this same token, the majority of workers and their leaders are likewise honest. This being the case, why should the majority be persecuted for the shortcomings of the minority.
Most of our industrial strife can be charged to the system under which we operate—a system which must be changed if we are to have peace and harmony in industry. The National Labor Relations Act came into being for the purpose of ridding industry of its crooks by setting up a code of ethics as a foundation towards this objective. Well, I don't know who was whispering into Senator Wagner's ear when he drafted this law. It seems to me that in place of prosecuting the crooks of industry, it plays a major role in persecuting the very people it was supposed to help.
The Wagner Act
I told you I was going to call a "spade a spade." Well, here it goes! The preamble of the National Labor Relations Act, or the Wagner Act, as it is often referred to, starts out with a beautiful thought. To quote it:
"An act to diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce."
Since the enactment of this law, we have had more industrial unrest than was ever experienced in the history of this nation. And why? Simply because the Labor Act functions on the assumption that most employers are crooked and all labor leaders honest. If you think I don't know what I'm talking about, just listen to Sections 7 and 8, quoted from this Act:
"Sec. 7. Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities, for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. "Sec. 8. It shall be an unfair practice for an employer—
(1) To interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7.
(2) To dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it."
These sections are in no uncertain language. They are absolutely conclusive and have been validated by the United States Supreme Court as the legal means of procedure in accordance with the intent of the law. Now, let us enforce it and see what we have.
First of all, under the Labor Act, according to these sections, it automatically becomes unlawful for an employer to dominate any labor organization; but when he signs a contract calling for him to compel every employee within his establishment to become a member of the union, whether or not it is the workers' choice of collective bargaining, even though a majority of the workers have so signified, I maintain this is nothing short of coercion on the part of the employer, because the Labor Act specifically states that employees may bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.
Call it what you may—a closed shop or union maintenance, it is nothing less than the "yellow dog contract" in reverse, which has been outlawed. When the "yellow dog contract" system was in effect, employees were deprived of the right to earn a living for belonging to a union. Samuel Gompers and every honorable labor leader fought this system on the premise that it was unconstitutional to deprivea man of his living because of his union affiliation. Therefore, it is unfair to deprive one of a living for not belonging to a union. I also maintain it is more serious coercion on the part of labor leaders who make it mandatory for employers to sign such contracts, which are in direct opposition to Section 7, because unless they do sign, they are labeled "unfair to organized labor," which means trouble.
To top that off, employers, under the check-off system, agree to collect the union dues, making them the unpaid treasurers of the union. If this isn't "contributing financial or other support to unions," I would like to know what it really is, because without the collection of dues under this system, it is quite doubtful that some of these so-called unions would be able to exist. Obviously, the collection of dues through the check-off stands out as a very significant contribution to unions, or a very direct violation of Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act.
Inequities of the Law
There is no doubt in my mind but what Senator Wagner intended the Labor Act to be an instrument of promoting harmonious industrial relations. But whoever his advisers were, they certainly went to great lengths in selling the Senator a "bill of goods." They must have been great salesmen, but they surely lost sight of one fact, and that is: You cannot pass laws to make crooks turn honest, or chiselers quit chiseling. And any law condoning such inequity will eventually have to be stricken from the statute books.
On the surface, the Labor Act was supposed to bring peace to industry, and yet it creates a condition of continual turmoil. It places employers and their employees in a position of disharmony. When this law is strictly interpreted, it tells the employers they dare not influence their workers, even though it may be for their betterment. And I am going to tell you right here and now, it's a hell of a condition, especially during this war period, when the partners of industry are prohibited from exchanging ideas for the promulgation of mutual interests. Believe me, chiseling and racketeer labor leaders have, and are, taking great advantage of the language incorporated in the National Labor Relations Act. They have not tried to sell the employers, the workers and the public on the merits of unionism, nor have they tried to diminish the causes of labor disputes, burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce.
There is no doubt that we need a Labor Relations Act to guarantee the natural prerogatives of the workers and employers, and until we do get such a law with teeth, there is little chance of diminishing the causes of labor disputes. The time was never more opportune than right now.
The wise men of today are saying that we must not only win this global war, but we must also win the peace. Just how can we have peace in this world when faction is fighting faction? The amount of man hours lost since Pearl arbor on account of unnecessary strikes is beyond tabulation; precious hours which could have been utilized for building vital war materials to defeat our enemies; hours that are now floating on a river of blood from our heroes who might have been spared, had they the means at the proper time. What kind of a people are we who put profits and unnecessary demands beyond the lives and security of those gallant men in the Armed Services? Are we going soft? Have we lost confidence in our democracy by listening to a lot of Nazi propaganda? Or are we just plain blind to the fate which lies ahead should we lose this war? Whatever the answer is, we had better awaken right now and doa right-about-face unless we want to be saying to ourselves, "Remember democracy!"
Please do not get the idea that I am against workers receiving just treatment, or against the workers' right to strike for better working conditions. I am an ardent promoter of workers' rights, but I also believe circumstances alter cases, and this war must be won or all of labor's gains will have been for naught. This also applies to employers. Unreasonable wages, working conditions and profits can be the means of us losing this war. Then what will we have gained? The big total of nothing. We lose our democracy and our American Way of Life to a bunch of cut-throats who would be happy to place us all in slavery—workers and employers alike.
Any labor leader or business executive, who willfully promotes an unnecessary strike, is not fit to be classed as an American, and there should be some legal process to safeguard honorable workers and honorable executives from the maneuvers of this class.
If the National Labor Relations Act had been more carefully drafted, it could be playing a major role right now in protecting industry from racketeers; but unfortunately, this Act, as we all well realize, is not functioning as originally intended. So it becomes apparent that something must b done in lines of legislation which will produce the fullest measure of protection to the workers, their employers, the public and our country as a whole.
In the forepart of this address I pointed out two section of the Labor Act which are weak. And if we were to analyze the entire Act, I could show you several more weak points. I am not an alarmist, nor am I one to judge the multitude by the shortcomings of a few, any more than I would condemn an entire family just because of one "black sheep." In other words, there is no reason to destroy good unions simply because we have bad unions. Common sense tells me the vast majority of workers are honest and since they comprise the major part of unions, then, too, the great percentage of unions are made up of honest men. And since most labor leaders are from the rank and file, they, too, are, by and large, honest. The same can be said of the employers.
Need of Protective Legislation
Therefore, what we need in lines of legislation today is not restrictive but protective legislation which will guarantee the natural prerogatives of honest workers and employers.
Most people I come in contact with have no real objection to good unions operating on a basis of responsibility. As a matter of fact, many employers, who were dead enemies of unions prior to contractual arrangements with them, are today staunch supporters because they have found out unions can be highly beneficial in expediting business. These same men would be the first today to step forward to block any move unfair to organized labor. The main objection to unions is not against the rank and file or its just demands, but against the racketeer leaders who do not hesitate in wrecking an industry to attain their selfish and mercenary objectives. The main reason that nothing tangible has been done along the lines of fair legislation is that the people who could bring about a beneficial change have been fearful of "sticking out their necks"; fearful of being accused of "grinding an ax" for their own personal gain. To my way of thinking, this is almost cowardice because, unless someone goes on the offensive, we will never enjoy peace in industry.
I represent about the smallest labor organization on the railroads, known as the Railroad Yardmasters of North America, Incorporated. We have given considerable thoughtto the necessity of sensible legislation that will not make "fish" of one industry and "flesh" of the other. We have been, for the past several years, active in this movement and for our activity we have been at times accused of being anti-union, hirelings of employers, and yet, in spite of these accusations, we are today carrying on the fight and we intend to keep it up until something tangible is accomplished. While we may be a small body of men numerically speaking, we do have the courage of our convictions, and we stand ready to fight for them. We have confidence in the principles of honest unionism, and demand that these principles be respected. But when we see unionism desecrated by racketeers, masquerading as labor leaders, we believe the time has come for the courageous to speak right out; to "hew to the line and let the chips fall where they may." However, there are other organizations who would, no doubt, like to declare themselves as we do, but unfortunately do not feel they are in a position to do so.
Don't let anyone tell you the American Federation of Labor and its leaders are all wrong, or everyone connected with the Congress of Industrial Organizations is a crook. This is not a fact. The great majority of the members and leaders of these organizations are good, honest Americans, willing to act honorably; but their present plight of rivalry acts as a barrier. If the A. F. of L. makes a move for the betterment of unionism as a whole, the C. I. O. is reluctant and claims they are just "grinding an ax to chop off the heads" of the C. I. O., and vice versa.
Fortunately, our little organization is independent; not affiliated with either the A. F. of L. or the C. I. O. This automatically places us in an ideal position to offer improvements, because we are a body of men with experience in thelabor movement. Our organization is comprised of members from the various railroad unions—men who have been in the actual labor union movement averaging better than twenty years each—men who have come from within the ranks as railroad switchmen, trainmen, conductors, clerks, train dispatchers, and so on. And the majority still hold membership in the respective unions of these occupations. We realize something must be done towards the alleviation of the present chaotic condition or the real enemies of organized labor will step in with drastic restrictive legislation which will spell the abolishment of this worthy movement.
The Power of Franchise
Up to the present time every move made towards the amendment of the National Labor Relations Act has bumped into a disparaging condition in Washington, simply because the political set-up down there has been lop-sided. The American public has been treated as mere puppets by politicians, who seemed to be under the impression that the voters of this nation were subordinate to political office-holders, instead of the reverse. But the picture changed last November, and November 3rd, 1942, will always be remembered as a red-letter day in these United States, because on that day the voters really "saw red" and ousted many "flannel mouths" from their seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The public used the only real weapon they have, and a good one at that, to safeguard the principles of our democracy. They simply exercised their franchise. And if enough red-blooded Americans will let their wants be known to the new Congress, this year should mark the beginning of a new era of democracy in these United States—and it's about time.