Labor and Management
THE FREEDOM OF ENTERPRISE
By WILLIAM GREEN, President, American Federation of Labor
Delivered at the "Unity Luncheon" of the annual meeting of the United States Chamber of Commerce, New York City, April 27, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 452-453.
I AM grateful to your President, Mr. Eric Johnston, for asking me to be with you today because I regard his invitation as a manifestation of good-will by American industry to American labor. likewise, I trust that you will accept my presence here as evidence of the goodwill American labor entertains toward American industry.
The desperate war in which our nation is now engaged has served to bring all of us closer together—employer and employee, industry, organized labor and agriculture. In this national emergency we have become more deeply conscious of our mutual interdependence, of our common unity of purpose and of our united power of accomplishment.
The same stimulus which inspires our soldiers on the battlefront to deeds of heroism has evoked a miracle on the home front—a miracle of production the like of which the world has never seen. Men in overalls in factories and on farms have teamed up with management and with the Government in a record-breaking production drive which has cleared the way for victory in this war. Working together, they have succeeded in making America the arsenal of democracy. Fighting together, the armed forces of America and our Allies will depend upon this inexhaustible arsenal for the power with which to crush our enemies.
In one sense, it is tragic that it should take a war to bring home to us the obvious truth that in unity there is strength. But it would be even more tragic if we fail to take this lesson to heart and forget it after the war ends.
Like all of you, labor sometimes grows weary of the successive emergencies which have plagued our generation. We would like to believe that when victory comes, our troubles, for a time at least, will be over. All of us find ourselveslonging occasionally for the "good old days" when life was simpler and less hectic. Yet we know in our hearts and minds that we can never go back, that our memories deceive us as to the "good old days" and that it is our job to work for a better day in the future.
Yes, time marches on. But there are some things that are timeless, there are some truths that are eternal and there are some fundamental principles, rooted in the past and imperilled in the present, that we must preserve for the future.
Chief among these are the freedoms upon which our nation was founded and upon which all human progress in the days to come must be built. I want to discuss here the future of one of these freedoms—the freedom of enterprise.
This freedom of enterprise is not the sole prerogative of the owners and managers of industry. It is a freedom shared and jealously guarded by every American worker and farmer. It is an economic freedom—the freedom of opportunity—which is just as important and just as basic in the hearts of American citizens as their political and religious freedoms.
At present, the challenge to free enterprise comes from our enemies in this war who deny that it is efficient, adaptable to modern needs or deserving of preservation. Our answer to this challenge is an endless stream of planes, ships, tanks and guns which will inevitably crush the proponents of slave industry, slave agriculture and slave labor.
But when victory is attained and the war ends, a new and even greater challenge will arise to confront free enter-prise. We can see it coming now. It casts its menacing shadow upon industry, labor and agriculture alike. It pre-
sents this question to each of us—will we measure up? Will we be able to produce the products of peace on the same scale that we are now producing the weapons of war? Will we be able to sell our merchandise? Will we be able to do this or will our entire economy collapse?
You, the representatives of American industry, cannot solve these problems alone, nor can labor, nor can the farmers, nor the Government. But it is my profound conviction that we can solve them together. And it is my unshakeable purpose to press for such united action until it is achieved.
Obviously, unity of purpose and unity of action for the charting of our post-war economy cannot be attained in the spirit of fear or in an atmosphere of misunderstanding. So let me present a few plain facts to you in behalf of the six million members of the American Federation of Labor.
We believe sincerely in free enterprise. We recognize the right to own and manage private property. We concede that the owners and managers of private industry and farms are entitled to a fair profit. We, of the American Federation of Labor, have no intention or desire to abridge, appropriate or interfere with the functions or prerogatives of management.
At the same time, we ask that private industry acknowledge labor's equal right to free enterprise. We ask that management recognize the right of workers to organize into free and democratic trade unions of their own choosing. We ask that the owners and managers of private industry agree to bargain collectively with these trade unions representing their workers. We ask that management disavow any intention or desire to control, destroy or dominate the trade unions of their workers. And, finally, we ask that the right of workers to secure for themselves wages and conditions commensurate with American standards of living be assured.
If we can reach a national understanding on these principles—a clear-cut, honest and sincere agreement to makethese principles the rules of the game and to abide by them—then we can tackle the difficulties and responsibilities of postwar reconstruction with every assurance of success.
Just as industry resists undue Government interference with the operation of its every-day affairs, organized labor likewise resents undue Government intervention in the free enterprise of the trade-union movement. To my way of thinking, the sooner we can return the operations of Government to their normal and necessary sphere, the better for our American democracy. We can hasten this process once cat-and-dog conflicts between management and labor are banished and harmonious, cooperative relationships become the rule.
I have been greatly encouraged in recent months by the fact that many leaders of American industry have taken the initiative in seeking to prepare for the impending post-war crisis. This very meeting is proof of a desire on the part of the members of the United States Chamber of Commerce to unite with all other groups in an effort to find a solution. Your President, Mr. Johnston, is to be congratulated for his energetic and constructive leadership in this direction and for his sincere attempts to bring about national unity, not only for the duration of the war, but as a permanent bulwark for the preservation of our system of free enterprise.
Management, labor and agriculture, standing together and working together, have rendered notable services in tins war. Still we have as yet merely scratched the surface of the potential benefits that continued and enhanced unity can bring to the American people after the war is over. If we succeed in our efforts, the world will always remember and freely acknowledge that we have earned our freedom and are entitled to enjoy it in the future.
As the representative of six million American workers, I hereby give you my solemn pledge that labor will go more than half way toward a meeting of minds and unity of action. We are ready to work with you and serve with you and sacrifice with you, come what may, for democracy's inevitable victory and for the ultimate triumph of free enterprise.