We Must Work Together
"OUR OPPORTUNITY IS HERE"
By WILLIAM GREEN, President of the American Federation of Labor
Delivered before the Economic Club, New York City, June 8, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 619-621.
THE United Nations are now definitely on the road to victory. Proof of that fact has been clearly established on both the production front and the battlefronts. The forces of the United Nations have demonstrated their superiority by hard work and by hard fighting to such an overwhelming extent that even the desperate leaders of the Axis forces must soon be convinced that further resistance is futile.
Behold the picture! On every fighting front the forces of the enemy have sustained heavy and damaging losses. No longer are Hitler and Mussolini and the Japs on the offensive. They have been stopped in Europe, they have been pushed back in the Pacific and they have been annihilated in Africa. And now at last the United Nations have seized the initiative, backed up by mighty and inexhaustible military power. Our enemies are frantically trying to guess where we will strike next. Their weakness is accentuated by the fact that their reserves are dwindling and their production has hit a diminishing spiral.
Our strength is buttressed by the fact that here in America e have developed a production program out of which a steady stream of planes, tanks, guns and essential war material flows in an ever increasing volume to our soldiers who serve on every battlefield and to our Allies as well. New production records and new production heights are reached on every passing day.
There is no limit to what American labor and American industry can do and are going to do in order to bring about victory in the shortest possible time. Our united goal is victory at any cost. Therein lies the inevitable doom of our enemies. Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito may not be willing to admit it yet, but they are through already!
Our confidence in the eventful result of this world-wide conflict must not, of course, cause any relaxation of the nation's all-out war effort. To my mind, the healthy assurance of the American people is a source of strength and a source of inspiration for greater achievement. The workers of our country know that every bit of extra production they can accomplish will serve to shorten the road to victory and help to save human life. In the same spirit, the leaders of American business and industry are constantly striving toward new production heights without pause or letdown. By contrast, the despair which now engulfs the slave labor and the slave industry of our enemies is certain to be translated into reduced production and lower fighting morale.
During the early period of America's participation in this war, when danger of attack threatened our inadequately prepared nation and when our enemies were on the marchwe had no room for any other thought but the immediate urgency of getting ready to fight back as quickly as possible.
But now that the road to victory lies clearly before us, we must widen our horizons and prepare to meet the problems which will face us when we reach our goal. To the hard work and the hard fighting which still remain to be done before the war is ended, we must add a new assignment—concentrated and constructive planning to guarantee that the victory will be worth-while.
In approaching the subject of post-war planning, the first question we should ask is: What do the American people want out of this war?
I believe the answer to that question can be summed up in one word—security.
Security is an all-embracing term. It would be well, therefore, if we could reach an understanding as to what the people of our country mean when they ask for security.
It is my conviction that the security which stands first and foremost in the hearts and minds of our people is the security of peace.
Secondly, all Americans are determined that victory must seal the security of our basic freedoms.
Finally, there comes social security, which means security against want and fear of want.
I propose to discuss here tonight the absolute necessity of attaining these fundamentals of security without which victory in the war would be empty and meaningless.
Whenever we begin debating the possibility of establishing lasting peace throughout the world, we encounter mocking laughter from those who consider themselves practical realists. They say there have always been wars, which is incontrovertible. Therefore, they assume there must always be wars, which is, at least, argumentative.
Personally, I have no sympathy or patience with such an attitude. It is the antithesis of progress. If human beings had followed that line of reasoning from the beginning of time, they would be indistinguishable today from the beasts of the jungle. All that is highest and purest in the soul of man contradicts the doctrine that he is not the master of his fate. To say that because there always have been wars there always will be wars is an admission of impotent defeatism which every vigorous and intelligent American must spurn and reject.
Nevertheless, the mere wish on our part to banish war forever will not be enough to accomplish the desired objective. Only too often in the past has the will for peace of the peoples of this world been circumvented. That was because they did nothing about it. It is now up to us in America todo something about it, if we sincerely and whole-heartedly desire to be secure against war and the threat of war in the future, as I know we all do.
Perhaps it is still too soon to plan a detailed course of action to abolish war for all time. But there are certain clear principles and outstanding truths which it may be well for us to acknowledge and support as a starting point.
First of these is the fact that we will never get anywhere with our hopes for lasting peace unless America abandons its outmoded and unrealistic past policy of isolationism. Our country can no longer divorce itself from the affairs of the rest of the world nor can we fail to be concerned by oppression or aggression in any part of the world. We have learned from the events which led up to the tragedy of this war that we ourselves are threatened by the rise to power of any anti-democratic movement in any other nation. We cannot afford ever to repeat our tragic pre-war indifference, inaction and withdrawal from the facts of international dynamite.
In this war, the United States is participating closely with other nations in a desperate struggle to crush the enemies of democracy. In the peace that will follow victory, the United States must also take part with other like-minded nations in establishing an international order which will suppress any uprising of aggression and oppression at the very outset, by force, if necessary.
In every community, in every State and in every nation, there are always those who are willing to resort to force and violence to gain their ends. That is why we have laws and law enforcement machinery to restrain them.
For the same reason, the peace-loving peoples of the world must create agencies to establish international law and to enforce it against those who would foment war among nations.
The tragedy, the slaughter of human life, the ruthless destruction of property, the barbaric practices which develop out of each succeeding war and the tax burdens imposed upon unborn generations must be called to a halt when the present conflict ends. To accomplish this calls for the exercise of courage, determination and willingness on our part to agree to such international action as may be required to create peace and to maintain peace throughout the stricken world.
The American Federation of Labor gave whole-hearted support to the League of Nations proposal which, imperfect as it was, developed out of the peace negotiations following the First World War. We called upon our nation then to abandon its policy of isolationism and to assume its share of international responsibility by associating with the League of Nations in an effort to safeguard and perpetuate world peace. Events which have transpired since then vindicate the position we took at that tune.
I assure you that at the close of this war the American Federation of Labor will press unremittingly for the adoption of a program of international action which will effectively remove the menace of future wars.
We come then to consideration of the post-war security of our basic freedoms. It seems obvious that the very defeat of our anti-democratic enemies will give a new lease on life to the freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press which constitute the bedrock of our American way of life. These freedoms can and should be extended throughout the world after the war, thereby strengthening our own possession of them.
But there is another basic freedom inherent in the American way of life which may be threatened by post-war economic upheavals. That is the freedom of enterprise.
I come before you this evening as a frank advocate of social security for free enterprise in America. I do not meanby that a Government dole or subsidy for private business. I mean a free and open recognition of the fact that the freedom of enterprise and the freedom of opportunity are just as vital to the welfare of the American people as any other of our precious freedoms and must be safeguarded for all time.
As the spokesman for a labor organization with six and a half million members, I want to make it emphatically clear here and now that the American Federation of Labor stands four-square in support of free and private enterprise. We recognize the right to own and manage property for public service and private profit. We believe that private business and private industry have made tremendous contributions to the development of our country in the past and will take advantage of the glowing opportunities for even greater growth in the future. For these services to the people, we concede that the owners and managers of private property are entitled to a fair profit. We of the American Federation of Labor will oppose any attempt to abridge, restrict or interfere with the functions and rights of free enterprise.
At the same time, we insist that industry acknowledge labor's equal right to the enjoyment of freedom of enterprise and freedom of opportunity. This would require full recognition of the right of workers to organize into free and democratic unions of their own choosing. Furthermore, 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, dominate or destroy such trade unions. And, finally, we ask that the right of workers to secure for themselves wages and conditions commensurate with American living standards be assured.
The value and virtue of free enterprise and of free democratic trade unions will be determined by the service which they render during this crucial period through which our nation is passing. We are in competition with hostile economic philosophies which deny the right of private enterprise to exist in the modern world. The records made by free enterprise in our own nation will be compared with the records made by other nations which have accepted and applied totalitarianism and economic regimentation. What shall the answer be? It will be found largely in the way and manner in which we here in America respond to the call for heroic service, both in the production plants of the nation and on the fields of battle. In the grueling contest in which we are engaged there must be no limitations or frontiers placed upon the field of service where free enterprise and free labor will function. If free enterprise in America is to be preserved and if labor is to escape regimentation and remain economically free, it will be because labor and industry have scaled new heights in production and have met the new and exacting tests of service and efficiency from Pearl Harbor to the glorious day when the Axis Powers are finally and completely defeated.
With American industry and American labor joining hands in close teamwork, the system of free enterprise in our country will, in my opinion, be invincible against any attack from without or within.
Make no mistake about it, such attacks are to be expected when the war is over, especially if the advent of peace brings about another economic depression.
We have all read in the newspapers the announcement from Moscow of the dissolution of the Third Internationale. It is difficult for us to appraise at this time the significance of this action. But we must not be misled by it. We must not forget for one minute that if millions of Americans lose their jobs and are forced to go hungry after the war. the Communists in this country will be quick to take advantage of the opportunity, regardless of the professed policies of Moscow.
I think you are aware of the fact that the American Federation of Labor is, has been and always will be the implacable foe of Communism in this country. We are ready to resist, side by side with private industry, any future attempt to foist a collectivist form of government upon our country.
But there are other and more subtle methods of undermining the foundations of free enterprise. One of these is the unnecessary and oppressive encroachment of Government upon the freedoms of industry and labor.
Just as industry opposes undue Government interference with the operation of its normal affairs, so does organized labor resent dangerous Government intervention in the free processes of the trade union movement. We believe, with you, that the sooner the activities of our Federal and State Governments can be returned to their normal and necessary sphere, the better for our American democracy. We can hasten this process by forming a united and collaborative front of industry and labor.
In the final analysis, however, the fate of free industry and free labor in post-war America rests largely with ourselves. It is up to us now to make plans for the future which will prevent the recurrence of economic collapse and popular unrest.
In this war, the challenge to free enterprise comes from the enemies of democracy who deny that it is efficient, adaptable to modern needs or deserving of preservation. We have answered that challenge with an endless stream of planes, ships, tanks and guns which are now crashing the proponents of slave industry, slave agriculture and slave labor.
Production is also the answer to the post-war challenge to free enterprise. We must find ways and means to produce the products of peace on a scale comparable to the present output of the weapons of war. We must be able to provide jobs for all those willing and able to work. We must be able to sell our merchandise.
Such a program presents grave problems, but I am confident that we in America have the courage, the imagination and the will to meet them. On the one hand, industry must not permit itself to be vanquished in advance by fear which creates panics. On the other, it must guard against greed which may result in overproduction and glutting available markets. An intelligent and orderly plan must be worked out—not in the future but right now—for the prompt reconversion of war industries to peace-time production and the gradual liquidation of Government investments in plant and equipment. At the same time, the limitless opportunities for new manufactured products should be surveyed and assigned to those industries best equipped to undertake the job. It is the solemn duty of industry in America to getready as soon as possible to assume its post-war responsibilities. I pledge you the fullest assistance and cooperation of the members of the American Federation of Labor.
The future security of private business and of American workers can best be assured by maximum production and maximum employment. No better form of social security is available to workers than steady jobs at decent wages. Nevertheless, it is essential that our nation provide a more adequate measure of social insurance for its citizens against post-war hazards of unemployment, disease and disability.
Now it may seem daring for me to come before you and seek to enlist the support of businessmen for a broader program of social security legislation. But I think businessmen, as well as all other Americans, have learned from the experiences of the past eight years that social insurance is an important and necessary bulwark to the American way of life.
The American Federation of Labor has just presented to the nation its new social security proposals which were introduced in Congress last week by Senators Wagner and Murray and Representative Dingell. This bill welds and unifies our now haphazard social security law into a single, cohesive system. Certainly, it extends greater benefits to workers. But it also makes it easier for employers, too, Under our bill, the employer will have to pay but one tax for social security and make only a single report to the Government. These innovations should be welcomed. It sets a six per cent payroll tax on employers, but that is no unbearable increase because even under the present law, the tax on employers would go up to six per cent by 1949. It does increase the tax on wages of workers to six per cent, which is double what they would have to pay by 1949 under existing law. We consider this just because of the tremendous new benefits, including health insurance, provided in the new program.
It is my firm conviction that enactment of this measure, coupled with broad expansion of peace-time production, will effectively banish the fear of want in America and make our nation a far better and healthier place to live in after the war is over.
The whole history of mankind has been a search for security. In normal times, the motive power for progress is slowed down. But in great crises, such as the world-wide war in which we are now engaged, the spirit of man cries out against the bloodshed, the suffering and the sacrifice which circumstances impose—circumstances he knows he can control. In times like these, industry and organized labor can justify their existence by giving impetus and direction to the blundering efforts of mankind to build a more secure future. Our opportunity is here. We must not fail.