Hostages for the Guilty


By WILLIAM GREEN, President, American Federation of Labor

Delivered before Quadrennial Convention, International Longshoremen's Association, New York City, July 12, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 717-720.

PRESIDENT RYAN, representatives of the Brotherhood of Teamsters, New York State Federation of Labor, the City Central Body, Distinguished Guests, and Officers and Members of the International Longshoremen's Association:

I came from Washington to pay you a visit this morning and I want you to accept my presence here as evidence of my deep interest in the International Longshoremen's Association, my admiration for its officers and my deep interest in the promotion of the economic welfare of your membership.

It has been my good fortune to be permitted to attend previous conventions of the International Longshoremen's Association. I have always been inspired by my visit with you. Your organization is a fighting organization, a united movement, and one that has followed the inspiring leadership of President Ryan faithfully and devotedly, and I attribute much of your success to the fact that you have followed his leadership along with the leadership of his associates. As a result of it, your organization is permanently established upon the American continent.

We do not recognize the right of any organization under the sun to invade your jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the International Longshoremen in the United States of America belongs to this splendid organization represented at this meeting today. And so far as I am concerned, I will never be satisfied and I hope I live long enough to see the International Longshoremen wipe out the dual movement and establish your union throughout the United States of America. I can't help believe but that that will ultimately come.

There are many reasons why I think it will come. I believe that the rank and file of the longshoremen will feel themselves that their economic interest will be promoted through unity and solidarity rather than through division and discord, and when that idea becomes fixed and established in the hearts and minds of these people who serve as longshoremen they themselves will see to it that unity and solidarity and cooperation and concord prevails throughout the jurisdiction of the International Longshoremen.

I want to add to what I have said just now that so far as our great movement is concerned, so far as the American Federation of Labor is concerned, please rely upon our great movement to cooperate with President Ryan and all his associates and the membership of your splendid union, andyou and all in such steps as you may take either now or next year or the following year, whenever it is, to establish the jurisdiction of the International Longshoremen's Union throughout the United States of America.

It is but natural as we pass from a peace-time to a wartime economy that we would encounter most difficult problems. The change is so decided, the difference is so pronounced there is no comparison between a peace-time and a war-time economy. You have noticed it, you have come in close contact, you see it in all your lines of activity, and so it is with our great organized labor movement.

Suddenly, following the dastardly attack made upon us at Pearl Harbor, we were compelled to begin as it were, just begin to plan and formulate a new policy, the policy designed to meet the new situation that had been created, and as we look over the record I think we can with perfect propriety say that we have done wonderful things since Pearl Harbor. The facts, the records show that labor has made its distinct contribution to the war effort and has cooperated fully with the government in every respect in the prosecution of the war.

Naturally the war itself overshadowed all other things. The nation has compelled all classes of people to subordinate all hopes and aspirations, all plans in order to win the war. That was the overshadowing question, the winning of this war, and that is the question now, and so far as labor is concerned it is its firm determination and purpose to contribute fully and unreservedly and without interruption to the winning of this war. That is the position of labor.

Do you recall that when the attack was made at Pearl Harbor that we only had a few planes? Do you recall that we had scarcely any tanks, guns, ammunition, none of the things that were needed in quantities in order to enter such a great conflict? And yet during this period free labor in America and the United States has gone forward producing planes as never before, producing tanks and guns and ships as never before until today we have gained superiority in the air, we have gained superiority in munitions and arms, we are better equipped than the Axis now and we have reached the point where there is no question in the minds of any thinking persons as to what will be the outcome of the conflict. I know you were cheered as I was cheered, you were happy when you read in the newspaper reports this last day or two of the invasion of Italy. I think it means the end of Mussolini and his gang in Italy, because I am sure thatwithin a short time our strong forces so well-equipped, with superiority in the air, are going to subdue that country and that will lessen the conflict to some extent at least.

We realized that labor must play a tremendous part in the winning of this war and so when the President of the United States called us into a conference for the purpose of discussing ways and means through which labor could more effectively contribute toward the prosecution of the war, we gladly responded to his suggestion that we follow a "no strike" policy for the duration. That was in keeping with the change that had taken place from the peace-time economy to the war-time economy.

We have religiously and faithfully kept that pledge. We told the President of the United States that we were willing to voluntarily relinquish the exercise of the right to strike, that in response to his request we would do so. The strike weapon was after all the only instrumentality that labor could use effectively with hostile employers in order to win a fair settlement of grievances and differences. It was a method of last resort. Labor knows that it could never succeed unless it could exercise the right to strike, and that is the difference between America and Germany. We exercise the right to strike in America, but Germany is a strikeless nation. We are free and German labor is slave labor, and if there is any one thing, any one weapon, any one instrumentality that labor clings to more tenaciously than another it is the right to strike against injustice and wrong.

But even though we were called upon, as it were, to make a great sacrifice, to lay the strike method aside, to put it on the table as it were for the duration, even though it called for that sacrifice we agreed with the President of the United States we would do so.

And so as the result of it the President set up the War Labor Board for the purpose of settling differences and grievances by that agency of the government rather than resort to the right to strike.

Now there is a point in that that I want to emphasize. Labor would willingly relinquish and voluntarily relinquish the right to strike, do it willingly for the government for the duration of the war, but it would oppose and will oppose with all the power at its command any attempt to compel labor to give up the right to strike!

There is a difference, a great difference between the two. The one is voluntary and the other is force. The one is taking from you, the one is temporarily relinquishing the right to exercise the right to strike, and the other is to take it away from you by law, and that so far as labor in America is concerned we will never yield, never surrender, never acquiesce in the acceptance of any legislation of any kind whatsoever that interferes even to the slightest degree with the exercise of the right to strike!

Now we have endeavored to religiously keep that pledge and the President stated in his veto message to Congress when he notified Congress that he was vetoing the notorious anti-labor Connally-Smith Bill that labor had kept the faith.

This was the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, the party leader in control of Congress, telling the country and telling Congress that labor had kept the faith. Ninety-nine per cent, I think, were the figures he included in his veto message. Wasn't that a wonderful record? And that is no claim by me. It is no claim by my friend, Joe Ryan or some representative of labor, but it is a solid, truthful declaration made by the President of the United States based upon facts assembled during this war period.

I maintain that when we take into account the great service mat the workers of the country have rendered as soldiers of production, the way they have produced the airplanes, the ships, the guns, the tanks, all the war material needed in agreat conflict such as is raging throughout the world, we have made a wonderful record and we know that if the soldiers in the field are to win this conflict labor back home must remain at work continuously and must put into their work every ounce of energy, strength and skill that they possess in order to keep our army fighting in the field.

Now as I say, we have utilized the machinery set up as a result of the agreement entered into, the no-strike pledge that was made, and as a result of it thousands and thousands of grievances have been routed through the War Labor Board for settlement and for adjustment.

I am of the opinion that the War Labor Board has rendered a distinct service to labor and to the government. There have been decisions, of course, that we have seriously questioned. Those decisions did not seem to square with facts or with the evidence submitted, but as good men having pledged our word and our sacred honor, we have accepted them and have continued to fight for a rehearing or for a readjustment, and in many cases through our continuation of the fight we have brought about readjustments.

Now there is no labor representative in America who can justify his action in refusing during this war period to recognize these agencies of the government set up for the purpose of adjusting differences. These are war days, they are not peace time. Why the very principle of free government is involved! If we would lose, labor would lose more than any others. If they would succeed in imposing upon the United Nations the political and economic philosophy advocated by the Axis powers labor in America would be as much slave labor as it is in Germany and in Italy.

Now we have so much at stake that there is no justification for anyone to take a position that they will refuse or refrain from recognizing these governmental agencies set up for the adjustment of disputes! The loyalty and devotion of men are determined by the way in which they stand up with their government during a war period. It costs something, you can't do it easily, you must contribute some and there is some cost, but so far as I am concerned I have taken this position—and I am proud that the representatives of the American Federation of Labor without exception have taken the same position—that come what may and come what will, we will stand with the government and go along with these government agencies until the Axis powers are clearly defeated!

Now we regret still the division that was created within the ranks of labor. It was unfortunate, it never should have occurred. The American Federation of Labor was not responsible for it. We have stood steadfastly where we always stood, for one labor movement in America, one family of labor where the workers would be united as a family in the House of Labor, and ever since the division occurred and a number of them left us and formed their dual movement, I have stood at the front door, as it were, figuratively speaking of the House of Labor, pleading for those who left to come back home.

Well, we have stayed there, we still live in that house. It is ours, the House of Labor, and you men occupy your quarters in that House of Labor and we are proud of you.

Now some of them have come back and we welcomed them and they are happy with us. And of course there are movements on now among others. They feel that they made a mistake and they ought to come back, they should come back.

Well, it is the policy of the American Federation of Labor to welcome those back home who are willing to come, because we want to establish here in the United States of America and on the American continent a united labor movement. We have been negotiating with the C.I.O. through regular committees. We believe that our political interest can be promoted best through organic unity. To merely unite for one purpose means that we are dealing with the whole question of labor solidarity in a merely superficial way. We insist that if we are to unite on the political field separately or on the economic field, then we must first unite solidly and establish organic unity, and it is that thought we are sounding in the negotiations with the C.I.O.

I am not in a position to say what will come or what will not come, what will happen or what will not happen, but so far as the American Federation of Labor is concerned, we shall invite all who left us to return. We will appeal to them to come home and when they turn their faces home we will be ready to meet them and accept them as a part of our great labor movement.

It occurred to me that I should say those things to you now, but there is one thing that I want you to know and to understand, and that is that the American Federation of Labor is never going over to anybody. The American Federation of Labor will take those back into the American Federation of Labor who will come, but we will never go any where, for the American Federation of Labor is the parent body in the United States of America.

It is most interesting reading for us to go back into the old records and there read the records which show how the pioneers in our movement met and established the American Federation of Labor. They first laid the foundation and then erected upon that foundation a super-structure. Into our hands and into our keeping they submitted this great structure, this great movement. We have kept the faith. We are not going to see it destroyed or weakened. The American Federation of Labor is the American labor movement!

Now just one more word. I do not understand why in the face of all the splendid record labor has made in the turning out of ships, tanks and guns and ammunition, all the things needed for the war, and how all those employed on the transportation lines of the country, the teamsters and the railroad workers have transported all of this material, the longshoremen, the seamen and all such workers have transported all this material to the point where it is needed, it is difficult to understand why those who have always been our enemies in Congress and in the State Legislatures would become so active as to support insulting anti-labor legislation.

Why should the millions of workers in America who have served so faithfully be penalized and punished through the enactment of anti-labor legislation such as the Connally-Smith Bill and these different measures, reprehensible measures in the States of Texas and of Kansas and of Colorado and other states throughout the country? I can't understand it. I can't understand the spirit that is back of it but the record shows that in those states they have passed some of the worst legislation of which the human mind can conceive.

In the State of Colorado the law provides that every local union in that state must become incorporated and as an incorporated body it is subject to all damage claims which anybody may file against it because of some alleged grievance.

We are now trying to have these laws set aside because we believe they are unconstitutional. We are making a drive in the courts to have these laws declared invalid and unconstitutional. We know, at least we believe that we will succeed in many instances.

Now the Connally-Smith Bill was passed by the Congress of the United States. We did all that was humanly possible to prevent Congress from taking the step, but the members of Congress apparently were influenced by anger, feeling, and those are very unsafe emotions to govern one when they enact such important reprehensible legislation.

Well, after Congress had passed the bill the President of the United States vetoed it and he gave very strong, convincing reasons in support of his action. If you haven't read his veto message I ask you to get a copy of it and read it. It is most illuminating and instructive. It tells the story of labor as none of us could tell it.

And what happened? When his veto message went to Congress those who ought to have stood by the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, and if not behind the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, then behind the party leader, deserted him. Just imagine, if you will, the leader of the Democratic party, who was serving temporarily at least in the Senate of the United States, deserting his party leader and voting to set his veto aside, and that is just what Senator Hill of Alabama did.

I have gone over the list and I have been amazed and surprised. It was not a question of the Connally-Smith Bill. That was over. The bill was passed. It was a question of whether a party would stand by its party leader, and the tragic feature of it all is that those who claim to be loyal to their party deserted their leader and they wrote a page of shame for the party that is in control of the government of the United States.

Now my friends, we have been deeply stirred because of the passage of this notorious piece of legislation. Our experts have been studying it ever since it was passed, ever since it became a law and we are not sure yet as to what it means. We haven't yet clarified the situation sufficiently to know just what the measure provides for. I presume in due course of time we will find out, but my friends, we are determined upon one thing, that so far as we can, so far as it is possible, so far as we can mobilize our economic power, our political power, so far as we are able to bring our friends with us, we are going to oppose every member of Congress for reelection in the United States Senate and in the House of Representatives who voted for the Connally-Smith Bill!

That is already decided upon as a part of the political policy of the American Federation of Labor, and we know, we are satisfied that a great number of them are going to stay at home. We may not succeed 100 per cent, but we are going to see to it that a large number of them never come back to the Congress of the United States.

Why that was most reprehensible, the enactment of that bill into law, punishing men who give their lives day in and day out and their service, their skill, working on holidays and Sundays, hours without number in order to support this government!

Why the records made in the production of ships are unequalled in the history of the world and yet we are to be the victims of such reprehensible legislation!

I say to you, my friends, that we can never be reconciled to such legislation. We can never acquiesce in it. Over in the conquered countries Hitler pursues a policy of when he can't find the guilty person who attacked a German soldier who insulted him perhaps or who struck him in the face or something of that kind, if he can't find the guilty person he goes out and finds some hostages and takes them out against the wall and shoots them down. To us that is shocking, that is the punishment of the innocent because of some wrong committed by some other person.

The same principle applies in the enactment of this legislation, six million members of the American Federation of Labor penalized, insulted by the Congress of the United States through the enactment of such legislation!

Well, I am glad of this opportunity to tell you about these things and of the policy that we are going to pursue, and I want to drop this hint, more than a hint, to the splendid men who make up this delegation, that you be ready for the fightin 1944. When you go back home begin to organize right away, will you? Get ready, because we want to show them that after all labor does not forget and the Congressmen in your respective districts let them understand that they are going to be defeated if it lies within your power to defeat them, and the American Federation of Labor will stand right up with you in support of that policy! Now President Ryan, I am through. I want, in conclusion, to express my deep admiration for the International Longshoremen's organization. This organization practices in a wonderful way what the American Federation of Labor preaches. Our great movement is founded upon this sacred principle, that there shall be no discrimination against workers who labor and serve because of race, creed, color or nationality. That is a basic principle with the American Federation of Labor.

Now of course there are some who don't seem to have reached the point where they would accept that and apply it religiously and we are fighting with them because they are wrong and we are right, and we will keep on fighting until they see the error of their ways, but you have solved that problem, because it matters not whether a worker is black or white, if he is a worker you will take him into your unionand he becomes a part of your union and you protect him in his work. And I am proud of that!

I point to this organization frequently when we are criticized as evidence of the application of the great principle that we have stood for, that there shall be no discrimination against workers because of creed, color or nationality.

Then I want to tell you of the great admiration I have for President Ryan, Walter Holt and all those associated with him in his work. I have found them so cooperative with me. They have done wonderful things and are doing wonderful things, and I want them to know that the American Federation of Labor will stand with them, by them and all around them, cooperating with them to the fullest extent of our ability.

Now I am happy to be here. It has been a pleasure to come and talk to you. I wish for you a full measure of success and hope that you will hold a perfect convention and that you will go out from here more thoroughly united than ever before in all your history. I shall go back to Washington and to my work there carrying with me the fondest memory of a delightful visit with you this morning. Thank you.