Labor and Education
INDUSTRIAL STRIFE DUE TO WAGNER ACT
By MAURICE R. FRANKS, National Business Agent and Editor, Railroad Yard-masters of North America, Inc.
Delivered Before the Adsell Club, Omaha, Nebraska, January 17, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 345-349.
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 conversation I had with Mr. Larkin, which I will quote in part:
"Franks, I suggest that when you come before our group you speak straight from the shoulder. Our members are not enthusiastic over speakers who carry water on both shoulders. They are anxious to get at the truth, and have admiration for the men who do not hesitate in speaking forthrightly and saying what they think needs to be said, come hell or high water."
This statement of Mr. Larkin's is conclusive 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 your club 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 considered 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 Mr. Larkin's suggestion by being frank and calling a spade a spade. What I am about to tell you in this address is just about the same story I have been telling similar audiences throughout this nation. 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 shortsighted 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 of these 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 industrial 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 and prosperity 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 as well as 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, I am a unionist and believe in the true principles of unionism as taught to me by wise and genuine unionists; by men who would not place their country in jeopardy in time of war. 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.
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, but we all know that even in this day we do have some unjust employers.
Before the coming of unions, workers had no guaranty 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 is every case, there would be no real reason why workers shouldpay 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 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 16 hours a day for meager existence. The average working man of today working 8 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 50 years ago. Whether we realize it or not, conditions for the workers have been improving. Comparison as of 50 years ago is unbelievable, 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. This simple lesson of common sense has been taught to most business men through the school of hard knocks.
The graduates of this "school," the wise business executives, now realize that 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 2 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. I have said it many times and I will repeat it again—we are not living in the past, but in the present and for the future. The mistakes and abuses of the past must 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 a common understanding if we are to have harmony. We must realize that 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 cellmates. 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, then all labor leaders are racketeers. Records prove the majority of men responsible for industry are honest, 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 short-comings 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. As for instance, the National Labor Relatione Act came into being for the purpose of ridding industry of its crooks by setting up a code of ethics as a foundation toward this objective. Well, I don't know what Senator Wagner had in mind when he drafted this law. It seems to me that in place of prosecuting the crooks of industry this law plays a major role in persecuting the very people it was supposed to help. Personally, I believe had Senator Wagner had the right knowledge of the labor relations condition, his education would have produced a more beneficial school of thought in the way of a labor law.
I told you I was going to call a spade a spade. Well, here it goes again. 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 anyone happens to think I don't know what I am 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."
Paragraph (3) of section 8 specifically states that:
"Nothing in this Act or the National Industrial Recovery Act shall preclude an employer from making an agreement with a labor organization to require as a condition of employment membership therein, if such labor organization is the representative of the employees."
Now perhaps you have discovered the same flaw I have. That is: section 7 very definitely states that workers may join unions of their own choosing. Section 8, paragraph (1) backs up this right in no uncertain language by making it unlawful for employers to interfere with the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7. Section 8, paragraph (2) further guarantees paragraph (1) of section 8. But when you get into paragraph (3) of this same section 8, you run into a very clever legal sleeper which reads:
"Nothing in this Act shall preclude an employer from making an agreement with a labor organization to require as a condition of employment membership therein, if such labor organization is the representative of the employees."
In short, most of the rights guaranteed the workers under section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act have been very cleverly taken away from them in section 8. So it becomes apparent that workers do not have the right to collective bargaining by means of their own choosing, and are not enjoying the natural prerogatives of Americans; of being free and equal.
In other words, any law permitting a condition of dictatorship within a democracy is a law which should be repealed. The Wagner Act not only permits, but encourages, a dictatorial process of unionizing the American workman when it sets up a condition of the closed shop, which is a dictatorial system.
The United Nations are engaged in this war against the Axis powers to free the world from dictatorship; a vicious system of force compelling the masses to do the bidding of the masters.
The closed shop fight is also a war being waged by the opponents of this system who believe it to be a system of force in the hands of a few dictators of Labor, who are at times as ruthless as the axis dictators. There is little distinction between dictators, whether they be political or economic. Their system is to rule by force. Therefore, the closed shop controversy is vitally important to every American because it affects our democracy which, to be successful, must operate void of dictatorial tendencies.
The Founding Fathers of our country must have had premonitions of ideas such as the closed shop while drafting the Bill of Rights guaranteeing Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Certainly Life cannot be assured without the right to work, Liberty enjoyed while one is shackled, or the Pursuit of Happiness attained against the dictates of one's own conscience.
President Roosevelt, addressing the 77th Congress, January 6th, 1941, "hit the nail right on the head" when he said in part:
"The Four Freedoms of common humanity are as much elements of man's needs as air and sunlight, bread and salt. Deprive him of all these freedoms and he dies —deprive him of a part of them and a part of him withers. Give them to him in full and abundant measure and he will cross the threshold of a new age, the greatest age of man."
The Four Freedoms that our President refers to guarantee (1) Freedom of speech and expression. (2) Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way. (3) Freedom from want. (4) Freedom from fear.
The closed shop challenges three of the Four Freedoms. How can the worker have freedom of speech and expression if forced to join a labor union without expressing willingness to do so? How can he have freedom from want if he does accept the principles of the closed shop? Unless he subscribes, he is automatically deprived of earning a livelihood, and this brings immediate want. How can there be freedom from fear when mere is constant fear of losing the means of making a livelihood?
Organized labor itself has, in the past, knowingly or not fought the closed shop system practiced by employers in the recent past, but under a different guise. I refer to the so-called "open shop" which, in reality, was a closed shop. This system forced workers to sign contracts NOT to join unions for the right to work. This legalistic mockery became known as the "yellow dog" contract when a certain worker with intestinal fortitude was asked to sign such a contract. Upon examining same, he retorted, "I would not ask a yellow dog to sign such ft contract 1"
Samuel Gompers and many labor leaders of his time spent considerable effort in arousing public opinion against the "yellow dog" contract on the premise mat it was not only unfair but un-American to deprive workers of their right to earn a living because of union affiliation. Therefore, by this same token, it becomes unfair to deprive mem of a living for NOT joining a union.
The treatment meted out to workers by employers under the "yellow dog" contract stands out in history as repugnant. This system denied certain citizens their right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The closed shop of today will stand out in history as equally distasteful.
Call it what you may, closed shop or "union maintenance," this system, when carefully examined is the "yellow dog" contract in reverse, only now the leash is in the hands of labor leaders instead of employers.
It is understandable why some labor leaders favor the closed shop since it automatically eliminates the necessity of any great effort to attain their personal objectives. It places them in the position of a dictator. Their slightest whims must be satisfied or their wrath felt through dictatorial scipline such as depriving a worker of his right to earn a living if he does not wholly accede to their demands.
The closed shop is beneficial only to labor leaders. It places them in supreme authority—even more authority than employers. It eliminates the employer's natural prerogatives of employing competent and discharging incompetent, unworthy, or unneeded workers. It makes the union leader sole judge of who shall or shall not be employed, or shall or shall not be entitled to union membership. If a worker is not admitted or if he is expelled from a union, even through no fault of his own, he is deprived of earning a living.
Records disclose instances where workers, under a closed shop were deprived of employment for having courage to voice opinions contrary to their leaders. Jobs were lost through failure to pay tribute in the form of exorbitant initiation fees, dues, assessments, and many more unjust reasons. Yes, the closed shop is truly named. It is closed to every one not in the good graces of the "powers that be."
Unionism will never succeed until all entry barriers are torn down. Every worker, irrespective of his occupation must be allowed the benefits of unionism without encountering hardships. Unreasonable initiation fees, dues and assessments must be eliminated. Unionism is beyond the embryonic stage. There is no need for workers to pay exorbitant toll for the right to earn a living.
When unions operate respectfully and responsibly, there will be no dearth of good men and women willing to give their all to promulgate this worthy movement. Unions have a great "bill of goods" to sell to all workers; a bill of goods backed up by actual achievements and, since they have, should progress without resorting to force through the closed shop, "union maintenance," or any dictatorial process whatsoever.
Many people are asking the question: "Why are we having so much labor trouble?" This question is so far reaching that it would be impossible to tabulate all of the answers. Some people say, "Get rid of the labor racketeers and we will have no more labor trouble." Others say, "Enact labor legislation to outlaw strikes and everything will run smoothly in industry." Yes, I could take up a lot of your time quoting the "cure-alls" and yet there is but one practical solution.
Naturally, if we find a means of eliminating the racketeer from labor leadership, we will have greatly curtailed the hazard of labor trouble because he has played no small part in promoting disharmony between employers and their employees. In many cases, his activities have been for no other purpose than to enhance his personal ambitions, thereby discrediting the honorable leaders of Labor.
The activities of the racketeer are so shameful that they naturally make headline news, creating the Impression thatthe racketeer class is in the majority, when in reality labor leadership, by and large, is honorable.
Unpopular labor legislation aimed at destroying the natural rights of workers will never be the means of creating harmonious relations between employers and their employees. To alleviate, to any great extent, the causes of labor disputes, we naturally must get to the source of the trouble. My observation leads me to believe that much of our industrial trouble comes from the head and not from the heart of labor leaders. Their lack of understanding, ignorance of labor relations procedure, and inadequate knowledge of business, plays a major role in the promotion of labor troubles. A worker with no other experience than that of a worker, is made an official of a labor union overnight by mere process of vote or appointment. This change from worker to union official is generally so rapid that the only difference in the individual is his title. In other words, a business agent who has no knowledge of business or labor relations procedure is, to my way of thinking, a hazard. Further, this type of leader creates the impression that all labor leaders, and particularly business agents, are persons to be shunned by decent society. When we carefully examine the situation, it becomes apparent that labor leaders, whether they be business agents or whatnot, are important individuals—important because through their influence, right or wrong, they greatly affect industry. They can, and in many cases do, on the snap of their fingers close down industries. Lack of knowledge prompts them to become real officious instead of real officials. Therefore, it is imperative that something must be done about this disparaging condition.
With all of our philanthropic foundations in this country, with millions of dollars available for the uplifting of mankind, it seems a pity to me that nothing of importance is being done to enable labor leaders to avail themselves of the proper knowledge covering industrial relations. These foundations would do well to establish a course of labor economics covering all phases of unionism and industrialism; a course founded on equity and justice to both sides of industry. This course should become part of the curriculum of every university in the United States.
When this course would be established and accepted by labor organizations, the industrialists and the general public, then every accredited labor leader would be encouraged to avail himself of this knowledge. It would not necessarily require him to spend three or four years in study. The main rudiments necessary for intelligent operation could very well be boiled down to a simple course requiring not more than three months' time. The benefits derived from such a course would naturally be reflected on the rank and file of Labor.
Unionism in the United States is accepted as part of our American Way of Life and is here to stay, providing that it operates in accordance with our American Way of Life. Therefore, labor leaders will be here as long as we have unions. This being the case, labor leaders must command the respect of their fellow citizens whether they be their constituents, the employers or the general public. A course in labor economics would be a forward step in elevating the labor leader, since he would automatically become respected for his knowledge of this important profession.
The teachers of this course would be very carefully selected. They would be persons known to be void of radical tendencies and socialistic ideologies. They would be selected for their knowledge of labor economics and business acumen.
Yes, I would go a step further, I would make the same course available to all directors of labor relations, and to all college professors teaching economics. The students during their course would learn two important lessons:
1. There are just one hundred cents in every dollar.
2. Production and profit go hand in hand with welltreated workers.
When, and only when, such a course is available throughout this nation will we be able to solve our main labor problems, because education is the best solution.
I thank you.