The Industrial Civil War


By NICHOLAS MURRAY BUTLER, President, Columbia University, New York City

Delivered before the Pilgrims of the United States, New York City, January 26, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 334-335.

OUR Distinguished Guests and My Fellow Pilgrims: It is almost 325 years since the first of our Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. They and their fellow countrymen who came a few years earlier to Virginia were seeking in a new and unknown land to build those institutions of liberty and freedom which were their ambition and their goal. They were in search of freedom of life, of freedom of thought, of freedom of speech, of freedom of religion.

If you will look back over the history of Virginia and of New England and the history of the other states in the Union all the way to the Pacific Coast, you will see the record, the magnificent record, of what that effort has accomplished. It is recorded as one of the wonders of the world that such a nation as that of which they made the beginnings should have been developed and built as it has been.

That nation has suffered one political civil war. Fully 100 years ago, there began to be sharp differences of opinion as to matters of public policy which unhappily resulted in armed conflict. From Fort Sumter and Bull Run to Appomattox, there was a desperate war fought over political principles.

Fortunately, and happily, under the guidance and inspiration of Abraham Lincoln, that war was won by those who would hold a united nation together and build it up with increasing strength and power. When that war was won, the United States of America entered upon a new and powerful career of industrial and commercial and economic development and power, all of which is written in the history of the past two generations.

Unfortunately, and without the knowledge of the people —or most of them—we are now engaged in a second civil war. This time it is not political but industrial. It is civil war in our industrial system which, if permitted to continue to grow and to develop, may easily destroy or transform the fundamental principles of liberty on which The Pilgrim Fathers strove to build.

Our industrial and commercial system has become so huge, so interdependent, and so many sided that anything which happens in one part of it affects every other part of it. There is no way of separating the interests of those who at the moment are engaged in a particular industrial or commercial undertaking from the interests of the entire people, however apparently remote.

If there be interruption in the supply of fuel for the people of the United States or if there be interruption in their transportation system, every man, woman, and child in the United States is affected. Thereby such action might readily lead to the illness and death of thousands of men and women and children in distant parts of the land and far removed from the undertaking which brought the situation about.

That such a situation should exist is incredible. That it shall continue to exist is impossible unless we are ready to sacrifice by revolution at home the fundamental principles of civil liberty for which our armies are fighting in every part of the world.

What is possible in such a situation? Obviously, we must learn to understand it and we must deal with it with courage, with foresight, and with constructive ability. Many of us have been deceived as to the character of this industrial civil war because it has taken the form of an effort to increase the comfort and happiness of large classes of our population in whose welfare every one of us is interested.

Every American—no matter what may be his calling-must favor and advocate and assist in bringing to every other American opportunity to work at a compensation which is adequate to meet not only the necessities but the comforts of the life of himself and his family.

How shall this be done? In the industrial civil war which is growing up about us, this is being done by force. A strike is an act of war—war against the whole people of the United States and not merely against the individual or corporate employer.

The purpose for which a strike is undertaken may itself be commendable, but the strike is not the method by which to seek to achieve it. We must find ways and means to settle these problems as civilized men should settle all their problems—by conference, by discussion, by understanding, and, if necessary, by arbitral action. The industrial civil war should be brought to an end before it goes so far as to overthrow the fundamental principles of individual civil liberty and turn us over either to some form of State Socialism or even to Communism.

We must also remember that our fundamental doctrines of American individual freedom—again those doctrines which the Pilgrims of long ago had in mind to establish—give every man the right to work. We must not permit the right to work to be limited by membership in any particular organization.

We can not say that in order to get work a man must belong to a given political party, to a given church, to a given Masonic lodge, to a labor organization, or to any other organization which has no relation to an undertaking which is built upon liberty. If any one desires to join one or more, or all, of those organizations, that is his right, but under no circumstances, should he be compelled to do so. Such compulsion would be not only un-American, but anti-American.

Moreover, we have permitted organizations to accumulate huge sums of money—many millions, perhaps tens of millions of dollars—which are not publicly recorded, not publicly reported, not accounted for to the Government. That must be brought to an end.

What we all desire—every American desires—is a condition of industry which will permit every man an opportunity to secure an appropriate wage or salary, not appropriate in the narrow sense, not small, not mean, not closely calculated, but generous and such as will permit him and his family to live a truly American life.

We must remember that in considering wages many factors have to be taken into account. Fifty dollars a day is a very small wage if the cost of living is $49.50 a day; five dollars a day might be a large wage if the cost of living is $1.50 day. In other words, we have to consider the whole industrial and commercial situation. We have to insist upon American fundamental principles and not permittheir violation and attack under any form of pretense. That, my fellow Pilgrims, is the great question before the American people today.

We were told after Pearl Harbor, by leaders of the working classes that there would be no strikes during the continuance of the war. There have been hundreds of them and they have limited the production of our people in support of our troops in a way which is quite appalling and which is only understood by those military officials who are familiar both with the combat conditions and with the details of everything relating to the supplies which are sent to our Fighting Forces.

Why should we send troops to every part of the world to fight for the fundamental principles of American liberty and sit silently by and permit those principles to be undermined and broken down at home in the obvious external interest of individuals and groups?

Mind you, the object for which they are striving is a sound object. We want wages and salaries increased; we want to make wages satisfactory. We wish this freedom

from want and freedom from fear for everybody in the United States; but we wish to work it out, again I repeat, as civilized men work out all their problems—by discussion, by conference, by study, and, if necessary, by arbitral action.

What we need is a strong and vigorous public policy, a Congress which will stop talking and act and an administrative system which will deal with facts in accordance with fundamental principles and help instruct those who do not seem to understand what those principles are.

What we need, my fellow Pilgrims, just now is another Abraham Lincoln, by his personality, by his charm, and by his power to lead and to direct and to educate public opinion, to bring this industrial civil war to an end before its destruction shall have become too stupendous.

This is something for American public opinion to deal with. Why should not the Pilgrims with long years of history behind them take the lead in guiding, in forming and inspiring public opinion to substitute for this highly dangerous industrial civil war peace and good will and satisfaction among the whole American people?