The Austin-Wadsworth Bill


By WILLIAM GREEN, President, American Federation of Labor

Delivered Before the Senate Military Affairs Committee, Washington, D. C., February 16, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 324-326.

I AM here today to present the views of the American Federation of Labor on S.666 and H.R. 1742, introduced by Senator Austin and Representative Wadsworth a year ago and amended by them on Jan. 11, 1944.

This bill, designated as a National War Service Act, proposes that the manpower and worn an power of the nation be drafted by the Government for service in industry to aid the war effort.

I am conscious of the fact that the President of the United States and the leaders of our military forces have endorsed the principle of a National Service Act, although not necessarily the bill under consideration here. I am also aware that the powerful and organized supporters of a National Service Act have conducted an unrelenting campaign for a year or more to secure the enactment of such a measure.

The first contention of the proponents of this legislation is that it would help to solve manpower problems and to promote war production. I cannot conceive on what factual grounds that theory is based. A National Service Act would only substitute compulsion and regimentation for the free enterprise of American labor and American management. If we do this we will be conceding that we are wrong on the basic issues of this war and that the enemy if right. The Nazis and the Fascists believe in the totalitarian principle of slave labor and slave industry. That is their system. We in America have always believed that the free and voluntary service of our people is superior to coercion. Free enterprise is our system. As I said to you a year ago, enactment of this bill would constitute a catastrophic retreat and an inglorious confession of failure of the American way of life.

Have we failed? The record of this war to date proves incontestably otherwise. In the two short years since Pearl Harbor, America alone has outproduced the combined forces of the Axis by more than two to one. The facts speak for themselves. Between January 1942 and January 1944 America doubled the size of her Navy by building 3,700,000 displacement tons of new fighting ships. In the same period, we produced 27,000,000 tons of merchant shipping, equal to the size of the entire world's fleet before the war. We turned out 134,000 airplanes, despite temporary shortages of materials and constantly changing designs and specifications—and we are now building the finest and most effective planes in the world at the rate of almost 10,000 a month. We have produced 148,000 tanks, 1,200,000 military trucks, 424,000 pieces of artillery and more than a billion rounds of artillery ammunition.

These are the Government's own figures. They add up to a production miracle—a miracle which no other country in the world can duplicate, a miracle which was accomplished through the efforts of the great army of free American workers.

Surely his record cannot be classified as failure! On thecontrary, our own Allies have hailed it as the great triumph of this war. Premier Stalin, of Soviet Russia, is reported to have declared at the Teheran Conference that the United Nations would never have been able to turn the tide of battle and start the new and victorious offensives without the vast output of munitions made by American labor and American industry.

Nor is there any substantial indication that future production cannot be sustained at these high levels or even increased. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that our country is now producing more war material in many categories than the armed forces of all the United Nations can use. That is why we hear about cutbacks being ordered in the production of aluminum and steel and tanks and ammunition. That is why shipyards have been ordered to abandon Sunday work. True, we still are bending every effort to increase production of several vital items of war production, such as planes and landing craft and certain radio equipment. But, for the most part, the war production program already has passed its crest. During this year the war production program in general will probably begin to enter a declining stage—not because we can't make more but because the Government will not need so much. As this process develops, manpower surpluses will arise instead of shortages.

I would be the last to deny that difficult manpower and production problems still confront us in some localities and in certain lines of production. The question before us, however, is whether resort to compulsion and regimentation will help us out of these difficulties or render them even greater. This is a question which the nation's leaders in the field of industry, labor and agriculture are best qualified to answer. They gave their answer last November—a unanimous answer. They declared—(I quote)

"The American people will provide greater output under a voluntary system than under one of compulsion and regimentation.

"The solution depends upon leadership, coordinated and understood plans and efficient administration; not upon broadened control and regimentation."

These statements were contained in a declaration made public by the Policy Committee of the War Manpower Commission. The declaration was signed, among others, by the Presidents of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Grange, the National Farmers Union, the American Federation of Labor and the CIO. I repeat it was a unanimous statement; and it rejected the proposal for a National Service Act without qualification.

You will agree, I am sure, that it is a rare event for industry, labor and agriculture to agree on a specific policy and program which closely affects their supposedly conflicting interests and that such unanimous agreement should be given considerable weight.

It is also interesting to explore the basic cause of this agreement among the representatives of industry, labor and agriculture. It springs from their experience with the controls already put into effect oy the War Manpower Commission and other Government agencies. These experiences have not been happy. Instead of bringing about order, instead of simplifying procedures, instead of promoting efficiency, the record of Government intervention in this field spells only confusion, red tape, contradictory policy and frustration.

Because of such experiences, the leaders of industry, labor and agriculture fear and dread the impact of utter chaos if and when a National Service Law is enacted and the Government attempts to administer it.

I might add, upon my own responsibility, that organized labor has done more on its own account to solve manpower problems in war production than all the various bureaus and agencies of the Government combined. And we have done it without fuss and without any expense to the Government. Time after time, the War Department, the Navy Department and other agencies have called up our union headquarters and asked for so many thousand carpenters, or bricklayers or other skilled workers needed at the site of various projects at a definite time. And each time the unions, through their own recruitment facilities, have had the men ready on the job at the appointed hour.

The combined, "know-how" of American labor and industry also has contributed importantly to the solution of manpower problems. A typical example is furnished in the report made the other day (Feb. 10) by the West Coast Aircraft War Production Council, which revealed that the man-hours of labor necessary to build typical fighter and four-engine planes had been cut 95 per cent since the original models were made. These figures were disclosed in order to show that although aircraft plants on the West Coast are expected to build in 1944 50 per cent more airplanes, in terms of weight, than in 1943, it would be possible to do so with relatively small increases in manpower.

Now I should like to take up a new argument advanced in support of a National Service Act—which is, that it would help to prevent strikes. This argument also is theoretical and the theory behind it is demonstrably unsound. The only way a National Service Act could deal with strikes would be to place the strikers in jail, as this bill provides, for six months. But we already have a Federal law, known as the War Labor Disputes Act, which provides jail penalties for strikers. The War Labor Disputes Act has not prevented strikes. Neither would a National Service Act. We have only to examine the experiences of Great Britain for further confirmation. Britain has a National Service Law, adopted in the national emergency which followed Dunkirk. This law has not prevented strikes in Britain. On the contrary, the records show that there have been more strikes proportionately in Great Britain while the National Service Law was in effect there, than there have been in this country during the same period.

No one in America has been more outspoken in condemnation of wartime strikes than I have. Repeatedly I have urged the membership of the American Federation of Labor to five up to our no-strike pledge—and they have followed this advice to the extent of more than 99 per cent. There can be no possible justifications for strikes at a time when the fate of the nation and the lives of thousands of American boys hang in the balance.

But we must face the facts. Strikes have occurred and they will occur so long as the war economy of our country is out of line and out of balance. The major cause of strikes is that the Government is attempting to enforce wage stabilization while it has failed to stabilize the cost of living. The way to prevent strikes is to readjust the stabilization program so that the purchasing power of the wage dollar is restored. This can be done either through upward revision of wage rates or, even more effectively, by rigid reduction and control of prices of the necessities of life. Unfortunately, neither the Congress nor the Executive Branch of the Government have thus far seen fit to put such a program into effect.

The final argument raised in behalf of a National Service Act is that it would allocate the burden of war sacrifice more equitably among the American people. It is said that if the Government can conscript young men to serve in the armed forces and risk their lives against the enemy, it shouldlikewise draft those on the home front to work at the particular job and in the particular place the Government deems best calculated to promote the war effort.

This argument appears plausible at first glance, but careful analysis will show that it is empty, false and irrelevant. There can be no true comparison between drafting citizens to serve in the armed forces for the defense of their country and drafting other citizens to work by compulsion in industries operating for private profit. Neither can there be any nation-wide draft of labor without a correspondingly drastic draft of capital. Such measures are abhorent to the American way of life, fatal to the free enterprise system and clearly violative of the Constitution, because they involve involuntary servitude and confiscation.

Yes, a National Service Act would increase the burden of sacrifice borne by those serving on the home front, but it would do so without rhyme, reason or necessity. If such a law should be enacted and strictly enforced, it is appalling to consider the fearful consequences of placing such unrestricted power in bureaucratic hands. Millions of American families might be broken up, thousands of small business enterprises might have to be abandoned. Every American citizen would be thrown into a state of uncertainty and insecurity.

Apparently, the danger of such consequences has impressed itself upon the minds of the leading supporters of this legislation, for Senator Austin declared only recently before this committee that he did not believe everyone would have to be drafted by this National Service Bill. He said it would only give the Government the authority to draft workers when needed, just as Congress has given the Government authority to seize property under certain conditions.

If this statement of the purposes of this bill by one of its authors can be relied upon, then the argument of equal sacrifice topples of its own weight. If the great majority of American citizens will be left undisturbed in their present occupations by this bill, if idlers and dilettantes and nonproductive individuals are to be permitted to pursue their own sweet way, if only certain groups of workers are to feel the brunt of enforced labor—then the idea behind a National Service Act is fraudulent and the burden of war sacrifice will be even more unfairly distributed than it is at present.

Generally speaking, the workers of this country are making sacrifices for the winning of this war that are comparable to those of the average American citizen. In one respect, however, labor's burden of sacrifice is particularly heavy. The' Office of War Information reports that since Pearl Harbor industrial accidents have killed 36,600 workers, 7,500 more than the military dead. Such accidents on the job, furthermore, have permanently disabled 210,000 additional workers and temporarily disabled 4,500,000 others. These casualties are 60 times more than the military wounded and missing.

Yes, our soldiers and sailors and marines who are risking their lives against enemy fire are entitled to feel that Americans at home are backing them up to the limit.

But they are also entitled to the assurance that the free America they are fighting for will be kept intact by us at home, that their homes and jobs will be protected, that they will not have to come home and be demobilized after the war ends only to be drafted for service in a job not of their own choice.

In the final analysis, the proposal for a National Service Act must stand or fall upon this major test—will it, or will it not, promote the war effort and hasten the day of victory? In my considered opinion, enactment of a National Service Law will not add a single plane, a single ship, a single tank or a single bullet to the nation's war production. On the contrary, it threatens to cripple the amazingly successful production program we are now carrying on.

There are two outstanding issues involved in the present World War which must be definitely settled one way or another by its final outcome.

First, shall totalitarian or democratic government survive and function?

Second, is the slave labor system of totalitarianism superior to the free labor of our democracy?

I say to you that enactment of a National War Service Law would defeat our war aims because it constitutes an open confession that Hitler is right and we are wrong.

Why send our young men abroad to fight and die in a war against totalitarianism when it is foisted upon us here at home through the expedient of a National Service Act?

Labor wants this issue of slave labor versus free labor to be determined on its merits. We accepted the challenge on December 7, 1941, and we have given our answer to the enemy with the greatest outpouring of the munitions of war the world has ever seen.

Labor insists and demands that it be permitted to carry on its fight against enemy doctrines without being impeded and chained down by enemy methods.

Labor insists and demands that our final victory in this war be recognized and acknowledged as a victory for free labor and the death knell for slave labor throughout the world for all time.

Therefore, I earnestly call upon this committee and the Congress as a whole to defeat this dangerous measure.