Victory, Peace and Jobs


By GEORGE MEANY, Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Labor

Delivered at an international Labor Day celebration at Toronto, Ont., Can., September 4, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 725-728.

I AM happy indeed to be here in Canada, and in the city of Toronto, on this historic Labor Day of 1944—the last Labor Day, I am confident, of the war against Hitler Germany. It is always a pleasure to be among the. trade unionists of Toronto. You are people who are and have long been outstanding for your devotion to the principles and ideals of the organized labor movement. Your District Labor Council is the oldest continuous association of trade unions in Canada. Indeed, having been in existence for a period of 72 years, it is older than the American Federation of Labor itself.

Not only are you trade unionists of Toronto known as enthusiastic and loyal adherents of the philosophy of progress through organization, but you are also noted as intelligent and intensely patriotic citizens of the Dominion of Canada. The record which you—and your fellow trade unionists in all the provinces—have made in the five long years during which your country has been at war will stand out as one of the brightest pages when the history of this global conflict is finally written. May I say to you that we of the American Federation of Labor are proud—very proud indeed—that we can count you among the affiliates of our organization?

On this Labor Day there are just three things that we of labor here in North America are profoundly interested in.

First, we want to see this war against the enemies of mankind brought to a victorious conclusion. Second, we want action taken that will prevent the outbreak of another world war twenty or twenty-five years hence. Third, we are determined that there shall be jobs after victory for all who want them and need them, and that there shall never again be the disgraceful spectacle of mass unemployment in our two countries—countries so bountifully provided with all that is needed for prosperity and a happy and full life.

Let us consider first the attainment of victory over the aggressors who thought they could conquer and enslave the world, who told themselves that the democracies were weak, soft, lazy and disunited.

This victory, which is our primary objective, as it has been for a period of years, is closer today than ever before. On Labor Day one year ago our forces had driven the enemy from North Africa, but bad not as yet set foot on the Italian peninsula. Hitler and his armies were still in possession of vast expanses of Russian territory. France was still completely under the Nasi heel.

How different the picture is today!

By far the greater part of Italy has been wrested from the German's grasp. Rumania and Bulgaria have deserted Hitler's sinking ship. Our Russian ally, in a sustained drive of almost incredible power, has sent the invader reeling back toward the Reich. And in France the armies of the United Nations under the command of General Eisenhower—the dogged, gallant, indomitable fighting men of Canada; the young men from the factories, offices, farms and colleges of your good neighbor, the United States,* the superb fighting men of Great Britain, and the soldiers representing the other United Nations—are showing Mr. Hitler what the "weak democracies" can do when the need arises.

And what our boys at the front have shown Hitler to date, impressive as it has been, is as nothing compared to what they will be showing him, to his very great sorrow and dismay, we may be sure, in the fateful weeks which lie just ahead.

Our military progress during the past year has been made possible, in the main, by just two things. First, by the courage, stamina and outstanding fighting skill of our sons and brothers who engage the enemy in battle on every front. Secondly, by the magnificent manner in which the soldiers of production here at home—and I mean Canada and the United States alike—have backed up our boys.

When we consider the feats of our fighting men at sea, in the air and in today's warfare on the soil of Italy and France, it is well not to forget, as newspaper writers and radio commentators invariably do, that there are now considerably more than a million and one-half members of American Federation of Labor in the armed forces of our two countries.

From time to time we are told that soldiers are angry at labor, that there is a wide gulf between fighting men and the workers on the home front. Such talk is largely the product of the enemies of labor. The simple fact is that the plain people, which is just another way of saying the working people, are doing the fighting in this war. Carpenters, truck drivers, machinists, plumbers, clothing workers, clerks, laborers—these are the people who will be found to be very, very numerous in the armies of the Dominion of Canada and the United States.

The men and women in the aircraft plants, the shipyards and all the factories producing war materials throughout Canada and the United States have performed miracles of production without which the march toward victory by the United Nations would not have been possible. I am sure that you in this gathering, and your brother trade unionists in other parts of the Dominion, are quite familiar with thestory of how you have doubled, trebled and quadrupled production of the essentials of war since September of 1939. Probably you are not quite so familiar with the details of war production south of the border. I do not wish to weary you with a long string of statistics, but I should like to quote just a few figures on United States production. And may I say that these figures are most authoritative; they come from a United States Army news-map sent to American armed forces overseas in the month of June. Here are the figures:

From January 1, 1942, to January 1, 1944, the United States produced 424,000 pieces of artillery. That is, 580 large-caliber guns a day.

In two years ending December 31, 1943, the United States turned out 1,160,000,000 rounds of ammunition 1 for those big guns.

In 1943 the United States produced 19,000,000 tons of merchant shipping. This figure is 17 times that of 1941. In a single month during 1943 the United States turned out as much warship tonnage as in 18 months prior to Pearl Harbor.

United States production of planes in one month (about 9,000) is almost equal to the first-line strength of Germany and Japan combined. A thousand planes are now produced each month by the same number of workers needed to produce 100 planes in 1940.

In 1942 and 1943 the United States produced 1,200,000 military vehicles and 148,000 tanks and other combat vehicles. Or one new truck every minute for the two-year period.

This record of war production in the United States and the equally brilliant record of war production made by the skilled, patriotic, hard-working production soldiers, men and women alike, here in Canada speak for themselves. The American Federation of Labor is tremendously proud of the unbelievable feats performed by its members in our two countries during the years of war. They have turned out the articles needed for the defeat of the enemy at a faster rate than attained ever before. They have adhered faithfully to the no-strike pledge despite frequent injustices inflicted now by the employer, now by some agency of government itself.

So far as our first objective, victory, is concerned, we are justified in saying that we are well on our way to that destination. And we are well on our way, in a very large measure, because of the fact that we, the workers of North America, have carried out the greatest production program in the history of the world. All workers have had their part in this feat of production, but the chief part has been played by the members of organized labor.

With victory over the brutal Axis war-markers now only a matter of time, it behooves us to give thought to ways and means of making sure that no nation or dictator can again plunge the world into such a conflagration as we have known since September, 1939. I do not think there is a sane person anywhere on our continent who does not want this to be the last of die world wars. Yet, unless we go beyond the stage of merely hoping, of merely looking to our governmental representatives to work out some kind of peaceful world order for us while we concern ourselves with other matters, there is not much reason for us to expect the coming peace to be an enduring one.

The American Federation of Labor has realized from the outset that the organized workers of North America not only had a paramount stake in the durability of the peace but also that they had a heavy responsibility to make a genuine and constructive contribution to the achievement of a lasting peace. The leaders of our movement recognized from the very beginning of this struggle that, just as victory is our primary war objective, so must the establishment of an enduring peace be our No. 1 postwar objective.

It is the position of the American Federation of Labor that if we, as peace-loving nations, wish to be saved from future wars, we must join wholeheartedly with other like-minded nations to prevent any covetous nation from resorting to war. We believe that cooperation, which has served us so effectively in coping with the aggressors during this war, must be our reliance in taking care of any future would be aggressor the moment he lifts his head.

Up to now there has never been a world organization that was able to prevent war. We had the League of Nations, set up after the First World War. In 1919 the peoples of the world yearned, as they do today, for an instrument that would insure peace. They were given the League of Nations. There were high hopes for the League, and I may say in this connection that the American Federation of Labor, in its 1919 convention, declared its approval of the j covenant of the League and of the Treaty of Versailles, and urged the United States Senate to ratify the treaty so that the United States might enter the League.

We know now, with the wisdom of experience, that the League of Nations was not the answer. It was not the answer because it lacked sufficient strength to enforce its decisions. The League did not prevent the Japs from seizing Manchuria. It did not prevent Mussolini from making war on Ethiopia. It did not prevent Hitler from making the various aggressive moves that preceded the actual outbreak of hostilities five years ago.

The solution may not be simple, but the problem is. The problem is to provide the force with which to carry out the decision to have peace endure after the Axis has been defeated. In our communities we do not expect our local governments to maintain law and order without giving them the necessary force to impose the desires of the law-abiding majority upon the handful of criminals. In our shrunken world, we cannot expect an international organization without teeth to be able to maintain international law and order. No, the answer to the problem is to have an international organization, made up not only of the major powers but of all the peace-loving countries of the world, and to arm this agency with police powers which it will not hesitate to use promptly and effectively against those who respect no law except the law of force.

Of course, all that we propose for the prevention of future war would be entirely superfluous if the same spirit of warm friendship which exists between our two countries also prevailed throughout the world. Here in North America we have lived in peace and mutual respect for some 130 years. And perhaps it is not amiss to say that the similarity of ideals cherished by the workers of Canada and those of the United States, which has enabled them to belong to the same unions, has had an important part in fostering the friendship and understanding that have made our countries die foremost good neighbors on the face of the earth.

But we must remember that our relations are unique. The people of Canada and the people of the United States have attained true brotherhood, mutual confidence and respect Our friendship is stronger than bands of steel. But, unfortunately, in other parts of the world such a state has not even been approached. In other parts of the world there are nations that have no respect for their neighbors—nations who aspire to dominate, defile and enslave their neighbors. Until now the decent people of the earth have permitted these aggressor nations to call the tunc, to launch wars whenever it pleased them to do so. We have had the proof of two world wars in a generation to dissipate any foolish ideasthat such gangster nations could not exist in the twentieth century.

Yes, we here in North America must continue to set the world an example of civilized, friendly relations between peoples and nations, but at the same time we must do our part to make all our people realize that laissez-faire is as antiquated and ineffectual in the field of maintenance of peace throughout the world as it is in the economic realm. The American Federation of Labor has officially gone on record in support of international cooperation to render impossible a third world war. Now, with victory in sight, it becomes our duty—the duty of every working man and woman—to make our voices and desires heard by our governments, so that they will know what we want and waste no time providing it.

Unless we manifest the intelligence and the willingness to cope with this problem, it will be only a question of time before the world has visited upon it a catastrophe so great as to make this present war look like a Sunday School picnic. In a third world war, should we. prove so foolish as to allow a third war to occur, we may rest assured that scientific discoveries and developments with respect to engines of death and destruction would make targets of our cities, notwithstanding our separation from Europe by the width of an ocean.

To keep faith with the men who have died and with those who will fall before the victory is won, to see to it that democracy, decency and justice, for which man has struggled over the centuries, are not wiped from the earth, we must—we have no alternative—make sure that the peace, this time, is a lasting one.

This brings us to our third outstanding objective, and that is the attainment of full employment, in the days and years after the war.

The position of the American Federation of Labor on this subject is that jobs must be provided for everybody who wants and is able to fill a job. For the men who will be returning from service as defenders of the free way of life. For the men and women who have been working in the war plants, manufacturing the things with which the servicemen fought, and who will be released from these jobs when peace comes.

We of the American Federation of Labor believe in and uphold our economic system against rival systems, but we do not accept the theory that under our economic system recurring periods of mass unemployment and mass misery are unavoidable. We know that this has happened in the past. But that is no reason why it should happen in the future. It will not happen if we determine not to permit it to happen. It will not happen if we of labor make clear—perfectly clear—that while we realize there must be some dislocation while the change-over is being made from wartime to peacetime production, we will simply not tolerate any recurrence of prolonged mass unemployment.

Yes, we are friends and defenders of free enterprise—of real free enterprise. And we intend to continue to be advocates of free enterprise. But the employers of our two nations must do their bit, so that the benefits which we know free enterprise can give the average wage-earner are actually made available to him. All too often in the past, unfortunately, have the benefits of free enterprise accrued exclusively, or almost exclusively, to the employer. During the Great Depression of the decade which preceded the outbreak of war, our free enterprise system was of very slight comfort to those who, through no fault of their own, were jobless and hungry.

There is one thing that this war has made obvious to all of us, and thai is that there is no sound reason for suffering and misery in days of peace, that there is no sound reason whatsoever for mass unemployment here on this North American continent, that there is no sound reason for want.

For during these years of war we have seen that we can turn the wheels of our industrial machine at top speed, and, in so doing, make jobs for all. This we have done for purposes of war. This we must also do, when victory has been achieved, for the constructive purposes of peace.

The question is: Can we do it?

Yes, we can do it. But there is only one way we can do it, and we're not doing it now.

The way to provide a job for every returning serviceman and a job for every worker is to put ample purchasing power in the hands of the people. For unless they have the money, they cannot buy the articles which they want and need. And when they cannot buy, the factories stop producing—and workers find themselves on the street, looking for new jobs which are not to be found.

We cannot have prosperity unless industry can find profitable markets for the peacetime goods it can produce. Those markets, if they are to be found anywhere, must be found, primarily, right here at home, in North America. Here are the people with the highest standards of living in the world. Here are the people, more than those of any other countries, who want the automobiles, the radios, the refrigerators, the modern homes, the washing machines and all the other items for the production of which industry in Canada and the United States was geared before the war and will be only too happy to gear themselves again, once the enemy has been beaten.

The war has brought about a tremendous expansion in the industrial plant of both our countries. At the same time, we have greatly increased our efficiency in production. The result will be, in the postwar era, that both in Canada and the United States we will be able to produce more goods than ever before in history.

But unless we act now to give peacetime jobs to all—peacetime jobs that pay enough to enable the worker to buy the things that can be produced—we shall be in for another depression. And since it will be possible to produce more with fewer workers than ever before, it seems inevitable that such a depression, if we permit it to occur at all, will be much worse than the one before the war.

We must bear in mind, in connection with this problem of providing the adequate purchasing power needed to keep our consumer goods industries going and thereby provide full employment, that when the war ends there will also be an end to the overtime that has in many cases enabled workers to keep going on hourly wage rates which are too low. When the present long hourly work week is reduced—and it is obvious that it must be reduced when the war ends—consumer purchasing power will slump badly.

Hourly wage rates must be readjusted upward prior to any reduction in the work week if we are to have the consumer purchasing power needed to maintain full employment.

If we are merely to reduce the work week in order to spread the work and allow the income of the individual wage-earner to decline, the workers, although employed, would not be in a position to buy anything but the bare necessities of life. Under such circumstances there would be no market for the various articles I mentioned a little while ago, such as automobiles, radios, refrigerators, electrical appliances and the like.

We of labor see how purchasing power;—purchasing power in the hands of the many—is the basis of full employment and prosperity. Business, government and labor must cooperate to maintain this vitally needed purchasing powerwhich comes to the worker from one source alone—his pay envelope. That pay envelope must not be reduced.

The time has come for the organized labor movement of our two nations to prepare for the days of peace. There is no time to lose. The war in Europe may come to an end almost any day now; we are told that our military leaders expect Germany to surrender, at the very latest, by the end of October—and that's less than 60 days off.

We have met the challenge of war. Now we must pre pare ourselves to face the challenge of peace. We owe it to all of us, but especially to the brave men who have faced the bullets of the enemy, to win the battle against unemployment. With the will and the determination, with the assistance and cooperation of all—workers, farmers, business, men, government—we can rout this enemy as our boys are routing the enemy on the battlefields of France.

Canada and the United States have been, I think, the best two countries in all the world. Let us, in the postwar period, make them better yet. Let us make them countries in which every worker has a full opportunity to build a happy and a secure life for himself and his family. Then indeed will we be an example to all the world.