Our Responsibility to Keep America, American


By RALPH CHAPLIN, Editor, Tacoma Labor Advocate

Delivered before the Seattle Executives' Conference, Public Relations Section,Seattle, Wash., October 10, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 162, 181-185.

THIS is one of the unexpected things. A discussion of this sort, with the labor viewpoint included, is quite unusual. It is a step in the right direction. Congratulations! I am not certain that I can be helpful.

I do feel, however, that labor relations are going to be among the most important problems confronting our nation and our people in the next fifteen or twenty years. The future of our American system, our free American System, will probably depend on how that problem is worked out.

For more reasons than one, it gives me pleasure to participate in this program.

First of all, certain elements in the Labor movement have declared, repeatedly and with emphasis, that what we are doing here, can't be done. It never has been done. It never will be done. It is just impossible.

Certain elements in the Labor movement have charged discussions like this are "Star Chamber" affairs, with the Labor viewpoint deliberately excluded—another capitalist conspiracy. I believe trouble can be avoided if we are willing to talk things over with the men who sign the paychecks.

Anyway, here I am, for what I am worth.

I think the record will show that not only I, but all of us, are sincerely trying to clarify our thinking on this vital subject of Labor relations.

This "Ah, so pure" attitude on the part of either Labor, or Management, is wearing pretty thin. American citizens don't contaminate one another when they get together to talk things over. We contaminate ourselves and everybody else when each of us stubbornly insists on working out our joint problems in a vacuum. That policy adds up to antagonism and misunderstanding. We have had too much of that already.

Some of us would rather die than do the sensible thing and reason it out together as we should.

And that reminds me of a story, I would like to take time to tell, that belongs to Rod Olzendam, who is somewhere in the audience, I am sure, and I am also sure all of you would enjoy hearing it, maybe after awhile.

I want to go on with my presentation.

I want to be perfectly frank with you in the beginning. I am not going to talk one way to you and another way to the "boys" back home, when I get back there. I am going to talk to you, not as a representative of a pressure group called "Organized Labor" or from the standpoint of anyone with an axe to grind. I am going to talk to you about our joint problems in terms of our common Americanism—our common responsibilities.

I believe that the crisis that confronts us, the emergency we are in, demands a different sort of action than anything we have figured out in the past. Labor and Management cannot under any circumstances go ahead and work out a solution to the problem that faces us unless we do it together. We should not wait until we get into trouble to work out our problems. We should get together before we get into trouble—in order to avoid trouble and to build up teamwork in production.

Now, I have the feeling that there are certain among you (and that is understandable), who rather feel that Labor is in the doghouse, and I don't mind telling you that as far as a great many of the Labor people are concerned, the N. A. M. is in the doghouse.

Fifty to seventy-five papers are piled up on my desk every morning, and it might interest you to know a large part of them come from the C. I. O. Political Action Committee. They are spending money, these days, and the N. A. M. isn't exactly popular.

I want to say this, Labor is in the doghouse.


And, the N. A. M. is in the doghouse. All employers who sign paychecks are in the doghouse.

Well, we aren't going to find any constructive basis of working out problems by remaining in our respective doghouses. Maybe what we need is one big doghouse. Maybe that's what we'll get, if we don't wake up, with barbed wire around it—like they have for free labor and free enterprise in Europe.

I want to say this, for what it is worth:—

The people who have put us in the doghouse and are smearing us intensively right now are the ones who put you gentlemen in the doghouse and who are smearing you—intensively.

One thing at least we have in common is our enemies. Let me tell you we can be proud of the enemies we have in common because they are the enemies of America and of every worthy thing the word "America" has ever stood for.

They are smearing the established Labor movement, the established American way of life, established American institutions. They are smearing Congress—anything that stands in their way.

So, we have that much in common.

That isn't a new thing. It's as old as the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

I want to be frank, also, in showing, if I can, in a word, the thing that puts me a little bit out of the orbit of the

lives of most of you gentlemen here today. It is not true to say that only businessmen oppose communism. Labor has as much—or more—at stake. No one could despise communism more than American labor unionists. No one has suffered more from the depredations of communist disrupters.

I am rooted, definitely, in the Labor movement. I spend my life in it. It has been a career, but I haven't made anything out of it, and I haven't wanted to. I don't want to now. I was doing what I thought was right, just as you people are doing what you think is right, but, I do think we should add things up from the point of view of doing what is best for America, and that is what I intend to do this morning. Some people want confusion, discord and chaos. They thrive on it. We don't. We want to avoid it.

Let's look at World War I and compare it with the situation that prevails today, as regards Labor relations.

Labor relations are important and are becoming increasingly important.

A contrast might help.

Some of you remember the days during World War I when 50,000 lumber workers were on a strike, when they were forced to live in indescribable bunkhouses and sleep in muzzle-loading bunks, bunkhouses without shower baths, compelled to pack their crumby bindles from job to job. When they started to organize, they held their union meetings in secret, because every man's hand was raised against them.

Some of you remember the General Strike here in Seattle. Some of you remember when the Calispo and Verona shoved off from the Seattle Harbor to Everett, and some of you remember what happened there.

I was a part of all that—rightly or wrongly. I am not ashamed of it. I was doing what I thought was right. I enjoyed that fight—and, it was a fight. The scars have not healed, yet—but, they are healing.

I may be doing the wrong thing now in working for a different type of labor relations than those based on tear-gas bombs and pickhandles—but, I don't believe so. If I am making a mistake now, I am as proud of this as having made the mistake in the other direction—and, there are plenty more like me.

There are trends in the Labor movement which I think should be encouraged; there are trends that I think should be discouraged, in the interests of our National community. Employers have learned that it is better to deal with a reputable body of organized wage earners than with an unorganized mob—or with a political party.

Labor unions are here to stay.

Collective bargaining is here to stay. The men at the point of production and the men who sign the paychecks are both here to stay.

Collective bargaining and Labor unions are a part of our free enterprise system. And the free enterprise system is here to stay.

But the thing that opposes us, now, is a power greater than either one of us. It is not a local thing. It is not merely a national manifestation. It is worldwide and that trend isn't in the direction of private enterprise. It is in the direction of collectivism, of Sovietation. It is in the direction of the negation of all freedom.

Now, we are talking about free enterprise, as citizens, and we have discovered this: that Labor is as much opposed to regimentation, duplicating agencies, general runaround and interminable delays that come out of a bureaucratic setup, as the employers are.

We have discovered that we have that in common. The issue is greater than a mere political campaign. We must be organized as efficiently as the anti-American forces that are out to destroy us.

In Tacoma, in 1942, Labor and Management held conferences to see if they could not work out a better system of labor relations than those that existed in World War I. It is an interesting story and I wish I had time to tell all about it, but I can't.

But let me give you this picture.

I mentioned the old wounds, a hangover from the old days, not only on the part of Labor but on the part of the employers. That made it difficult to get together—to talk things over. Out here there are stubborn, strong, willful proud men, on your side of the fence and on ours.

So, we had this in mind: If the industrial situation goes into a tailspin or becomes disorganized because labor relations are thrown out of kilter now as they were in World War I, what is going to happen to the present war effort? Are we going to repeat all those mistakes? Have we learned anything during all these years?

When you are in a war, you can't back away from it. Either you have to lick somebody or you are going to get licked. We can't afford to get licked in this war. We had that in common. We sincerely wanted to put support for this war emergency on a realistic, workable basis, as far as labor relations were concerned and so, the Roundtable came into the picture.

I was a kid out here in Seattle, in the early days. If anyone ever told me the day would come that I would talk to a group of men representing the N. A. M., I would have laughed in their faces. That was too terrible to contemplate. You wouldn't even dare to admit meeting an employer to your best friend. If you were tempted to do it in an irrational moment, you wouldn't admit it. Probably the thing is true with you gentlemen: You are willing to sit down and listen to a Labor man get up and talk to a group such as this, and Labor is learning to listen to the employer's side. That is one of the incredible things that are happening, and let me assure you, will continue to happen.

In Tacoma, we sat around our first conference table rather awkwardly here with the men who had held the whiphand over Labor and fought Labor's effort to organize, but when we looked at them, they weren't such bad fellows, they had American names and American faces, but they were tough and we were tough. We had taken them on in the past and hadn't always come out second best. We weren't altogether afraid of them or they of us. They were ready to fight at the drop of the hat, and so were we, but neither side wanted to do it. One of our boys says:—

"Don't be embarrassed, Gentlemen, it hurts us as much to be here as it does you."

And, we did another thing,—and let me assure you, that was important—we both admitted that we had made mistakes. We went back to the old days, in our minds, we reviewed lots of things that had happened, on the Employers' side and on the side of the Unions. On our side of the Roundtable were men who had been tear-gassed and beaten up, men who had issued their challenge of defiance in the very teeth of the Employers. These were the men that had built up the unions, in spite of the efforts of the Employers and N. A. M. and all that; they were there. So were the other fellows.

We said:

"All right, if we are going into a discussion of the mistakes that have been made, and who is responsible for what, we will spend the rest of our lives blaming one another! We won't get anywhere working out better labor relations

for now. We will be stirring up muddy water. It will not help to clarify the situation just to point our finger at somebody else—at one another.

"But if we admit we were all to blame, that we have all made mistakes; if we agree to explore areas of agreement on the basis of our common Americanism; if we agree to work together now in the interest of the war effort to try to find a basis on which we can keep production at a high peak as long as it is needed for victory, then we can get somewhere," That is where we started.

That was in November, 1942, before Eric Johnston was talking about his "areas of agreement" and a long time before Dewey spoke about a possible "adult labor movement." Both of those phrases have significance because they do sum up the thing we are reaching out for, groping for, at the present moment.

There are trends in Labor unionism which should be encouraged and there are these trends that indicate Labor has come of age, that it has outgrown and is outgrowing petulance, and the same thing applies to the employer group. After all, we are grownup men. We are Americans. We are Christians. We are not living in a static society or under a static system. America is still dynamic. So are we. We are growing. We are not going back to those old days in labor relations or anything else. That past might have been inevitable, but it is dead. It is a page turned down.

We are going forward. We are going forward to greater prosperity, greater unity, strength and solidarity as a Nation. We are going forward to a better understanding among all groups on all levels of American life. And that means talking things over, around the Roundtable. And working together as Americans for the best interests of America.

Out of our Tacoma discussions came a Statement, in which, after months of talking it over, we decided that we wanted to ascertain just how much agreement had been reached—how far we had progressed. Those of you from out of town, those of you in Seattle, try it, sometime. It won't be as hard as you think. You may fail, you may be discouraged, you may be disheartened, you may feel like giving it up, but don't do it. Keep on trying. Send me a postcard and I'll mail you the Statement.

You will find just as good Americans in the Labor movement as you find anywhere else in American life. They need encouragement. They need support; that trend needs support. We want you to know what this trend in the Labor movement is like.

There is a lunatic fringe of Labor and there is a lunatic fringe of the employers. The lunatic fringe of Labor is playing into the hands of a possible dictatorship in this country, totalitarian in structure, just as the lunatic fringe of the employers is doing. The best way to get communism or fascism in this country is for Management and Labor to be trapped into a battle royal.

What we are trying with all our power and effort to do is to raise labor relations—human relations—from the raw bloody-jowled level of the primitive, to the civilized level, becoming American citizens.

I think it can be done.

I am not in favor of paternalism either from the government nor from private industry. Some people throw in the face of Labor that Labor has been "spoon-fed," "coddled" and "pampered" for almost twelve years, and some people dislike us for it. We don't like "coddling." Gentlemen, we don't like it from the government and we don't like it from you. As Americans, we prefer to stand on our own legs; as Americans, we prefer to work out our problems jointly with you men, rather than with these thousands of briefcase carriers. "Latter Day Carpetbaggers," as we call them.

In all events, we can get somewhere with direct negotiations. We can't the other way. Neither can you.

When we can't get together, we can fight it out. But let it be a clean fight.

When I mentioned that a political campaign isn't going to settle it, I had in mind calling your attention to a thing that I have seen, things that I have learned, as the result of intimate, close-up study and actual experience with some of these forces working for the disruption of the American Labor movement. I worked for Harry Bridges, you know—in San Francisco.

You wonder why it was that Sydney Hillman could walk into the Democratic Convention in the City of Chicago and come within a hair's breadth of taking it over. Why? There is one word for it. Not "Propaganda"—"Organization." There's plenty of propaganda and it's a lot smarter than yours, gentlemen; but that isn't the secret of communism's power. The secret is highly efficient organization.

If Labor rests its case on propaganda, Labor won't get to first base. If the employers of the N. A. M. or Chamber of Commerce rest their case on propaganda, they won't get to first base, either. There is only one thing that will do it and that it organization. Look into the background of the American Labor Party, out of which the Communist-CIO Political Action Committee grew. Check on the type, the structure of the organizational machinery that was used to make that high pressure blitzkreig possible.

You haven't got it, Gentlemen. Neither have we.

You will talk over affairs of business but when it comes to selling distinctly American ideology to the American people, you haven't got the answer; nor has the established Labor movement of America the answer, but we have got to find that answer, and I will tell you why—

Because, if we don't find it, the Hillmans and the Browders will.

Communism is a philosophy born out of the gutter, born out of the lowest standard of living in the world, the peasant standard of Europe; born out of conditions under which no American could live, thrive or prosper, and yet it comes over to these shores and it represents the only thing that can contact the millions of the poor and downtrodden in this country with a message—with a ray of hope. This vile, subversive thing inspires young men to go out on picketlines, to run the gauntlet and go to prison and stand up singing while awaiting jail sentences. Young communists will do that, and are doing it because someone has given them a Cause, and taught them "all the answers."

Are we giving the Youth of America a Cause? Are we teaching them to look for the answers in the glorious history and achievements of America? Are we showing them how to look to America, and to the future of America for their hope and inspirations?

Here is my point: This thing that we are trying to do must be organized, it must be organized on the basis of our personal responsibility. In the City of Chicago, there are between forty and fifty Communist Labor Schools, where young men and women learn parliamentary procedure, public speaking, labor journalism, all the tricks of the trade—infiltration, boring from within, disorganization—and they are turning out highly trained specialists in their field. There are such schools in every American city. They are training young Americans to be the termites and stooges of international communism.

Are we training our youth to go out and spread flaming Americanism to our people?

I wish we were.

I do know the job has got to be done, and I know we have got to do that job together. There is no earthly reason why we should put it off any longer. Considering the resources of this country, the wealth that has been created in this country, the freedom we have enjoyed, the standard of human dignity that has been built up here, as compared with the rest of the world, there is no reason why we haven't got hot molten idealism to put into songs and public speeches, that will inspire American youth, in and out of uniform and the masses of the American people, not only now during the War Emergency, but afterwards, during that critical period that will inevitably grow out of this war. All we have is at stake. We are in danger of losing America by default, due to the fact, we did not organize; we let the stooges and termites take over because we were twiddling our thumbs and talking to ourselves, each in our own vacuum. That is a general argument in favor of the Roundtable. Let me commend it to you.

I want to finish up, if I may, by reading two items. I want you to keep in mind everything that you know about the strike situation, the labor situation in the past; I want you to keep in mind certain continuity of growth to a higher level, as the result of the intelligence and idealism and Americanism in the Labor movement of America as against the field and all foreign ideologies.

A Pledge has been prepared for American employers on the basis of "I AM RESPONSIBLE"—You should read it. But right now I want to read to you the Pledge of an American Labor Unionist. This has been circulated, generally, throughout the United States. It has been reprinted and distributed in New York City. It has covered the entire continental area, out here to the Coast, even down to the Deep South. It has been quite an experiment. It started over there in Tacoma. Our people, some of them, like it, and those that don't like it, don't amount to much, anyhow—you know what kind of people they are, how they line up in the Labor movement and how they will vote next November. Here is the Pledge:

"I am a citizen and a member of organized labor in the State of Washington and in the Republic of the United States of America.

"As in bygone days, millions of my fellow countrymen fight and suffer and die to save the freedom of that citizenship and that membership. Because I enjoy these priceless American privileges, I have clear and definite obligations which it is my bounden duty to fulfill.

"As a citizen, I am responsible for the quality of government in my town, county, state and nation. I inform myself fully about candidates who are to represent me and my point of view and about issues. Then I register and I vote in the local primaries and in the local elections first, because I believe in local self-government. Then I vote for State and National officers.

"As a member of organized labor, I am responsible for the strength of my union, one of our basic American institutions. I know that the organized labor movement, through the mechanism of collective bargaining between representatives of private employers, is responsible for my hours, wages and working conditions.

"I will not now walk out on the men who have honestly and faithfully labored for half a century to build up collective bargaining between private employers and employees in America. I am responsible for attending well-planned union meetings regularly. I will take part in the discussions and I will vote on every issue.

"I am responsible for building up the solid constructive power of my union in the New Post-War America which is beginning to emerge. Looking ahead I know that without continuous production there can be no employment, wages, products and dividends to distribute regularly. I know that any action which impedes production on the part of either capital, labor, farmers or government harms all. I know that every action that encourages production helps me and each other person in these groups.

"I am responsible for voting to continue and strengthen those measures that keep industry, commerce and agriculture free, competitive and progressive and to vote against those measures that hold industry back from offering the largest possible number of steady jobs through steady production.

"If I do any less, I cease to be a citizen of the United States and a member of organized labor in spirit. I become irresponsible and demonstrate my ingratitude for the sacrifices made for my citizenship for the past 169 years and for the unflagging efforts that men have made for half a century to build up a strong, productive, cooperative, progressive labor movement in my State and Nation."

And, down below there is a line where you sign—"I Am Responsible."

The employers have done the same thing and by and by, we hope to have one for the President and one for the Preachers. And, one for the College professors.

Now, some people said, in the beginning, that this was just a bright idea and that it wouldn't last. They said "This is sort of an unnatural marriage between the two hostile elements in society, the employers and the wage earners, who are natural enemies, just like cats and dogs, and they will never get together." Well, they predicted it would peter out, but it took root here, not only here in the Pacific Northwest and on the West Coast, but of all places, we are getting very encouraging reports from New York City, and if you can crack that town with this idea, I think you can crack anything and I want to tell you how that alleged "lovefeasting" adds up:

We had a statement—I want to read it to you, it is very short—by Mr. Roe Shaub, representing the Chamber of Commerce at the Tacoma Roundtable, who stated what Labor thought was a fair position regarding the new type of employer-employee relations:—

Don't misunderstand me—we shall have our differences in the days to come, lots of differences, of course, that is human, it is natural. We only progress by having adversaries ; if we don't happen to have one handy, we make one up. We play football, we compete, we like it that way, but let's be perfectly clear about it.

"We intend to lay down clean rules of play in the days ahead, rules which together we draw up; then we will call in a referee from the government to keep us playing according to those rules, not to play on both teams and referee too, but to referee.

"That's the way we have set our sails, that's the course we intend to take; we believe that by going in this direction we can meet and overcome all adversaries encountered on the way.

"The Tacoma spirit of freedom is unbeatable in war, we have proved that. It can be unbeatable in peace, also. It remains for us to prove that. I believe we can."

That was what Mr. Roe Shaub had to say about the new relationship, and, personally, I think it is fair enough. We start from there. Our unions are not perfect, no. (Sometimes I hope, frankly, and off the record, Westbrook Pegler never finds out as much about the seamy side of the Labor movement as I know.) But on the other hand there are things that I know about the Labor movement and things that have gone into the making of the Labor movement, that I am mighty proud of, and I think that goes for business. And that goes for our form of government and our people.

With all our mistakes and blunders the worst of our American institutions, communities and states are better than anything that any other section of the globe has to offer. The trouble is that most of us won't appreciate our America until somebody tries to take it away from us.

We are not perfect, but we are Americans and we can work this problem out the American way. We are not going back to the old order of things. We are not going back to exploitation, to long hours; we are not going back to the open shop, we are going to find out a better way. From now on we must learn to do our job together. We are going forward, not backward. There is no reverse gear for America or Americanism.

The employers are on the spot and so is Labor; the employers are outnumbered and so is Labor outnumbered, they are outnumbered in the world, outnumbered in the United States. The trend is, altogether, in the wrong direction. But we have got to stick together in whipping this monstrous thing that is creeping upon us—something like the return of the ice age. We are both going down together, if we aren't careful; the other fellows will take over and the boys with the briefcases will go around to your offices and factories and our unions and say: "All right, men, move out. The American way didn't work so we are going to make the other way work."

It is our responsibility, our personal responsibility, of each one of us, to keep America, American. We owe it to Almighty God, to our forefathers and to generations of Americans yet unborn to accept all that is implied and all that is added up in the words, "I AM RESPONSIBLE."