UP to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Schechter case, the American Federation of Labor was one of several groups of American citizens singled out by the national Administration for preferred treatment. The Schechter decision had the effect of making such a relationship without the benefit of the law. So long as the NRA, the codes, and the machinery of labor boards existed, the emphasis of the government’s industrial relations was upon membership in recognized labor unions. Since the invalidation of those measures, however, the government has been less emphatic, even less certain as to the course that might be pursued in forcing all of labor into a single union, and forcing capital to recognize the authority of that union.
It is true that the Wagner and Guffey Acts gave to the Administration even more authority than the NRA actually developed in industrial relations. But the Supreme Court in the Schechter decision said: —
We are of the opinion that the attempt through the provisions of the Code to fix the hours and wages of employees of defendants in their intrastate business was not a valid exercise of Federal power.
To support this opinion, the Court said: —
The Government also makes the point that efforts to enact state legislation establishing high labor standards have been impeded by the belief that, unless similar action is taken generally, commerce will be diverted from the states adopting such standards, and that this fear of diversion has led to demands for Federal legislation on the subject of wages and hours. The apparent implication is that the Federal authority under the commerce clause should be deemed to extend to the establishment of rules to govern wages and hours in intrastate trade and industry generally throughout the country, thus overriding the authority of the states to deal with domestic problems arising from labor conditions in their internal commerce.
From the standpoint of these paragraphs in the Schechter decision, we may infer that the labor provisions of the Wagner and Guffey Acts are untenable. I shall refer to these bills further in the course of this article; it suffices here to indicate that only in a few instances, and these not very important ones, has the government attempted to enforce the Wagner Act. These attempts at enforcement have repeatedly been taken to the courts.
In Kansas City, Judge Otis held the Act unconstitutional; in Memphis, Judge Martin held it constitutional; in Boston, Judge Brewster issued an injunction against it. There have been other cases. The substance of the court actions is that the Act is nearing the Supreme Court, where one may judge that even the three liberal justices will not go back on their own decision in the Schechter case. Similar cases will be brought to the Supreme Court in connection with the Guffey Act.
It is not necessary here to review the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) or the Guffey Act (Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1935). Whatever provisions these acts contain concerning industrial relations, the issue is whether the Congress of the United States is empowered by the Constitution to enact legislation regulating the relations between employer and employee. The question involved is whether or not manufacturing is commerce. Even Judge Cardozo’s separate decision in the Schechter case makes remote the assumption that manufacturing and mining are functions in interstate commerce. Justice Cardozo said:
The law is not indifferent to considerations of degree. Activities local in their immediacy do not become interstate and national because of distant repercussions. What is near and what is distant may at times be uncertain. There is no penumbra of uncertainty obscuring judgment here. To find immediacy or directness here is to find it almost everywhere. If centripetal forces are to be isolated to the exclusion of the forces that oppose and counteract them, there will be an end to our Federal system.
To take from this code the provisions as to wages and the hours of labor is to destroy it altogether. If a trade or an industry is so predominantly local as to be exempt from regulation by the Congress in respect of matters such as these, there can be no ‘code ’ for it at all. This is clear from the provisions of Section 7(a) of the Act with its explicit disclosure of the statutory scheme. Wages and the hours of labor are essential features of the plan, its very bone and sinew. There is no opportunity in such circumstances for the severance of the infected parts in the hope of saving the remainder. A code collapses utterly with bone and sinew gone.
The American Federation of Labor faces this situation more realistically than the government. The latter seeks to go on with the Wagner Act until that is declared unconstitutional; meanwhile the National Labor Relations Board is seeking to enforce the type of collective bargaining specified in the Act. The A. F. of L., however, recognizes that this is meaningless, and a strong movement has developed among its leaders for a constitutional amendment which will give Congress the power to pass labor legislation of any character whatsoever. Several formulae for amendments have been suggested, but even in the Federation powerful opposition to this movement has appeared.
The proposed amendments, in some instances, place limitations upon the reviewing power of the Supreme Court; in other instances they extend the authority of Congress. A typical proposal is that offered by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union: —
Congress is to have power to establish uniform laws throughout the United States to regulate, limit and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age; to limit the work time and establish minimum compensation of wage earners and employees; to provide for the relief of the aged, invalided, sick and unemployed wage earners and employees, in the form of periodical grants, pensions, benefits, compensation or indemnities from the public Treasury, from contributions of employers, wage earners or employees, or from one or more such sources, and generally for the social and economic welfare of the workers of the United States.
The bulk of the workers, who are not members of the A. F. of L., are apparently not too excited about constitutional changes, for this movement has only found casual support thus far among the intellectual liberal groups in New York and in the Scripps-Howard Press. The Administration has apparently been frightened away from formal association with the idea, and even within the Federation the older leaders resist the agitation for it. The reason for this is that while the Supreme Court may have killed the NRA, it protects the lives and liberties of labor leaders under existing amendments to the Constitution. Limitations upon the reviewing authority of the Supreme Court would be satisfactory if the A. F. of L. always controlled Congress, but suppose Mr. Hearst dominated Congress? The logic of this proposition is too apparent to be ignored.
The question naturally presents itself: Why does it seem so difficult for the A. F. of L. to function within the existing constitutional frameworks Why does the organization require so much legislation to control employee-employer relationships?
The answer is simple. The A. F. of L. now knows from its experience during the past three years that American laborers generally have no desire to join any labor organization; that they join an A. F. of L. union or a company union only when convinced that self-interest recommends it. Therefore, strategy forces the A. F. of L. to develop unionism by law, so that the government will require membership in unions. It can then depend upon its statesmanship and seniority to have itself recognized as the national official spokesman of unionized labor. In fact, in spite of its small membership, the American Federation of Labor holds that position to-day so far as the Administration is concerned, but it is a precarious position because it is unsupported by numbers and is dependent upon the personal good will of the President.
Labor strategy recommends, then, that the A. F. of L. be recognized by law as far as possible. Under the Wagner Act the A. F. of L., and under the Guffey Act the Lnited Mine Workers, are recognized in every way except by actual mention of their names.
My statement that ‘American laborers generally have no desire to join any labor organization5 will be challenged. I can cite the three or four million members of the A. F. of L., but there is a better witness. The National Automobile Labor Board held sixty-three nominating and sixty-two final elections before the demise of the NRA brought its activities to a close. A total of 163,150 ballots were cast in the nominating elections. Of those working on the day of each poll, 89 per cent voted; of those eligible, 85 per cent voted. In the final elections, 161,907 ballots were cast, representing 88 per cent of those working and 84 per cent of those eligible to vote.
The results, which I take from the Board’s official report to the President, show that 68.6 per cent preferred no organizational affiliation, 13.3 per cent preferred company unions, 8.6 preferred the American Federation of Labor. The Communists polled seventy-two ballots. Altogether some fourteen organizations were represented, and if the company unions are considered ‘ unaffiliated,’as organized labor would consider them, thirteen labor organizations mustered only 18.1 per cent of the vote.
Now the A. F. of L. answers these figures by charging that these elections were improperly conducted, but by observation and investigation I testify this charge to be untrue. Accepting the vote as conclusive, which I must do after my study of the workings of this Board, I cannot but recommend it as the only scientific survey that has been made of any working group in a mass-production industry to determine its attitude toward organizational problems. And until we have some better evidence this election stands as a fair cross-section of employed labor’s opinion.
Despite the confusion of programme and administration of the government agencies under the NRA, a method of industrial relations was slowly developing with the government. This method may be roughly described as the Labor Relations Boards. Sometimes the President and the Department of Labor enthusiastically supported these boards, at other times they forgot their very existence; some of the boards tried to function, others lost meaning upon the moment of appointment. The history of the Labor Relations Boards presents one of the most chaotic pictures in this none too calm administration. When the Schechter decision wiped out the NRA, the boards went with it, but under the Wagner Bill a new board has been appointed which functions haltingly and insignificantly.
Yet the method of the Labor Relations Boards cannot be ignored; it is the one constructive measure that has come out of the NRA. With adequate and properly drawn legislation, these boards can ultimately grow into labor courts of specific and limited jurisdiction. And, as objectionable as labor courts are to organized labor and to many individual capitalists, they nevertheless offer a way out of the chaotic conditions attending American industrial relations. No fairer or more constructive measure for the protection of the individual worker and the individual employer from strikes, lockouts, racketeering, and unfair conditions has yet been offered by anyone.
Of course, labor fears that the boards will become the instruments of capitalistic control; on the other hand, capital fears them as political agencies to enforce the wishes of the A. F. of L. Some of the boards justified these latter fears.
The National Automobile Labor Board, however, did a magnificent job in the face of these suspicions and without enjoying the support of the Administration. It laid the basis for the judicial character of a Labor Relations Board; it maintained, on the whole, the peace of the automobile industry, and the representation arrangements for collective bargaining which it brought into existence continue uninterruptedly to this day. That the Board accomplished anything at all was due to the fact that its members refused to be discouraged either in Detroit or in Washington, and insisted upon adhering to rules and regulations and principles no matter who objected. Henry Ford never recognized its existence; all of Washington officialdom resented it; yet it carried on.
The Board consisted of Leo Wolman (impartial), Nicholas Kelley (capital), and Richard L. Byrd (labor). Wolman is professor of economics at Columbia University and for a great many years had been in charge of research for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Nicholas Kelley is a lawyer for the Chrysler Motor Company, but he is also listed as a radical in Elizabeth Dilling’s curious Red Network; although such listing does not mean very much, it has the merit of indicating that he is not regarded as an enemy of labor. Byrd has been a laborer all his life. If this Board was packed by the President, it was evidently not packed in support of the capitalist position.
The Board engaged upon two specific functions: first, to develop the machinery for ‘peaceful organization’ in automobile plants; secondly, ‘to protect all employees against discriminatory practices by the managements.’ The rules were laid down by the President, but the headaches and heartaches were inherited from years of industrial misunderstandings. For instance, how, in the eyes of organized labor, can a selection of workers’ representatives be fair unless it is controlled by them? On the other hand, many employers of labor, particularly the small fry who are in actual contact with the works, resist and sabotage efforts to remove them as intermediaries between the workers and the top strata of management. Foremen particularly sin in this way.
Again, every employee regards himself as subject to discrimination, but most employers of labor believe that the review of discharges by a government board is an invasion of their basic rights. Nevertheless, during the fourteen months of its existence, the Board handled 2400 cases involving one form of discrimination or another. Its report states:—
By and large, the adjustments so arrived at were generally acceptable to both the employers and the employees and their representatives. Where the decisions of the Board or the methods employed by it in arriving at settlements were challenged by either employers or employees, as happened in relatively few cases, the objections rested not on the merits of the case but on the prominence of the persons concerned with the complaint or on the alleged effects of the Board’s decisions and procedure on the general strategies employed by one or both parties to the dispute.
As of June 1, 1935, 1129 men were returned to work. When the Board ordered a man back to work, it specified in most cases exactly when this was to occur. Most instances of discrimination dealt with seniority, a difficult problem in industrial administration under any circumstances.
Where, as in the automobile industry and indeed in all industry, the number of jobs is limited, and many more people apply for jobs than there are jobs to fill, decisions on seniority involve determining who among the several applicants for a job is eligible, on his record of seniority, to receive it. Applying seniority, then, becomes a matter of ascertaining the records, determining the facts, and applying the rules and interpretations uniformly. Any agency in dealing with seniority must disregard all matters extraneous to seniority, whether the desire to ease hard circumstances, union affiliation, or other matters. Unless it does so and resists tendencies to make capricious decisions from any motive, seniority rights swiftly will be dissipated, and the advances made through adopting the seniority rules promptly lost.
Yet, in industries functioning through mass production, seniority is the worker’s most effective social security. The brilliant and exceptional man will, of course, go into supervision and perhaps, in due course, even into management; but the average worker can have no protection against the capriciousness of foremen and personnel chiefs and the pressure of labor politicians except in the impartial administration of rules of seniority. These rules give him a direct, permanent, and even vested interest in his job. They are of a lesser yet not altogether unimportant value to the employer. For continuity of employment makes for greater loyalty and efficiency — and these values are not to be treated lightly.
Experience quickly shows that in applying seniority uniformity is of the first importance. Within wide limits it is more important that the rule always works the same way in the same circumstances than that the rule itself be the best rule. Under a system of seniority, seniority is a method of selection, not only for the present but also for the future. There is an unbroken line from the oldest of the seniors to the youngest of the juniors. A case on seniority under a seniority system at bottom is not between an employee and his employer, but between him and all employees. Whether one is in a union and another is not ought not to have anything to do with deciding the case. What is important is that the employee who finds himself junior now shall know that when later, through passage of time and withdrawal of those who now are senior to him, he shall be the senior, he shall himself then have the same advantage under the same rules,andnot bedefeated a second time because of a change in the rule or the way of interpreting it, or because somebody else has received a favor. If a board or an employer began granting exceptions in hard cases there soon would be no seniority.
And there is the rub. Foremen have been known to accept gifts; personnel men have been known to have likes and dislikes; membership in lodges, unions, and societies has played its rôle, as have nationality preferences. In a word, impartial, uniform administration is very difficult, and in some instances the Board’s decisions may not have been popular. Yet on one occasion, April 19, 1934, the Board made amicable arrangements to return 224 people to work. No other method could have returned such a number of employees to their jobs in so brief a time. The Board does not think it would have been right to have permitted such a number of people to stay out of their jobs in order that the Board might avoid being conciliatory. It is hard to see how the interests of labor would have been served by holding individual hearings in each of 200 or more cases, in order to satisfy someone’s prejudice as to the proper method of settling contentious issues, instead of arranging through direct negotiations and amicable adjustment for the return of more than 200 employees to their jobs within a period of three weeks.
It is impossible in this article to devote more space to the operation of this Board. Yet the fact must be noted that here was a specific effort, not merely to patch up immediate quarrels between industry and labor, but to evolve out of experience an adequate method for genuine collective bargaining and a judicial procedure to protect the laborer in his job without imperiling the management’s control of its own plant. Had the Board been enabled to function for a prolonged period, it would undoubtedly have grown into a labor court for a specific industry, and it would have developed standards and attitudes that would in time have become precedents and guides for similar boards in other industries.
To operate such courts politically is impossible, and therefore few labor relations boards have commanded as much respect as this one. Such boards, once appointed, must be aloof, must reject informal suggestions from capital, labor, or the government. And yet, how can one expect an official of the administration in Washington — not only this, but any administration — to refrain from attempting to force such a board to conform to policy? There again is the rub — it is so hard to keep politics out of anything in the United States.
In my previous articles on labor in the Atlantic Monthly, I emphasized the eventual struggle between vertical and horizontal unionism, between industrial and craft unionism. Again to resort to definitions, an industrial (vertical) union is one which includes all the workers, no matter how they are occupied, in a single industry. A craft (horizontal) union is one which includes only workers who are occupied in a specific kind of labor. In the automobile industry, for instance, an industrial union would include everyone: washerwomen, chauffeurs, electricians, carpenters, belt workers, duco-room workers — everyone in the industry. In the same industry, under craft unionism, each category would have a separate union which would be affiliated with one of the several international unions of the American Federation of Labor.
Actually, the situation is not so finely arranged. Vertical and horizontal unions exist side by side within the American Federation of Labor. Whenever a labor organization is designated as Federal Union No. XXX, it is likely to be a vertical union within the American Federation of Labor. On the other hand, such a Federal Union may be in a jurisdictional conflict with a craft union within the A. F. of L. — for instance, auto workers in conflict with metal workers.
It is altogether clear that in massproduction industries it is not to the advantage of the workers that craft unions should persist. Mass-production industries shift workers about from job to job as style and season change, and the worker who is caught in a jurisdictional row may find himself without work for no reason that he or his employer can recognize as valid. This is unquestionably one explanation for the weakness of organized labor in the mass-production industries.
From the standpoint of practical trade-unionism, the situation is this: the old craft unions seek to perpetuate their own existence; they have the membership, they possess the funds, they control the executive council of the Federation; they are being asked to commit suicide, to turn over all they possess to unorganized or newly organized groups. There is too great a money prize in American trade-unionism for such a reorganization to be practically possible — no matter what principle may be at stake.
Now the issue is brought to a head by John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, who, during the current administration, is the most powerful single individual in trade-unionism. Immediately at stake is the organization of automobile, steel, electrical, radio, and other mass-production workers. If Lewis has his way, and if these workers accept unionization, he will be an absolute tsar in industry. If he fails, he can keep on trying as long as the dues of the United Mine Workers and other unions which support his movement keep him in funds. The stakes are worth playing for, if one is personally ambitious.
Actually, the issue is not between vertical and horizontal unionism; it has not yet come to any out-and-out fight on that issue. Nor is the American Federation of Labor 100 per cent opposed to vertical unionism. All sorts of compromises are possible.
The fight is between John L. Lewis and the old guard, Gompers leaders of the A. F. of L. who now control it and who challenge Lewis’s assertion of dictatorship even when that assertion has the implied support of the President of the United States and the Secretary of Labor. The whole business is complicated by the fact that many of Lewis’s opponents are Republicans, while some of his supporters are Socialists. Across the entire quarrel runs the nasty trail of the next presidential election.
The question of industrial unionism arose at the convention of the American Federation of Labor in Atlantic City in October 1935. The followers of Lewis were badly defeated. The legal basis for the rejection of Lewis’s stand is that a contract exists between the A. F. of L. and the craft unions which cannot be broken without consent. The report of the Committee on Resolutions reads: —
This contract called for loyalty to the purpose and policies of the American Federation of Labor. In return the National and International Unions were guaranteed two specific things: first, jurisdiction over all workmen doing the work of the specific craft or occupation covered by the organization; secondly, guaranteeing to the National or International Unions complete autonomy over all its internal affairs.
The American Federation of Labor could not have been organized upon any other basis of relationship between the National and International Unions and the Federation. It is recognized that where a contract is entered into between parties, it cannot be set aside or altered by one party without the consent and approval of the other.
The supporters of the Lewis schism stated their case as follows: —
In those industries where the work performed by a majority of the workers is of such nature that it might fall within the jurisdictional claim of more than one craft union, or no established craft union, it is declared that industrial organization is the only form that will be acceptable to the workers or adequately meet their needs. Jurisdictional claims over small groups of workers in these industries prevent organization by breeding a fear that when once organized the workers in these plants will be separated, unity of action and their economic power destroyed by requiring various groups to transfer to National and International Unions organized upon craft lines.
These are two excellent statements, but it is difficult to understand why Mir. Lewis would choose this, of all years, to split and weaken the labor movement. He knows as well as anyone else that, since the demise of the NRA, management has stiffened perceptibly. It is also a known fact that, when conditions in industry improve, fewer workers belong to unions — and industry is improving considerably. Wages are going up, more men are being employed, even hours are increasing, which is a good sign. Is this the logical year for a split, no matter what the personal stakes? Is it not possible that the split will so weaken the A. F. of L. that the possibility of organizing the mass-production industries will pass away in a personal row?
These questions are asked on all sides. It is not my function to analyze Mr. Lewis’s motives. To the outside observer, he appears to be an obstinate person who must have his way in or out of turn, and who is sufficiently silly to promise platinum watches as an objective in the life of a miner. His friends say that he is an idealist who fights for a principle and that his principle is right. His enemies say that the Guffey bill was put over as an Administration measure, in spite of its evident unconstitutionality and its NRA characteristics, with the clear understanding that the A. F. of L. would deliver the labor vote in the next election.
Whatever the motive may have been, the effects are damaging to the American Federation of Labor. The principal jurisdictional row is over the organization of automobile and steel workers. But in both these industries neither the employers nor the workers have recognized any A. F. of L. union. In a word, the row is over something that does not yet exist, over something that is to be found, to be arranged. The very fact that there is a jurisdictional row lessens the possibility for organizing these workers, because the workers cannot present a united front, while the employers have definite and real grounds for refusing to deal with groups that are quarreling among themselves. We are back in the days of the A. F. of L.-I. W. W. row in the steel industry.
The A. F. of L. executive council will undoubtedly win in the end because it is in possession of realities, — existing unions, — while Lewis, who has strength among the mine and needle workers, seeks strength where it does not yet exist. Of course, if Lewis could organize a powerful automobile or steel union and win a tremendous strike, he would be a big man; but his failure to carry the Federation with him makes that well-nigh impossible. Such an attempt will be resisted to a finish by the company unions and the employers in these industries. Lewis has not one single chance of a dramatic success.
If the Roosevelt Administration continues, however, Lewis is on record as having played the game and fought the Republicans in the A. F. of L. He is piling up merit which ought to bring returns in 1037. If the Roosevelt Administration ceases, it will make little difference to John L. Lewis what happens, for no Republican administration is likely to continue such measures as the Wagner or Guffey Acts, and without them labor statesmanship is out of Realpolitik. John Lewis is obviously playing national rather than labor politics at this particular moment, and out of this may arise very unpleasant situations for capital as well as for labor.
While the leaders of the American Federation of Labor are quarreling among themselves, employee representation plans in various industries have taken on certain specific postNRA characteristics. The term ‘employee representation plan’ is used in this article as similar in meaning to the term ’company union.’ During the NRA period, a sudden impetus was given to company unions, for, as collective bargaining became essential under the law, a medium for bargaining had to be created where it did not exist. The fiction that in every case the employees themselves created the medium lacks historical accuracy and is not of the slightest importance. What is important is that such organizations exist and that they do function.
In the mass-production industries, company unions seem to have become not only firmly established, but fairly competent in presenting the cause of the average worker. It is in mass production rather than the smaller industries that wages rise most rapidly and working conditions improve most easily. In such an industry as the needle trade, where the margin of profit is always narrow, where sweated competition remains, it seems to be inevitable that labor should be militantly unionized. The mass-production industries provide the worker with an altogether different set of circumstances.
Take steel, for instance: common labor in 1895 was twelve cents an hour, and the worker labored twelve or thirteen hours a day; in 1936 the basic pay for common labor is about fifty cents an hour on an eight-hour day. This improvement arises out of the development of the industry and not as a result of labor victories. In fact, steel is the least organized of American industries, but produces the most favorable basic pay, higher than the average for all industries in this country. (By basic pay is meant the bottom rate for common labor. Only 7 per cent of the workers in the steel industry are classified as common labor; the remaining 93 per cent receive more than the basic rate.)
As the worker’s deepest concern is his weekly pay envelope and the general working conditions of his plant, company unions are effective in such industries as maintain a high wage level. The problems of management and labor involve seniority and increased hours of work per man — which, while it means more hours at the existing wage rate, thus increasing the weekly pay envelope, also means less spreading of work, less reemployment. In a word, whereas the A. F. of L. unions want more workers placed in jobs so that more union members are actually at. work, the company unions set a barrier to newcomers by seniority rules so that each man actually at work makes more money. This difference in point of view obviously has vast sociological connotations.
Employee representation plans differ from A. F. of L. unions in that the company union coöperates with the employer, while the outside union fights the employer. The company union operates on the theory that the workers will get the top rates available through conferences between representatives of employees and personnel or industrial-relations executives, while the A. F. of L. unions seek to obtain the top rates through strikes or threats of strikes. Operation of the company union costs the worker nothing, or very little, because the boss pays; but operation of the A. F. of L. union is expensive for the worker. The existence of both depends upon tangible evidence of successful negotiations — namely, the procuring of satisfactory increments in wages or conditions of work. Competition between these organizations may completely devastate industry, because there is an inevitable ceiling to increased pay and superior working conditions and social services.
It is impossible for anyone to forecast the trend of company unions. The A. F. of L. leaders are often experienced negotiators who know when to stop. Will employee representatives know when to stop asking for more? Will they amalgamate into a widespread national federation of company unions which in principle would be close to the I. W. W. conception of the one big union and in practice would not be very different from the A. F. of L.? The theory of the company union must be that its activities are limited to one company; but will that theory hold as these unions gain in strength? Have the employers raised a giant which may at any moment become a menace to them even greater than the A. F. of L.?
Serious-minded employers of labor ponder these questions. Present trends in company unions are encouraging. Management and representatives of the worker seem to be able to settle such disputes as arise quietly, without even a notice in the press.
And this also has become clear: the employee representation plan, including a degree of collective bargaining, cannot be regarded as a makeshift. Where it has been erected, it cannot be destroyed. Employers have told me that they have faced difficulties in convincing their own colleagues and foremen of their sincerity in dealing directly and promptly with workers’ representatives. The bureaucrats in business are often as servile to ancient formulse as any governmental timeservers; they are afraid to take the initiative lest it cost them a vice presidency. The higher executives must then step in to prevent the imperiling of employee representation by stupid assistants who are unable to face the definite fact that, having brought these bodies into existence, they must justify that existence by treating them fairly.
The success or failure of employee representation depends largely upon the degree of cooperation which can be developed between the employer and employee in the successful and efficient operation of the plant — and upon honest bookkeeping. Not all employers have recognized that honest bookkeeping is part of their industrial relations, but it is. The employee representative must be able to tell his constituency what the employer is doing. There are many firms to-day which keep their men freely informed through the company unions of t heir business activities, so that the men will realize that, considering current business conditions, the firm is doing the best it can for them.
But will the employers of labor continue such a policy when good times have appeared again? Will they risk manipulations which cause workers to question not only the veracity but even the wisdom of the employer?
Management must face the fact that during the past three years it has evaded the danger and tyranny of a one-big-union control of industry by a singularly narrow margin. The danger is not altogether past. The one big union can come into existence in the United States only as part of a government programme — and no one can at this moment guarantee that the next administration will not be one to favor such an idea. At present the employer faces the fact that company unions are functioning successfully and that a split in the A. F. of L. has “weakened that body; but he must not sit back complacently and believe that the past three years were a nightmare which may now be forgotten. They were a reality — and still are. The shift of control of industrial relations from management to a governmentally supported labor organization remains a possibility. As economic conditions in the country improve, this danger can be offset, but only by honest, sincere, and realistic coöperation between management and labor. There can be no bluffs, no tricks, no deceit.
Of course, business men are beginning to understand what can happen to them in the United States. They are becoming more thoughtful, more cautious in their thinking. Who can tell a business man to-day that anything cannot happen in this country after the receipt of the Black Questionnaire dated November 20, 1935? This questionnaire was sent to the principal executives in industry. I cite a few questions merely to show how far a government agency dares to trespass upon the rights of the individual: —
Question 2: If you are not a resident of Washington, D. C., state whether or not you have been in Washington, D. C., since January 1, 1935; and, if so, give the date or dates of your visit or visits to Washington, D. C., and the duration of each, and where you stayed while in Washington, and who paid your expenses and how much they were.
Question 3: State whether or not you, since January 1, 1935, have discussed any legislation with any Member of Congress. If your answer is ‘Yes,’ state the name or names of the Member or Members of Congress with whom you have discussed legislation, and state what legislation has been discussed by you and a Member or Members of Congress; when and where on each separate occasion, and whether you supplied any written memoranda or proposed or suggested amendments to such Member or Members of Congress. Did you discuss any legislation with any Member of Congress at the Mayflower Hotel, or other hotel?
Question 6: If you state that you have come to Washington, D. C., since January 1, 1935, for the purpose of discussing legislation with Members of Congress or appearing before Congressional committees, state at whose request or suggestion you came to Washington, D. C.; also state with whom you came, and if you brought anyone with you, give the name and addresses of such persons, and attach originals or copies of all letters, telegrams, or memoranda received by you, or sent by you, in connection with your Washington trip.
If there were space, I should publish this questionnaire in full to indicate what is now possible in the United States. An engineer told me that after he had answered ‘No’ to most of the questions he recalled that he had once sat opposite a Congressman, Senator, or something at dinner. He could not remember his name or what they had talked about. Would he go to jail for not having recalled this incident in time?
Such an invasion of private rights, such an inquisition, passes unnoticed. There are too many of them.
If this is possible, why could not industrial relations be twisted out of efficient management by bureaucratic decisions or by government support for one big union? It can, of course, happen if the workers will join such a union. During the past three years, the mass-production workers have really killed the one big union by resisting its appeal. If they are to continue in that attitude, management must continue to treat industrial relations sympathetically as involving cooperation between the employer and the employee.