GENERAL ARTICLES

Labor War Is Civil War

CHARLES LUCKMAN June 15 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

Labor War Is Civil War

CHARLES LUCKMAN June 15 1947

Labor War Is Civil War

CHARLES LUCKMAN

At 38, Charles Luckman, president of the immense Lever Brothers Company in the United States, is one of the outstanding young men in American business. Trained as an architect, he took a ‘ temporary” job as soap salesman in Chicago at the bottom of Ihe depression, and became such a success in his new profession that he was sales manager for Pepsodcnt at 3<>. It was he who put Boh Hope on the air.

In eight years he was president of the tooth paste company. When American Levers, subsidiary of the world-girdling British company, absorbed Pcpsodent in 1941, it got Luckman, too, and within two years it had made him its head man.

CIVIL WARS are the bitterest of all wars. There is no strife so tragic as that of a house divided against itself. We know that all too well from the United States’ experience in 1861.

Now, in 1947, we in the States are facing the most serious division in our unity since that disaster of long ago and it is reported to me that a similar division faces you in Canada. The dissension between industrial management, and organized labor is, so far, only a war of words and walkouts. But it will surely grow into something far worse unless every man of good will resolves right, now t o do what he can to put an end to the growing bitterness.

In a free economy Miere are hound to be occasional disputes among special groups. In a democracy we do not pretend, ostrichlike, that, no such arguments can occur. That pretension is part of the mumbojumbo of totalitarianism. In our democratic tradition the test of our right to economic freedom is our willingness to compromise such differences in the higher interest of the whole community.

We, in North America, shall never have an amicable understanding between management and labor until both parties recognize their obligation to settle their differences by the single yardstick of the general welfare. And the general welfare demands that we discuss our differences in a spirit of goodwill,

not in an atmosphere made bitter by taunts of “reactionary!” and “agitator!” The first evidence of goodwill is a disposition to understand the other fellow’s side of the story. Neither management nor labor has shown much of this disposition.

When Labor Hires

ORGANIZED labor, for example, has shown little willingness to understand the difficulties which management faces in meeting sweeping union demands. This is rather strange, in view of the fact that labor itself is an employer on a large scale. It is perhaps not widely realized that there are about 110,000 persons on the unions’ own payrolls. It is an interesting fact that the unions have so far failed to provide their own employees with anything like the general increases won last year from industrial employers, or with anything like the 25% cost-ofliving adjustment discussed this year as labor’s major demand in the U.S.

No such general increases have been given by organized labor to its own employees, notwithstanding the fact that a similar failure by industry has been described in labor circles as “an attempt to depress wages and recreate the bread lines of 1932.”

Now I think it is safe to assume here that the labor unions themselves have been among the first to discover how impractical it is to raise the payroll 25(y without increasing the price of union membership. I also surmise they have wisely concluded t hat their customers are paying about as much as the traffic will bear, and that to raise union dues would tend to soften the market for the services which organized labor has to sell.

In other words, when the labor leader turns employer, he too is reluctant to make such a dizzy wage adjustment without regard to the price of the services he has to sell.

As this is written, plans are being laid for labor contract negotiations with General Motors. The union is asking General Motors to contribute an amount equal to three per cent of each worker’s pay

to finance a social security plan. The purpose of the fund, one union executive said, would be to provide General Motors’ workers with additional “life, sickness, accident, and disability benefits.” He tells us further: “Higher wages aren’t enough. I’m

concerned with the welfare of the whole community.” Admittedly in theory, this union executive is on the right, t rack in thinking about the community. But how about his own planning for the little guys who work for his own union?

His union makes no provision at all for sickness, accident, and disability insurance covering its own employees! Don’t you suppose, if it were easy to tack another three per cent of the payroll on to operating expenses, that this union would have led the way with its own employees, thereby setting a glorious example for General Motors? After all, a union stenographer who cannot pay her medical and hospital bills and eat during convalescence, is just as detrimental to the community welfare as any company stenographer in a like predicament.

1 hope that, the day will come when every North American will he insured against loss of income because of sickness or accident.. Business can and must join hands with labor in an effort, to speed this universal protection. But we shall get t here sooner if both sides devote their entire energy to engineering the basic welfare of the little guy regardless of whether he is employed by a company or by a union.

Not so long ago an outstanding labor leader said: “A guaranteed weekly and annual wage is in the forefront, of the goals toward which the C.l.O. is working . . . Most of the unions have declared for the annual wage and that is now a matter of C.l.O. policy.”

This is indeed a worthy policy. But what union guarantees an annual wage to its own rank-and-file employees? Even after diligent search l have been unable to discover one international union which provides its own rank-and-file employees with a guaranteed annual wage. This is somewhat puzzling in view of the fact that the annual income of the unions is a lot more predictable, with checkoffs and maintenance of Continued on page 61

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Labor War is Civil War

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membership clauses, than are the sales of companies in a competitive market. I hazard a guess that every business on this continent would welcome the chance to place its customers on an annual checkoff basis.

Now it is a generally accepted fact that stabilized production and stabilized income are the major conditions precedent to stabilized employment. Well, the income of most of our major unions is pretty well stabilized and, barring strikes and depressions to which everyone is subject, there is nothing seasonal about the work undertaken by the unions.

I think the annual wage is conspicuous for its absence among the employees of both labor and management for just about the same reasons. If this is true, then what good will it do to create in the mind of the wage earner the notion that the annual wage is being withheld from him only because of the selfishness and greed of business? Isn’t it only fair to let him know that hundreds of private employers have experimented at one time or another with this unique instrument for stabilizing employment?

Let us all, therefore, abandon the smear technique that is being used in discussing the annual wage principle. Let labor and management recognize the absolute necessity for “togetherness,” if we are to achieve for the people that sense of security which can come only from a stabilized annual income.

A Curious Minority

Another inconsistency permeates those unions which publish their own newspapers and journals for the benefit of their membership. Today various labor organizations regularly publish over 600 of these journals and newspapers. It has been competently estimated that this huge labor press reaches over 10 million readers. There is a union which has jurisdiction over the staffs of those labor publications. This writers’ guild has a separate department known as the labor press department for newspaper workers employed by the unions. By the latest survey made, covering more than 600 labor publications, I am reliably informed that this union has active collective bargaining contracts with only seven labor newspapers. P’rom this it would seem obvious that the union recognizes the difficulties that are encountered in publishing a newspaper.

Perhaps now is a good time to take a look at a curious minority. It is doubtful whether as many as 20,000 of the 110,000 people who work for the unions are protected by collective bargaining and enjoy the benefits which organized labor demands that we in management establish for our employees.

Interestingly enough the protection of this minority lies in collective bargaining contracts many of which call for a minimum wage of $30 a week, or $1,560 a year. This is approximately $2,000 a year less than the amount which labor’s own economists stated just a few months ago is necessary in the U.S. to keep body and soul together with adequate decency. Again this merely shows how easy it is to fling loose talk around, and to set up standards which make the other guy look like a heel. Wouldn’t it be better for the unions who live in glass houses to stop throwing so many rocks at their neighbors?

Although there is obviously a broad discrepancy between what labor practices and what it preaches, it Is not the inconsistency in itself which is of major

significance. What is important in these days of high tensions and deeprooted antagonisms is a more widespread recognition of the fact that even men who have professionalized their social consciences are not able, in the conduct of their own labor relations, to achieve freedom from economic fear, want, and insecurity—merely by pressing a button.

Equalization of take-home pay, the annual wage, insurances against sickness, accident, and old age, decent personal security on the job, bona fide collective bargaining, all these are the high economic goals of a dynamic, impatient society. They are being achieved just as slowly by labor in dealing with its own employees as they are by management, because it is not enough merely to want them. They are projects which, like the atomic bomb, require engineering skills of the first magnitude.

In view of this fact, if you and I were about to negotiate a contract with one another, how could we expect to conduct intelligent negotiations, or conscientiously represent our respective constituents, if our advance publicity brings us both to the bargaining table filled with animosity, hatred, and bristling with outraged personal feelings? This is the technique of special interest, but most certainly it is not in the public interest.

Compromise is always born of sanity and moderation; and, if men are incapable of that kind of personal maturity, then they are unfit for the grave responsibility of handling our labor relations. The public has a right to regard smear campaigns and smear campaigners as almost treasonable, because they create artificial and unnecessary antagonisms for which the people pay.

Not only is the public fed up with egomaniacs who place personal prestige, power and glory above the general welfare, but 1 believe there are countless thousands of good union members, and solid management personnel, who are wearied to death of bosses—whether union bosses or company bosses—who fiddle their vain little personal tunes while Rome burns. The people of these vast lands of ours are apt to be long suffering. But they have frequently demonstrated how powerful they can be—and even how harsh—when after long provocation they have risen in their anger and have turned on those who trespassed against them.

Opportunity for Leadership

I am well aware that I am guilty of a very unorthodox approach, because I have championed neither labor nor management, but criticized both. The reason I have dared to take this position is that 1 am convinced that, unless both labor and management can somehow be brought to a realization of their shortcomings and obligations, we are all lost. For, without such a realization, there is no hope that either side will bring to the bargaining table those qualities of sanity, moderation and tolerance which are indispensable to the survival of democracy in industry.

A little more humility on both sides might hasten our sense of “togetherness,” without which it is impossible to engineer anything but catastrophe and disaster. Here, then, is management’s golden opportunity to exercise that constructive leadership which the people of our country need.

Let us discard the notion that the well-being of the little guy is merely an automatic by-product of scientific progress.

Let us recognize that, with few exceptions, we in management haven’t done right by him in the past. Those

of you who have ever made a decision with respect to the location of a new factory will immediately recognize how management’s lack of constructive leadership has created personal disrepute for us among our employees. Why? Well, what does happen when we decide to build a new plant? What do we look for?

First—A location which is close to raw materials and the market for our product.

Second—Cheap and numerous forms of transportation for freight and manpower.

Third-—Plenty of inexpensive power to run the factory.

Fourth—A “good” labor market; that is, a community where there are more people than jobs.

Fifth—A political climate favorable to business.

And so our engineers, both staff and consulting, look for a piece of land which meets these specifications. And if it should happen to carry a 10or 20year-tax exemption at the same time, so much the better.

The Missing Ingredient

Having found a suitable plot, and with due consideration for future expansion, we proceed to build a plant as beautiful and effective as the best technicians in our industry can conceive. In this process we employ many skilled professionals—engineers, builders, draftsmen, architects, lawyers, plant layout specialists, chemists, and many others.

But what do we do about filling the .social needs we create lhe moment we break ground? That is something else. Therein lies the evidence of our social irresponsibility, arid the explanation of our failure to give our people constructive leadership.

We have fallen into our old error of assuming that men work for wages alone. We have overlooked the fact that recognition of the needs of a human being is a stronger incentive than wages. In our planning we have failed to provide for the personal dignity of the men and women upon whom we must rely to breathe life into inanimate brick and steel.

This hasty glance at the past should be sufficient to instill in management the determination to devise a constructive program for the years that lie ahead.

When we decide on location let us demand a community which affords comfortable modern housing, not only for our factory hut also for our people, and within the means their wage standard would provide.

We should inquire into the liberality of the public school system with the same interest that we analyze the liberality of the local tax structure. We must recognize that the promise of a tax exemption might also well mean the i exemption of our employees’ children j from the educational opportunities ! which make good citizens. It is our ! duty to determine whether we are locating our new plant in one of those states or provinces where starvation wages are paid to teachers. We must remember that while we cannot always build the future for our youth, we can always build our youth for the future.

When we look for plentiful power we are hound to the corollary of enquiring into the recreational power and facilities of the community.

While we search for plenty of physical transportation, it is our solemn obligation to insist upon a community which provides spiritual highways so that men and women of all faiths may worship. Fundamentally it is more important for the men and women of our countries to have faith in God, than

Maclean's Magazine, June 15, 1947

it is for them to believe in free enterprise.

What a magnificent opportunity exists for management to practice the enlightened leadership which a few prominent associations have just recently begun to preach. What a chance for industrial housing programs, built not on the slick paper of news releases, but on the honest blueprints of architects. What an opportunity we have to go to bat, each in his own community, for expanded educational appropriations, so that the neighborhood kids can grow up with a true understanding, not only of the rights of citizenship, but also its responsibilities, self-disciplines, and obligations.

Mustn’t Be Anti-Union

Business can no longer afford to regard housing, community planning and allied programs for health, education, and recreation, as devices to thwart the unions, or as food for the consuming self-importance of some ruggedly individualistic captain of industry. At best, that approach to our responsibilities is negative and, therefore, sterile.

Whether we like it or not, we live in an era when industrial democracy is coming of age. We have two alternatives. We can put our shoulders behind the wheel of social progress, or we can stand in the way and be ground to the earth as that wheel turns. If management is to become a constructive, enthusiastic force for the kind of living our system of business can bring to the people in it, then we must assume our new tasks cheerfully and with imagination, intelligence, and application.

We must see to it that what are now j isolated instances of progressive lcaderj ship in labor and management shall j become so general throughout the ¡ nation as to constitute a new birth of j freedom for all.

Let us work just as hard for the four freedems as we have worked to split the atom, making the welfare of the people an independent, self-sustaining part of our economic faith and creed.

I know there are those who think that the four freedoms are impractical —who regard freedom from fear and freedom from want as mere poetic fantasies. If the same folk had been alive 200 years ago they would have viewed freedom of speech and freedom of religion as equally fanciful, and yet j these two freedoms have already been realized in our countries and in our time. Plain men and women everywhere will not be satisfied with half a loaf of freedom.

They know that there were those j who mocked the Declaration of Inde| pendence 150 years ago; and that 800 ! years ago the concepts behind the Magna Carta were regarded in many quarters as absurd and impractical. And even the great religious leaders we all revere were condemned by the people of their day as hopeless visionaries. If, however, we try to blueprint ; a four-freedom future in an atmosphere j of recrimination and hostility we shall most certainly fail. Smear campaigns : must be abandoned.

Laws Aren’t Enough

And, concurrently, we must also Í shrug off the notion that hasty, puni| tive legislation is going to solve our j problem. Many of the newly proposed j laws merely strike at the symptoms of disturbance. They will fail to eliminate ; the causes of disturbance. If we in the Uniled States amend the Wagner Act, and outlaw certain unfair labor practices by unions, does that mean that management and labor are going to coj operate together for the best economic

interests of the whole country? Have we, in American business, so loved, honored, and obeyed Senator Wagner’s law, that we can really expect labor to follow any amended provisions in letter and spirit?

Some of these legislative proposals will do some good. But you cannot cure blood poisoning with a mustard plaster and hot lemonade, any more than you can solve the labor-relations problem of industry with legalistic double talk and political hysteria. Codes and laws will be resented at best, and short-circuited and disobeyed at worst, if they are inconsistent with the fundamental survival needs of those whose actions are governed.

I know that there are inequities in current labor legislation which must, be corrected, hut a lasting solution will only be horn of cool thinking and careful study. These are stubborn problems, and they will not, yield to angry or hasty methods. We must deal in much larger terms, because the simple fact is that no one has ever discovered a way to legislate a point of view. For example, think how easily the words “struggle,” “fight,” and “battle” fall from the lips of labor leaders. These are not merely words in their vocabulary. They are symbols of their conception of the nature of their job. Will any law change this viewpoint? Certainly not any carved out by the hand of man.

War Without Victory

Thus far I have urged both labor and management to join hands in the acceptance of a broad goal which is bigger than themselves. Now I want to be more specific. For the last 15 years, whenever the public began to protest against the excesses of the American labor situation, it has been fashionable to appoint another committee to study the causes of industrial warfare. Since 1938 various committees of the United States Congress have held over 265 days of labor hearings, and have taken over 23,000 pages of printed testimony about the causes of industrial strife. And we. still suffer from this same disease, which none of these endless investigations has heen able to diagnose or cure. You in Canada, 1 understand, have had similar hearings.

So far, all our studies have focused on the subject of industrial war. But is “war” really our objective? Of course not. What we actually want to achieve is industrial peace. My specific recommendation is that we study it.

We have in the United States and in Canada hundreds on hundreds of case histories of peaceful and successful labor-management relationships. Why are they peaceful? Why are they successful? I suggest we find the answers! I urge that the American Congress establish a tripartite commission representing the public, labor, and management. The sole function of the commission would be to study the causes of industrial peace. The commission would have an unparalleled opportunity to break with the unproductive tradition of the past and, for the first time in American history, to formulate a positive program for industrial harmony. I suggest the Canadian government might take similar action to the profit of the Canadian public.

I believe there is no crisis in the affairs of my own country which our democracy, if it really functions, cannot meet and overcome. But our democracy is no greater than the men who lead it, and this is plainly the time for the leaders of our country to meet wit h peace in their hearts and the purpose of an ever greater democracy in their minds.

We must not permit ourselves now to be divided in civil strife. As one

perceptive analyst has pointed out, if two such great forces as labor and management engage in a struggle for dominance within the highly intricate mechanism of the North American economy, neither can win and democracy is bound to lose. Both will go i down together in the resulting chaos, or in the regimentation which will arise from public demand to avoid that chaos. Free unions, free management, free enterprise, and a free society will either survive or go under together.

Mutual survival, not separate survival, that must be our common aim. If we keep it steadily before us we can I avoid a fanatical civil war—a war which j cannot be won by either side.

The New Testament offers us counsel on this point. It is written there I plainly for all men to see: “Let us

j therefore follow after the things which I make for peace.” Jr