U.S. War Machine Breaks Down
The Reasons Why
Agnes C. Laut
Who wrote "Lords of the North,” "The Catiadian Commonwealth," etc.
WHAT with Chamberlain’s Bill to create a War Cabinet in the United States and Fuel Administrator Garfield’s orders practically shutting down three-quarters of the country’s industries for part time for a duration of three months, the Wilson Administration has been coming in for fast and furious censure over the breakdown of its war machine.
But get these facts clearly in your mind!
The war machine per se is not breaking down.
Conscription went through without a ripple within a few months of the declaration of war.
Ten million men have been enrolled. One million men are under training. Half a million men are in France.
In spite of the trouble with labor, there will be ship tonnage enough to transport and maintain in France five million men within a year.
More war supplies have been manufactured, and are being manufactured, than the railroads can convey to ship side.
WHICH of the other warring countries has done as well in as short a
“Yes, but,” shriek the critics, “here are the railroads of the entire country absolutely tied up a month after the Government took them over! Here are the wheels of industry absolutely at a dead stop owing to a shortage of coal within one month of the time the Government took over the administration of fuel !”
To which the Administration would be perfectly justified in answering—though it hasn’t—that the railroads were already tied up in bow knots before they handed over their difficulties to the Government— that, in fact, they handed their operation over to the Government because they, themselves, were no longer able to go on, that it was a case of “passing the buck” to the Government and getting out from under before the tornado of criticism would break in blasts. Likewise of coal! Precisely what has happened this last winter was predicted by the coal operators as early as last September. “We are,” they said, “on the verge of a precipice! We need twice the coal produced last year: and we are 25,000 men short of workers. We cannot pay higher wages, grant shorter hours, keep production under a fixed minimum price, and go, on doing
business.” The coal dealers of the big harbors said precisely the same thing. “We are paying $3 and $.To0 and $4 a day for dock hands where we used to pay $1.75. Our lighterage charges to barges and tugs from captain to stoker have increased 300*. Our hours have been cut from ten to twelve a day to eight and nine. We can’t pay highest wages for shortest hours, and keep the cost of coal under the price set by the Fuel Adminstrator. We daren’t load up with surplus under those conditions; or we’ll go stone broke.” And they didn’t load up with surplus supplies, and the worst winter weather known to New York since 1717-39 came and five million people literally absolutely shivered in New York alone. I know of huge office buildings and factories where five thousand people are normally employed, where all hands except the chiefs had to be sent home from Christmas to February, and the chiefs could only work by nailing beaver board to four chairs round them and putting a kerosene stove in the centre of the circle. This was not an exceptional condition. From Maine to Baltimore, and from New York to Chicago, it was universal; and it didn’t matter how much money you had—John D. Rockefeller had to close up his house —if you had not a supply of coal you could not get it for love or money.
As to factory employees I venture to say between the Mississippi and the Atlantic not less than twenty million were thrown out of work or put on half time owing to the shortage of fuel.
AND what men and women are saying to themselves is this: It is coal this year. If the war lasts—will it be food next year? And frankly I have to answer if the war lasts and if labor does not waken up to the fact that it must do its part as valiantly as Army and Navy, it will be food next year. It will be starvation and food riots and anarchy; and windy soapbox oratory about “blasted plutocrats” and “the rights of man” never yet stoked up one empty stomach, nor filled one empty coal bin.
The tragedy of the situation has
not been without its comic side, too. At the very time the anthracite mine operators were scouring heaven and earth for 25,000 more men, miners’ delegates were in session in a Middle Western city considering shorter hours, higher pay and other rights. They had to foreshorten their sessions because there was no coal in that city to heat their hall, the theatres, the churches, the schools, or the most of the hotels; so they blew one clarion blast about the cause of the shortage lying with the railroads and went quietly home. They did not add that the railroads were frantic because they could not pay twelvehour wages for eight hours’ work and get cars moved and unloaded. Which did not add one degree’s temperature of warmth to the millions of people shivering between the Mississippi and the Atlantic.
Why have the fabricating shops fallen short 1,000 cars a week of plates needed for the Emergency Fleet shipyards? Why are the soldiers both in France and in the cantonments in America short of shirts and boots and shoes and overcoats and hats and socks and machine guns and rifles? Congress has been orating the hair and hide off the various official bureaus; but the bureaus have proved that they had given adequate orders to the factories; and the factories proved they had purchased ample raw material to fill the orders; but you can’t spike prices down and spike wages up and not have what geology calls “a fault in the stratum,” or in plain words—an earthquake that is apt to topple a lot of theories over; and that is what has happened to our war machine.
In eight months there have been 3,000 strikes in war industries. This is a record of fact, not of opinion. We haven’t heard of any of the boys in the trenches going on strike, nor any of the men in training. Over thirty strikes took place among the. carpenters and builders, who were rushing up the army camps. These men were receiving wages of $4.50 to $7 a day. Dock hands from New York round
to San Francisco have gone on strike some three times since 1914, though the pay has increased in that time 300%. Shipyard strikes foT longer and shorter periods have delayed the work of 116,000 men. Suppose the delay averages only ten days a man. The minimum wage of the shipyard is now $4 a day; so the loss there in dollars represents 10 days X $4 X 116,000 men, which you can figure for yourself. The American Government is not paying for that loss. The American public, which buys the Liberty Bonds, is paying for it More than 25,000 men have gone on strike in the copper mines.
Their minimum wage is $5. Average
their lost time at 10 days; and figure for yourself. Coal strikes have held out at various periods in the last year 130,000 men. Their minimum wage is now between $3.50 and $5.50. Figure that for yourself also. Soldiers are short of coats, shirts, boots. Yet 32,000 weavers and shoe operators have gone off on strikes lasting as long as three months.
In England during the war strikes are punishable by imprisonment for life; but in America we have not yet been truthful enough with ourselves to face the true cause of the breakdown in our war machine. Like the censor we have tried to persuade ourselves all is well as long as we keep the lid clamped down hard on ugly facts. “High wages mean high prices,” declared a House of Commons Committee investigating the cost of living in England. “Fresh cycles of wage advances succeed one another. Each one results in a further increase in prices. If the process continues the results cannot fail to be disastrous. The whole thing is a vicious circle of rising wages followed by rising prices."
SO the first thing Uncle Sam did when he jumped into the war was to spike down prices so they couldn’t rise. Wheat was to be $2.20 a bushel. Coal $2 to $3 at mine mouth, $8 to the householder, eggs 42 to 47 cents a dozen, and so on. The little hen did not go on strike. She kept on scratching on a ten-hour day, but every other form of labor contributing to the cost of living did; and when wages jumped so that, added to the mine mouth cost of coal, they put coal above the fixed price, there was not coal. That is all. The war machine threatened to jar to a stop; and every wheel of industry from the Mississippi to the Atlantic did jar to a complete stop, throwing not less than twenty million people either out of work, or on half time, which meant a stoppage of all wages, or a cut in all wages by 50%.
And right here, if you ask. though the whole country is busy skinning Garfield alive and though his head will probably have been dropped in the basket of the deposed by the time these words see print, if you ask me, I want to put on record that Garfield is no fool. He stood pat on his order to stop industry to save fuel; and the President stood pat behind him; but what I want to ask is—didn’t they take the only way out of the dilemma?
Whether that was their motive or not I do not know; but I do know it has done more to solve the labor problem in this country than soft soap platitudes. Men are out of work. They are up against cold from lack of coal; and they are asking themselves— will we be up against the lack of food next year? And I want to answer with perfect frankness and absolute certainty, if the war lasts and labor conditions continue as they are at present we will. And riots and bloodshed will not fill one cupboard if the food does not exist. Why were there no riots in New York over fuel last January? Because—they would not have done any good. The temperature was 30 to 13 degrees below zero from Albany to New York. The river was blocked with impenetrable ice. The tugs and barges were tied in a vise. Cussing didn’t thaw the weather. Soap box orators kept their breath to blow on their freezing hands. It wasn’t in flesh and blood to stand up and shovel that coal in that weather ; and the local yards were empty because they couldn’t stand the gaff of wages spiked up and prices spiked down ; and I never witnessed a great city so patient under outrage. The people were patient because they knew in their hearts what not a newspaper nor speaker dare utter—that they were paying the penalty for a false system.
LET us get it clearer on the matter of food.
From where I sit I am looking out on one of the best and most economically managed and productive farms in New York State. (It is not my own farm; so I am not handing myself compliments.) Last spring this farmer had a dairy herd which it had taken him ten years to breed up and develop from ordinary stock. The wages of his help had advanced from $30 to $33 and $33 to $38 and $38 to $42 and $42 to $45, which with house and privileges amounts close to $65 to $75 a month. The air was full of delicate German propaganda about “help being scarce,” and “farmers had to pay and couldn’t help themselves” and so on. Every mail brought such dope in pamphlets or boiler plate supplied to local country press. One man refused one night to work overtime when a fire was burning two stacks close to the barn, and the other man refused to milk if his employer went riding in a car he had just bought. Also, they both demanded an increase, which would have given more to the help than the farmer was making for his own labor. He sold off his dairy and let both men go.
It was cheaper for him to sit tight than run on a margin close to a loss.
But as summer went on and the air filled with patriotic propaganda for “every farmer to help feed the fighting world” he bought up more cows and hogs and began again. One of his men was drafted. On the plea he was a farmer, also that he was flat footed, the man got exemption. This man’s duty was to feed
the hogs. He was asked always to count as he fed and see that the smaller ones got their share. The farmer suspected something amiss and counted for himself one day. He looked in a pen. A small hog lay dead plainly of starvation. He called the man.
“Counted every day?”
“Then go into the pen and see what is wrong with that one lying in the straw." The man hauled the dead one out. “Well?” asked the farmer.
“You can feed your own - hogs.
I can get work in a factory!”
That this man will be living on charity the first shut-down of the factory does not modify the fact that he and his kind are the men responsible for the shortage of fuel this year and the shortage of food that is bound to come next year. Farmers are supposed to be the soldiers on the firing line of the food supply. Yet a soldier in the trenches guilty of this conduct would face a firing squad at daylight.
OR take another case—this time a capitalist’s farm with investment of $225,000, a herd of 190 and a very high average production both of milk and crops, of course, with such a supply of fertilizer. A hundred head were sold off last year to pay a deficit and the whole plant is being shut down this year. I asked the owner whose brother is an officer on the firing line and who would, himself, have taken a commission on the firing line, but he thought he could do more good by raising food, why the shut down? Here is his answer: “The factory system has killed us dead. The men demanded factory hours. I gave them. Then they demanded factory wages. I gave them. In three years I have just doubled wages. It will take just exactly every head of stock I have and all machinery I have to sell for me to pay the deficit that has accumulated with four years wasted out of my life. I am quitting because I can’t go on.”
He laid off fourteen men. Very cocky, they hied them off to the factories. Then the fuel shortage came, and the factories could not take them and they are back looking for farm jobs at high wages, spoiled for at least a year for normal farm work with its moderate wages and long hours; but that farm has been put out of business and will lie idle, with a cut-off of at least a ton of milk a day, ninety beeves a year, twenty carloads of hay and four to five thousand bushels of oats. This has contributed to another jacking up in the cost of milk, meat, beef. I could give hundreds of such examples within a radius of a hundred miles from any big market in the Eastern States.
Or take another case—a building proposition essential to an increase in food production. The time specified by the contractor was fifty-two days. The work dragged to ' * ninety-two days. Exacty twentynine days were lost by the men laying off to get over drunks. The rest of the lost time was represented by the efforts of the boss builder who had to scurry for substitutes for the drunks. When asked if he realized “this was his bit for the war,” he answered he “did not care a
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U S. War Machine Breaks Down
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blank for the war; as the Government could not draft any of his gang—they were all over age.”
I know a certain firm supplying the Army with fire wood, hay, oats, grain.
For one week after Labor Day not a maij of fourteen on their staff turned up.
Such instances could be multiplied b;' thousands.
Here and here only is the breakdow:
in Uncle Sam’s war machine. We may cuss Garfield. We may animadvert on Wilson’s professional methods; but the real question is the drafting of labor for this war; and whether Garfield spiked the wheels of industry to let labor “eat of the fruit of its own doing,” or stopped factory production because there was nothing else to do to avert deaths from cold. I do know that labor is to-day “eating of the fruits of its own doing” and will to-morrow starve on the ashes of Sodom of its own doing unless there is a remedy.
Is there a remedy?
A few years before Jim Hill, the wise man of the West died, I asked him that very question in this very connection. I quote part of his answer; and I wish I had taken it all down in letters of fire.
“You can never ram a ready-made remedy down the throat of a democracy. Water never rises above its source, nor a Government above its people. When the people learn that all the wages in the world will not buy a pound of food unless somebody has gone out and by hard work raised that food, there will be more people raise food, and fewer people tell others how to do it. Hunger is our only remedy and you will see it within twenty years.”
AND we have surely learned that all the wealth of New York could not get coal because there was not enough coal. Garfield may be sacrificed to public clamor by the time these words appear; but his unexpected act has driven into our thick heads with sledge hammer force the simple fact that we can win this war only by increased production and not by increased wages and shortened hours. Tens of thousands of shivering people are going to do some hard thinking this winter; and a good many hundreds of thousands of consumers thrown out of work are coming back to the ranks of producers, which they ought never to have left. We are up against fuel shortage now. Will it be food next? Yes, it will, unless this lesson on fuel has brought us to our senses. Congressional howls over the breakdown in the War Machine won’t remedy matters. Labor and labor only has the fate of freedom in its hands.