Labor’s struggles were often brutal, sometimes deadly, but labor, using the strike as their weapon, persisted and won a seat at the table.
I wrote how, in the 1930s, under the Roosevelt administration, the federal government, rather than give equal status to both labor and management at the bargaining table gave unprecedented powers to the unions while tying the bargaining hands of management.
State legislators in many northern states followed with their own union protecting laws, doing then what legislatures continue to do today: buy the worker’s vote with legislation favorable to the unions.
The unions, now legally protected, grew in power and began waging war against management — and capitalism. Labor’s demands were met by management as long as the increased labor costs could be passed on to the consumer. But as world competition began to undercut American prices in the market place, the unions refused to acknowledge the need to be competitive with their new foreign competitors.
The unions again turned to the government and asked it to block entrance of their competitor’s products. The government’s attempts failed because the laws of nature stepped in and overrode man-made laws. Nature’s laws always do.
Now the unions and their workers had to make a choice: either meets the new competitor’s prices or stands firm and refuse to negotiate with management who needed more competitive wages. The unions stood fast. Businesses either went out of business or moved to foreign lands where labor costs and government regulations were more favor-able to management. This led to a loss of thousands of jobs and the benefits labor had fought so hard to win. No winners: labor, management and America lost.
In 1946, J. Reuben Clark gave a talk that stated: “Labor and capital must quit waging war against one another with a hate each against the other that leads easily to an actual bloodlust that is sometimes gratified.” He continued with “But, by and large, labor’s demands of today (1946) are the inevitable consequence of capital’s extortions of yesterday. Both capital and labor forget that we are all one people and part of a great brotherhood of men. Capital conceives of labor, and labor conceives of capital, as an inanimate, impersonal, devilish abstraction whose sole aim is the destruction of the other, and then deals with the other on that basis … each of them forgetting and ignoring that their respective ranks are made of men (and women) of flesh and blood, and that all of us taken together make one industrial, social whole, and that if one body of us suffers, the whole of us are in distress.”
Clark’s words, given in 1946, are even truer today. America is terribly distressed in 2014. Clark’s talk often referenced the roots of socialism that were planted by Roosevelt, the roots that have grown in size and today threaten to replace the Founder’s “Tree of Liberty,” the Founders tree planted in 1776.
Clark’s words remind me of Cicero’s words anciently about treason, words worth pondering in this 2014 election year. Cicero wrote: “A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly against the city. But the traitor moves among those within the gates freely. His sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears no traitor; he speaks in the accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their garments and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men.”
When Americans think of treason, betraying one’s county, they often think of Benedict Arnold.
Today, America has its Benedict Arnolds. They are in the unions, in management and in government, some working together to “fundamentally change” and destroy America’s republican form of government and freedoms.
If America is to survive, “capital (management) and labor must come to a condition of industrial partnership.” Capital needs labor, and labor needs capital for each to survive. America’s divide today reminds me of Christ’s words in Mark 3:24: “And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
Words to ponder.
Donald Conkey is a retired agricultural economist in Woodstock.