One of the most widely discussed and far-reaching topics of the day is the controversy raging between capital and labor. There are varied opinions and often dogmatic ideas on this vital question which occupies the minds of the political leaders of the day.
Workers in the advent movement are familiar with the description of the scene given by the apostle James, who pictured the greed and oppression that would prevail just before Christ's second coming. And Mrs. E. G. White states that "through the working of trusts and the results of labor unions and strikes, the conditions of life in the cities are constantly becoming more and more difficult." —"Testimonies," Vol. IX, p. 90.
The scenes recently enacted in the United States at Youngstown, Cleveland, Johnstown, Warren, and elsewhere, are apt illustrations of the statements found in "Testimonies," Volume IX, pages 11 to 18. The feud between these two forces is becoming more pronounced from day to day. It is well for our workers to review the situation in panoramic survey and to be acquainted with the background.
Labor activities were in the forefront in last year's news. United States Department of Labor statistics for the first nine months of 1937 show that 3,757 strikes were called, each lasting at least one day and involving six workers or more. In the same period in 1936 only 1,712 such strikes were called. The number of man-hours lost, according to the same source, shows an even greater proportionate increase--25,380,685 in the nine months of 1937, against 8,841,717 in the corresponding months of the previous year
The Committee for Industrial Organization, and its leader, John L. Lewis, started an extensive campaign early in 1937 to gain recognition in many industries, and introduced as a new medium the so-called "sit-down" strikes. Little effort was made by governmental officials to remove the "sit-downers" from the property of the rightful owners, but indignant public opinion was one of the chief influences in curbing the activities of the strikers.
The motor industry, starting with General Motors, and later including other large producers, was afflicted by strikes from the outset of the year 1937. In May, the C.I.O. shifted its aggressive campaign to the independent mills of the Republic Steel Corporation, the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, and the Inland Steel Company. The United States Steel Corporation averted threatening difficulties with the C.I.O. in March by granting wage increases and recognition to that organization. In the same month the General Motors Corporation and the Chrysler Corporation reached agreements with the C.I.O., but did not accede to its demand that it be allowed to act as sole bargaining agency, and labor difficulties persisted at their plants for many months thereafter.
On April 12, 1937, the National Labor Relations Act—popularly known as the Wagner Act—was upheld in decisions in five different cases by the Supreme Court. Great importance was attached to these decisions, for it widened Federal power in dealing with industry. Even the two outstanding labor organizations—the C.I.O. and the A. F. of L.—are at each other's throats, each apparently demanding what the other will not grant, and thus complicating the current situation.
Crimes of violence, utter lawlessness, and other forms of outrageous behavior have been manifested in many of the strikes that have marred the record during the past year. On the other hand some of the bargains collectively wrung from employers have been ignored again and again in the most supercilious fashion. Persistent and strenuous efforts have been made by the unions to monopolize labor opportunities by enrolling all the workers in a given craft as members of a union. Thus they hope to force employers to deal with the union instead of with individual workers and to exclude nonunion workers from employment by imposing, whenever possible, the closed shop. Many workmen who refused to join in the strikes were publicly denounced as "scabs" and were subjected to boycott, intimidation, and personal violence ; not infrequently their families suffered, too. Strikes have paralyzed transportation, mining, and various industries, destroyed millions of dollars' worth of property, sacrificed millions more in wages, and taken a ghastly toll in deaths and injuries.
A World Phenomenon
Not only in this country, but throughout the world, difficulties are being encountered between capital and labor. The French crisis in January of this year resulted from the failure of Premier Chautemps to end conflicts between employers and workmen. Exports of capital ran to amounts which recalled the black days of last June.
Much could be written, pro and con, regarding the claims of labor. Many businessmen, because of selfishness and greed, have cast an odium on industry through their failure to recognize certain obligations to their employees. During the current depression when competition was keen, and even severe, many employers curtailed expenses by reducing salaries.
During the height of the late depression, labor unions embraced only one fifth of all wage earners, excluding agricultural laborers. The activities of the C.I.O. during the past year and the passage of the Wagner Act stimulated a substantial increase in the membership of organized labor. But even with these activities, scarcely one quarter of the industrial workers of the country hold union membership. One of the reasons for this is the weapons used by employers. The employer's most effective weapon against the development of labor unions consists in discriminating against or discharging individual workers for union membership or activity.
Alexander H. Frey, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, writes:
"Many courts have issued injunctions against attempts by workers or labor leaders to persuade others to strike in order to induce union recognition on an employer's part. These courts offer a wide variety of reasons for this result, but the underlying thought is that the workers are seeking to bring about a cessation of activity in the employer's business that will be economically detrimental to him, and that the employer and the employees are not business rivals, and hence this injury is not justified."
________ To be continued in July
* The author is an earnest Seventh-day Adventist who, because of his connection with one of the offices of the New York Stock Exchange, can help us to visualize the larger aspects of the capital-labor struggle of the day. Some of our workers tend to rehearse conditions and issues of yesteryear, and seem oblivious to the constant flow of events. When we refer to the situation portrayed in James 5, let us use the terms' and deal with the facts of today, not those of a decade ago.—Editor.