Words That Men Live By
John L. Lewis (1937)
Washington, D. C., Sept. 3, 1937 Ė John L. Lewis the towering labor leader who in 57 years has lifted himself from the coal-mines to the most controversial if not the outstanding individual position in the labor movement, tonight went on the radio to defend his actions in precipitating a nation-wide crisis of strikes as part of the organizing campaign for his new Congress of Industrial Organizations.
The public had a rare chance to hear the neo-classical oratory of Mr. Lewis that has swayed labor meetings for a quarter century; that, in addition, has made him a power in politics and economics as well as in the assembly halls of labor.
Mr. Lewis gave the CIOís organizing activities at a time when the United States is just pulling out of the depression, have particularly upset the chief of the CIO, because large segments of the public in favor of breaking the monopoly heretofore held by the American Federation of Labor in all organizing fields except the railroads are still withholding support from Mr. Lewis.
The United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and similar groups representing industry and financial interests are rendering a disservice of the American people in their attempts to frustrate the organization of labor and in their refusal to accept collective bargaining as one of our economic institutions.Printable version
These groups are encouraging a systematic organization under the sham pretext of local interests. They equip these vigilantes with tin hats, wooden clubs, gas masks and lethal weapons and train them in the arts of brutality and oppression.
No tin hat brigade of goosestepping vigilantes or bibble-babbling mob of blackguarding and corporation-paid scoundrels will prevent the onward march of labor, or divert its purpose to play its natural and rational part in the development of the economic, political and social life of our nation.
Unionization, as opposed to communism, presupposes the relation of employment; it is based upon the wage system and it recognizes fully and unreservedly the institution of private property and the right to investment profits. It is upon the fuller development of collective bargaining, the wider expansion of the labor movement, the increased influence of labor in our national councils, that the perpetuity of our democratic institutions must largely depend.
They organized workers of America, free in their industrial life, conscious partners of production, secure in their homes and enjoying a decent standard of living, will prove the finest bulwark against the intrusion of alien doctrines of government.
Do those who hatched this foolish cry of communism in the CIO fear the increased influence of labor in our democracy? Do they fear its influence will be cast on the side of shorter hours, a better system of distributed employment, better homes for the underprivileged, social security for the aged, a fairer distribution of our national income? Certainly the workers that are being organized want a voice in the determination of these objectives of social justice.
Certainly labor wants a fairer share of the national income. Assuredly labor wants a larger participation in increased productive efficiency. Obviously the population is entitled to participate in the fruits of the genius of our men of achievement in the field of material sciences.
Labor has suffered just as our farm population has suffered from a viciously unequal distribution of the national income. In the exploitation of both classes of workers has been the source of panic and depression, and upon the economic welfare of both rests the best assurance of a sound and permanent prosperity.
Under the banner of the Committee for Industrial Organization - American labor is on the march. Its objectives today are those it had in the beginning: to strive for the unionization of our unorganized millions of workers and for the acceptance of collective bargaining as a recognized American institution.
It seeks peace with the industrial world. It seeks cooperation and mutuality of effort with the agricultural population. It would avoid strikes. It would have its rights determined under the law by the peaceful negotiations and contract relationships that are supposed to characterize American commercial life.
Until an aroused public opinion demands that employers accept that rule, labor has no recourse but to surrender its rights or struggle for their realization with its own economic power.
Labor, like Israel, has many sorrows. Its women weep for their fallen and they lament for the future of the children of the race. It ill behooves one who has supped at laborís table and who has been sheltered in laborís house to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality both labor and its adversaries when they become locked in deadly embrace.
I repeat the labor seeks peace and guarantees its own loyalty, but the voice of labor, insistent upon its rights, should not be annoying to the ears of justice nor offensive to the conscience of the American people.