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Dr. ALBERT Shaw. Mr. Chairman, may I ask Mr. Thomas a question?
The CHAIRMAN. Certainly.
Dr. Shaw. Mr. Thomas, may I ask a question somewhat closely associated with two or three that you have already answered? I have in mind certain manufacturers. Our Government has already approached them and asked them to take munition contracts. Those contracts would not occupy the whole of their manufacturing facilities, would occupy let us say 20 per cent of their manufacturing facilities. These businesses are now on a 10-hour basis. The contracts that the Government would have them take would have to be taken, let us say, on an 8-hour basis, with time and a half for overtime.
Now, those men would like to do the Government business; they would like to take those contracts; they want to be patriotic; but if they took those contracts on the 8-hour basis-pardon me for speaking so long, but I will state my case clearly in a few words—if they took those contracts, which they would have to take on the 8-hour basis, they would be compelled to make over their entire factories upon an 8-hour basis, because their other men working on other things would probably demand the 8-hour day. These men are so situated at the present time that they can not make over their factories, in their own estimation, on the 8-hour day basis, without very, very serious disaster.
That problem is not hypothetical. It is a very practical problem. It is a problem which at this very moment we are compelled to face in this country. What is the answer to a problem like that in the process of transition—because, of course, it is a transitional problem?
Mr. Thomas. If you will allow me to say so, you have succeeded in putting to me what is in the minds of a lot of people, but it has not been put quite so directly. In other words, I would be deceiving you if I did not know that that was at the back of many questions that were directed to me, and an equally burning question. [Laughter.] Therefore, knowing it, I am going to be quite as frank as I have been throughout, and try to face it; because we would not be serving you and we would not be honest with you if we did not face a difficulty rather than skip over it, and I do not think it would be fair.
Dr. Shaw. I am in the position of a disinterested friend, and I can ask a frank question. [Laughter.]
Mr. THOMAS. In other words, you can say really what you are quite sure others would prefer you to say than they. [Laughter and applause.]
Dr. Shaw. Possibly.
Mr. Thomas. That is diverting. Now, it is only fair to state first the difference between the manufacturer in this country and the manufacturer in our country on this particular point. The first difference is this: The difficulty of the manufacturer here is that if he himself were given all war work, whilst it may be temporarily profitable to him, from the fact of all his business competitors not doing any war work they would be left free to steal the business of which his capital provided the basis. Now, I am putting it as fairly as I can. That clearly is a great disadvantage to the manufacturer and one which capital and labor and the Government itself must fairly recognize. That did not arise in our country, for the reason
that everybody was put on Government work, and the Government prohibited the export and the manufacture of nonessential things, and therefore when the war was over the manufacturers started on an equal footing and did not have the disadvantage which your manufacturers have got of Brown working for the Government and Smith collaring Brown's orders. (Laughter.]
That is the manufacturer's point of view. The second point that he is faced with is this: He is well aware that conditions of labor, like profits, is a disease, and it is contagious. [Laughter.] That is to say, just as you rightly say, when you introduce into a factory eight hours for a given number of men the disease will spread to the remainder. [Laughter.] You will have to call in a doctor to deal with the disease of the whole. But, of course, that is not limited to the worker, because equally if one employer is making 10 per cent and the other 20 the one that is making 10 per cent is not content until he makes 20, so that there is no difference so far as the principle is concerned. But the difficulty that your Government is up against is this:
If you are given an order and the order, say, is immediate and urgent, will
only last three months and will only occupy 20 per cent of your staff, you are faced with the difficulty of turning down that order when you can not if you like, having calculated your expenses, take the risk of maintaining eight hours for all. Now, that is your problem.
There are two ways, I think, of meeting it. The first would be a universal eight-hour day for all, and that would put them all on an equal footing. [Applause.] But I am not going to skip it by assuming that that is the only solution. That, I submit, would be the equal solution, would be the fair and equitable solution, I believe, in the end, because our experience with the eight-hour day is this, that all employers that have adopted eight hours in our country have never gone back to a nine-hour day, and the general experience is that the eight hours has proved beneficial to the employers as well as the employees.
But we are dealing with war, and the emergency it creates, and the general economic situation does not arise. Now, I believe, and I am satisfied from what has happened here to-day and what has happened during the fortnight that we have been with you, that there is a genuine desire on the part of organized labor to meet any and every difficulty. That is one of the difficulties that is recognized, probably, as the most urgent on both sides; and I would say that the best and the surest sign of the coming to an agreement is for you to do as I said just now in answer to another question: Let the manufacturer or the contractor who is faced with that problem immediately get in touch with the representatives of the men in that industry, come together, face the fact that here is the difficulty, here are the facts of the situation, here is the Nation's emergency, and I am satisfied that with give and take on both sides a bridge will be found for that. I have an idea our bridge could be found, but I am not dictating or lecturing the American people. I am giving them the benefit of our experience; and I am quite confident that with a desire to find a solution on both sides, you will find one. But I would beg of you not to be edging around the question, not to be assuming that the con
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tracts can not be done, but let any contractor faced with that difficulty frankly send to the trades-union representatives and say, “Let us meet in conference to discuss this question with all the cards on the table." Let the employer say, “I am not desirous of taking advantage of the war to break down something that I never believed in.” On the other hand, let the employees say, “Whilst anxious to maintain the law, we are not anxious to take advantage of the war to enforce something during the war that we could not obtain in peace times.” With both sides recognizing that, I repeat, I believe they will find a solution.
The CHAIRMAN. In connection with this point, I think it might prove advantageous to have a bit of information.
The question was discussed in an informal way as to the relaxation or the suspension of the eight-hour provision in the contracts for work for the Government of the United States. As a representative of the working people as well as a citizen of the United States, and having had the experience as well as the testimony of men who have put the eight-hour day into operation, I was unwilling to yield the proposition for the universal suspension of the eight-hour workday. I was willing that there be an understanding between the employers and the workmen, and in their representative organized capacity, so that they would have a united voice in submitting or resisting; but I was also willing to have the enforcement of the eight-hour law left in the hands of the President of the United States. I felt that he would not submit to the relaxation or the suspension of that law or any other law which it has taken half a century to write into the statutes of our country without there being a real emergency, and that he would not submit to the hysteria, and, under the guise of patri. otism, the effort to drive the last ounce of energy and blood out of the workers, the men, and the women.
When that position was refused, I withdrew the entire proposition. I did not feel warranted in offering to yield the wider scope of the eight-hour principle, and, by yielding, invite the employers to insist upon the suspension of the eight-hour workday.
That is the thing; that is the real fact which Dr. Shaw has presented. I was confronted by the statement that the introduction of the eight-hour day in establishments for, say, 20, 30, 40, or 50 per cent of the employees would disrupt the work—the word “disrupt was used-of the entire establishment. As a matter of fact, there are contractors now who are performing but 10 per cent of their work under the provisions of the eight-hour law, and the balance of the men are working nine hours a day. It has had the effect of infecting the other workers with the desire for an eight-hour day; but that is the human aspiration, and it has no right to be curbed, particularly when it will make for the industrial advantage of the employer, of the country, of the workers, and of the industry.
I had hoped that Mr. Henry Ford would be here to-day. He has accepted membership on this committee, and on last Saturday his general secretary both telegraphed me and telephoned me and wanted to know whether Mr. Ford's presence was a necessity. Of course, I could not say that it was. The presence of any one particular person, the chairman included, is not a necessity; but I thought and said that it would be advisable, and I regret very much that he is not here to-night in order he might give testimony-as he has already given
testimony of the greater efficiency of the workers under the 8hour day, of their greater productivity, and that it has been profitable to his company, profitable to the men, and has resulted in an increased production, ranging from 20 to more than 60 per cent, with the same group of men, with the same tools, performing the same work, under the 8-hour system as compared with the 10-hour system.
It is not the destruction or the disruption of the firm or the firm's interest; it is the unwillingness of some of the men to yield to what is a demonstrated fact and truth. They have held to their old system so long that they are unwilling to yield and accept the truth. Back of it all is their unwillingness to meet with their workmen as a collective entity or with the representatives of the trade-unions in their trade. [Applause.]
I had with me to-day documents which I left in the hands of my secretary, and thought that I might at the start read or present them to the attention of the President. I had not any time to prepare for an address or any remarks to the President, and what I said were the thoughts that came to me at the moment; but I had the documents, the resolutions, and the declarations on the one hand of the organized labor movement and the national and local trade-unions, of their devotion to the interests and the welfare of the country, and their offer of service, military or industrial, and to follow unreservedly the lead of the President of the United States wherever he may direct them to go; and on the other hand I had the documents showing the refusal of large employers of labor to even receive a committee of their own employees in order to rectify grievances and complaints, the refusal to meet a committee of their own employees, organized or unorganized, organized temporarily because of the necessity of meeting this new situation and the demands made upon them. I did not bring it to the attention of the President. I know how greatly he is burdened with all the affairs of State, and I did not want to add to them one jot. They are going to be brought to the attention of the officers of the Government of the United States. They are going to be brought to the attention of the Council of National Defense and the advisory commission.
I say this now—conscious of all the responsibility of the utterance-that we are not going to give up our liberty. [Great applause.) We are not going to give up our rights. The right of self-defense is inherent in us. I believe that the fight we are making and are willing to make is in self-defense of the
Republic of the United States. The Republic can not endure with the Imperial German Government's policy. [Great applause.) They can not coexist. What matters it to the men of labor if, in the struggle for the freedom and the democracy of the United States, while that struggle is going on, chains in the guise of slavery are fastened upon them?
We will give service, and probably we will ignore the insults and the injustice which is attempted to be inflicted upon us. Only this afternoon I had the statement made to me that in one of the Government arsenals the commandant there, or one of the understrappers (I do not know his title or his name), when a committee of the employees in that department undertook to meet him, requested him to meet them, said he would not talk with them. He said: “You are not civilians. You are in the military service of the country; and you will do as you are told, and I will not consider anything that you may want to present.
Now, that is not the proper spirit. That spirit tends to disruption and division; and our movement and this committee more than anything else is undertaking to mobilize the good will of all the people of this country. It is our function. We will furnish our men, we will furnish the soldiers—they will be the soldiers and the men in the Navy—the other men will work and the women will work. We will all do our share in every way we possibly can; but we are going to insist that the Government of the United States shall not be a party to the encouragement of this antagonism and this genius of profiteering, and having nothing else in view, and using the term “ patriotism” simply as a lip utterance, and having no responsive part in their hearts. [Applause.]
The employers of labor must come to realize that this labor movement is not a mushroom growth overnight. It has been the development of decades. It has been the result of the misery and the struggles and the scars of generations, aye, of centuries.
centuries. The labor movement is not going to he and can not be swept out of existence. We have had some experience with this attempt, and we have been growing stronger and more powerful in numbers and I hope in influence as time went on, and despite the struggles. We have learned in the meantime and during our growth the responsibilities which rest upon us, the responsibilities expressed to-day by one of our British friends who has come amongst us, when he said that we must impress upon the employers and
upon the employees, upon the organized workmen and employers, that whatever the agreement may be, when reached it shall be honorably enforced by both.
There comes this question: Men and women have organized in their trades-unions, and, in agreement with employers, have established wages, rates of pay, hours, labor conditions, covering a period, say, of two or three years. In the meantime the cost of living has gone up probably 60 or 70 and in some instances more than 100 per cent, and the employers have sold the finished product at probably 50, 60, or a greater per cent than at the time when the agreement was made with the workmen. What are the workmen going to do during that period? What are the workwomen going to do during that period ? As a matter of fact, whenever the cost of living has increased, say, 50 per cent, and there has been no corresponding increase in wages, it has meant a reduction of wages, a reduction of the purchasing power of wages. There must be some consideration of these conditions, or you will spread such a feeling of discontent that you do not know where it is going to lead.
I am sure I did not intend to say what I have said; but, like the Friend or the Quaker, “the spirit moved me,” and I said it. [Laughter and applause.]
Col. ISAAC ULLMAN. When you speak of eight hours a day, how many hours a week does that mean?
Mr. THOMAS. Forty-eight.
Mr. Thomas. The Saturday afternoon holiday is a long-established custom in the old country.
Col. ULLMAN. I know that.