Wagner and Industrial Democracy

The radio colloquy between William Green and Chairman Wagner of the National Labour Board struck out some very astounding things most astounding, perhaps, Senator Wagner's conception of "industrial democracy." That great principle which moulds and directs our political life is now going to be applied to our industry, according to the Senator, and by way of proof he adduces be fact that the Board has supervised twenty elections of labour representatives to collective bargaining conferences. What the weighting of labour and employer will be, Senator Wagner does not say; from the metaphysic of the Washington administration one imagines that the government will hold, not only the deciding card, but most of the others as well. However, the Senator adds, in reply to a question by Mr. Green: "No, there is nothing in the law of the codes which prohibits strikes and there is nothing in the policy of the board which is opposed to strikes as an instrument of the very last resort."

What all this may mean in relation to "industrial democracy" is difficult to define. It is reminiscent of the celebrated British Whitley Report on capital and labour, which provided for the establishment in each industry of a Joint Standing Industrial Council, in which the industrialists and the workers had equal numerical representation. The Whitley Report did not set any limits to the power of these Councils; it set them up, and having set them up, found them good, because they were roughly "democratic" in their composition and did not affect any of the serious problems of a modern industrial society. They left the gulf between capital and labour unnarrowed and made no progress in the direction of real industrial democracy. As instruments for the arbitration of wage disputes they had, through the participation of the government, a vague kind of impartiality which might ideally be construed as advantageous, but which could have little practical significance under the political conditions obtaining throughout modern states. In other words, they were a little better than the National Labour Board, inasmuch as their divisions were functional rather than regional; but they were quite as useless as the National Labour Board insofar as their sanctions were doubtful, and their sanctions were doubtful, and their decisions incapable of enforcement.

In a more critical republic, we would see talk of "cooperation between capital and labour" for what it is, a clumsy and disingenuous evasion of the problems which modern industrial development has evolved. Between the interests of capital, as it is organized today, and those of the workmen in its employ there is no fundamental community. Our economy is founded on price, and the role of the producer is, even under normal conditions, to keep wages as low as the traffic will bear, while the aim of the worker is to push them as high as he can. Even a small depression in the price level creates a sharp problem in that balance; and when, as is happening today, the producer finds he can make no such concessions as the workers demand, a crisis in the labour market results. Until the abolition of private ownership in production harmonizes the interests of the worker and the producer, our labour market must remain, and will continue to become ever more and more, a vast game of touch and go punctuated by strikes and lockouts. Senator Wagner, the President, and the National Recovery Administration may achieve a temporary compromise; but let this be called by its true name, industrial regimentation, and not miscalled "industrial democracy." POLLUX.