Freezing Fireside

President Roosevelt in his fireside chat grappled with the manpower problem but failed to pin it down. He told the American people bluntly that the present situation is intolerable and a few concrete steps were outlined. "We shall be compelled to stop workers from moving from one war job to another; to stop employers from stealing labor from each other; to use older men, and more women; and to stop the wastage of labor in all nonessential activities." But nowhere did the President explain who is to do the job, when it must be done, or where the authority will come from. No legislation was requested, no authority delegated.

All this merely deepens the gloom which has enveloped the whole manpower program. That issue has provoked a first-class jurisdictional battle which rages through Washington. The Department of Labor, the War Labor Board, and General Hershey's Selective Service Headquarters have been bickering ever since Pearl Harbor. Paul McNutt and his Manpower Commission sit idly on the sidelines, eager to go in as substitutes but lacking authority from the head coach. The fireside chat does not unravel this tangle. Still unanswered is the central question: Who is to decide when what workers go where?

Clarification of conflicting jurisdiction is needed, but will not solve the puzzle without new legislation from Congress. The occasional "on-the-job" freezing of labor already attempted is purely "jawbone" regulation, much like Leon Henderson's requests for voluntary price control before Congress gave him legal powers. Outright conscription of labor and 'a 'teen-age draft are impossible under existing statutes. These measures, which the President said "may be necessary," will require renewed Congressional deliberation. Even with strong Presidential leadership, Congress dallied with price-control. Without such leadership, they may waste more precious weeks bandying charges of "dictatorship" during labor draft debates.

The Gordian knot of manpower allocation is as tight as ever. President Roosevelt has sharpened the blade, but the actual cutting is yet to be done.

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