Cabbages and Kings
We have in this country what people are calling a labor situation. A few months ago we were panicky about it, today we are still afraid of it. Professor Slichter of the faculty tells us that we are becoming a laboristic society, where the critical power-control of job giving lies not with the capitalist businessman, but with the labor leader. Senator Joe Ball tells the press that labor threatens to become a "monopoly" and a "cartel." These are trick words, part of an attempt to transfer the public fear of the monopolistic businessman to the Pegler portrait of the "all-powerful" labor leader. Men in the Congress and out of it are attempting to control a social organism of which they know little and understand almost nothing. The problem is bigger than the labor problem. These men who still regard labor organizations as something alien and threatening in our society are fanning fires that will some day get out of control. They are attempting to cripple the organizations that not only serve to give back to the minimized industrial worker his dignity and human assertiveness, but act as a balance wheel to the growing tendency of American business to concentrate. It is not that this movement toward bigger business is in the nature of a deliberate scheme to control the economy. It is inherent in the nature of an essentially uncontrolled free market economy, where the advantages of mass production call for integration, that bigness, and its corollary power, should evolve.
It is not deliberate selfishness that results in the unreasonable attempts of business to squeeze the consumer in a time of prosperity. The businessman, like the worker, knows that we live in a pendulum economy, where the inevitability of the next depression is as sure as the swing of the brass rod in the grandfather's clock. The businessman's defense is to make money in the sunshine, enough at least to oil his idle machinery in the dead days at the bottom of the cycle. The result is the increasing trend toward consolidation and away from the dispersion of ownership that, theoretically, should preserve the balance of power in the business community. In the same way the worker, union and non-union, lives with the fear of jobless days ahead. In his own way he attempts to accumulate enough fat to live through the days when twenty percent of those seeking jobs are frustrated, and the economy functions at a fraction of capacity. Each side labor and management, could be satisfied in its demands, given a stable full employment economy. But in an economic organism subject to violent cyclical swings from boom to bust, each is out to get more than just a fair share. Both sides, labor and management want that "extra" which may mean the difference between life and death in the depression. The result is the upward spiral, and the crash.
The problem is not labor's power. The problem is the elimination of that fear which makes balanced, rational demands by labor and capital impossible today. Strong unions, sure of their acceptance in the society, will continue to do what the Wagner Act says they will do--contribute to the developing maturity of collective bargaining. They will serve as a check to the growing concentration of business ownership, and above all they will add to the democratic quality of industrial life through the injection of worker participation.
Congress talks on and on of closed shops, he right to strike, the menace of industry-wide collective bargaining. But the days of the roaring factory and the full larder are running out. It is time for Congress to begin to plan concretely, to prepare for useful public spending, for the stimulation of private investment, for increased mobility in the labor market, for all those rationalizing tactics in fiscal and tax areas which will prevent the sickening spiral downward into the dumps of joblessness and despair. It's getting very late.