The situation on the labor front is what would be described in military dispatches as "fluid." In Congress, the Republicans, who hoisted labor legislation to a "must" position on the field of domestic action, are wrangling over what to do and how to do it. And while the Nation's solons wrestle with the hopeless task of trying to legislate labor disputes out of existence, the workers themselves are readying to do battle with their only really effective weapon--the strike.
One hundred and forty thousand telephone employees have voted to walk out early next month. The Nation's basic industries--steel and coal--will be fortunate indeed if they are not strikebound when the company-union contracts expire on April 30 and March 31 respectively. And last week, as the index of wholesale prices jumped seven points, opening a way through which the cost of living may leap to fantastic new levels, organized labor grew restive. Almost all of the big unions, especially those in the rubber and automobile industries, are expected to ask for higher wages.
The Congressional formula for forestalling the impending strike-wave and creating industrial peace appears to be to take over the NAM program, reword it, and attempt to foist as much of it on the unions as is compatible with the Republican ambitions for 1948. One of the major impediments to Congressional action is the dispute between Speaker Martin and Senator Taft as to whether the foisting should be done piecemeal or it toto.
Republican leaders and the NAM aim to "equalize" bargaining power--to restore the pristine purity in industrial relations which existed before the Wagner Act. They assume that the scales are weighted in favor of labor and that in order to secure "balance" it is necessary to abolish industry-wide bargaining, the closed shop and institute close government supervision of the finances of unions.
Of course if this concept is carried to its extreme limits it would lead to the restoration of bargaining between the individual worker and the individual company--an end that would probably be quite acceptable to the men who are currently bewailing the helplessness of browbeaten business. The attitude of the unreformed sector of management was indicated last week in Chicago where a speaker before the American Management Association proclaimed the dissatisfaction resulting from high and rising prices, labor disputes, and "the fat dividend melons being cut by many of the country's large corporations" should be countered not by lower prices or wage increases but by a high-powered publicity program to win public confidence and accustom consumers and workers to existing conditions.
The road to industrial peace lies not in weakening bus in strengthening unions. Union "responsibility" is a worthy goal if the term means eliminating the racketeering and undemocratic practices that are found in some unions; but a drive for "responsibility" is too often used to cloak a drive to weaken or climinate all unions. The legislation now being considered by Congress will not remove the causes of labor disputes--a fact that will become all too evident if the laws being contemplated are enacted. Collective bargaining stands as the only way of settling labor disputes--bargaining between equals.