Editorial: Not a swell job (4-30-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (April 30, 1941)


In far-off Hong Kong, the President’s eldest son, Capt. James Roosevelt, told members of the American Club:

The people at home are doing a swell job in the defense program… It is significant that less than one-quarter of 1% of the workers are affected by industrial disputes.

It would be highly significant – if it were true. But, as Capt. Roosevelt spoke, nearly 400,000 coal miners were still on strike. Agreement to reopen the mines came a little later. Before the mines actually are reopened, a full month of production will have been lost. This one industrial dispute will have cost, directly, more man-days than all the strikes listed by the Labor Department in the entire year of 1940.

Directly – that is man-days lost in mining coal. But the loss does not end there. As of April 26, reported Edward F. McGrady, the War Department’s labor consultant, at least 24 steel blast furnaces had already been banked. Production had been replaced in many branches of the steel industry, and in many other industries dependent on steel.

And the loss, much of it, can never be replaced. The coal mines will reopen. Then, after some days, the coke ovens will start up again. Then, after more days, the steel furnaces will get back into blast. Then, finally, steel production may go to full capacity. But full capacity, though it may be increased in the future, is a present limit. No speedup, no overtime work now, can stretch that limit to make up for all that has been lost.

So the coal strike will continue for months to affect not 400,000 miners, but production schedules throughout many industries. Shipyards, arsenals, airplane factories will feel the pinch. Soldiers waiting in training camps for guns and tanks will feel it.

Statistics, even accurate statistics, may be dangerously deceptive. Percentages quoted to make strikes seem unimportant encourage more strikes. The truth is that we are not doing a swell job in the defense program. Until we find a way to prevent strikes by agreements, instead of stopping strikes by agreements after their harm is done, we shall be doing nothing like the job these terrible times demand of us.