Election 1940: Presidential Nominees Give Labor Views (8-24-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (August 25, 1940)


Roosevelt Cites Record; Willkie for New Attitude In Washington

Washington, Aug. 24 (UP) –

President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American Federation of Labor tonight that the New Deal’s labor record is a sufficient campaign promise, but Republican candidate Willkie asserted that if Mr. Roosevelt is re-elected, “we shall have government unions as in Nazi Germany.”

These views were expressed to The American Federationist, the AFL official magazine, which opened its pages to the replies of both candidates so that its members could study them.

Mr. Roosevelt wrote a letter to President William Green of the AFL.

Mr. Willkie wrote a signed article for The Federationist.

Roosevelt Hits Lip Service

Mr. Roosevelt wrote:

If anyone asks the question as to the future policy of the Administration toward labor, the answer is that we shall hold steadfastly to every advance gained and not permit present safeguards to be whittled away by yielding to the specious arguments of those whose lip service to labor is loud and eloquent before election, but whose ears are deaf to all appeals to justice the rest of the time.

This administration is willing to be judged – as to future policy – by past performance. The achievements of the Administration since 1933 shall be the witness to its good faith in the future.

Mr. Willkie wrote:

We must encourage production and make more jobs. But in that event it will be the role of organized labor, with proper support from the Government, to see to it that the progress of the last 35 years, in wages and hours, is retained and even carried further.

In 1939, the private payrolls of American industry were 12.5 billion less than in 1929. All of this and more must be recaptured by labor as prosperity returns. But it can only be done by the recovery of prosperity.

Says Strife Is Wrong Route

This cannot be accomplished through strife and bloodshed. It can and must be accomplished through collective discussion of mutual problems around a tab le. One of the greatest advances of recent years has been a growing awareness, on the part of employers, of labor’s rights in this regard. Also it seems to me that the leadership of American labor is developing a new, important sense of obligation to society as a whole.

Mr. Roosevelt proposed that an examination be made of labor “safeguards” initiated in his two terms.

I think that such an examination will reveal that this Administration has been unremitting in its efforts to foster, promote and develop the interest of labor, to improve working conditions and to advance opportunities for profitable employment," Mr. Roosevelt added.

Mr. Willkie wrote that the most important labor problem is “a new attitude in Washington.”

He said that he sympathized with AFL criticism of the National Labor Relations Board and the “necessity for better administration of the Labor Act.”

Mr. Willkie then explained:

Better administration means not only the more expeditious handling of cases but a more judicious consideration of them. Above all it means that more effective effort should be made to use conciliation before cases reach the stage of complaint opportunity to create better understanding between new unions and their employers. This opportunity has been missed by the present Administration.

Asks Wagner Act Changes

To achieve the desired end, some changes in the Wagner Act are necessary, but I believe that the more important need is a new attitude in Washington.

If the New Deal is continued I believe it will be only a matter of time before the American labor movement becomes completely dominated by the Government, and that in place of the old discredited company union we shall have government unions as in Nazi Germany.

For my part, I pledge myself to help the principle of free unions.

Roosevelt Lists Achievements

Mr. Roosevelt listed among New Deal labor achievements:

  • Distribution to the unemployed of 3 billion dollars under the Social Security program.

  • Employment of 29 million persons through the Government’s free public employment service.

  • Increased earnings and shorter hours brought about by the wage and hour program.

  • Awarding of contracts totaling nearly 2 billion dollars under the public contracts act.

  • Establishment of the rights of collective bargaining by the National Labor Relations Act.

Mr. Roosevelt said:

The above briefly summarized, is our record. By that record we are willing to be judged and we offer it to the country as a basis of judgment and as a witness and a pledge of faith to American wage earners.

Willkie Urges Free Choice

Mr. Willkie urged that the “constitutional right of free choice in joining or not joining a union,” be preserved.

“Nevertheless,” he said, “every worker owes a debt to organized labor,” which has been a “principal factor in bringing about improved working conditions, higher wages and shorter hours for all.”

Mr. Willkie termed the National Labor Relations Act “a foundation for good industrial relations, but only a foundation.”

The conversion of formal union recognition into “effective co-operation,” he said, is “the biggest single task in American industrial relations.”

Racket, Red Dangers Cited

While providing a foundation, he said, the Act has "imposed important responsibilities on the American labor union.

Labor must be more vigilant than ever in preventing racketeers and Communists from using the movement for their own ends.

Only by such vigilance can organized labor protect itself against those forces which would destroy a free labor movement.

Aided Father in Union Defense

As to his past record on labor issues, Mr. Willkie wrote:

I grew up as a boy in a small factory town, where I learned my first lessons in the importance of organized labor. My father, who was a lawyer, devoted a great deal of his time to representing unions, and the first time I was in court I appeared with him in such a defense. Since then, I have sought to encourage co-operation between employer and employee in every way I could. While I was a corporation executive, whenever it was my personal job to decide concerning the right of men to organize in any of the plants over which I had jurisdiction, I always decided in favor of that right. When I resigned from that job recently we had approximately 30 active contracts, both AFL and CIO.

I believe that American economics are dynamic and should be constantly expanding. And I believe that labor is an essential part of the dynamics of expansion. I feel strongly that in the coming years we should bring about a steadily rising standard of living…And, consistent with the proper functioning of the economic system, those who do the real work of America should receive a larger proportionate share of the national income.

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