SEPTEMBER 4, 1950
HYDE PARK—Here we are again facing Labor Day in troubled times for all of us as well as for Labor. Labor is at a premium and there will be less and less unemployment as long as there are war needs which must be met and money is spent in ways that are necessary but are nevertheless not very constructive because they bring us no lasting benefit.
I remember so well a report from Europe, praising the Germany of Hitler because there was so little unemployment. This is one of the really big problems that our civilization has not yet solved. How to make it pay to stay at peace, how to really give people full employment and the chance for a good life in a world that is at peace.
Just now the men and women who form our labor supply are in an extremely difficult position. If they make a demand for higher wages because prices have gone up and the demand results in a strike, they are liable to be looked upon by certain people as unpatriotic because they are slowing down the things that men who are fighting at the front need, and we have no right to do that whether the front is a United States front or a United Nations front, the soldiers are United States citizens in great numbers!
On the other hand has a government or the public generally a right to ask labor to make sacrifices comparable only to the soldiers? Isn't it really essential that if you clamp down on the workers, you also set prices and control goods by rationing and control what people can make by taxation? In other words no one should profit by war. Nowhere should there be a leak. If men are being asked to give their lives, it is not asking too much of the rest of us to make only reasonable profits on our labor. However our labor may be performed with our hands or with our heads, both ways of working are important in war. The returns should be equal all around.
I remember very well the panicky feeling that grew among some of our very fine and responsible public servants during the last war when they were almost persuaded that if you could draft soldiers, you could draft labor. Someone said this could not be done unless you also drafted capital. That had a sobering effect because the question arose as to whether the incentive to produce was not more essential to achieving the desired results in material delivered in large quantities at the front and to getting the best because of work on new inventions. Could you expect in other words, the same effort without that incentive? Of course, if that applied to capital, it must also apply to labor. The only people that it apparently does not apply to are the soldiers. They must give their very best, if not they will probably love their lives and that is enough of an incentive for most of us. All these old problems are going to come up again and this Labor Day is one on which labor itself must ponder them all and the rest of us must search our consciences and make sure that we do not ask of others what we do not do ourselves.