JANUARY 29, 1947
NEW YORK, Tuesday—At the UAW educational conference in Cleveland last Sunday, Edward L. Bernays, public relations expert, said that using different words would benefit the labor movement, and he cited as an example the words "closed shop." These words or what they represent are currently exciting a good deal of interest. Almost every field has a phraseology all its own, and to many people the terms used in labor discussions would mean very little.
I remember a girl translator coming in to translate a speech at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission last spring. The speech was delivered by the French delegate in very rapid French. As he proceeded, the young translator looked more and more worried. I realized that the phraseology was entirely new to her and probably made very little sense to her. When the speech was finished, she ran out of the room in tears. Of course, it was panic, but it was caused by unfamiliarity with the subject and with the type of words used.
"Closed shop," to most of the uninitiated, would mean something that was controlled, whereas "open shop" would mean something that was free. And in this country we tend to like things that are free. That is why the argument against a closed shop is nearly always that it prevents some people from working and from making free agreements. But as a matter of fact, the closed shop comes into existence only when the employer and a majority of his employees agree upon it.
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If a union is strong, the closed shop probably is not necessary as a protection. But when a union is weak, the closed shop gives it added security, for if both employer and employees have agreed that new employees must belong to the union, new workers will be an added strength to the union. Otherwise, if non-union employees multiplied too rapidly, employers could use them as an instrument to break down agreements entered into with the union or asked for by the union.
There is nearly always a choice of places where a man can work at his chosen trade or occupation, but it is to his own interest to be a part of a union and to strengthen the union's bargaining power.
The only valid argument against the closed shop is that union leaders sometimes misuse their power. That is true of leaders in any field. It is so with some political leaders and some business leaders. If labor leaders do not use their power in the interests of labor, the wise union membership will throw them out, but sometimes that takes time.
The day may come when the closed shop will be unnecessary as a protection, and then it may fall into disrepute. But at present there are many employers as well as employees who have found it a useful mechanism. The point to be remembered is that if enough individual workers feel it is unfair to them and to labor as a whole, they can throw it out at any time.