My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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HYDE PARK, Sunday—Labor Day this year is not a day of rejoicing for the labor groups, or for those who are interested in good labor conditions throughout the nation.

I've had a letter from a man who poses a question in ethics which he wishes answered in my column though he does not wish his name used. He says: "Is it not a fact that our economic society is based on a principle of a minute division of labor, whereby, by means of money, the goods and services not produced by the individual himself are provided for him in exchange by other specialists?

"Therefore, is it not a fact that, when a person strikes, he in effect refuses his half of the bargain though expecting to receive goods and services produced by others? Assuming that government has provided protection to employees through fair labor practices, minimum wages, conciliation services, etc., is it not therefore an unethical act against the public (his fellow workers) to stop production of vitally necessary goods and services?"

Organized labor should, of course, take advantage of all opportunity provided by the government for conciliation, but back in the days of Abraham Lincoln the right not to work, as a weapon against unfair practices, was considered an inalienable right. And even though, through organization, labor today is stronger than it used to be, it is no stronger than organized capital. A strike is still the one weapon of last resort to correct injustices when injustices cannot be corrected or are not corrected in any other way.

From my point of view, the Taft-Hartley act will not lessen strikes but will increase them. I believe that, with increased power, organized labor has an increased responsibility and should therefore examine its procedures very carefully and apply remedies where necessary. But I also think that laws of this kind should be examined critically, particularly at a time when prejudice and fears are running high. We may wake up to find that, in trying to remedy certain wrongs, we have shorn ourselves of certain very precious freedoms.

My correspondent had a very difficult experience. During the telephone strike, he was unable to get a doctor or an ambulance when his wife suffered an accident, and he had to flag passing automobiles to get them to carry messages for him. I thought that some arrangements had been made whereby emergency calls of this kind were put through. I had understood that executives stayed on the jobs to meet such situations as this.

It has taken long years for labor to reach a point where its rights are recognized. During part of that time, abuses on the side of the employer were unchecked. To get an even balance and equal justice for all concerned is never easy, but should be our aim in whatever we do at the present time.

E.R.
PNews, NSJ, 2 September 1947