MARCH 4, 1950
HYDE PARK, Friday—The present coal situation points up for the citizens of the United States a situation that we have never had to face before and one more serious than Great Britain ever has had to face in all her coal crises.
I can remember investigations in the past into the situation in coal mines from the point of view of safety, the point of view of conditions of work for men, of wages and hours, etc. On the other hand, I can remember careful economic surveys of mines that should be closed because they could not be operated profitably, and the whole economic situation from the point of view of operation.
But all these surveys did very little good. Most of them were pigeonholed and operators continued to operate, each group for its own particular interest, while John L. Lewis fought for safer and better working conditions and built a strong union. He finally succeeded in achieving some of his ends. Through doing that he gained a loyal and devoted following.
Whatever his faults are today we must give him credit for what he did in the past. The point of the whole situation is this: now that great gains have been made for the miners, there are probably other things that should be done for their well-being. There certainly should be enforced by the government uniform laws for safety of every kind.
Coal mining is a dangerous occupation and one cannot risk human lives unnecessarily. On the other hand, one cannot ask private capital to operate a business without adequate return. Now we come to the crux of the matter. We want to preserve our free enterprise system, but strikes in certain industries lead to mass unemployment. Unemployment in a key industry leads to layoffs in allied industries that are dependent on the product of the former to operate.
Here one is faced with a public interest in addition to the household interests. Coal is used for heating as well as the operation of family-used machinery.
In a situation such as this there are only two solutions. One is to consider this industry a public utility and operate it by the government. The other is to find enough enlightened people among the owners so that they will voluntarily come together with the government, discuss the problems of the industry as a whole, accept the recommendations of the best experts that can be found and operate their business as a private business. However, because it is essential to the well-being of so many people, it must be operated with a sense of responsibility to the public. That means that there must be a careful survey of the humanitarian interests involved. The problems of safety, wages, hours, pensions, etc., must be worked out by labor and management with government aid on a cooperative basis.
This should be done because the government has the responsibility for the well-being of all its citizens, and it cannot afford to let any private industry disrupt the nation's economy.
There are other industries in this category, but they have not reached the point of dislocation that the coal industry has reached. The coal industry has to be used as a pioneering project and the men involved on all sides will have to show a type of statesmanship in the realm of business which has not been often shown in the past.