My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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HYDE PARK—On Labor Day our minds go back to what has happened in the past in the field of labor. I first became interested in conditions of working men and women some fifty years ago. I have seen great changes in my lifetime.

As a child I was brought up to believe that each individual was alone responsible for himself and his family but that if you were well off and you knew people who were poor you were obligated to relieve some of their suffering. Gradually I saw the attitude change from one of depending on private charity to a feeling that poverty caused by a lack of balance in the distribution of the rewards of labor, must be corrected either by agreement between working men and women and the employer or by government legislation.

The next phase was the realization that government itself should be responsible for certain rights which should accrue to every man. Unions which had been weak came through great struggles to reach the point at which they have now arrived, where they are able to protect their members.

There is now a whole new conception of the rights of workers.

But, just as in government, General Eisenhower can talk about a "middle way" which goes neither too much to the left nor too far to the right, so people are vaguely talking of the defects in the system of protection which has been set up by unions.

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One old union man, now turned employer, told me that he believed in unions, that they must be strong and active. But he regretted that they had to protect all their members on the same basis they protect their weakest member. Because of this he said unless a man just got personal satisfaction out of excelling in his job, there was little incentive to extend himself to the utmost. For, unless he did something absolutely wrong, his employer could not punish him.

The boss might know that a certain workman could do far better than another one; he might be willing to pay more money to the abler man, but the union could somehow not make the rules so they would differentiate between the abilities of different workers.

My old union member felt that this killed initiative, did not provide incentive to prod a man into thinking out new short cuts to do a job more quickly and efficiently.

Nothing that we human beings plan to meet our needs at one period will continue always to meet those needs. We must always be ready to revise our methods, looking at the scene in which we are functioning, re-examining our objectives.

Labor is not exempt from this obligation. Neither is capital. We have a long way to go in devising proper management and labor relations.

I believe it would be well to get the best brains from unions and management to work together on this question, try to take some new steps in the development of human relations between employer and employee.

E.R.
PNews, NSJ, 31 August 1952