SEPTEMBER 1, 1958
BRUSSELS, Belgium—Labor Day is with us again and I think the question perhaps uppermost in the minds of all people this year is the very important question of the laws which certain groups are trying to pass in a number of our states, under the label of "right-to-work" laws.
This is a misnomer, of course, and all the explanations given in relation to these laws are only partly true.
There are any number of us who can think back to 50 or 60 years ago and remember the days when all over our country unions were fighting for acceptance and recognition. Fighting was the real word, too, for the groups of people who had come together in the unions were very small and their leaders had to have the courage of lions. There was little money to help people live through a long strike. And it was possible time after time for the rich companies to break the spirit of the people who had to return to work under worse conditions than they had before.
Little by little the unions taught the workers that their only strength lay in organization, and one of the things they fought for and gained in certain contracts was the right to make everyone who came to work in certain factories join the union. This strengthened the unions and as their dues grew they could help their people during a strike. They had a better chance to win the things they wanted to gain. They developed better leaders and the leaders had better followers.
Men such as John L. Lewis ruled their unions somewhat autocratically from the very beginning and, as a head of our Labor Department once said: "To me John L. Lewis is really a good labor leader, but he recognizes that many of his men are not educated and perhaps cannot understand the problems facing them. I would call him a leader of the `Momma knows best' type, but because of his strong following he has done a great deal for labor."
Little by little labor grew strong and powerful. The problem now is not to weaken labor but to make it feel the responsibility that goes with power. That has been the problem and still is with the employers and now it is so with the unions as well. There are many abuses in labor unions, it is true, but they must be fought from within.
There has always been a number of people who did not want to join unions. Either they were not so skilled or they did not like to live up to certain standards or they saw no reason for paying dues when they could get the benefits gained by dues-paying members of the union without carrying any of the burden themselves.
The right-to-work laws are simply a political maneuver of employers who have played on man's natural feeling that no one should be forced to do what one does not want to do. This is a nice way of putting the power back in the hands of the employers.
As things are today no man is forced to join a union to find work. He may seek out a place where a union does not require that he should join. Or he may work in a place that is not organized at all by any particular trade. In these cases, however, he cannot expect to get the benefits of the union without paying for them, and this seems to me quite fair.