From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 27, 14 October 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Last week Wendell Willkie journeyed to Pittsburgh to deliver a campaign speech to the workers of the nation. It was Mr. Willkie’s bid for the workers’ votes on November 5. It was a queer and interesting speech. The candidate began, as politicians have a habit of doing when they are running for office or making July Fourth orations, with a tribute to Lincoln. He quoted Lincoln’s saying that “labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is therefore the superior of capital and deserves much higher consideration.”
Now we don’t pretend to know what Lincoln had in mind when he uttered these words. We do know that Lincoln was the leader of the young Republican Party of his day; the party of emerging northern industrial and finance capitalism. We know that this party played a progressive role during the days of the struggle between the “North” and the “South.” It was progressive then, because it was the political expression of that group in society that wanted to develop industry, expand machine production, build railroads, factories, cities and develop a market for their products. They wanted to develop their plan with the wages system, the “free worker,” the private ownership of property and their control of exchange and distribution. They would emancipate the slaves and set the workers “free.”
This was the system of capitalism entering the final conflict with the slave economy of the South. The two systems could not live together side by side. The Civil War was the result with the victory of the Republican Party and northern capitalism.
Both Roosevelt and Willkie, the Republican and Democratic Parties are the heirs and defenders of this victory of capitalism. On this platform they have moved closer and closer to each other. The industrialists and Republicans of 1860–65 took Lincoln’s words about labor no more seriously than do the industrialists and capitalist politicians of today. Despite the progressive character of the position taken by the North and the Republican Party of 1860 they had no illusions about the priority of labor or labor deserving higher consideration than capital. The northern industrialists were out to establish their own priority and that is what they did. The white workers of the North and South along with the freed slaves became “wage slaves” and that is what they remain today.
Willkie said in his Pittsburgh speech that be stands with Lincoln, he himself has earned his bread by the sweat of his brow. He therefore understands the bond that binds those who labor. But says Mr. Willkie, “this bond should not lead to war upon business, or upon property.” You see Mr. Willkie owns some property, he is the head of a huge utilities system that has millions of dollars in property. He is backed by Ford and other people who hold millions of dollars in property. He doesn’t want the workers to misunderstand Lincoln’s words.
Mr. Willkie tells us that he sweated to earn his daily bread just like any other worker. He is one of us and we mustn’t have any ideas about taking his power plants. It isn’t nice to take the belongings of another worker. (Remember, that Mr. Roosevelt too joined the labor movement in his “we must not give up our gains” speech before the teamsters convention.)
“Property is the fruit of labor (he didn’t say whose labor); property is desirable; it is a positive good in the world.” (We don’t know as we don’t have any power plants and Fifth Avenue apartments.) “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself ...” There you are, the trouble with the workers in the U.S. and the rest of the world is just laziness. If we were diligent and thrifty (like the bee and the beaver) we too would have Fifth Avenue apartments, Hyde Park estates and power plants.
Mr. Willkie, if he is elected president, will make this country into a Garden of Eden. This land will bloom and blossom like the roses of Sharon. Everybody that wants a business will get one.
Mr. Willkie will give birth to an expanding economy (all by himself), but labor must help. The workers must be willing to become partners in this grand and glorious expanding “free enterprise.” There must be “good relations” between labor and industry. He doesn’t want to change the National Labor Relations Act immediately. “The trouble lies in the main, not in the act but with its administration.” We must have a labor board that will give the free enterprisers a break, because the Willkie expanding economy will be a partnership. A just labor board would “help people to work together” say for example, the workers and Messrs. Ford, Girdler and Weir. And if we remember correctly the NLRB has stirred up a little trouble at some of Mr. Willkie’s power plants. This must be true for his workers could not possibly have any reason for complaint.
“There should be some decentralization of Federal Government activities in the labor field, because each locality knows its problems best.” You see Mr. Willkie, his finance Minister, Mr. Weir, his pal Mr. Lamont and others have plants and factories scattered through many states. The thing to do is establish labor boards, wage and hour boards, ad social security boards in every community where these plants, mines, mills and factories are. These boards should be composed of the outstanding citizens in each industrial community. There would be boards in Weirton, W. Va. (unincorporated), and in all steel centers. There should be boards in the cotton regions of Mississippi and Arkansas to handle the grievances of the white and Negro sharecroppers. There should be little boards in all the regions where Mr. Willkie has his power plants. These would be far superior to the central boards in Washington because they would be closer to the scene and “each locality knows its problems best.”
The next to the last point made by the candidate is his suggestion that “labor and management ... incorporate into their contracts, of their own volition, provisions for a cooling-off period, a delay before they commence their economic weapons’ use.” This is to permit good will and brotherly love to get under way. If the workers will just cool off and be satisfied with present wages and hours then the bosses will cool off also and refuse to buy any more tear gas, machine guns or sawed off shot guns. If the workers will mail their grievances to the boss and then refrigerate for six months, the boss on his part will also take to the ice box and forget all about the police, the national guard, injunctions and lock-outs. Mr. Willkie feels very deeply about this for “where the principles of collective bargaining are really understood and really accepted by both parties, this would seem to me to be feasible.”
After going into tears over “coercion by unscrupulous employers” and “crooked racketeers (are there any other kind?) who have found their way into the labor movement” the candidate closed his great Bill of Rights for Labor with the ringing declaration:
“I propose a triumvirate of labor, agriculture and business — one for all, all for one.”
Last updated: 22.10.2012