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Ben Hall

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What Do You Know About Labor?

(Fall 1957)

From The New International, Vol. XXIII No. 4, Fall 1957, p. 272.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What Do You Know About Labor?
by Harry W. Laidler and James Myers
John Day, 1957. 301 pp. $4.75.

Some people know no more about union labor than what they learn from the man who repairs their plumbing. For this great middle class, the authors present an elementary textbook-type work for easy reading. Laidler is executive director emeritus of the League for Industrial Democracy and once a frequent socialist candidate for public office; Myers is industrial relations secretary of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America. Unionism is painstakingly described so as to stimulate maximum appreciation for its aims; occasionally, it is admonished to make improvements.

In some detail and with obvious sympathy they describe various plans for labor-management cooperation and mutual understanding; in these schemes they see a constant trend toward co-determination in industry leading increasingly toward an extension of “democratic ownership" in industry. Their own views are best summarized in this paragraph:

It is imperative that the saving principle of democracy shall find expression not only in political life but in labor relations and in economic systems ... the extent of participation in the ownership and management of economic enterprise by the common people, in one form or another, is at once a final test of democracy in industry, and one of the surest guarantees that industry will be run primarily for the service of all and not for the profit and prestige of the few.

Socialism, it could be added, is nothing more than the complete and consistent application of this principle: the extension of democracy into industry.

But our authors seem convinced that the road to democracy in industry runs through the harmonious collaboration of the owners of industry and their employees. We suggest a simple democratic device to test this thesis. In politics, every man gets one vote and everyone agrees that such a system is fair enough: apply that principle, then, in industry. Let every worker have one complete vote and no less while every manager gets one vote and no more in running industry. I am afraid that even the most ardent employer advocate of cooperation would shrink away in horror at such “subversive” democracy demonstrating that industrial democracy must be wrested away from capital by labor.

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