Sit-down strikes thundered into America in 1937, producing great excitement and mental distress all over the nation. In the automobile industry alone, nearly 200,000 men "sat down" at one time. [The majority of sit-down strikes were CIO. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor, showed the American Federation of Labor involved in 101 sit-down strikes....]

On the outside, on the picket lines, in clashes with police, many strikers were killed. (No police.) In a peaceful parade of unarmed workers across an open field near Chicago, eleven workers were shot, clubbed, and beaten to death by police.

All of this—the sit-down strikes, the violence—had a long and complicated background. Part of that background was that when the National Labor Relations Act was enacted by Congress and signed by the President, fifty-eight prominent corporation lawyers sat down in Washington and "declared" the Act "unconstitutional." One of the leaders suggested the employers should sit down on the law and not obey it; that was believed to be the considered opinion of all fifty-eight.

This is all very obvious—but getting back to disease again, everyone knows syphilis is not cured by beating tom-toms, talking of sin, or calling names. In the same manner labor unrest must be approached from the viewpoint of cause and not effect.

These lawyers represented, or were connected with, great banks and trust companies, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Standard Oil, Edison Electric, J. P. Morgan, the American Bar Association, the American Telephone and Telegraph, and most of the big financial interests of the country. They maintained that they were not representing these organizations when they offered their opinion, but their financial connections made their opinion as well as their ethics wide open to question. These self-appointed judges undertook to sit for the Supreme Court in advance, and they had a special personal interest in breaking down and demoralizing the enforcement of this law.

This invitation of fifty-eight lawyers to violate the law bore immediate fruit. Trouble started all over America. Over a hundred injunctions, either directly or indirectly involving millions of workers, were gotten out against the Labor Relations Board, generally prohibiting it from even mediating disputes. Peaceful settlement was paralyzed, and violence was a natural outcome.

Fighting fire with fire, Labor resorted to sit-down strikes. Then the Supreme Court met and floored the fifty-eight big lawyers by sitting down on them. They declared the Labor Act constitutional.

What made the labor situtation still more spectacular was the split of the organized labor movement into the American Federation of Labor and the Committee for Industrial Organization (now the Congress of Industrial Organizations.)

The census of 1930 revealed that four out of five Americans worked for wages or salaries. Approximately one out of five Americans (the eight million trade-unionists and their dependents) is identified with organized labor. By and large, the American people have become workers.

Now people who work for other people demand that they have something to say with their employers about determining fair wages, hours and conditions of labor. To balance the employers' power to fire, the workers have only the power to withhold their labor—to strike.

Not so long ago any stike was illegal in America, but as more and more people were forced by industrial development to become workers, they won legality for the strike. It is now a part of our system.

Of course, many still believe any kind of a strike is "un-American," somehow illegal—that an American worker should suffer in silence. Many more believe that the sit-down strike is not only "un-American" but a major and violent crime. The truth is that the common law for centuries held trespass of property a misdemeanor; and the sit-down strike is trespass of property. In 1939, almost two years after the sit-downs had ceased, the Supreme Court held them illegal.

The strike is a symptom, not a cause, of labor unrest. Ignorant doctors once cauterized sores, seeking to cure the disease. But as science advanced and internal medicine became better understood, doctors cured from the inside of the body and really got at the cause, instead of burning or scraping the sore from the outside. Let's approach the question, then, from a factual viewpoint, a viewpoint similar to medical diagnosis, with an effort to get at the cause of the industrial disease.

Now, human rights have advanced slowly, but have been won by ever broader and more inclusive sections of the people. Greece and Rome, from a viewpoint of literature and culture, were in some respects superior to us today. But their economy was based on slave labor. And it was as only yesterday that in a large portion of our own country, the principal industry, namely planting, was based on black slavery, as brutal as that of Greece or Rome.

In the Middle Ages, feudalism, a form of society based on the land-monopoly of the nobles who lived off the forced labor of serfs attached to the land, gripped all of Europe. America was discovered with its gold, its great fertile lands, and its unheard-of resources. Exploration and colonization began. Great enterprises sent ships to sail the seven seas. Joint stock companies came—one of our first social discoveries. Corporations developed.

Feudalism was practically wiped out and capitalism took its place. Capitalism represented a great advance in many ways. But with the industrial revolution and its huge concentration of population in the cities, came the problem of labor. And as long as men improve machinery, as long as they experiment, make new inventions, and find new methods, the industrial revolution will not stop. Some of its effects will necessarily be profound, if not violent.

In the early days of the machine the workers came from the wretched, oppressed peasants and artisans. For centuries they and their forebears had been forced to live by endless grinding labor with no chance to escape their brutalizing lot of ignorance and poverty. As factory and mill hands their plight was, if anything, even worse. The history of early industrial exploitation forms one of the blackest pages in all history. But gradually the number of workers grew. Gradually they won better working and living conditions.

Even I can remember when railroad men were not considered respectable by "superior persons," but as ignorant, dirty radicals. They committed violence, stopped trains. Railroads blacklisted them by the thousands. But now railroad men are considered very nice, conservative fellows—because boards of mediation have been established, because railroad men are well-organized, and because they have (as well as the railroads) the protection of the federal Courts of the United States.

I can remember a few years ago when people referred generally to all members of the American Federation of Labor as "Communists," radicals, men designing to overthrow the government of the United States. That was false then, as it is now.

We Americans sometimes forget that practically all our labor history has been marked by violent and bloody conflicts. There has been violence on both sides. There has been racketeering and crookedness on both sides. There has been a deprivation of civil liberties of the workers, too, on a large scale.

In the Homestead strike in 1892, in the Ludlow Coal strike in 1914, we saw the ruthless crushing of employees who were fighting only for decent labor conditions and fair wages, so they could live with some dignity as Americans. On the other hand, we saw the dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times, for which members of the American Federation of Labor, the McNamara brothers, were given life imprisonment for their extaordinarily bloody and property-destroying crime.

I am offering no excuse for violence. It has never paid. When violence comes, just as when war comes, both sides lose in fact, no matter who wins in theory. In Colorado, after the 1914-1915 coal troubles, the state had to issue "Riot Bonds" to pay for the suppression of strikes by the National Guard—and the taxpayers are still paying on them, this year of our Lord, 1939. It has been factually determined that had all the demands of the strikers been met, it would have cost much less in cash, and both the workers and the coal companies would have been better off. In the end, the strikers won anyhow, and got recognition.

Thus the sensible thing is to build up methods of mediation for all types of labor. With such outstanding success with rail labor, the spirit of mediation can be extended to all labor. That should be the goal of all Americans.

It is well to understand the different types of unions. Rail unions are principally organized to themselves, and have no connection with either the CIO or AF of L. The "Four Brotherhoods" are the backbone of rail labor, although there are several rail "shop crafts" affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.

The American Federation of Labor is organized mainly, but not entirely, on the basis of crafts; the Congress of Industrial Organizations on a industrial or "vertical" basis. Both kinds of union have a field. The craft union can roughly be defined as an organization of skilled laborers confined to a single craft, such as carpenters, plasterers, hod-carriers, bricklayers, and some seventy or eighty more. The industrial union is an organization of the skilled and unskilled in a single industry—all the workers, whatever their craft, "in and around the plant."

What are the aims of labor organizations? Briefly they are to secure decent wages and hours, safety, health, security, job continuity (in some, annual income), overtime pay for Sundays and holidays and for objectionable and night work; abolition of child labor, the sweat shop, stretch-out, spies; the protection of civil liberties as provided in the Constitution—these are only a few of the manifold interests vitally affecting the organized workers.

And considering the wretched conditions of labor in the years past, no one will say that labor has not immeasurably improved itself. In fact, the improvement of labor has helped the whole nation, has helped business, American living conditions, morality and religion.

The charge is often made that unions are "communist led," that they are radical and so on. As much as any man in America, I have had an opportunity to meet the rank and file of workers in meetings, in private conversations, and as a trusted guest in their homes, where they did not fail to express themselves fully on all subjects. I found they had the same things in their homes as all Americans—radios, funny papers, books on all subjects, including poetry, Bibles, pictures of their mothers and fathers. They also had actual wives and children. These wicked fellows occasionally had beer in their homes—and their wives lectured on the evil of drink. The children had home work from school, and their fathers could not work their geometry problems.

Very few American workers are opposed to the capitalist system. Practically all of them look with hope to becoming little capitalists themselves by laying up some money in the savings bank. They want their children to have more opportunity than they did. They want to send them to the great American universities.

Typical, that's all—just the same as every other American—believing in liberty, trying to make a living. Patriotic, too, and ready to defend their democratic America if the need arises.

So when I hear this radicalism talk, this talk of good Americans being Communists because they love their wives and children and demand to live as free-born Americans should, I get sick at the stomach. Investigation shows they belong to the same lodges, political parties, churches, as all other Americans, and think very much like everybody else.

There is something the members of unions have done recently which is an improvement, too. Starting some twenty years ago, many unions—like the garment workers, miners, railroaders—have developed a sort of business technique. No bums lie around union headquarters full of beer. Instead, there are neat offices with statisticians, lawyers, economists, and management experts who handle the unions' business.

They could have copied the businessman!

No unions have said they want to displace the capitalist system, or have made efforts to break it down. All that they have ever done is to deny to employers absolute control over wages, hours, and working conditions. All honest unions have attempted at all times to improve those conditions, as they should.

Ah, someone says, but you are making a labor speech! Isn't business entitled to its rights? Hasn't labor gone too far? My answer is, yes, business is entitled to its rights—and labor has gone too far, now and then. Business should make a profit, yes sure! But the four out of five Americans who work for someone else have no stake in the land except their jobs. A four-fifths majority has the democratic right and power to secure and protect that minimum stake. As unions become more enlightened, and as the policy of mediation and peaceful solution of disputes progresses, unions will become a great asset to American business that is engaged in business and not trying to break up unions.

This matter of labor is one phase of the conservation of human resouces. If we can think and use our heads, the thrill of modern science, of intelligent cooperation, of peaceful settlement of problems, will bring us good new, and not good "old" days, and times will be more romantic, more prosperous, and happier.