The Texas Observer SEPT. 1, 1967 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The SoUth 25c The Labor Movement’s Role Austin I have been bothered for many years by the lack of understanding of the role of the labor movement in the American scheme of things. For three years I have been putting my thoughts on the subject down on paper, and this article is the result. The revolutions of rising expectations, corporate attitudes, the churches’ stance on direct action, wage philosophy in Texas since the farm workers’ march, federal aid to education, medicare, automation, sex, and citizens’ attitudes toward the Vietnam war can very quickly outdate anything written about such as a subject as mine, but still, there are some basic things worth saying, especially here in Texas. The first point to make is Sol Barkan’s, in his book about thedecline of the American labor movement. The labor movement is not monolithicthere are over 140 national and international unions with more than 60,000 locals negotiating with more than 150,000 types of managements and snap judgments based on the idea that labor is one force are simply mistakes. The essayist G. K. Chesterton wrote, “To say that a man is an idealist is merely to say that he is a man.” But what kind of idealism should we expect of labor? Years ago Bertrand Russell contrasted the Western with the Russian ideal, writing: . “In the West, we see man’s greatness in the individual life. A Great Society for us is one which is composed of individuals who, as far as is humanly possible, are happy, free, and creative. We do not think that individuals should be alike … The Russian Government has a different conception of the ends of life. The individual is thought of no importance; he is expendable. What is important is the The writer is just beginning his fourth two-year term as the secretary-treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO. He has been in the organized labor movement for 20 years, beginning work in leadership as an organizer at Chance-Vought in Fort Worth in 1948. He served as president of the Dallas CIO for three terms, was administrative vice-president, representing the United Auto Workers in the Texas CIO for six years, and was president of the Dallas UAW for a number of years. He joined the State AFL-CIO in 1961 as public relations director and was elected to his present position later that year. state, which is regarded as something almost divine and having a welfare of its own not consisting in the welfare of citizens . . . In the Soviet World human dignity counts for nothing.” We will use this concept as the theme here. An idealist in labor is no different from an idealist in any other democratic movement. If he has been able to stay in elective office, he is pragmatic. He is loyal to his cause, willing to sacrifice for it, not primarily interested in the monetary value of his services; keeping an open mind, he does his best to produce inspiration and vision. Such a pragmatic idealist obviously is not the opposite of a realist; he is the opposite of a mercenary, a lazy slob, or a power-hungry Machiavellian. Pragmatic idealists have pulled the labor movement forward to where it is now, and if it keeps flourishing, they will be the reason. As I see it, in the last 300 years society has been primarily influenced by five major forces, capital, labor, church, government, and civil rights groups. Each. Roy R. Evans has an organization that corresponds to its strength; each has its own establishment, and each resists, reacts to, and is subject to the establishments of the others; each is highly pluralistic \(conservative to liberal, independent to servile, gether, they are like Bertrand Russell’s orchestra of the great society, “in which the different performers have different parts to play and different instruments upon which to perform, and in which cooperation results from a conscious common purpoe.” Many in the establishment of capital uphold the Western ideal only when it makes them “happy, free, and creative.” Jay Gould saying in 1886, in derision of the Knights of Labor strike, “I can hire half of the working class to kill the other half,” was a man in capital promoting the Marxist ideal. “Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience when it has no soul to be damned and no body to be kicked?” asked Baron Thurlow _of the English Parliament 165 years ago. MAYBE, THOUGH, things are changing. The New York Stock Exchange has published a handbook recommending: “While responsible to the shareholders to make an honest profit, the board of directors and the company must main tain in delicate balance the appropriate interests of employees, customers, public, and country.” Should capital and its leaders act on more of the teachings of the church, consider labor an important part of the orchestra, be content to influence government rather than dominate it, and have an open and tolerant attitude to civil rights groups, capital could achieve an idealistic role. The alternative is an eventually Marxist society controlled by the government establishment. Too often the church is more concerned with financial solvency than with the Sermon on the Mount. Chesterton said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” What have three centuries of Christian love done for the Negro? A century and a half for the Mexican-American? 1,967 years for the poor? But the church today is producing an amazing number of pragmatic idealists not ‘just pollyanna philosophers who are speaking for the oppressed, encouraging unions, marching for a minimum wage, helping organize the war against poverty. They are proving that idealism is not dead and neither. is God. Theoretically our government represents everyone, but too often it ‘follows the Marxist ideal, considering the individual of no importance, expendable if he’s not organized. or if he’s too poor and ignorant to vote. For example, no one can honestly contest the fact that the Texas boards and commissions represent vested interests and have very little regard for the average citizens’ welfare. Are we unfair in calling this Marxist? It fits well into Orwell’s Animal Farm, where all the benefits of communism go to the hogs. Yet we have reason to be optimistic in Texas. Many young idealists are gaining popularity and understanding. Redistricting and the abolition of the poll tax makes the job of the idealists ‘less difficult. On the other hand, the government cannot do what labor, capital, the church, and civil rights groups should do, without moving toward the Marxist ideal. Government should promote idealism in these groups, but it should not control or supplant them. Many members of the civil rights groups, independent of the other four major forces, enjoy an enviable position. They act without being responsible to anyone but themselves. But a minister, a politician, a labor leader, or a business
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