Monday, May 1, 2017

January 1, 1943: Industrial Relations and Engineering

Cover page of Kansas State Engineer publication from January 1943

Below: Table of Contents from this publication, Opa's article is found on page 10.

 Opa's article on Industrial Relations

Transcription of Opa's article:

Industrial Relations
The Problem of Capital and Labor Controversies

Ever since the start of the industrial revolution; ever since the medieval guilds lost their importance and their power; ever since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote their “Kommunistisches Manifest;” there have been controversies between capital and labor. In most European countries, especially in England and Germany, these controversies gave rise to a sociologic-economical stumbling block: the classes. In the first years of the industrial revolution, neither the employers nor the workers were strong enough or united enough to be organized, but since their likes, and especially their dislikes, were based on contradictory interests, they became mutually exclusive, and gradually there came into being a working class on the one hand, and a capitalistic class on the other hand. 
The danger did not lie only in the fact of the existence of these two industrial classes, but mainly in the unwillingness of both classes to cooperate or otherwise to try to eliminate the differences between them. 
These problems have entered a new phase and have risen to a vastly greater scope since the outbreak of the present conflict. This is a total war in which industry is just as much involved as the boy behind the machine gun. Because of its far reaching consequences, a failure in the cooperation of industry, a general strike, etc., would be far more fatal than a lost battle. Co-operation between labor and capital has become a priority for winning the present struggle, and both the United Nations and the Axis Powers are very conscious of this fact.
The secret of the blitz successes of the Axis in the first years of the war lies to a great extent in their drastic solution of the problem of industrial relations. Conscription of labor, long working hours, brutal vigilance against sabotage, strict punishment of laziness, elimination of the right to strikes, and enforcement of silence during working hours were totalitarian measures that enabled a country like Germany to develop its industry to maximum efficiency within a few years. 
In order to be able to successfully compete with the Axis Powers, it seems at first sight that the United Nations should follow the same totalitarian procedures, and do even a better job in them than Hitler did: in other words, they should endeavor to outnazi the Nazis.
As long as this could be done for the duration of the war only, it might possibly work. The possibilities of its continuance after the struggle, however, are so great that any drastic change of the American way to the totalitarian should be given careful consideration. What would happen to the security of the worker if he were denied the right to strikes? What would happen to the freedom of his family if he could no longer choose his place and kind of employment? If all these things were necessary and essential for the building of a free world after the war, sacrifices would gladly be made by both capital and labor. If, however, it will result in the loss of one of the greatest democratic principles, without aiding sufficiently in the prosecution of the war, other means should be employed.
The problem of strikes might serve as an example. Strikes handicap production. Strikes cause ill feelings between labor and capital. Strikes are a sign of internal disunity. Strikes, in other words, aid the enemy. The present Congress would likely pass a bill to eliminate strikes for the duration, even if the Constitution had to be amended to this effect. 
In these days, strikes are more frequent in this country than should be expected during war time. There seem to be two major reasons for this fact. In the first place, the workers know that their employers are dependent upon them. The employer is more likely to give in to the worker’s demands because of the difficulties in obtaining manpower and because of the urgency of production. In the second place, the employer is more likely to impose worse conditions upon the worker than ever before, appealing to the worker’s patriotism by telling him that these innovations, be it longer hours or a decrease in the percentage of wages to minimum living expenses, are temporarily necessary.
If legislature would step in and eliminate strikes for the duration, labor would be denied one of its greatest rights, and capital would obtain an advantage which would make it too powerful. If legislature would go further yet and limit the rights of the capital too, it would have to limit these rights to such an extent as to re-establish the balance between labor and capital. This would probably mean drastic curtailment of free enterprise. The danger lies not only in the totalitarianism of such action, but also in the fact that human beings do not like to work under coercion. In general, the American people are proud to do their best in the present days of danger and trouble, and work with greater efficiency than ever before; they work under a democratic system, voluntarily and gladly. If drastic labor legislation were enacted, if America became totalitarian, even for the duration only, the voluntarity would be gone, the joy in the work would be reduced, and the efficiency of the average worker would be decreased. 
The progress which American production has made in the last few years, the efforts which both labor and capital have exerted and the endeavors for cooperation which they have shown, are a sign of the workability of the American system. America, up to now, has gotten along without totalitarianism, even in the present war; America has won victories in the field of production and in the field of battle without totalitarianism; America will not succumb to totalitarian methods because she does not believe that evil means can bring about good ends. 
If, after this war, a peace will be established which will have any prospects of permanence, the relations in industry will have to be reorganized on a world-wide scale. It does not lie in the scope of this article to discuss all the suggested schemes and projects in detail, but a few outstanding ideas on this subject will be mentioned. 
Up to the war, the following three alternatives for industrial relations have been discussed; Capitalism, Communism, and Corporatism (Fascism). The capitalistic system, as it exists in the greatest part of the modern world, believes in private ownership of property and private employment with established wages, paid in money. Because of the differences in economic and financial abilities between the property owners, an unbalance must result as long as free enterprise is permitted without restriction. Modern industrial history has shown some of the difficulties and problems which this system brings about. Big industries and trusts would arise which became so powerful that curtailment of the principle of free enterprise had to be resorted to, as in the anti-trust laws of the United States. Also, as has been mentioned before, the capitalistic system increases differences between labor and capital and tends to set up class distinction. 
The second possibility for the post-war industrial relations would be communism. Webster defines communism as “a system of social organization involving common ownership of the means of production, and some equality in the distribution of industry.” This would mean, as far as industrial relations are concerned, that the workers would be co-owners of the factory, plant, shop, etc., for which they work. Competition on a financial basis would be eliminated, profits would go directly to the worker and in equal proportion, and, if done on an international scale, this system would definitely have its advantages both for labor and for those who used to belong to the capitalistic class. Unfortunately, there has not been any attempt at making communism work on a large scale, so the world has no example by which to test the workability of this system. The Russian experiment has not been communism, but a premature adventure in corporationism 
Corporatism, the last one of the three classical alternatives, is now being tried in Germany and Italy. All of industry is owned by the state, the worker is degraded to an instrument without individual rights and privileges, and he has no way of choosing either his work or his place of employment. Since his employer is the state, and since the state is the supreme authority, the worker is a complete slave of his employer. Since the United Nations are fighting to get rid of such a system, it need not be considered as an alternative for the post-war world. 
There is a fourth alternative developing on a large scale in more than forty countries of the world: the way of voluntary cooperatives. Its results are particularly evident in Switzerland, Scandinavia, and other European countries which have been political, religious, and economic democracies for many years. In these countries, there has been no labor trouble worth mentioning for a long period of time. One of the reasons for this is that these countries did not have big industries like America, England, Germany, or France, but it might be argued that this lack of big industries is a consequence of the cooperative system rather than a cause.
This voluntary cooperative system is based upon gradual evolution without violence or dictatorship. Consumers, industrialists and workers enter these cooperatives; industry is managed by an executive council consisting of equal representation of the three groups. Whether this system would work on an international scale, would have to be seen. 
Dr. Max Habicht, former secretary of the League of Nations and citizen of Switzerland, made some very interesting suggestions on the subject of post-war industrial relations during his recent series of lectures at Kansas State College. In talking about a post-war world government, he suggested the establishment of a three-house World Congress, the third house being a representation of vocations and professions. In this house, workers of all kinds would sit together with the industrialists, and all problems concerning labor and industrial relations would be discussed in this legislative house. Any bill passed by this house and one of the other two, would become law; in other words, a combination of all parts of industrial interests, in cooperative effort, would make up one third of the world’s legislative body.
Most of the plans that have been suggested for post-war industrial relations, are attempts towards an international solution. This is a sign of the growing interdependence of the nations in the field of industry. Because of this vast extension of the problem, it is very important that whatever system will be tried out, must work, for a failure would result in another international crisis undreamed of in scope. 

Editor’s note: (Since the engineer plays an important part in the life of industry, it is in his interest that the best system will be tried. Many engineering schools have realized this fact and are giving their engineering students a general outlook on the problem by including in their curricula courses like economics, industrial history, etc. It is essential for every engineer to concern himself with these problems and to formulate his ideas about them, for the future not only of himself, but of his country and of the world are in the making.)

How's that for an engineering article?! 

This article reminds me of how war and international relations affect everything, even how engineers are learning how to do their work. The right to strike and other legislative concerns are of utmost importance to each and every worker and big industry owner. The mechanic at school should pay just as much attention to the laws of the nation as the owner of the oil field. The balance of power is constantly shifting. 

Germany's frightening efficiency in industry might have been effective, but Opa's argument is that it wasn't sustainable, and it shouldn't be. Human rights win out over productivity every time. That, to Opa, is the American way. He's quite proud of America, which rings true to my experience of Opa. He spoke of the United States with the highest respect and nearly idolized it. It was everything Germany wasn't at the time. 

It struck me that in this article, there seemed to be a strong sense that the war will end soon, and that it will end in favor of the US. An article about how to organize the world's industrial relations post-war would not happen if there was heightened anxiety about whether or not the US will have a say in the matter. That seems weird to me. It's still a long road ahead.

I'm also nearly wistful, there was so much potential in the post-war time. The aftermath of the second world war was perhaps more congenial and humanitarian than the first world war in terms of reconstruction for Germany and other war-torn (even if enemies) countries. However, the immediate conflict with Russia likely put a huge dent into what may have been a potentially global cooperative. Perhaps I'm being naive, but considering that Germany is now a beacon of sanity and democracy, as well as Japan, it seems anything is possible. 

The three-house world congress sounds really interesting. I wonder if United Nations was a variation of that idea. Are there representatives from varying professions in the UN? I'm realizing just how little I know about international cooperative organizations. I guess I need to do some more reading!

I really enjoyed the article, and felt like I learned a little something too. I know that the problem of industrial relations cannot be explained or solved in a two page article in the Kansas State Engineer, but I appreciate being able to read part of the discussion. 

I hope you learned a little. It is a good reminder that what happens in the world, in the government, and even in how we end conflict with other nations, can have a dramatic affect on our work day.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Engineer (publication and author)! It proves Opa's breadth of knowledge and his ability to see beyond his technical passion. I can recommend a book that will give a great insight into "international cooperative organizations". It is about NATO. Let me know if you are interested.


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