Harry S. Truman photo

Address at the Opening Session of the Labor- Management Conference.

November 05, 1945

Ladies and gentlemen of the Labor-Management Conference:

In a radio broadcast to the American people last Tuesday night, I said:

"I am convinced that if labor and management will approach each other, with the realization that they have a common goal, and with the determination to compose their differences in their own long-range interest, it will not be long before we have put industrial strife behind us. Labor is the best customer that management has; and management is the source of labor's livelihood. Both are wholly dependent upon each other; and the country in turn is dependent upon both of them."

This conference has been called to provide a nationwide opportunity to fulfill that objective. Representatives of labor and management are meeting here at this conference table, to discuss their common problems, and to settle differences in the public interest. Here is the democratic process in action--in its very best form.

On this conference have been based many high hopes of the American people. Their eyes are turned here in the expectation that you will furnish a broad and permanent foundation for industrial peace and progress.

I want to make it clear that this is your conference--a management labor conference--and not a Government conference. You have not been chosen by me or by any other Government official. You have been selected by the leading labor and industrial organizations in the United States. There has been no interference by their Government in that selection.

By the very nature of the task before you, you appear here not as representatives merely of the organizations which chose you; but as public spirited citizens, who during the deliberations will consider the interests of all groups of our people. Each of you is now a member of the team which the American people hope will recommend definite policy in the field of industrial relations. We must begin with the firm realization that every citizen in our Nation has an identity of interest and a great stake in the maintenance of industrial peace and in the development of mature and effective ways of achieving it.

The time has come for labor and management to handle their own affairs in the traditional, American, democratic way. I hope that I can give up the President's wartime powers as soon as possible, so that management and labor can again have the full and undivided responsibility for providing the production that we must have to safeguard our domestic economy and our leadership in international affairs.

Your Government, although it is acting as your host, has no hand in the direction or recommendations of this conference. It has no vote.

This is your opportunity to prove that you can come to understanding and agreement without political or Government pressure. The outcome of this conference rests with the representatives of management and labor. But--as in all other public affairs--the outcome also rests with the American public who, by their interest and concern, can be a constant reminder that arbitrary selfishness and a refusal to see the other fellow's point of view have no place in these meetings.

Our country is worried about our industrial relations. It has a right to be. That worry is reflected in the Halls of Congress in the form of all kinds of proposed legislation. You have it in your power to stop that worry. I have supreme confidence in your ability to find a democratic way to compose industrial difficulties.

Under the patriotic pressure of a desperate war crisis, management and labor have performed a miracle of production for four years-working together voluntarily but under a measure of Government control. Those controls must soon disappear. Many have already gone. And yet as soon as the first ones were taken off, industrial strife appeared. Some of it was expected by the American people in this period of adjustment. But I am sure that they never expected anything like the amount of strife which has been threatened. And I know that the American people do not like it--especially after the solemn promise by representatives of both management and labor that they would cooperate with their Government through the reconversion period.

I make no effort to fix the blame. I have tried to lay fairly before the people the position of labor and the position of industry. They both have problems--grave and worrisome problems. But they are not insoluble problems. Essentially they are problems of adjustment to the drastic changes brought about by three and a half years of war.

The important thing is to remember that those problems--and their solution--cannot be allowed to stop us in our struggle to reconvert from war to peace. For until we successfully reconvert our productive capacity, we cannot hope to proceed toward our goal of full employment and an increased standard of living. If labor and management, in an industry or in a company, find that they cannot come to agreement, a way must be found of resolving their differences without stopping production.

Finding the best way to accomplish that result without Government directive to either labor or industry--that is your job.

There are many considerations involved. At the basis of them all, is not only the fight, but the duty, to bargain collectively. I do not mean giving mere lip service to that abstract principle. I mean the willingness on both sides, yes, the determination, to approach the bargaining table with an open mind, with an appreciation of what is on the other side of the table--and with a firm resolve to reach an agreement fairly.

If that fails, if bargaining produces no results, then there must be a willingness to use some impartial machinery for reaching decisions on the basis of proven facts and realities, instead of rumor or propaganda or partisan statements. That is the way to eliminate unnecessary friction. That is the way to prevent lockouts and strikes. That is the way to keep production going.

We shall have to find methods not only of peaceful negotiation of labor contracts, but also of insuring industrial peace for the lifetime of such contracts. Contracts once made must be lived up to, and should be changed only in the manner agreed upon by the parties. If we expect confidence in agreements made, there must be responsibility and integrity on both sides in carrying them out.

Some substitute must be found for jurisdictional strikes. Business simply cannot stop, life and property just cannot be endangered, merely because of some internal disagreement between factions of labor, in which management can rightfully have no part or interest. There can be no moral or economic justification for stopping production while rival organizations contend with each other. Labor has a particular interest in this matter--for nothing is so destructive of public confidence in the motives of trade unionism as a jurisdictional strike.

On the other hand, management too often has looked upon labor relations as a stepchild of its business, to be disregarded until the controversy has reached a point where real collective bargaining becomes very difficult--if not almost impossible. It happens all too frequently that in the actual process of collective bargaining, delaying tactics are practised with the result that there is no real bargaining. There can be no justification for such tactics at the present time, or in the future.

If this conference can recommend answers to the public demand for machinery to prevent or settle industrial disputes, it will have made vast progress toward industrial peace. It will have laid a foundation for an era of prosperity and security.

The whole world now needs the produce of our mills and factories-everything stands ready and primed for a great future. But situations and circumstances can change rapidly. Our unparalleled opportunity may not long remain open. We must have production--vast production. We must have it soon.

In order to have it, labor and management must work together to expand the economy of our Nation--as they worked together to protect the safety of our Nation during the war. If we get the production that we need--the production which our resources and industrial skill make possible, the present problem of wages and prices will be easier to solve. Production means employment. It means economic wealth. It means higher wages and lower prices. It means the difference between strength and prosperity on the one hand, and uncertainty and depression on the other.

The men in this room direct a cross section of American industry, and lead American labor of all opinions. But you will fully succeed only if labor and industry as a whole willingly accept your decisions, and will adopt the convictions developed out of this conference.

The American people know the enormous size of your task. But the stakes are enormous too. If the people do not find the answers here, they will find them some place else. For these answers must and will be found. The whole system of private enterprise and individual opportunity depends upon finding them.

When industrial strife becomes widespread, all of us lose the things we need--the wages that labor wants, the earnings and dividends that businessmen and investors want, and the products that the consumers want. No realist can expect the millennium of a perfect no-strike, no lock-out era at once. But continued production and an expanding industry--unhampered as far as humanly possible by stoppages of work-are absolutely essential to progress.

That is the road to security at home and to peace abroad. We cannot fail in our efforts to move forward on that road.

Note: The President spoke in the Departmental Auditorium at approximately 12:15 p.m.

Harry S Truman, Address at the Opening Session of the Labor- Management Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230498

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