Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

September 05, 1934

Q. Is there anything to say about Mayor LaGuardia's visit here?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't know what he is going to talk about. I suppose in general it will be about the city's financial problems and relief problems.

There is one thing you boys could ask about and get an awfully good story. About three months ago there appeared an editorial in the London Times which, of course, people over here still regard as the bailiwick of Toryism, and as I remember it—I have filed it away—the editorial ran something like this: That we in England are somewhat surprised, somewhat amazed at the resistance and the objections being offered by certain elements in American industry to Article 7-A (see Note to Item 106, this volume) which reads as follows—and then it quotes Article 7-A which, as you know, is very short. Then it goes on to say, "Our surprise is based on the fact, which every Englishman knows, that its principle has been accepted in England since"—when was the general strike?

Q. 1926.

THE PRESIDENT: "— since 1926, and the acceptance of the principles of 7-A since that time has prevented any serious labor difficulties in the British Isles, and therefore, perhaps, it is interesting to note that conservative old England has been for so many years several steps ahead of so-called radical young America in its dealing with social problems and labor problems."

(Addressing Lord Illiffe) I wish you could talk to these good people and tell them something about how you have worked out some of your labor problems, except that you are just about three jumps ahead of us.

LORD ILLIFFE (Joint owner of the London Telegraph and other papers): Of course, labor has had its experiences in England for a very much longer time than it has in the United States, has it not?

THE PRESIDENT: Taking it by far and large, yes.

LORD ILLIFFE: We have a responsible union system now; but, as you know, we have had very considerable troubles. But I think the same thing is going to apply to the United States. You have unions here that have only just begun to feel their power, and when a man gets power at first he does not know how to use it. But he does after a bit. I am perfectly certain it is going to turn out all right in the end.

THE PRESIDENT: Some of our unions are going to work out really well.

LORD ILLIFFE: The result of the general strike in England in 1926, I think, is that it gave unions a greater feeling of responsibility than they felt before. They really thought that it was possible for them to do anything, and they did not consider the interest of the Nation as a whole. Before 1926 they played their own hand; after 1926 they realized that they had to consider the general good of the public. In the United States, as soon as they realize that, you will find that the union system will work all right.

In these days, when you have organized capital you have to have organized labor; and each side has to realize its responsibility for the public good as a whole.

Q. Does England recognize the principle of collective bargaining?

LORD ILLIFFE: Oh, yes; it does.

THE PRESIDENT: Did the bill pass the present House of Commons that was pending away back in June before I went off on my trip? It was a bill which would give the Government enforcement authority in the case of agreements which had been made in any particular industry between labor and capital. As I recall it, there was some bill' pending of that kind and it was a Government measure.

LORD ILLIFFE: I don't remember it. Was it just recently?

THE PRESIDENT: It was in June before I went on my trip.

LORD ILLIFFE: I don't remember that. You mean to enforce agreements that have been arrived at voluntarily between capital and labor, that they should be enforced by Government?


LORD ILLIFFE: I don't remember that.

THE PRESIDENT: There was something of that kind. I saw it in a newspaper story. It might not have been entirely accurate.

One thing—and this is off the record completely, just conversation between us-thinking people are beginning to realize certain elements in the situation. This brings in California again, but I have to keep it off the record.

In the San Francisco strike a lot of people completely lost their heads and telegraphed me, "For God's sake, come back; turn the ship around." Stephenson and Roddan and Fred (three of the White House correspondents) would not let me turn the ship around. They insisted on Hawaii. Everybody demanded that I sail into San Francisco Bay, all flags flying and guns double shotted, and end the strike. They went completely off the handle.

Well, I kept in pretty close touch, which I would not admit to those Three Musketeers. It appeared very clear to me just as soon as there was talk about a general strike, that there were probably two elements bringing about that general strike. One was the hot-headed young leaders who had had no experience in organized labor whatsoever and said that the only thing to do was to have a general strike. On the other side was a combination of people out there on the Coast who were praying for a general strike. In other words, there was the old conservative crowd just hoping that there would be a general strike, being clever enough to know that a general strike always fails. Hence there was a great deal of encouragement for a general strike .... I could not prove this as a legal point, but it was there just the same.

The general strike started; and immediately the strikers, being young, did silly things like saying to the inhabitants, "You cannot eat in that restaurant, but you can eat in this restaurant." Naturally, the public resented it.

Of course they learn by things of that kind. They have got to learn by going through the actual processes, actual examples, and not by interference from the Federal Government or the President or the United States troops. People will learn from a certain number of examples. We have to conduct the country and essentially to educate labor to their responsibility.

LORD ILLIFFE: We realized in England, before 1926, that there would be a general strike, but, until the thing occurred, we were frightened by it. But I am inclined to agree that no general strike can succeed, and that the strike did a lot toward making the labor element realize its responsibility in Great Britain. . . .

Q. Mr. President, would it be possible for us to use this interview with Lord Illiffe, and bring in the fact that you questioned him a little bit about English labor conditions?

THE PRESIDENT: Submitting it to him first, submitting it to the editor.

I don't know that there is anything pending. I am nearly cleaned up. I was terribly far behind. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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