Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter to the Presidents of C.I.O. and A.F. of L.

February 25, 1939

My dear Mr. Lewis:

In the development of this great nation the continued results of good will, cooperation and mutual helpfulness among the people have been demonstrated continuously. The need of the exercise of these qualities is as urgent now as at any time in American history, particularly as they apply to the welfare of men and women who work. Labor faces a challenge in finding itself divided into opposing camps, but I am sure that labor can and will meet this challenge with understanding and good will.

The American people sincerely hope that a constructive negotiated peace with honor may come about between the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations within the early months of the new year. The Secretary of Labor tells me that after careful investigation and prolonged conversations with responsible leaders in both groups there appear to be no insurmountable obstacles to peace and that in fact there is a real and honorable desire for unification of the labor movement among all parties concerned. The desire of the general membership of both organizations for peace and cooperation with each other is demonstrated by the mass of messages which have come to me, to the Secretary and to Daniel Tobin as the result of simple public statements in favor of peace.

The opportunities for a united and vital labor movement to make a contribution to American life of help to the present and future generations were never better. The National Manufacturers Association recently has made a statement expressive of a better understanding of the problems of labor relationships and of their willingness to work with labor in a realistic effort to improve their mutual relations and to better general working conditions. The complicated economic and social problems of today require the cooperation of responsible groups of citizens of all walks of life and the effectiveness of labor in this type of council can only be realized by its fundamental unity of purpose and program.

I do not need to remind you of the great variety of opportunities to be of service which will come to a united labor movement. Many of your members have spoken to me of these opportunities and many of them have also pointed out to me the hazards and dangers to which the labor movement is subject, both internally and from without, if it cannot find a pattern of unity.

Therefore, first, because it is right, second, because the responsible officers from both groups seem to me to be ready and capable of making a negotiated and just peace, third, because your membership ardently desire peace and unity for the better ordering of their responsible life in the trade unions and in their communities, and fourth, because the Government of the United States and the people of America believe it to be a wise and almost necessary step for the further development of the cooperation among free men in a democratic society such as ours, I am writing to ask you to appoint a committee to represent your organization and to negotiate the terms of peace between the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Whatever assistance we in the Government can give you in this matter will be gladly given.

I wish to reiterate the sincerity of my belief in labor's capacity to end this breach and my faith in the intuition of the wage earners of America to play their part along with all other groups in our community in overcoming our mutual problems and bringing about the good American democratic life.

I am sure that these results can be achieved if the parties come together with open minds and a clear intention to effect genuine peace and harmony in the labor movement.

In addressing this letter to you, my dear John, I have great satisfaction in knowing that I am dealing with a man whom I respect, a man of honor, intelligence and good will. I trust I shall very shortly receive a reply giving me the names of the members of the committee which you will appoint.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. John L. Lewis,

Congress of Industrial Organizations,

Washington, D.C.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to the Presidents of C.I.O. and A.F. of L. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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