Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Statement on the Seizure of Montgomery Ward Co. Properties

December 27, 1944

We are today at a crucial point in the war. Great battles which will determine the fate of the world are raging in Europe and in the Pacific. The tempo and the fury of the conflict are mounting.

Our commanders in the field are demanding weapons in increasing quantities so that they may hit the enemy harder and harder. The supreme effort of all of us here at home is imperative if we are to give them what they need. Nothing less will suffice.

The Government of the United States cannot and will not tolerate any interference with war production in this critical hour.

Nearly three years ago we set up wartime labor relations machinery to insure that our troops and our allies would get essential supplies without interruptions caused by industrial disputes. This machinery, embodied in the National War Labor Board, has had the support of all responsible elements in American management and American labor. It has been a vital element in the attainment of our unparalleled record of war production.

Now the confidence which employers and workers rightly place in this structure for the impartial adjudication of disputes is being threatened by consistent and wilful defiance of its decisions by the head of one of the great corporations of this country—Sewell Avery, Chairman of the Board of Montgomery Ward & Co.

This company, under Mr. Avery's leadership, has waged a bitter fight against the bona fide unions of its employees throughout the war, in reckless disregard of the Government's efforts to maintain harmony between management and labor. Its record of labor relations has been a record of continuous trouble.

Twice the Government has had to seize properties of Montgomery Ward as a result of Mr. Avery's defiant attitude, once in Chicago and once in Springfield, Illinois, where the Hummer Manufacturing Company, a Montgomery Ward division, has been operated by the War Department since last May.

For more than a year the company has refused to accept decisions involving workers in ten of its retail stores. Four of these stores are in the Detroit area, the very heart of war production from the viewpoint of urgency. A strike is in progress in these four stores, and strikes are threatened in other cities where the company's stores are located. There is a distinct threat that workers in some of our most critical war plants may join the strike in support of the Montgomery Ward employees if the Government fails to act. We are not going to let this happen.

Strikes in wartime cannot be condoned, whether they are strikes by workers against their employers or strikes by employers against their Government. All of our energies are engrossed in fighting a war on the military battle fronts. We have none to spare for a war on the industrial battle fronts. It is up to us to uphold and strengthen our machinery for settling disputes without interruptions of production. We cannot do this in a total war if we permit defiance to go unchallenged.

The findings submitted to me by the War Labor Board were unanimously adopted by the Board including the representatives of industry.

We cannot allow Montgomery Ward & Co. to set aside the wartime policies of the United States Government just because Mr. Sewell Avery does not approve of the Government's procedure for handling labor disputes. Montgomery Ward & Co., like every other corporation and every labor union in this country, has a responsibility to our fighting men. That responsibility is to see that nothing interferes with the continuity of our war production. It is because Montgomery Ward & Co. has failed to assume this obligation that I have been forced to sign an Executive Order directing the Secretary of War to take over and operate certain properties of Montgomery Ward & Co.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Statement on the Seizure of Montgomery Ward Co. Properties Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210606

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