By ART CHANCE
I once taught labor relations to State supervisors and managers. After the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” was released, I started my class with taking my attendees to the scene in which the Tom Hanks character reports to headquarters behind Omaha Beach to get the order to save Private Ryan.
The scene is from the bluffs above Omaha Beach and looks out to sea. The beach is crawling with men, vehicles, and materiel. The ocean has ships and aircraft from horizon to horizon.
What is important about that scene is that it’s a realistic reenactment of an actual photograph, and that the only things in the scene that existed in 1941, were a WWI battleship in the invasion bombardment fleet, and the men themselves, who were mostly in high school.
Everything else had been produced by the War Production Board and the War Labor Board between the Declaration of War and June 6, 1944.
My professional career stems from the actions of the War Labor Board, which allocated labor to industries and determined draft deferments for those skills that should be deferred from the almost universal draft in WWII for those skills and trades which were necessary to national defense.
With all respect to my “true conservative” and libertarian friends, sometimes brute, authoritarian government power is the only thing that will do.
For my Juneau friends, the A-J Mine, perhaps the richest in the world, didn’t close because it ran out of gold; it closed because the US determined that in 1944 gold was no longer a strategic material, and the War Labor Board took away the draft deferments of A-J miners.
When the War ended, the price of gold was fixed at $35/oz. and A-J was not economic to re-open. It might well be a productive mine today, but the Juneau greenies and NIMBYs would have a fit of apoplexy.
In WWI, President Woodrow Wilson essentially nationalized certain major industries for war production. We had a command economy that Soviet Russia, Hitler’s Germany, and Mussolini’s Italy would have envied.
Since we had a Constitution and still understood and believed in it, we abandoned the war measures at the end of the war. There ensued the astounding boom of “The Roaring Twenties.”
For reasons that would make this a thousand words too long, that boom collapsed in 1929. I’m not as negative about The New Deal as some of my conservative friends, but it wasn’t an unalloyed good. There is a solid argument that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t end the Great Depression, but rather Hideki Tojo and Adolf Hitler did.
The FDR scheme wasn’t full nationalization of industry; the government left the control of industry in the hands of the executives and boards of the industries and left the profits to the shareholders. Interestingly, it is much like what the Nazis did with their Gleichshalstung, or co-ordination strategy.
The War Production Board basically ordered American industries to all but cease civilian production of goods. They offered contracts to produce war materiel to government specifications and sold to the government at low-bid prices.
The War Labor Board imposed the requirement that the contracts would be under what we would call today a union “project labor agreement.” This was before the Taft-Hartley Amendments so there were no “right to work” states. Almost all war production was done under a union contract. The condition of the union contract was that the contract had a “no-strike” provision and that labor disputes would be settled by arbitration rather than strikes. The imperative was that nothing could stop production.
I never practiced before any of the War Labor Board arbitrators, but I did practice before quite a few of their understudies; they were learned and practical men, and, yes, almost all men. By the end of my career, most of the people at the head of the table were barely literate.
To get back to what this is really about: President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which is a Korean War era restatement of the War Production Act and the War Labor Act. It gives the President pretty much dictatorial authority over American industry. He has invoked it, but it is clear he really doesn’t want to use it.
President Trump, as am I, is a positional bargainer; he takes a position and tells you to talk him out of it or knock him off of it. He’s saying to American industry, “Don’t make me do it.” He knows that he can commandeer their company and make them do what the government tells them to do. It wasn’t that Ford Motor Company wanted to stop making 1941 Fords at their state-of-the-art Willow Run Plant or that the company wanted to start making B-24 Liberator bombers, but they made about 20,000 of them and bombed Germany to rubble.
I’ve played this game; union reps have come to me and I to them with the message: “Don’t make me do this to you.” President Trump has taken that message to US industry, which hasn’t served us well in the last 30 years or so: “You do it, or we will; your choice.”
So far, they seem to be getting the message.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.