Boards: The New Mechanism for Industrial Relations
by John A. Fitch
Director of Industrial Courses, New York School of Social Work
NEVER before in the history of the United States
has there been such an army of labor mediators, conciliators and
labor adjusters as now have their headquarters in Washington.
Even during the World War when industrial peace was felt to be
an essential to effectiveness on the battle-field, there were
not half so many agencies for handling industrial disputes. It
is doubtful whether anyone knows precisely how many there are.
In early October when this article was being prepared neither
the Labor Department nor the NRA could give me anything that they
were willing to certify as a complete list of such agencies. In
two different government offices lists were then being compiled,
and preliminary copies were placed in my hands. One list contained
the titles of sixty-nine official bodies, the other of fifty-six,
and only thirty titles appeared in both lists.
It is in no jesting spirit
that I call attention to the multiplication of these agencies
for ironing out industrial controversy. It may be that we should
have more rather than fewer, and it is not surprising that no
one is keeping track of them all, they have emerged so rapidly
and under so many different authorities. Anyone who looks at
the scene, even briefly, from the mountain top of the national
capital must realize their importance.
need adjustment machinery as never before, and not merely because
there have been many strikes of exceptional bitterness in the
last year. The new responsibility of the federal government
for labor conditions, and the new statutory definition of the
rights of organized labor contained in the Recovery Act make
it imperative that the government should provide machinery for
inquiry and adjudication.
All the codes make provision
for maximum hours of labor and for minimum wages. These provisions
have the force of law and must be respected. The compliance
machinery of the NRA is concerned with them and so ultimately
is the Department of Justice. But questions arise with respect
to these matters that involve interpretation, understanding
and adjustment. Hence it is that provision is made in many of
the codes for labor boards responsible to the code authorities,
whose function is to inquire into and attempt to adjust difficulties
that may arise concerning wages and hours. Such boards often
mediate in other types of dispute. It is the existence of these
boards that swells the total number to such astounding limits;
and it is the casual and more or less spontaneous character
of their emergence that makes it so difficult to keep an accurate
it is Section 7-a that is keeping the adjustment machinery going
at high pressure. Section 7-a is a part of the Recovery Act
and as required by law is also written into every code. It declares
that the workers are to have the following rights:
. . .
"to organize and bargain collectively through representatives
of their own choosing."
. . .
to be "free from the interference, restraint or coercion of
employers . . . in the designation of such representatives."
is to be required, "as a condition of employment to join any
company union or to refrain from joining . . . a labor organization
of his own choosing."
then, two rights are guaranteed to the worker in Section 7-a:
the right to bargain collectively and the right to be free from
every form of employer-coercion. In the interpretation and enforcement
of these provisions certain difficulties emerge.
first difficulty arises out of the fact that while the worker
has a right "to bargain collectively" there is no definition
of collective bargaining in the statute. Neither is there any
statement of the positive action required of the employer to
make the rule effective. Obviously it takes two sides not only
to make a bargain but to engage in the bargain but to engage
in the bargaining process. What then does this law require the
employer to do?
were appealed to the National Labor Board (the Wagner Board)
in which the employer held that he had met i the requirements
of the statute merely by meeting and hearing representatives
of the employes. In one such case the Board said:
True collective-bargaining requires more
than the holding of conferences and the exchange of pleasantries....While
the law does not compel the parties to reach an agreement,
it does contemplate that both parties will approach the negotiations
with an open mind and will make a reasonable effort to reach
common ground of agreement.