Boards: The New Mechanism for Industrial Relations
by John A. Fitch
Director of Industrial Courses, New York School of Social Work
IT is too early to attempt final judgment as
to the operation of I the new boards. It is noteworthy that they
are proceeding with dispatch to the discharge of their duties.
In its first monthly report to the President, the National Labor
Relations Board made the significant statement, "It is not enough
that the decision should be just, it must be prompt." One is impressed
also with the vigor and independence of their decisions. The Steel
Labor Board has ruled that the employer has "no legal interest"
in the organization of his own employes. That is a matter which
concerns them alone. It follows that the employes may be protected
against any interference on the part of their employer with the
development of their own ideas with respect to organization. This
is a blow to the typical company union.
National Labor Relations Board in a case ordering the reinstatement
of men who had been discharged on account of union activity
ruled that places must be found for them even if that should
mean the discharge of persons who have been employed in their
stead. Equally impressive is the clearness and cogency of the
reasoning found in the decisions of these boards.
possible conclusions emerge from the experience of the government
in setting up labor boards under the Recovery Act. One is that
while the reverse may be true in organized industries, nonpartisan
boards appear to be more successful in fields where the workers
are without organization.
labor is unorganized and especially where it is attempting,
as now, to achieve organization in the face of years of history
of opposition it is doubtful whether the workers are in a position
adequately to protect their rights on adjustment boards. When
this difficulty is met by the appointment of labor representatives
from other fields they are likely to be handicapped in understanding
the problems. The chances are, too, that the persons chosen
will be officers of other unions with such demands upon their
time and energy that they will be unable to give adequate attention
to the work of the board.
second conclusion is that under the new set-up it appears that
Section 7-a means something and is not to be trifled with. It
should be made clear, however, that none of the boards are in
a position directly to enforce the law. They are administrators
and interpreters of the law with no power of enforcement in
themselves. Like factory inspectors, they investigate, obtain
the facts, and issue orders in accordance with the facts and
the law. When orders are disregarded they refer the cases to
the proper authorities. Specifically, cases of violation may
be referred either to the Compliance Division of the NRA or
to the Department of Justice. The Compliance Division may bring
pressure to bear by the removal of the Blue Eagle or in case
of industries making use of the NRA label, particularly the
clothing industries, may withhold the use of the label. There
seems to be considerable effectiveness in these procedures.
If, however, the offender disregards
both board and compliance division, the case obviously becomes
one for the Department of Justice. The law provides for two
different procedures. An injunction may be sought in a federal
district court restraining the offender from continuing his
violation of the law or recourse may be had to the penal provisions,
and prosecutions may be instituted having as their objective
fine or imprisonment. The tendency of the Department of Justice
has been to rely upon the method of injunction rather than of
prosecution. This seems to be the milder method of approach
and questions have been raised as to its justification.
Many are inquiring why it is
that the Department of Justice is not proceeding vigorously
against the large employers who are accused of violating the
law. The feeling of the authorities in Washington seems to be
that the legislation is so new and the type of supervision involved
so unfamiliar that overmilitant action might create a reaction
against the whole procedure. They may be right. It seems likely
however that if the Department of Justice is to have the confidence
of the public in general it must act more promptly and prosecute
the cases with greater vigor than it appears to have done heretofore.
no such criticism can be directed to the non-partisan boards.
They are functioning with vigor, and as a result the right of
the workers to organize, to select their own representatives
and to bargain collectively is now, for the first time (except
on the railroads) being supported by federal law. Employers
are not being put in jail for violations, but steadily, anti-union
tactics are being opposed and thwarted by the authority of the
government itself and a new concept of labor's rights is being
built into our thinking.
this "unfair"? Is it "partisan"? Only a hidebound adherence
to traditional injustice, because it is traditional, could possibly
prompt an affirmative answer. The government has always encouraged
organizations of capitalists through the laws permitting incorporation.
Under the NRA it is not only encouraging employers to combine
in associations, but it is requiring them to do so. Thus it
is strengthening the economic power and hence the bargaining
power of the employers. To do this and to leave the workers
to the helplessness of individual bargaining would be partisan
forty years ago the Supreme Court of the United States, said:
"The proprietors . . . and their operatives do not stand upon
an equality.... The latter are often induced by the fear of
discharge to conform to regulations which their judgment, fairly
exercised, would pronounce to be detrimental to their health
or strength. In other words, the proprietors lay down the rules
and the laborers are practically constrained to obey them. In
such cases . . . the legislature may properly interpose its
 In the matter of the Connecticut
Coke Co. and United Coke and Gas Workers Union No. 18829. Decisions
of the National Labor Board, Part 11, p. 89.