Chapter 18 - Democracy and Business
Perhaps no word is more overworked nowadays than the word "democracy," and those who shout loudest about it, I think, as a rule, want it least. I am always suspicious of men who speak glibly of democracy. I wonder if they want to set up some kind of a despotism or if they want to have somebody do for them what they ought to do for themselves. I am for the kind of democracy that gives to each an equal chance according to his ability. I think if we give more attention to serving our fellows we shall have less concern with the empty forms of government and more concern with the things to be done. Thinking of service, we shall not bother about good feeling in industry or life; we shall not bother about masses and classes, or closed and open shops, and such matters as have nothing at all to do with the real business of living. We can get down to facts. We stand in need of facts.
It is a shock when the mind awakens to the fact that not all of humanity is human—that whole groups of people do not regard others with humane feelings. Great efforts have been made to have this appear as the attitude of a class, but it is really the attitude of all "classes," in so far as they are swayed by the false notion of "classes." Before, when it was the constant effort of propaganda to make the people believe that it was only the "rich" who were without humane feelings, the opinion became general that among the "poor" the humane virtues flourished.
But the "rich" and the "poor" are both very small minorities, and you cannot classify society under such heads. There are not enough "rich" and there are not enough "poor" to serve the purpose of such classification. Rich men have become poor without changing their natures, and poor men have become rich, and the problem has not been affected by it.
Between the rich and the poor is the great mass of the people who are neither rich nor poor. A society made up exclusively of millionaires would not be different from our present society; some of the millionaires would have to raise wheat and bake bread and make machinery and run trains—else they would all starve to death. Someone must do the work. Really we have no fixed classes. We have men who will work and men who will not. Most of the "classes" that one reads about are purely fictional. Take certain capitalist papers. You will be amazed by some of the statements about the labouring class. We who have been and still are a part of the labouring class know that the statements are untrue. Take certain of the labour papers. You are equally amazed by some of the statements they make about "capitalists." And yet on both sides there is a grain of truth. The man who is a capitalist and nothing else, who gambles with the fruits of other men's labours, deserves all that is said against him. He is in precisely the same class as the cheap gambler who cheats workingmen out of their wages. The statements we read about the labouring class in the capitalistic press are seldom written by managers of great industries, but by a class of writers who are writing what they think will please their employers. They write what they imagine will please. Examine the labour press and you will find another class of writers who similarly seek to tickle the prejudices which they conceive the labouring man to have. Both kinds of writers are mere propagandists. And propaganda that does not spread facts is self-destructive. And it should be. You cannot preach patriotism to men for the purpose of getting them to stand still while you rob them—and get away with that kind of preaching very long. You cannot preach the duty of working hard and producing plentifully, and make that a screen for an additional profit to yourself. And neither can the worker conceal the lack of a day's work by a phrase.
Undoubtedly the employing class possesses facts which the employed ought to have in order to construct sound opinions and pass fair judgments. Undoubtedly the employed possess facts which are equally important to the employer. It is extremely doubtful, however, if either side has all the facts. And this is where propaganda, even if it were possible for it to be entirely successful, is defective. It is not desirable that one set of ideas be "put over" on a class holding another set of ideas. What we really need is to get all the ideas together and construct from them.
Take, for instance, this whole matter of union labour and the right to strike.
The only strong group of union men in the country is the group that draws salaries from the unions. Some of them are very rich. Some of them are interested in influencing the affairs of our large institutions of finance. Others are so extreme in their so-called socialism that they border on Bolshevism and anarchism—their union salaries liberating them from the necessity of work so that they can devote their energies to subversive propaganda. All of them enjoy a certain prestige and power which, in the natural course of competition, they could not otherwise have won.
If the official personnel of the labour unions were as strong, as honest, as decent, and as plainly wise as the bulk of the men who make up the membership, the whole movement would have taken on a different complexion these last few years. But this official personnel, in the main—there are notable exceptions—has not devoted itself to an alliance with the naturally strong qualities of the workingman; it has rather devoted itself to playing upon his weaknesses, principally upon the weaknesses of that newly arrived portion of the population which does not yet know what Americanism is, and which never will know if left to the tutelage of their local union leaders.
The workingmen, except those few who have been inoculated with the fallacious doctrine of "the class war" and who have accepted the philosophy that progress consists in fomenting discord in industry ("When you get your $12 a day, don't stop at that. Agitate for $14. When you get your eight hours a day, don't be a fool and grow contented; agitate for six hours. Start something! Always start something!"), have the plain sense which enables them to recognize that with principles accepted and observed, conditions change. The union leaders have never seen that. They wish conditions to remain as they are, conditions of injustice, provocation, strikes, bad feeling, and crippled national life. Else where would be the need for union officers? Every strike is a new argument for them; they point to it and say, "You see! You still need us."
The only true labour leader is the one who leads labour to work and to wages, and not the leader who leads labour to strikes, sabotage, and starvation. The union of labour which is coming to the fore in this country is the union of all whose interests are interdependent—whose interests are altogether dependent on the usefulness and efficiency of the service they render.
There is a change coming. When the union of "union leaders" disappears, with it will go the union of blind bosses—bosses who never did a decent thing for their employees until they were compelled. If the blind boss was a disease, the selfish union leader was the antidote. When the union leader became the disease, the blind boss became the antidote. Both are misfits, both are out of place in well-organized society. And they are both disappearing together.
It is the blind boss whose voice is heard to-day saying, "Now is the time to smash labour, we've got them on the run." That voice is going down to silence with the voice that preaches "class war." The producers—from the men at the drawing board to the men on the moulding floor—have gotten together in a real union, and they will handle their own affairs henceforth.
The exploitation of dissatisfaction is an established business to-day. Its object is not to settle anything, nor to get anything done, but to keep dissatisfaction in existence. And the instruments used to do this are a whole set of false theories and promises which can never be fulfilled as long as the earth remains what it is.
I am not opposed to labour organization. I am not opposed to any sort of organization that makes for progress. It is organizing to limit production—whether by employers or by workers—that matters.
The workingman himself must be on guard against some very dangerous notions—dangerous to himself and to the welfare of the country. It is sometimes said that the less a worker does, the more jobs he creates for other men. This fallacy assumes that idleness is creative. Idleness never created a job. It creates only burdens. The industrious man never runs his fellow worker out of a job; indeed, it is the industrious man who is the partner of the industrious manager—who creates more and more business and therefore more and more jobs. It is a great pity that the idea should ever have gone abroad among sensible men that by "soldiering" on the job they help someone else. A moment's thought will show the weakness of such an idea. The healthy business, the business that is always making more and more opportunities for men to earn an honourable and ample living, is the business in which every man does a day's work of which he is proud. And the country that stands most securely is the country in which men work honestly and do not play tricks with the means of production. We cannot play fast and loose with economic laws, because if we do they handle us in very hard ways.
The fact that a piece of work is now being done by nine men which used to be done by ten men does not mean that the tenth man is unemployed. He is merely not employed on that work, and the public is not carrying the burden of his support by paying more than it ought on that work—for after all, it is the public that pays!
An industrial concern which is wide enough awake to reorganize for efficiency, and honest enough with the public to charge it necessary costs and no more, is usually such an enterprising concern that it has plenty of jobs at which to employ the tenth man. It is bound to grow, and growth means jobs. A well-managed concern is always seeking to lower the labour cost to the public; and it is certain to employ more men than the concern which loafs along and makes the public pay the cost of its mismanagement.
The tenth man was an unnecessary cost. The ultimate consumer was paying him. But the fact that he was unnecessary on that particular job does not mean that he is unnecessary in the work of the world, or even in the work of his particular shop.
The public pays for all mismanagement. More than half the trouble with the world to-day is the "soldiering" and dilution and cheapness and inefficiency for which the people are paying their good money. Wherever two men are being paid for what one can do, the people are paying double what they ought. And it is a fact that only a little while ago in the United States, man for man, we were not producing what we did for several years previous to the war.
A day's work means more than merely being "on duty" at the shop for the required number of hours. It means giving an equivalent in service for the wage drawn. And when that equivalent is tampered with either way—when the man gives more than he receives, or receives more than he gives—it is not long before serious dislocation will be manifest. Extend that condition throughout the country, and you have a complete upset of business. All that industrial difficulty means is the destruction of basic equivalents in the shop. Management must share the blame with labour. Management has been lazy, too. Management has found it easier to hire an additional five hundred men than to so improve its methods that one hundred men of the old force could be released to other work. The public was paying, and business was booming, and management didn't care a pin. It was no different in the office from what it was in the shop. The law of equivalents was broken just as much by managers as by workmen. Practically nothing of importance is secured by mere demand. That is why strikes always fail—even though they may seem to succeed. A strike which brings higher wages or shorter hours and passes on the burden to the community is really unsuccessful. It only makes the industry less able to serve—and decreases the number of jobs that it can support. This is not to say that no strike is justified—it may draw attention to an evil. Men can strike with justice—that they will thereby get justice is another question. The strike for proper conditions and just rewards is justifiable. The pity is that men should be compelled to use the strike to get what is theirs by right. No American ought to be compelled to strike for his rights. He ought to receive them naturally, easily, as a matter of course. These justifiable strikes are usually the employer's fault. Some employers are not fit for their jobs. The employment of men—the direction of their energies, the arranging of their rewards in honest ratio to their production and to the prosperity of the business—is no small job. An employer may be unfit for his job, just as a man at the lathe may be unfit. Justifiable strikes are a sign that the boss needs another job—one that he can handle. The unfit employer causes more trouble than the unfit employee. You can change the latter to another more suitable job. But the former must usually be left to the law of compensation. The justified strike, then, is one that need never have been called if the employer had done his work.
There is a second kind of strike—the strike with a concealed design. In this kind of strike the workingmen are made the tools of some manipulator who seeks his own ends through them. To illustrate: Here is a great industry whose success is due to having met a public need with efficient and skillful production. It has a record for justice. Such an industry presents a great temptation to speculators. If they can only gain control of it they can reap rich benefit from all the honest effort that has been put into it. They can destroy its beneficiary wage and profit-sharing, squeeze every last dollar out of the public, the product, and the workingman, and reduce it to the plight of other business concerns which are run on low principles. The motive may be the personal greed of the speculators or they may want to change the policy of a business because its example is embarrassing to other employers who do not want to do what is right. The industry cannot be touched from within, because its men have no reason to strike. So another method is adopted. The business may keep many outside shops busy supplying it with material. If these outside shops can be tied up, then that great industry may be crippled.
So strikes are fomented in the outside industries. Every attempt is made to curtail the factory's source of supplies. If the workingmen in the outside shops knew what the game was, they would refuse to play it, but they don't know; they serve as the tools of designing capitalists without knowing it. There is one point, however, that ought to rouse the suspicions of workingmen engaged in this kind of strike. If the strike cannot get itself settled, no matter what either side offers to do, it is almost positive proof that there is a third party interested in having the strike continue. That hidden influence does not want a settlement on any terms. If such a strike is won by the strikers, is the lot of the workingman improved? After throwing the industry into the hands of outside speculators, are the workmen given any better treatment or wages?
There is a third kind of strike—the strike that is provoked by the money interests for the purpose of giving labour a bad name. The American workman has always had a reputation for sound judgment. He has not allowed himself to be led away by every shouter who promised to create the millennium out of thin air. He has had a mind of his own and has used it. He has always recognized the fundamental truth that the absence of reason was never made good by the presence of violence. In his way the American workingman has won a certain prestige with his own people and throughout the world. Public opinion has been inclined to regard with respect his opinions and desires. But there seems to be a determined effort to fasten the Bolshevik stain on American Labour by inciting it to such impossible attitudes and such wholly unheard-of actions as shall change public sentiment from respect to criticism. Merely avoiding strikes, however, does not promote industry. We may say to the workingman:
"You have a grievance, but the strike is no remedy—it only makes the situation worse whether you win or lose."
Then the workingman may admit this to be true and refrain from striking. Does that settle anything?
No! If the worker abandons strikes as an unworthy means of bringing about desirable conditions, it simply means that employers must get busy on their own initiative and correct defective conditions.
The experience of the Ford industries with the workingman has been entirely satisfactory, both in the United States and abroad. We have no antagonism to unions, but we participate in no arrangements with either employee or employer organizations. The wages paid are always higher than any reasonable union could think of demanding and the hours of work are always shorter. There is nothing that a union membership could do for our people. Some of them may belong to unions, probably the majority do not. We do not know and make no attempt to find out, for it is a matter of not the slightest concern to us. We respect the unions, sympathize with their good aims and denounce their bad ones. In turn I think that they give us respect, for there has never been any authoritative attempt to come between the men and the management in our plants. Of course radical agitators have tried to stir up trouble now and again, but the men have mostly regarded them simply as human oddities and their interest in them has been the same sort of interest that they would have in a four-legged man.
In England we did meet the trades union question squarely in our Manchester plant. The workmen of Manchester are mostly unionized, and the usual English union restrictions upon output prevail. We took over a body plant in which were a number of union carpenters. At once the union officers asked to see our executives and arrange terms. We deal only with our own employees and never with outside representatives, so our people refused to see the union officials. Thereupon they called the carpenters out on strike. The carpenters would not strike and were expelled from the union. Then the expelled men brought suit against the union for their share of the benefit fund. I do not know how the litigation turned out, but that was the end of interference by trades union officers with our operations in England.
We make no attempt to coddle the people who work with us. It is absolutely a give-and-take relation. During the period in which we largely increased wages we did have a considerable supervisory force. The home life of the men was investigated and an effort was made to find out what they did with their wages. Perhaps at the time it was necessary; it gave us valuable information. But it would not do at all as a permanent affair and it has been abandoned.
We do not believe in the "glad hand," or the professionalized "personal touch," or "human element." It is too late in the day for that sort of thing. Men want something more than a worthy sentiment. Social conditions are not made out of words. They are the net result of the daily relations between man and man. The best social spirit is evidenced by some act which costs the management something and which benefits all. That is the only way to prove good intentions and win respect. Propaganda, bulletins, lectures—they are nothing. It is the right act sincerely done that counts.
A great business is really too big to be human. It grows so large as to supplant the personality of the man. In a big business the employer, like the employee, is lost in the mass. Together they have created a great productive organization which sends out articles that the world buys and pays for in return money that provides a livelihood for everyone in the business. The business itself becomes the big thing.
There is something sacred about a big business which provides a living for hundreds and thousands of families. When one looks about at the babies coming into the world, at the boys and girls going to school, at the young workingmen who, on the strength of their jobs, are marrying and setting up for themselves, at the thousands of homes that are being paid for on installments out of the earnings of men—when one looks at a great productive organization that is enabling all these things to be done, then the continuance of that business becomes a holy trust. It becomes greater and more important than the individuals.
The employer is but a man like his employees and is subject to all the limitations of humanity. He is justified in holding his job only as he can fill it. If he can steer the business straight, if his men can trust him to run his end of the work properly and without endangering their security, then he is filling his place. Otherwise he is no more fit for his position than would be an infant. The employer, like everyone else, is to be judged solely by his ability. He may be but a name to the men—a name on a signboard. But there is the business—it is more than a name. It produces the living—and a living is a pretty tangible thing. The business is a reality. It does things. It is a going concern. The evidence of its fitness is that the pay envelopes keep coming.
You can hardly have too much harmony in business. But you can go too far in picking men because they harmonize. You can have so much harmony that there will not be enough of the thrust and counterthrust which is life—enough of the competition which means effort and progress. It is one thing for an organization to be working harmoniously toward one object, but it is another thing for an organization to work harmoniously with each individual unit of itself. Some organizations use up so much energy and time maintaining a feeling of harmony that they have no force left to work for the object for which the organization was created. The organization is secondary to the object. The only harmonious organization that is worth anything is an organization in which all the members are bent on the one main purpose—to get along toward the objective. A common purpose, honestly believed in, sincerely desired—that is the great harmonizing principle.
I pity the poor fellow who is so soft and flabby that he must always have "an atmosphere of good feeling" around him before he can do his work. There are such men. And in the end, unless they obtain enough mental and moral hardiness to lift them out of their soft reliance on "feeling," they are failures. Not only are they business failures; they are character failures also; it is as if their bones never attained a sufficient degree of hardness to enable them to stand on their own feet. There is altogether too much reliance on good feeling in our business organizations. People have too great a fondness for working with the people they like. In the end it spoils a good many valuable qualities.
Do not misunderstand me; when I use the term "good feeling" I mean that habit of making one's personal likes and dislikes the sole standard of judgment. Suppose you do not like a man. Is that anything against him? It may be something against you. What have your likes or dislikes to do with the facts? Every man of common sense knows that there are men whom he dislikes, who are really more capable than he is himself.
And taking all this out of the shop and into the broader fields, it is not necessary for the rich to love the poor or the poor to love the rich. It is not necessary for the employer to love the employee or for the employee to love the employer. What is necessary is that each should try to do justice to the other according to his deserts. That is real democracy and not the question of who ought to own the bricks and the mortar and the furnaces and the mills. And democracy has nothing to do with the question, "Who ought to be boss?"
That is very much like asking: "Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?" Obviously, the man who can sing tenor. You could not have deposed Caruso. Suppose some theory of musical democracy had consigned Caruso to the musical proletariat. Would that have reared another tenor to take his place? Or would Caruso's gifts have still remained his own?