Reprinted from the Sept. 2, 1929, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune.
In his Labor Day message, U.S. Labor Secretary James J. Davis properly lays much stress on the fact that the welfare of the laborer and the welfare of the nation as a whole are inextricably bound up with each other. He urges us to remember that the country’s prosperity is wrapped up in the pay [envelope] of the worker, and he reminds us too, that production is dependent, not on workers alone or on employers alone, but on the friendly partnership which exists between these two groups.
These truths are so obvious today that Davis appears to be a master of platitudes when he recites them. No one seriously doubts today that there can be no national prosperity worthy of the name, which is not foundationed on the prosperity of the worker. Few have the temerity to deny that industry and commerce flourish most when the well-paid laborer and the farsighted employer meet on common cooperative ground.
It is self-evident today that industry has as great a stake in good working conditions and a fair compensation for service rendered as has labor, and that any injustice to the worker is an injustice to industry itself. Labor Day has taken on a new significance since Colorado, in 1887, became the first state to make it a legal holiday. If it was a class holiday then, it is most assuredly a mass holiday today.
There is not a man, woman or child in the country whose welfare is not identified, directly or indirectly, with that of labor. There is scarcely a thinking adult who does not recognize the fact that labor, to whom the day is dedicated, not only shares in our national prosperity, but by its efficiency and intelligence, contributes largely to it.
Our new concept of labor is a healthful one, and it is one which is vitalizing the entire nation. Davis may indulge in platitudes, but they are platitudes, nevertheless, which have a social and economic significance which is quite incalculable.
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The perennial question as to whether the constantly increasing tendency to substitute machines for men makes the problem of unemployment more acute was recently put to Henry Ford. The Detroit manufacturer replied as follows:
“We can go only by our experience. We find that improvement of production methods means more jobs, not fewer. That has held true for the past 20 years.
“The use of machinery is increasing, and men are being released from work that can just as well be performed by machines. But don’t forget that it requires men to make the machines. If machines are doing more and more of man’s work, it means that more and more men are employed making machines.
“Of course, if you figure that we now have all the industries we shall ever have, then the possibility of unemployment may become serious. But not only will present industries become bigger; industries unknown now will rise in power and there will be plenty of employment. I am sure of that. The one thing that will make it sure is more leaders. Most of our major industries were unheard of 30 years ago. You don’t suppose that men have ceased to create, do you?”
Ford’s answer is cast in rather general terms, yet one is glad to learn how he views the machine-unemployment relationship. Ford has proved again and again that he has a remarkable grasp of the tendencies and trends of the modern industrial age. Whether he arrives at his conclusions by reasoning or by intuition is not a matter of any special importance. The man is in tune with the mechanical age.
Twenty years ago he visualized the mechanical civilization of today more clearly than anybody else. It is not improbable, therefore, that his picture of the mechanical world 20 years from now will be sustained by the facts. He says that the range of possible inventions and discoveries not yet touched is limitless. He insists that it is a mistake to regard our present industrial era as the end or climax of a development. He feels that, industrially speaking, we are still in the dark ages, and very crude indeed.
Ford, of course, is not infallible. No man is. But he has a habit of being right about mechanical matters, and an extraordinary trick of anticipating the mechanical world of tomorrow. His confident belief that machines will go on creating more jobs rather than fewer should carry weight in every circle. It is a pleasure to record his views on a Labor Day.