Editor of The Standard Bearer
Dear Mr. Editor,
My attention was called to an article which appeared in the December 1, 1944, issue of the Standard Bearer, written by Mr. H. A. Van Putten. That article reflects so unfairly upon the C.L.A., and even upon the so-called neutral unions, that it is not right to leave it unchallenged. I would therefore like to have a little space to reply to it.
The brother first of all condemns collective bargaining. But, it is quite clear that he has a faulty conception of it. First of all it must be understood that when representatives of unions bargain with an employer they do not bargain for what a worker is going to be paid but for what is going to be paid for the performance of a job. And if an employee can satisfactorily perform that job he is entitled to the rate set for it. It is true, of course, that there is a great difference between men. And, the C.L.A. and many other unions as well, take cognizance of that and therefore provide that the rate set on a job is the minimum rate and that the employer may pay more to the more efficient employees. That fact that the employer very seldom does that only proves how little exceptional ability is appreciated.
Collective bargaining has come with mass industries. And it is a blessing for the worker that it did. What chance has an individual in a mass industry, where the employer has no direct contact with the men, to bargain so that he will get justice, when not a man’s ability but the labor market determines what wages are going to be paid? (I have normal conditions in mind of course.) Not only that, but if Mr. Van Putten’s idea were to be carried out there would have to be 300 different rates in a factory employing 300 men. No two men are exactly equal in ability. What a mess that would be! What a lot of trouble that would cause! Who would determine the exact worth of each man? The answer is of course that they must do that together. Yes, but isn’t it much fairer then to bargain for all the employees doing the same kind of work at one time, through a chosen representative who has the ability to do so? What Mr. Van Putten writes about such a man not being able to swear an oath, etc., is quite meaningless. Such an argument is only brought in for effect. I have many times represented men in bargaining. An oath was never required, but if it had been I would not have hesitated to take it.
When the brother touches on responsibility before God he ought to think a bit more about his responsibility toward fellow-workers. The Lord taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, not, “give me”. Christianity is not everybody for himself, but we are definitely our brothers’ keepers too. In our employment that means that we should be as much concerned about our fellow-workers getting a just wage as about our self. The way to do that is to bargain collectively through a Christian organization.
So much on that topic. But the brother passes on an argument against unions that would be amusing if it wasn’t so terribly unfair. His assumption of a decorating contractor taking a job, then demanding more, and because the other party refuses to pay it proceeding to drive that man’s family from his home, destroying his property, etc. etc., is supposed to be a fair picture of a union in action! What a shameful misrepresentation even of an unchristian union! It is very true that some unions have made misuse of their power. But the caricature presented by Mr. Van Putten is not a true picture of at least 95 percent of organized labor. I am not making a plea for the neutral unions. There are many reasons why I believe that
Christian workers should not belong to them. But, let’s be honest at least. Such a picture as Mr. Van Putten has drawn is grossly unjust.
And then the admonition to C.L.A. members at the end, to think it over! Think over what? Does Mr. Van Putten even mean to imply that the ridiculous comparison he made also applies to the C.L.A.? If so he owes us an apology. Who ever heard of the C.L.A. breaking a contract, beating up people, destroying people, destroying property, etc.? I would like to know about it.
Such writing, Mr. Editor, does more harm than good. Your Church has the union problem to contend with. But, those who are faced with the problem are not going to be kept out of unchristian unions by presenting that kind of arguments. Above everything we must be honest and just! Would it be just to condemn all the people in a church as thieves and adulterers because a few had fallen into such sins? That would be doing exactly as Mr. Van Putten has done.
Yours for justice and truth,
J. Gritter, Secretary C.L.A.