The occasion for this article is a growing menace to our farmers. In recent years an organization has come into existence called the National Farmers’ Organization. It has grown phenomenally in recent months and now numbers in the thousands of members.
A description of this organization and its purposes can be learned from the by-laws of its Constitution from which we quote in part:
We hold that to permit the processor to set the price on the sale of commodities raised by the American farmer to be a complete reverse of the tradition of the American system of government which normally permits the manufacturer of products to set the prices of the products that he produces. We hold these conditions to be utterly at variance with the spirit of justice and the needs of the American farmer. We believe the right of the farmer to organize for his mutual protection is compatible with the rights of other segments of our society to organize for their mutual protection.
We believe that the American farmer has a right to expect a fair profit over and above the cost of production for the commodities raised on his farm.
The American farmer does not seek to usurp the functions of the processors of his commodities, nor does he ask for a place on the Board of Directors of such concern. He merely asks his right to a fair profit through his organization. The farmer’s investment in his agricultural business is his sinew and money in the production of his commodities. The processors of his commodities invest in their business. We believe that each has a right to a fair profit. The farmer seeks a place at the conference table, together with the processor, when decisions are made which affect the price of the commodities the farmer produces. He only asks that he be given a voice in establishing the price and quality of his commodities.
PURPOSE AND OBJECTIVES:
To improve and stabilize the living standards of the American farm families; to bargain collectively with the processors of agricultural commodities in accordance with the provisions of the membership agreement . . . to create a system to insure a fair price for farm products at the market place; to maintain and protect the interest of the family type farmers under the jurisdiction of the National Farmers’ Organization.
. . . To work for the pas s age of improved legislation in the interest of all farmers. To enforce existing laws; to work for the repeal of those laws which are unjust to the farmer. To cooperate with other liberal organizations to achieve these goals.
From the above quotation, several conclusions are obvious: In the first place, the main purpose of the organization is to secure better prices for farm commodities from the processors. At present the organization is concentrating its attention and efforts on cattle and hogs. It is trying to gain for its members higher prices for stock that goes to packers. But its aim is to control the price of all farm commodities. Its goal is a contract with the packers guaranteeing a definite price for cattle and hogs which farmers will receive upon shipment.
In the second place, this organization operates on the same principle as the existing labor unions. This is evident from the statement quoted above in the preamble of its by-laws: “We believe the right of the farmer to organize for his mutual protection is compatible with the rights of other segments of our society to organize for their mutual protection.” The reference is obviously to the labor unions in which workers have organized for the purpose of protecting themselves from their employers and securing for themselves higher wages. In fact, the N.F.O. is reportedly working closely with the labor unions to attain its goals, and is even financed in part by the AFL-CIO.
In the third place, the sole goal of this organization is to increase the profit of the farmers. In this way also there is little or no difference between existing labor unions and the N.F.O. Its goals are purely monetary; its purposes are purely material. It is true beyond question that in recent months the farmers have received very small profits on their cattle and hogs and in some cases have raised their animals only to sell them at a loss. It is true too that precisely these circumstances have persuaded many to join the N.F.O. in the hopes of getting a fair return on their commodities. But the fact remains that the goals of the N.F.O. are purely monetary. They have taken it upon themselves to put more money in the pockets of their members.
The rightness or wrongness of membership in this organization is a burning issue in every farm community. Sad to say, people of the Reformed churches have actively and avidly supported it. The Banner has more than once carried articles in support of membership in it. It is a well known fact that members of the Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church and Netherlands Reformed Church in the Iowa and South Dakota areas are often leaders in the movement.
It is therefore a question which must be decided upon by farmers—also of our own churches. The temptations to join are strong,—the farmers are not receiving a just return on their investments and a fair share of profits. But the question remains whether or not membership in this organization is to be condoned in the light of the Word of God. If the organization is wrong, membership is wrong, whatever the material advantages to membership may be.
The Banner recently carried a letter by a correspondent from South Dakota in which it was maintained that to join the N.F.O. was one’s Christian duty. The argument runs something like this: We have the calling in Scripture to love our neighbor as ourselves. This calling we fulfill when we seek the welfare of our neighbor,—in this case, in gaining for him a fair price for his farm commodities. We are therefore obligated to join the N.F.O. in order to raise the prices of his farm products so that he can live in greater material comfort.
This is pretty poor justification for membership in the N.F.O. Even granted (for the moment for the sake of argument) that membership in the N.F.O. is not wrong, this is surely not the way to help my neighbor. The implication seems to be that I am not joining the organization for myself, but am doing it only out of a fervent love for the man next door who needs help. But if the N.F.O. is the means to relieve him from his troubles, why should not I encourage him to join himself rather than join for him. Besides, if I am so intent on helping my neighbor, I can better do this by giving him of my bounties of food and sharing with him the things that God has given me, rather than joining an organization to help him. It would help more (if my motives are so pure) to take several bags of groceries to him, rather than to join some organization. Further, as someone remarked to me, perhaps somehow this joining the N.F.O. can be construed as helping my neighbor on the farm. But what am I then doing to my neighbor in the city who will have to pay more for his meat over the counter because the price of cattle goes up? I help one neighbor at the expense of another.
And yet it is striking that no other argument has been advanced in favor of joining the N.F.O. other than the arguments that it will lead to financial gain. Even Reformed people who support this organization can offer no better reasons for joining than this. And yet it seems obvious that if we are to commit ourselves to membership in some organization which requires of us many obligations, we ought to have some deeply spiritual reason for doing this. In some way, membership ought to enhance our spiritual life. To join an organization for purely material ends involves one in covetousness. It is a matter of trusting in the arm of man, in human power, to secure for us our daily needs; and it ignores the fact that we look to God for our daily bread.
Nevertheless, there are other serious objections against joining the N.F.O.
In the first place, any organization that is devoted exclusively to securing greater financial remuneration for its members at a cost to others must necessarily resort to coercion. This is true of labor unions; this is no less true of the N.F.O. In proof of this point I quote from an article written by Prof. Henry Stob, who was writing in favor of labor unions in the Reformed Journal. He frankly admitted that coercion lay in the very character of these organizations. He writes:
The fact is that labor unions and political powers, whether Christian or not, are “power structures.” They are this because they have, and of necessity must have, in their possession certain instruments and techniques of constraint. Without these instruments and techniques of constraint, without the “force” and “compulsion” that they can bring to bear upon people, they would cease to be what they are.
It should be obvious that without the “strike weapon” a labor union ceases to be a labor union. Without the power to “compel” management to yield to its demands a union is nothing but an educational institute or a propaganda agency; it is not a union. A labor union, from its very nature is unlike a Church or a School or a Newspaper or a Radio Station or any other such thing. Churches, is unlike a Church or a School or a Newspaper or a Radio Station or any other such thing. Churches, schools, and similar organizations teach, proclaim, witness, persuade, convince, and thereby “exert influence,” but they do .not have the capacity or the right to “constrain” “force” or “compel”. This is because they are not in their nature “power structures” as labor unions assuredly are.
Prof. Stob is talking about labor unions. But the same principle holds true of the N.F.O. How else except through the use of picketing and force can the objectives of such an organization be attained? It is not a mere educational institute or a propaganda agency; it is an organization instituted to gain money for its members. Specifically, the N.F.O. purposes to prevail upon the processors by the use of what is called “withholding actions.” These withholding actions are agreements between all the members to withhold from the processors their products until the processors raise their prices for the farm commodities. But, of course, not all farmers are members. Therefore some farmers wish to ship their cattle and hogs to market in spite of these “withholding actions.” Just as some workers want to work even though a union goes on strike. So the problem must be faced by the N.F.O. how to keep any goods from coming to market. There are two alternatives. One alternative is not simply to let non-members ship. The whole withholding action would then be a failure. But one alternative is to prevent even non-members from shipping. And this must be done by force. Either the plants are picketed or the N.F.O. resorts to violence to attain its end.
Recently the N.F.O. has instituted just such a withholding action. What is the result? The newspapers are filled with reports of violence. Trucks are sabotaged; tires are shot out; farmers are hurt; fights ensued,—all in an attempt to keep anything from reaching the market. This has been the story from Ohio and Michigan all the way to Montana and the Dakotas. Governors have ordered their state police to attempt to keep order and prevent violence and rioting.
The conclusion is that such an organization with such goals as the N.F.O. has no alternative but to be a “power structure” imposing its will by force.
There is another alternative. The unions have successfully employed this tactic. That alternative is to force everyone who is a farmer to join the N.F.O. Unions have what is called the closed shop. Every man has to join the union in a particular plant in order to work. The goal of the union is to make every shop a closed shop. Then every one will have to be a union member to work. The N.F.O. has this goal as well. It is determined to get all farmers into its organization. Then it can make its withholding actions stick. But, just as the unions, it needs favorable legislation to accomplish this. Just as the unions have the law on their side so that in many states the closed shop is supported by the law, so also the N.F.O. seeks to gain legislation which will make it impossible for any farmer to ship to market except he be a member of the N.F.O.
It ought to be evident that no man can belong to such an organization without becoming responsible for all this violence and coercion.
But there is yet another objection. The farmer, by signing a contract with the N.F.O. signs away all right to determine for himself when and how and for what price he shall bring his goods to market. He turns over all responsibility for this to the N.F.O. By joining this organization he gives the N.F.O. the sole authority to determine what he shall do with the produce of his farm. Clearly this is a violation of his calling to Christian stewardship. God has given to a farmer his farm. He has the calling to till the soil, to raise his crops and his herds as steward over these things which God has entrusted to his care. He is given the authority from God Himself to determine before God’s face and for God’s sake what he shall do with that which is given to him. He shall have to give an account to God for what he does with God’s gifts. If, rather, he turns this responsibility and authority over to an organization—any organization, he relinquishes his obligations to Christian stewardship and turns his God given right over to others. This he may never do.
The conclusion of the matter is that a Christian, in the full consciousness of his calling may never join such an organization. Our churches have, historically, opposed membership in labor unions. Our stand over against the N.F.O. ought to be no different. No doubt the time will come when farmers also will not be able to buy or sell without affiliation with this organization or one like it. But our calling is clear. We ought to obey God rather than man. And if this means that we must suffer want because of our faithfulness, we must commit our cause to our righteous Judge and trust in His abiding love and care.