The Progressive Democracy of James M. Cox
Chapter Five - How He Has Dealt With Labor Troubles
HOW HE HAS DEALT WITH LABOR TROUBLES
No subject furnishes so good an index to the entire record of an executive as the manner in which he has handled the affairs growing out of industrial disputes. Touching, as they often do, a zone of disputed claims, and involving, as they often do, the social rights of workers no less than the rights of property, and entailing, as they frequently have, the duty of maintaining public order, the conflicts between capital and labor test to the utmost the abilities of the Executive Officer of a great industrial state like Ohio. Within its borders are toilers from every land and every clime. In her cities dwell as laborers men and women from every known country and representative of every race--a modern Babel of tongues with a greater variety, were it possible, than those upon whom fell confusion of speech in the ages gone.
And the period during which Governor Cox has held away has been one of profound upheavals. There have been strikes brought forth by "hard times," strikes occasioned by efforts at organization of workers, and strikes whose distant origin lay in the economic overturn incident to war inflation with its topsy-turvy of values and its jumble of the normal status. These conditions, then, supply a complete and ample test of the effectiveness of the policy which has been followed. The results of this policy are told in a brief statement by Mr. Oscar W. Newman, Associate Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. He said: "Not a soldier was brought to the scene of a single strike (although they were in readiness for emergency); person and property were preserved; and above all, the dignity of the law was maintained."
Nor has capital been offended by the methods pursued. This fact is attested by statements of those who speak for invested industrial wealth. Thus, W. S. Thomas, of Springfield, says that the policies pursued have made "Ohio an oasis in the widespread area of industrial turmoil during and since the great war."
There are cited, too, the conclusions reached by Thomas J. Donnelly, Secretary of the Ohio Federation of labor, who has written:
"Labor has confidence in James M. Cox because the laboring people feel that he understands their needs and is in hearty sympathy with the progressive aspirations of those who earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. As governor, he accomplished more in the interest of the laboring people of Ohio and is held in higher esteem by them than any other governor in the state's history.
"He has done much to avoid and to settle labor troubles. He believes that more can be accomplished through reason and common sense than through force and intimidation; and whenever called upon to send the militia to deal with striking workmen, he always found a way to prevent violence and preserve order without using soldiers for that purpose. During the big steel strike when violence and disorder were rampant in some states where the right peaceably to assemble had been denied to the striking workers, in Ohio, where there were equally as many strikers involved, there was no sign of violence, and the right of workers peaceably to assembled was not interfered with. If his policy had been followed by other public officials throughout the nation, there would be less unrest and the people would have more confidence in the fairness of government authorities."
It is only necessary to get a comprehensive view of Governor Cox's record with respect to labor troubles to tell the plain story of what he has done. He had scarce taken hold as Governor in 1913 when a strike broke out in the great rubber plants of Akron. It seemed to have been fomented by members of the Industrial Workers of the World, but it drew in its train thousands upon thousands of other workers until the great plants were practically idle. In Akron, where a heterogenous collection of industrial workers dwell, idleness was a potent factor in fomenting disorder. The normal course of affairs would have been an attempt to operate the plants with strike breakers under guard, provocative acts upon both sides, and finally, recourse to an armed militia to quell the disorder after the inevitable bloodshed had ensued. Although new in executive experience, Governor Cox took another course. He sent trained and trusted investigators to Akron who learned the facts and reported to him accurately upon the situation, including also the grievances of the toilers. At the same time he gave warning to the local authorities that they preserve a strict neutrality in their dealing with the contending forces, and he uttered a solemn warning that the laws must be respected, assuring those of both contending factions that public opinion within the city would speedily ascertain the right and wrong of the controversy. And so it proved to be. But learning there were abuses in the plants that needed correction the Governor gave his assent to an investigation by a legislative committee through the helpful publicity of which all interests were induced to redress certain grievances. It gave an object lesson not only to Akron but to all the state. It taught even the turbulent element that only harm could come through infraction of the law and through disrespect for rights of person and property. The remainder of the story is that I. W. W. disturbers have more sterile soil in Ohio to cultivate than in any of the states about it.
A startling comparison two years later at East Youngstown, during the administration of Governor Cox's successor, disclosed by contrast the value of the peaceful plan. Through a policy of uncertainty and wavering, a riot was allowed to start and military were needed to put down the disorder, life being lost in the process.
The details of the incidents of similar nature to that of Akron need not be recounted here, but the invariable policy pursued was the collection of all the facts, so far as possible, by a representative of capital and one of labor. Of this course, the simple statement can be made that it was eminently successful.
This recital has been made as a preliminary to the narrative of the great steel strike of 1919 on which the Governor's fame as an administrator in troubled times largely rests. The same policy of investigation and research was pursued. Solemn warning was given that freedom of speech and assembly must be respected rigidly but that neither must become the instrument of license nor of subversive speech or conduct. At the time when the situation reached a critical stage the Governor issued this statement:
"To the Mayors of municipalities and County Sheriffs of Ohio:
"I am impressed with the importance of a statement to the mayors and sheriffs as to a policy which should serve as a guide to government, both state and local, in the matter of turbulent conditions which have developed in many communities, from pending industrial disputes.
"We have inquiry at the executive office from local officials clearly indicating that no rule of action has been developed in the face of present emergencies and further that none is in prospect. The constitution imposes upon the Governor the very definite responsibility of law enforcement. While it is the duty of the mayor of a municipality and the sheriff of the county to execute the laws, the founders of our charter of government gave to the state executive, not only the right to keep vigilant eye on conditions in every community, but his oath imposes the obligation so to do. Therefore, in no part of the state must a public officer permit the violation of the law. The mayors and sheriffs seem to have proper concept of their duty in the abstract. The purpose of this statement is to deal with specifications.
"The sections of the state which give the greatest concern have large masses of alien residents. Thousands of them do not speak the language. They are not familiar with our laws but it is safe to assume that the individual conscience tells every man that violence is both a moral and a legal wrong.
"Officers of companies whose manufacturing plants are closed by strike or other cause have expressed to me the intention to resume operations. At the same time they have asked for 'protection.' Inquiry develops this fact--that some employers believe it the duty of government to transport their employees into and out of the plants in question. This is not a function of government. Throughout the years, the policy has been not to make use of soldiers nor policemen to man street cars, for instance, nor in any way to make of them the instruments to bring a strike to an end. If either state or local officers provided safe conveyance of workmen into or out of a manufacturing institution, then government would be making of itself the agent of one of the parties to the dispute. If, however, the plant resumes, and disorder of any sort ensues as the result of employees going into or out of the factory, then that becomes an affair of governmental concern and the mayor of the municipality or the sheriff of the county, as location within or without the municipality largely determines, must suppress violence and arrest those who violate the law. I shall exact this from all local officers.
"Picketing as we understand it is neither prohibited by law nor condemned by public sentiment, but it must go no further than moral persuasion. Organized society cannot continue without government, and government will not live unless the laws are respected. They not only express what experience has taught us, but they are the official mandate of the will of the majority, and after all, that is a fundamental principle in a republic.
"All officers must act with care. It will be found that trouble can often be avoided by an open, frank and firm contact of public officers with both the representatives of the employers and employees. No call that I have ever made upon either side of these controversies has ever gone unheeded.
"We are in the midst of unprecedented conditions, but if we devote ourselves to the single thought of making government the agency of justice and the instrument of bringing swift punishment to those who violate the laws of this commonwealth, we will pass through the storm safely.
"No man must be permitted to define the rules of his individual conduct. The law is supreme. I shall expect its enforcement by local officers. When they have rendered their utmost effort and failed to meet conditions, then the state will act promptly."
In every city in Ohio, save one, this warning was sufficient, but in Canton it became necessary for the Governor to remove the mayor. His successor speedily re-established the peace.
Return to "The Progressive Democracy of James M. Cox" Home Page