Commentary Magazine


Unions and the Public

To the Editor:

A. H. Raskin’s “Unions and the Public Interest” (February 1954) was very much in the public interest. Unions should be neither a sacred cow nor the object of Pegler’s sadism. Mr. Raskin’s approach is most refreshing and enormously helpful.

Towards the end of his article he seems to develop third-act trouble, and is rather hasty about tying up some loose ends. I am sure that in the more expanded treatment his thesis deserves he would have avoided making statements such as the following without justification by argument and documentation: “If labor and industry do not find a way to protect the public, a reaction will set in and the public will find its own way. The outcome may be an economy in which the government makes all the decisions. In that kind of economy, all of us together stand to lose our freedom.” . . .

Here are some of the questions that come to mind:

  1. In the long run are “labor and industry” outside of the realm of “the public”?
  2. Why should a reaction to the anti-public practices of labor and industry suggest “an economy in which the government makes all decisions”? If regulation is here indicated, why must the bogey of fascism or Communism be introduced? Has government intercession and regulation hitherto meant only an accretion of totalitarianism?
  3. If the government is equated with the public (as it properly is in Mr. Raskin’s approach), why should its assumption of decision-making powers in our economy lead us to a situation in which “all of us together stand to lose our freedom”? What in the meantime has happened to our competing political parties, and our checks-and-balances complex of government, and our secret ballot, and our free traditions, and our independent spirit as a citizenry?
  4. Are we in this country at the point where to set up an otherwise reasonable argument we must suggest that the alternative means loss of our own freedom? Can it really come as easily as all that? (I might add that I am a socialist and Mr. Raskin obviously is not, yet I have come to have far more confidence in our “capitalist” democracy than he seems to indicate in his article.)

William Stern
The Workmen’s Circle
New York City

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To the Editor:

A. H. Raskin’s “Unions and the Public Interest” (February) was an exceedingly valuable diagnosis. However, his assertion that “Most unions stored their education programs away so long ago that the chances of reviving them are slim,” is not true. Where and what are the once-active unions that have stored away their plans? A glance through, for example, the summary given in Labor and Nation, fall issue of 1951, shows a large number of expanding union schemes. Further, it also shows how the institutions of higher learning are aiding the unions in this work. In all, forty-four union and labor groups, seven independent labor education organizations, and twenty universities reported activity, and a large number of union scholarships were listed. . . .

He overlooks the serious training work carried through, for example, by the Paper Makers Brotherhood and the regional institutes of the Machinists Union. He ignores the work in Roosevelt College, Chicago, the increased activity in union films, the numerous conferences operated by both the Workers Education Bureau and the Research and Education Department of the CIO, and by constituent unions of both the AFL and CIO. The many successful conferences held by the American Labor Education Service, which have recently concentrated upon getting a better understanding by trade union members of international relations, also contradict Mr. Raskin’s assertion. He should not forget the good work done by the State Federations in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, California, and Massachusetts, and the educational institutes run in the Southern states. The central Officers’ Qualification Courses and the Training Institute of the ILGWU are supplemented by the courses for new members which are held regularly in all the main centers of the Union. . . .

Union leaders and union members who understand . . . know that union education, in its function as a discipline, a directive, and a dynamic, can refresh the idealism of the veterans and impart the ethics of labor solidarity to the recruits.

Mark Starr
International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union,
New York City

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