All Commentary
Saturday, May 1, 1965

Labor Drives for Total Security

Mr. Vincent is a free-lance writer specializing in the business and industrial field.

You are hired by the company the day you leave school.

You move up the seniority lad­der at a fixed and unalterable pace.

There’s no need to make a spe­cial effort or develop new skills: your position and pay are fixed by the time you spend on the job.

You receive financial assistance when you marry, later get addi­tional benefits for your children.

You retire at the age of 55.

The worker’s paradise?

Not so, say Japanese union lead­ers about the “lifetime employ­ment plan” which covers approxi­mately 40 per cent of their coun­try’s work force. In fact, both labor and management are now trying to find some way of dis­mantling Japan‘s tradition-bound system. Unions are restive, pointing out that the worker is stuck with one job for life, has no in­centive to develop additional skills, and can’t better himself by taking advantage of opportunities in a different industry. Management is hobbled by a work force that is stagnant, regimented, and un­adaptable to changing times.

France, West Germany, Bel­gium, the countries of Latin America, have had “job security” programs for decades, but with no perceptible increase in labor satis­faction. There is always the ex­ample of the American “capital­ist” worker with his high stand­ard of living, his freedom to move up the economic ladder at his own pace, to goad the security-bound worker of other lands into a real­ization of his own plight.

Or at least there has been—un­til now. For the mid-sixties is wit­nessing a massive drive by the labor hierarchy to impose a simi­lar strait jacket on management and employees in this country in the guise of “total security.”

Decked out in the full panoply of expensive union propaganda, the term has an undeniable seduc­tiveness: it is all-encompassing, impatient with logic and history. It promises everything to the worker and asks nothing; seem­ingly, he can’t lose.

The Obvious Strategy

The strategy of implementation is becoming clearer day by day. You can see it in the attempt to focus attention on a few untypical situations as universal models, and in the increasing number of theo­retical articles being published in those reliable bell weathers, the journals of opinion. “See—it works!” says the first. “And it’s an intellectually respectable con­cept, too,” says the second.

Take the case of the total job security program recently negoti­ated by the United Steelworkers of America with Alan Wood Steel Company. In itself, the program for the 2,500 employees of the small Pennsylvania steel firm would have little if any repercus­sion on the economy. As a pattern for negotiations with the can in­dustry, steel industry, and all in­dustry, however, it has been moved to the center of the labor arena with deliberate fanfare by United Steelworkers’ president, David J. McDonald. Here, he has said in ef­fect, is the shape of things to come.

The basics of the contract are familiar to everyone by now. For each worker, a guaranteed aver­age rate of earnings which will “protect” him from a reduction of more than 5 per cent because of demotion or other job changes by management; a guarantee of 38 hours pay for each week in which an employee works, even though he is on the job only part of the time; payment to each worker with 10 or more years tenure of the equivalent of 85 per cent of his pay should he be laid off, until retirement; and sharing with all employees 32.5 per cent of savings achieved through labor or materials effi­ciencies.

No Mention of Weaknesses

In “selling” this program to the country, labor spokesmen make no mention of the many factors in the program which have caused disillusionment abroad, such as the worker’s loss of mobility and versatility, the discounting of in­centives, the sapping of individual initiative, and the inability of companies to compete or even stay in business under this kind of fi­nancial burden.

Instead, any suspicion as to the economic feasibility of the pro­gram is to be allayed by the in­tellectuals. Providing an ideologi­cal base from which to influence the mass media is their role in the strategy of implementation. And just what is the philosophical justification for “total security”? Just how is this concept to be structured into American life?

Here is Robert Theobald, author of Free Men and Free Markets, writing in The Commonweal of September 4, 1964: “… we had to develop a new, human and con­stitutional right—the right to an income…. Every citizen who has resided in the United States for a period of five consecutive years should be guaranteed the right to an income sufficient to enable him to live with dignity. No govern­ment agency, judicial body or other organization whatsoever should have the right to suspend or limit any payment assured by this guarantee.”

As Mr. Theobald candidly states, this concept “justifies in­come without toil.”

And how is this total security to be paid for?

By penalizing each employee who has the ambition and initi­ative to develop and market his skills beyond an arbitrarily fixed point. To quote Mr. Theobald, “We should establish the principle that the portion of income required to maintain a reasonable standard of living should be tax free. Taxes should only be paid on incomes rising above this level.”

Here, then, is the cost which labor is to pay for “total secur­ity”: regimentation, abrogation of the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor, atrophy of skills, and a universal but minimum standard of living at a “reasonable” level.

Is it not ironical that just as labor in Asia, Europe, even behind the Iron Curtain, seeks to cast off the confining restrictions of “total” systems and gain some of the mobility and freedom of the American worker, the latter should be offered this same tired and withered concept as his shining hope?



Legislated Security

The introduction of compulsory social insurance in cases of sickness, or compulsory social insurance in cases of unemploy­ment, means that the workers must be subject to examinations, investigations, regulations, and limitations.

Samuel Gompers (1916)