From the collection of the
San Francisco, California
BY NELS ANDERSON
Director: Section on Labor Relations
Works Progress Administration
MODERN AGE BOOKS, INC., NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT 1938 BY NELS ANDERSON
PUBLISHED BY MODERN AGE BOOKS, INC.
All rights in this book are reserved, and it may not be
reproduced in whole or in part without written permis-
sion from the holder of these rights. For information
address the publishers.
Composed and printed in the United States of America by Union Labor
AT THE RUMFORD PRESS, CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Typography by Robert Josephy
Former Assistant Administrator
GWA - FERA - WPA
Whose daring resourcefulness rendered pioneer
service in adapting public work to the needs of
unemployed workers, especially in those occupa-
tions traditionally excluded from public work.
COPYRIGHT 1938 BY NELS ANDERSON
PUBLISHED BY MODERN AGE BOOKS, INC.
All rights in this book are reserved, and it may not be
reproduced in whole or in part without written permis-
sion from the holder of these rights. For information
address the publishers.
Composed and printed in the United States of America by Union Labor
AT THE RUMFORD PRESS, CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Typography by Robert Joseph?
Former Assistant Administrator
GWA - FERA - WPA
Whose daring resourcefulness rendered pioneer
service in adapting public work to the needs of
unemployed workers, especially in those occupa-
tions traditionally excluded from public work.
I. WHAT PRICE DEPRESSION? 3
II. THE FORM WORK RELIEF SHOULD TAKE 14
III. WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 30
IV. THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 44
V. THE "USEFUL AND NON-COMPETITIVE" BOGEY 58
VI. PAYING THE BILL 70
VII. HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 82
VIII. A GOOD DAY'S WORK 96
IX. WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 107
X. WORK RELIEF AND THE PROFESSIONAL 122
XI. MANAGEMENT PHASES OF WORK RELIEF 135
Public work is a way of creating something for public use. It
may be a bridge, a school, or any other needed property or service.
Normally, the bridge is built so the community will have a bridge,
but incidentally it provides work for people.
Public work may also be a way of using or salvaging labor that
would otherwise waste in idleness. For administering public work
of this kind, a beginning is made with people who need employ-
ment. Labor is engaged so that people may earn a living, and a
bridge is built incidentally.
This book attempts to discuss some of the essential elements and
characteristics of public work to give employment. It is written
with a bias in favor of more public employment when and where
it is needed. It is written on the assumption that if unemployed
labor is not used, it will be lost, and the cost of idleness will return
in some other form.
The reader may wish that more had been said here about the
public work of states, counties, and municipalities. I realize that
these political subdivisions of the United States do spend vast sums
of money, but not a great amount of such money is spent for the
kind of unemployment relief with which this volume deals.
The reader may be disturbed because more has been said in
these pages about the work activities of the Works Progress Admin-
istration (WPA) than about other Federal work agencies. There
are two reasons for this: (1) I am better acquainted with the work
activities of WPA; and (2) during the two years of operation of
the Federal Works Program, WPA has provided more than eighty
per cent of the jobs made available to relief workers.
Some readers may be disappointed because I have included no
"inside" information and no gossip about how the administrative
wheels go 'round. I hope that enough has been said to indicate
4 THE RIGHT TO WORK
broker, but there was no future in it. And the boy wanted to marry.
The brother-in-law had gone away, to wander about the country
in search of work. The professor, confused and unhappy, warned,
"This country is going hopelessly into debt. We are heading for
In 1935 the professor said to a friend in the employ of the gov-
ernment, "My son is bothering me about getting married and
leaving home. Do you suppose you could get him a job with one of
the emergency agencies in Washington?"
Today the professor of economics is well off. He is teaching two
extra classes again, and lecturing to a group of clerks in a brokerage
firm on Wall Street. Although he is still in debt, his own budget is
better than balanced. He said recently, "When is this country
going to stop going into debt? How are we going to pay the bill?
Something ought to be done about it."
The professor's case is an interesting one, not for itself alone, but
for the fact that it typifies a shift in viewpoint that was shared by
large numbers of the American people during the years 1930-1937.
Looking backward it is not hard to see why, in 1930, the pro-
fessor, like so many people, felt as he did. Other depressions had
come and gone and this one, we were assured, would follow the
pattern. No one really expected anything from the government.
--~* Public opinion, in fact, had not changed since 1894 when Gen-
eral Jacob Coxey led an unemployed "Army of the Common-
wealth" on Washington with the demand for an issue of $500,000,-
000 of unredeemable paper money to give the unemployed work
improving the nation's roads. President Cleveland informed the
"General" that it was not the responsibility of the government to
support the people, but of the people to support the government.
Coxey and a few of his followers were arrested for walking on the
grass of the Capitol lawn.
Few people criticized President Cleveland for his attitude. The
panic of 1893-94, though intense, was short-lived, and the return of
good times brought work enough for all.
WHAT PRICE DEPRESSION? 5
"YOU CAN'T DO THAT TO US1"
Unfortunately, in 1930 and 1931, conditions, instead of improv-
ing, grew worse. It has been suggested that had the gravity of the
situation been admitted in Washington, and remedial steps taken,
the United States might have avoided the abysmal depths of 1932
and early 1933. The fact is, however, the necessary steps were not
The Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, the highest in the history of
the country, was defended on the ground that it would keep out
the products of cheap foreign labor. Actually, as economists had
predicted, its real consequence and a more harmful one at that
time could hardly be imagined was to provoke retaliatory tariff
barriers against American exports abroad.
Mr. Hoover's conferences with leading industrialists were sim-
ilarly fruitless. Hardly had the employers promised the President
to uphold wage levels than they raced home to order mass layoffs
and wage cuts. It was as though the leaders in Washington were
watching flood waters pour over a crumbling dam while they
shouted reprovingly, "Stop! Stop! You can't do that to us!"
And meanwhile, for millions of people, misery and starvation
had settled down to stay.
Our professor of economics is still worried, now that the misery
has been relieved, the starvation checked; he wants to know who
is going to foot the bill. The trouble with the professor, and with
many others like him, is that they worry too much about the wrong
bill. True, in the past few years we have piled up a formidable na-
tional debt. But we have incurred it by trying to preserve for
millions of our citizens their birthright as Americans the right
to work, the right to live.
There is, however, another unpaid bill about which our pro-
fessor is singularly unperturbed. Newspapers never refer to it, nor
do propagandists of the Right or Left. It will probably never make
good campaign material, for the simple reason that it is easier to
6 THE RIGHT TO WORK
comprehend what is spent than what is not spent, what is earned
than what is lost. This is a bill for which we got nothing in return.
It is the cost of idleness enforced on countless numbers of workers.
In computing that cost, we start with 1929. In that year the na-
tional income, which is all the income of all the people, was eighty
billion dollars. It declined rapidly thereafter, to a low, in 1932, of
less than forty billion dollars and it has gradually come back to
something in excess of sixty-five billions for 1936. The loss in na-
tional income was a loss that all the people shared, but not equally.
If we add together the income loss sustained during each of six
depression years, including 1936, we get a total loss of over two
hundred billion dollars of national income. This is a bill that has
yet to be paid. Its very existence, though unrecognized, exercises
a greater retarding effect on recovery than any other debt we could
An accumulated income loss of two hundred billion dollars rep-
resents more money than all the national income for two more
prosperous years than 1929. If that huge income loss were equally
shared by 120,000,000 people, the burden per person for each of
six years would be about $285. Consider what that would mean in
increased purchasing power, in better living conditions, for a
family of five for six years or even for one year!
"PAYING FOR DEAD HORSES"
But because the loss of billions of dollars by millions of people
is not equally distributed, such averages have little meaning. The
rich man may lose millions and still live in luxury. The laborer,
on the other hand, may lose his job and in a month be evicted
from his tenement home. During those lean years a few people at
the top may have added to their wealth, but the millions in the
low income brackets were forced to subsist on less than enough or
next to nothing. In 1932 more than 15,000,000 jobless workers
were walking the streets. No one knows how many others were
struggling along with part-time jobs.
WHAT PRICE DEPRESSION? 7
Income losses of one year are not wiped out in the next; they
accumulate. The losses of several years are not counteracted by an
upturn in business. Houses neglected do not repair themselves,
nor is the final cost diminished if repairs are delayed. That applies
as well to public properties such as roads, parks, and buildings. The
eventual repair of a neglected highway or bridge is usually greater
if the work is postponed. The same holds for human bodies run
down from too little food, too little clothing, or the lack of medical
Eventually the cost of neglect to one's body and property must
be paid. Whether these losses are public or private, they hang over
in unpaid bills. Farmers have a term for such bills for benefits not
received. They call them "paying for dead horses."
The billions lost to workers are really losses in work they did
not do as well as in benefits denied to others. Add up all the idle-
ness of the unemployed during six depression years and the result
is a labor deficiency of no less than 50,000,000 man-years. Not only
the workers and their families, but all who might have shared the
benefits of their labor, are forced to bear the cost of those 50,000,-
000 man-years of wasted labor. That was a bill for "dead horses"
amounting to no less than two hundred billion dollars.
It was not, moreover, that throughout 1930 and 1951 Congress
and the President were unaware of the downward trend. Leaders
in Washington were just as much concerned as the people, but
they were also as much divided about what role government
should play in recovery. Confronted with so many conflicting opin-
ions, the government did nothing except to echo the pleas of busi-
ness not to "sell America short." In the course of this "do nothing"
policy the bill for dead horses increased by billions of dollars with
each passing month.
It was generally agreed, notably in circles far removed from the
unemployed, that Americans would never countenance a dole.
The traditional independence of the American worker became a
favorite theme in editorial and oration. For some, the sanctity of
American institutions seemed jeopardized by the mere suggestion
8 THE RIGHT TO WORK
that the government assume some responsibility toward the mil-
lions whom industry no longer found it profitable to employ. But
slowly, inexorably, circumstances forced President Hoover from
his non-interference stand.
Fear paralyzed the nation. Those who could, started buying
stocks of foodstuffs, precipating rumors of a shortage and an im-
mediate jump in food prices. Monetary and banking fears sent
people scurrying to exchange currency and securities for gold.
Uncertainty concerning the soundness of insurance companies
frightened others into cashing in their policies. Wealthy men kept
yachts in drydock, wealthy women left jewels and furs at home,
lest their display make them a target for the desperate. Private
charities urged almsgiving as insurance against revolution.
Curiously enough, although there was an occasional outburst of
rioting, talk of revolution was far more common in the upper in-
come brackets than in the lower. The poor needed all their energies
to keep alive, while for the unemployed there was nothing to do but
help one another. They shared their poverty in many ways. Evicted
families formed shantytown communities ("Hoovervilles") at the
outskirts of every large city. Those who still worked gave "rent
parties" to save their friends from eviction; they even launched
job-giving campaigns. Groups of industrial workers and farmers
organized barter outlets, and members of labor unions who had
jobs taxed themselves for the benefit of jobless members. Thou-
sands of unemployed "rugged individualists" sold apples at street
corners. In these self-help undertakings the "joy of giving" as a
motive was supplanted by incentives much more grim.
So critical had the situation become that finally, at the begin-
ning of 1932, Congress approved the Emergency Relief and Re-
construction Act. No law passed under the later Roosevelt Ad-
ministration has represented a more radical step than did this
WHAT PRICE DEPRESSION? 9
emergency legislation. It was the first significant reversal of the
American doctrine of laissez faire.
Under the new Act the Reconstruction Finance Corporation
was created for the following purposes:
1. To provide emergency financing facilities for financial institutions;
2. To aid in financing agriculture, commerce, and industry;
3. To purchase preferred stock, capital notes or debentures of banks,
trust companies and insurance companies;
4. To make relief loans to states and municipalities.
Enacted July, 1932, six months after the original Act.
The initial purpose of this legislation was to save business by
lending money to industrialists, bankers, and others at the top. The
RFC was empowered to make necessary loans in excess of three
billion dollars. But not until six months later was provision made
for relief loans, and on those a limit of $300,000,000 in all was set.
The RFC was primarily federal relief for the tottering financial
structure, not for the millions without jobs. Hence states and lo-
calities were naturally slow to ask for relief loans. For the six
months ending December 31, 1932, only $80,000,000 had been
called for, not enough to pay the nation's relief bill for one month.
Yet in spite of the little the RFC did for the jobless, it made an
important beginning. It put the non-interference doctrine on the
shelf, and it now seems doubtful whether it ever can be taken off.
The RFC was created in the hope that loans to business would
stimulate employment, but the billions poured into the coffers of
private business did not make jobs. The incidence of unemploy-
ment, on the contrary, increased.
THE BLUE EAGLE
The Roosevelt Administration assumed office March 4, 1933. On
March 31, Congress passed a bill creating the Civilian Conserva-
tion Corps, the CCC. The purpose of the CCC was to give work to
young men. The standing force of CCC has been a work army of
300,000 to 500,000 youths enrolled for periods of three months or
10 THE RIGHT TO WORK
more. They are given some training, which may be called military,
but most of their time is spent at work in the national parks and
The CCC, although not popularly viewed as offering relief work,
was really the pioneer relief agency of the federal emergency work
program. Most of the 2,000,000 boys and young men who passed
through the CCC camps during the first four years of operation
did come from relief rolls, and most of the money they earned was
sent to their families. CCC is now becoming a permanent federal
In May, 1933, the foundation was laid for a real relief program
when the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933 created the Fed-
eral Emergency Relief Administration. The Act authorized FERA
to disburse the $500,000,000 of RFC money as "non-reimbursable
grants" for relief purposes to the states and communities. No one
intended this to be more than a temporary measure to aid the un-
employed until they could find regular public work or private
jobs in industry.
FERA did not lend money to states and cities, but only made
grants which were to be matched by state and local funds. When-
ever a state filed a petition for funds on the basis of its relief load,
the grant when extended was to be conditioned on the state's
pledge to appropriate an equal amount or a percentage of the
total. Poor states put up very little, while rich states appropriated
more; the average for all was about thirty per cent. When granted,
the funds became state money and were distributed through the
regular state welfare agencies, or through special bodies created for
The New Deal relief program, although more realistic, was
based, like that of the Old Deal, on the assumption that prosperity
would soon return and that the government could drop back into
the old tradition of non-interference. Three months or so of posi-
tive New Deal effort, it was thought, would lift the economic
system out of the depths into which it had sunk during three years
of the Old Deal's watchful waiting.
WHAT PRICE DEPRESSION? 11
Although Old Deal and New do not differ greatly in fundamen-
tal aims, they do differ widely in their formal programs. The New
Deal, because it is committed to action, finds itself with each step
drifting toward a new concept of the relation of government to
business. This difference grows out of another, which concerns the
method of administering unemployment relief. The Old Deal
doled out money to the corporations and banks at the top of the
ailing economic system; the New Deal has circulated it among the
unemployed at the bottom.
To illustrate the difference of method, let us look at the $90,-
000,000 lent by the RFC to a Chicago bank. What ultimately be-
came of the money nobody knows; the bank had to close its doors.
Presumably the money trickled down through the channels of
trade. But the same amount of money distributed to the needy
unemployed would have been spent at once by two, three, or more
million workers for the necessities of life. It would have entered
the channels of trade from the bottom, making work and stimu-
lating business at every change of hands.
It was inevitable, from the very nature of those early relief
efforts, that the unemployed on public relief rolls should not be
treated as workers, but as so much surplus labor in storage. It was
not long, however, before it became clear to everyone that direct
relief, or the dole, is a wasteful device for maintaining workers in
idleness. American workers are not happy idle. They not only fail
to maintain the respect of their friends and families, but lose re-
spect for themselves. Thus, from the outset of FERA, the recipients
of relief began to look forward to the work program into which
F'ERA was expected to develop.
According to plans outlined early in 1933, the emergency direct
relief program of the New Deal should have terminated in a few
months. FERA was the bottom step in the proposed climb to re-
covery, the means of sustaining a few million unemployed workers
until regular public or private jobs could be provided.
12 THE RIGHT TO WORK
The real public work program was made the responsibility of
the Federal Administration of Public Works, called PWA. To this
new agency, created about the same time as FERA, was entrusted
the distribution of three billion dollars for big public works. PWA
money was to be made available to states, cities, and communities
for bridges, buildings, dams, roads, and similar projects. The
money was to be loaned or granted on a matching basis and the
state or other public body was required to provide a definite per-
centage of the funds. The work was to be done by contract, and
the projects were to be big ones on which there would be a high
materials cost. The idea was to revive the heavy industries.
It was assumed that PWA, by employing two or three million
workers on big projects for a period of two years, would create in-
direct employment for more than six million workers in private
industry. The spending of public money would in this way
"prime" the pump of business.
PWA, the second step in the climb to recovery, was scheduled
to terminate as rapidly as private enterprise, under the guidance
of the National Recovery Administration, the NRA, could revive
employment. NRA was a control plan for industry, paralleled by
the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, or the AAA, which
was the control plan for agriculture. NRA and AAA represented
an attempt to regulate production and employment in the United
States in the interest, not of any one group, but of the people as a
whole. Industry, agriculture, and labor were to be partners in the
The experiment was a colossal failure. Industry could not be
persuaded to impose rules on itself, nor to keep them when they
were imposed. Powerful farming interests resisted the best efforts
of the government to protect the farmers as a whole. The fight
against NRA and AAA was finally carried to the Supreme Court
where both were declared unconstitutional.
And now, after more than four years, PWA seems destined, too,
to pass out of existence, despite two extensions of life beyond its
original termination date. PWA did not provide the millions of
WHAT PRICE DEPRESSION? 13
jobs expected of it. The obstacles to getting off to a quick start
were too many. The emergency relief program had to be extended
month after month for two years, always in the expectation that
it would be discontinued next month or the next.
During that two-year period, FERA had to do what NRA and
AAA had failed to do, and what PWA could not do; it had to
provide four to five million families with subsistence and some
work. Upon this tail-end agency of the recovery program, there-
fore, fell the responsibility for learning to employ the unem-
ployed rejected by industry.
II. THE FORM WORK RELIEF
FORCE ACCOUNT OR CONTRACT
With the growth of FERA there came to the fore a much debated
issue: What form should public relief work take?
The federal government, like state and local governments, has
heretofore always done public work by contract. If the government
planned to build a bridge it prepared the plans and specifications
on the basis of which contractors were asked to bid for the work.
The contract was usually given to the low bidder who then em-
ployed the labor and bought the materials.
It was, accordingly, on the contract method that federal public
work was to have been carried on under PWA; and if everyone in-
volved in these contractual arrangements had cooperated, if there
had been no legal or financial obstacles, PWA might have accom-
plished what it set out to do. Because it failed of its purpose, FERA,
with no work responsibility, had to assume the task of giving work
to the unemployed outside the contract system.
Since FERA was not intended to be a work agency in any large
sense it had to become one in a lesser sense by doing odds and ends
of public work, anything to keep the workers busy. In the begin-
ning much of this work was uneconomical; it was bound to be.
Some critics called it leaf-raking. Later it became "boondoggling."
The original plan for public works under PWA was to have the
government finance on a matching basis a number of big projects
in the states and localities. Big projects would require some direct
labor but more indirect labor. For example, let us suppose that a
THE FORM WORK RELIEF SHOULD TAKE 15
city submitted a project for building a new million-dollar court-
house, and that it was prepared to finance the project to the extent
of approximately fifty per cent. About a third of all the money
spent would go for direct labor on the site. The other two-thirds
would be spent for materials. The fabrication and transportation
of these materials would require the labor of a large number of
workers in the steel, cement, lumber, brick, and heavy machinery
industries. It is an ideal type of public work if plenty of money is
available and enough projects can be undertaken.
Contractors and industrialists naturally favor this form of public
work. Unfortunately for the unemployed, however, the PWA type
of project did not expand fast enough and did not employ the kind
of labor that was available on the relief rolls. Nor did it serve the
needs of other millions of jobless workers including women, young
inexperienced workers, and older workers.
Meanwhile, FERA went ahead with its program during the sum-
mer months of 1933. By the autumn PWA had fallen so far short of
expectations that labor unions and other interested groups pre-
sented a new plan to carry on for a few more months. This time it
was as a strictly emergency agency that the Civil Works Adminis-
tration was launched late in October, 1933.
The following were CWA's essential features:
1. Four million unemployed persons were to be given jobs on ten
temporary projects, and for this purpose $400,000,000 was appro-
priated from the funds of PWA.
2. CWA was made an adjunct of the FERA program, but it was
operated under the rules of PWA with respect to wages and condi-
tions of work.
3. The workers assigned to CWA projects were taken from relief rolls
and from the open labor market.
4. As rapidly as PWA projects could be initiated and put into opera-
tion the workers on CWA projects would be transferred to them.
This meant that CWA was intended to be a labor reservoir for PWA.
It also meant that the projects of CWA were to be of such a kind
that they could be terminated at any time as workers were trans-
ferred to PWA.
16 THE RIGHT TO WORK
In less than a month CWA found enough temporary projects to
employ about 4,000,000 workers. This was a record-making achieve-
ment. Thousands of local communities joined in the venture with
a degree of zeal and integrity never before known in this country.
For the first time in four years of depression, workers had jobs and
CWA could not use the contract method because the projects
were small and their duration too uncertain. Instead of letting out
the work by contract, CWA used the "force account" method, by
which the government acts as planner, as supervisor of the work,
as purchaser of materials, and as paymaster.
Still the hoped-for transfers to PWA jobs did not materialize.
CWA had to have an extension of life, and only a special appro-
priation from Congress enabled it to continue. CWA was discon-
tinued on March 31, 1934.
A NEW FERA
To carry on with some emergency relief employment, a Work
Division was added to FERA. The new division combined the work
function of CWA with the relief function of FERA, so that the
brief experience of CWA was thus absorbed by the Work Division.
The operating units of CWA were taken over as well. These
formed the beginning of a new type of work relief.
The new FERA program operated essentially as follows:
1. Federal grants, as before, were made to the states, where they were
distributed as state money through the regular or emergency welfare
bodies. New FERA money was granted with the understanding that
as much- as possible would be spent for useful public work.
2. As before, the federal government maintained through FERA an
advisory control over the program in states and localities. The gov-
ernment established rules for the selection of workers, for planning
work projects, and for determining working conditions.
3. As before, applicants for relief were investigated to determine ex-
tent of need. For each certified worker, according to his need, a
"budgetary deficiency" was allowed indicating the amount of money
he should receive each month.
THE FORM WORK RELIEF SHOULD TAKE 17
4. Workers certified as in need of relief were assigned to projects to
perform an amount of work each month at the prevailing rates of
pay in order to equal their budgetary deficiencies.
FERA thus became a monthly program in the larger framework
of relief. In localities where the monthly budgets were low, down
to $15 or less per month, it was difficult to schedule many workers
for projects. Even if the monthly budget of a worker was $20 and
the prevailing rate for his skill a dollar an hour, he could only be
scheduled for twenty hours per month. The combination of low
budgets and high wages in some places, added to the difficulty of
getting local contributions for materials, kept many relief clients
from being assigned at all. In the entire United States no more
than forty-seven per cent of the "reliefers" were assigned under
the new program to work.
From the outset the federal government made every effort to
improve relief standards. When FERA began, allowances were as
low as $5 per month in some states, and in excess of $50 in other
states. In May, 1933, the average monthly relief allowance per
family in the United States was about $15. When WPA replaced
FERA in July, 1935, the average family relief budget had risen to
$35 per month.
In spite of limitations, the Work Division of FERA did an
astonishing amount of useful work, enough to convince Congress
that much of the rejected labor of the jobless could be salvaged.
However, the Work Division suffered from the tendency in some
communities to unload on FERA many persons who were not
strictly victims of the depression. They were the chronic poor, in-
cluding many types of persons who have always been the legitimate
charge of the local welfare agencies. Once the rolls were loaded
down with these unemployables, the able-bodied unemployed
found it almost impossible to get FERA assignments.
WPA IS BORN
If the FERA, which ended after twenty-six months, did nothing
else, it enabled the federal government to learn something about
18 THE RIGHT TO WORK
work relief, and revealed some of the difficulties attending any
relief program. Out of that experience grew the more comprehen-
sive "Works Program," established by Executive Order April 8,
Before discussing the import and objectives of the Works Pro-
gram, it would be well to consider the experimental aspects of fed-
eral relief and work relief prior to the actual introduction of the
new program on July 1, 1935.
There was, first, no experience in American history upon which
to build a federal work relief program.
Such a program called for new relationships between states and
the federal government as well as between states and local com-
munities. It was necessary for the government to establish and
maintain high and uniform standards, while at the same time re-
specting as much as possible the traditional rights of states and
local communities. An emergency program destined to go out of
existence at any time could not assume too much control in
The federal government had to avoid becoming involved in the
purchase of property, equipment, or anything else that might
hinder a speedy termination of the program, should there no
longer be any need for it. To be useful, without becoming too en-
trenched, the relief program had to maintain itself within the
limits of maximum adaptability.
An even more serious handicap was the fact that to carry on such
a nationwide relief program the country had no body of experi-
enced administrative workers. The personnel recruited to adminis-
ter relief and work relief came from many walks of life. It is sig-
nificant that so many people of such varied backgrounds could be
brought together to produce so quickly the results achieved. It is
also significant that with a hundred thousand or more inexperi-
enced minor administrative officials supervising the work in thou-
sands of communities there was a minimum of lost motion and
waste. Although billions were spent on the CWA and FERA pro-
grams, graft and scandal were conspicuously absent. The remark-
THE FORM WORK RELIEF SHOULD TAKE 19
able success of the whole experiment is a tribute to the good sense
and integrity of rank and file Americans.
Of all the money allocated for relief, almost every dollar got into
the pockets of the unemployed, who spent it as it was intended.
This is a fact that cannot be brushed aside by those who found
fault with FERA and who now find fault with WPA.
The Works Program, which is still in force, had as its general ob-
jective to "provide relief, work relief, and to increase employment
by providing useful projects."
The following were the basic principles under which the Works
Program was established:
1. The projects shall be useful.
2. Projects shall be of such a nature that a considerable proportion of
the money spent will go into wages and labor.
3. Projects will be sought which promise ultimate return to the federal
Treasury of a considerable proportion of the cost.
4. Funds allotted for each project should be actually and promptly
spent and not held over until later years.
5. In all cases projects must be of a character to give employment to
those on the relief rolls.
6. Projects will be allocated to localities or relief areas in relation to
the number of persons on relief rolls in those areas.
7. The program must move, from the relief rolls to work on such proj-
ects or in private employment, the maximum number of persons in
the shortest possible time.
In these seven principles lies the philosophy of emergency fed-
eral work relief. It must be useful work, with the greatest possible
portion of the cost going to labor. It must be self-liquidating, if
possible, and quick-spending, so that the workers can get the money
with which to buy necessities and thereby keep other workers em-
These, then, were the major objectives at the start of the Works
Program; to do non-competitive work if possible, to employ relief
workers at their own kind of work.
Implied also in these seven principles is the government's recog-
20 THE RIGHT TO WORK
nition of the doctrine that the American way of getting a living is
through private enterprise, and that it is to private employment
that workers should turn as soon as possible.
THE "HOW" OF WPA
Unfortunately, although the Works Program has been in opera-
tion now for three years, the degree of recovery that had been
hoped for has not been realized. Just as PWA was too slow in em-
ploying relief workers on large-scale projects, so private industry
has made little or no effort to absorb the unemployed and thus
render the Works Program unnecessary.
The method of administering relief under the Works Program
has been as follows:
1. Ninety per cent or more of the workers accepted for employment
are taken from the public relief rolls in the communities where the
projects are located.
2. At first the workers received a security monthly wage as common
laborers, intermediate workers, skilled workers, or technical and
professional workers. These monthly rates were adjusted to prevail-
ing local wage and relief conditions and ranged at first from $19
for common labor in rural southern counties to $55 in large cities of
the north, with a national average of $50 per month. In a similar way
the security earnings varied for other work classifications.
3. Workers given employment on the program are assigned by the
states and by local public bodies from relief rolls through the United
States Employment Service to the projects of WPA. If called for,
such workers may be transferred from WPA, which thus operates as
a labor pool. Workers assigned to such agencies as PWA become the
employees of contractors and are not subject to security wage
4. WPA is the responsible regulating agency of the Works Program.
Its responsibility relates to keeping the funds, examining and pass-
ing on proposed projects, determining the number of workers to be
employed in states and localities, and writing regulations concern-
ing wages, hours, and conditions of labor for all agencies using relief
THE FORM WORK RELIEF SHOULD TAKE 21
On WPA since July, 1935, there have been many adjustments in
the monthly wage scale, most of them upward. The lower scales
under $21 were abolished.
Originally, all workers were expected to do a monthly minimum
of 140 hours of work. Today a worker is paid his monthly amount,
but he works it out at the prevailing hourly wage for his occupa-
tion. Instead of a uniform 140 hours for everyone, the work month
varies, according to occupation and hourly rate, from 43 hours to
The month of greatest employment for the Works Program was
February, 1936, when the distribution of workers from relief was
In all agencies of the federal government 3,836,087
Workers on WPA 3,035,852
Workers on CCC 459,461
All other federal agencies 340,774
The figure of 3,836,087 workers does not reveal the full extent of
federal relief. Although FERA was supposed to have ceased func-
tioning July 1, 1935, it really continued for a few months to give
relief and to operate some projects. Transient camps, for example,
continued for several months. Including single persons and family
cases, FERA in February, 1936 was still aiding 2,130,000 persons.
PWA, included among the "other Federal agencies," was giving
employment to 41,259 workers, solely on projects receiving relief
funds. Many PWA projects then in operation were being financed
from the original grant of three billion dollars. All workers on
PWA in February numbered 155,000.
The WPA portion of the work relief load in February, 1936,
was about seventy-nine per cent of the total load. At that time
more than half the funds, or nearly sixty per cent, had been allo-
cated to the programs of other federal agencies, all operating at a
man-year cost of from $1,600 to $3,000. The month-to-month pro-
portion of WPA workers has been from seventy per cent to eighty
per cent of all workers on the program, at a man-year cost ranging
from $500 to $800.
22 THE RIGHT TO WORK
These figures for WPA, FERA, and PWA as of February, 1936,
indicate that no less than 6,000,000 families and individuals were
receiving federal work or relief benefits. If the same benefits were
available today, the number of cases on federal rolls would not be
less than 4,000,000. Most of those included as of February, 1936,
were engaged on work relief force account projects.
We have not heard the last of the fight for big projects done on
contract. Since federal relief began in 1933 the issue has come up
with each appropriation bill. Contractors, industrialists, equip-
ment dealers, and trade unionists have all cooperated in drives to
get more money for contract projects and less for work relief.
Specifically, they wanted certain amounts of the relief appropria-
tion earmarked for projects of a special type.
Usually when the drive for big projects was on, the newspapers
joined the heavy industries in the fight. During the past year
PWA has become the symbol of the big contract type of project and
WPA the symbol for what is called the "boondoggle," or force
account project. In cartoons WPA is pictured with plenty of
money to spend, building dog houses, while PWA is shown trying
to erect big buildings with inadequate funds.
The ideal situation would be one in which there were funds
enough to employ all the jobless on both types of project. There
could be more contract jobs if there were more money available for
materials. The following figures illustrate how WPA and PWA
differ in expenditures for labor and materials:
Cost to employ one worker one year $2,260 $800
Materials and equipment 1,280 65
Wages (one year) 741 684
Other expenses 239 87
PWA in April, 1937, reported 117,201 workers on all projects
and of these 24,136, or 19.7 per cent, were from the relief rolls.
THE FORM WORK RELIEF SHOULD TAKE 23
WPA for the same month reported 2,085,329 workers, of whom
ninety-six per cent were from the relief rolls.
On the basis of work already accomplished by PWA and WPA,
it is possible to estimate the way each of these agencies would spend
a million dollars on work projects.
Number of workers who would receive employ-
ment one year from $1,000,000 442 1,540
Number of workers who would be taken from
the relief rolls 88 1,478
Amount of money from $1,000,000 that would
go into pockets of workers $328,000 $820,000
Amount of money from $1,000,000 that would
be spent for materials $566,000 $ 81,000
On the last item in the above table rests the argument between
the defenders of big public jobs by contract and the defenders of
the WPA type of public work. PWA and its defenders claim that
each work day on the site of a construction project is productive of
two and a half days of "indirect" labor. Thus if PWA provides a
million days of labor on a housing project, 2,500,000 days of in-
direct labor should be required to produce and deliver the neces-
sary materials to the site of the job.
The estimate is probably high, but if it is true of a million dol-
lars spent for building materials, would it not be just as true for
a million dollars paid to the unemployed and spent for consumer
goods which have to be produced and delivered?
The first task of the federal relief program is to get the maximum
amount of money to the largest number of jobless workers as di-
rectly and quickly as possible. They do not save any of it. WPA
workers have been spending for consumer goods from twenty to
thirty million dollars a week. It is hardly necessary to point out
what effect that has on the nation's business.
To put billions of dollars into the pockets of the needy and to
get useful work in return is to open all the stores and factories in
the country. Not to put money into their pockets is to leave mer-
24 THE RIGHT TO WORK
chandise unsold on the shelves. That, in effect, is what is happen-
ing at this moment because all too few of the unemployed have
enough work to live by. Spending for anything save the barest es-
sentials is out of the question.
If the normal processes of business cannot or will not employ
these millions of workers the government must put them to work
by the most direct method possible, and that is the force account,
which represents a new economic relationship between the gov-
ernment and the people.
WORK VS. IDLENESS
More will be said in another chapter about the cost of the work
relief program. The bill is no small matter, but very little can be
said about it in this discussion beyond pointing out that if this
cost were not assumed we would have to face a greater cost in
material and human losses.
In general deficiencies, owing to income loss, the American peo-
ple are behind no less than two hundred billion dollars, most of
which accumulated during the early years of the depression when
there was no unemployment relief. The figures that follow are
trivial compared with the losses that were sustained from 1929 to
1933. These cost figures are approximate for the emergency agen-
cies through 1936.
FERA $2,946,536,000 for 26 months
CWA 844,067,000 " 8
PWA 1,444,727,000 " 40 "
CCC 1,391,640,000 " 42 "
Resettlement Administration 137,695,000 "17
WPA 2,324,258,000 " 17
Total for the emergency work agencies $9,088,923,000
Amount spent by non-emergency agencies 1,578,474,000
Total federal relief and work funds $10,667,397,000
It should be kept in mind that these figures extend only through
Herewith we add to the federal expenditures the reported con-
tributions by states and localities:
THE FORM WORK RELIEF SHOULD TAKE 25
Federal funds expended through FERA, CWA,
PWA, and WPA, 1933 through 1936 $10,667,397,000
State and local funds, same period 2,940,165,000
Total federal, states, and local expenditures . . . $13,607,562,000
In 1933, states and communities contributed only $338,793,000
compared with contributions of $1,244,927,000 in 1936. This may
show either a greater willingness to share the cost of work and
relief or a greater ability to bear the cost.
Federal expenditures, which in 1933 were $1,136,964,000,
jumped to $3,853,147,000 in 1936. This does not necessarily mean
that more money was appropriated. It probably means that money
appropriated for work in previous years was not expended until
1936. These figures, however, mean very little unless they are com-
pared with others. For example, consider the total expenditures
figure, $13,607,562,000. It is about one-third the income loss of
1932. For the forty billion dollar income loss of that year we got
nothing but "dead horses"; for the billions expended on work
relief the country has received countless tangible and much-needed
Set the costs of relief or work relief against the costs of an equal
number of man-years of idleness, and the verdict must be in favor
of the work. To deny the unemployed the right to work is to de-
prive the whole nation of the products of their labor.
THE FOLKWAYS OF PRIVATE ENTERPRISE
INDUSTRIAL SITUATION IN 1929
Overproduction of goods
Stores overstocked with goods
Factories are ordered closed
THE LONG IDLE YEARS BEGIN: 1930
The factories remain closed
Jobless workers have no money
Goods remain on the shelves
Spinning one of the cables on the Tri-Boro
Bridge in New York City. Into this monumental
structure went $44,000,000 of WPA money. It is
a good example of the "big job" kind of public
work from which relief workers get very few bene-
fits, even indirectly.
Eastern newspapers made fun of the "Castle for
Monkeys" at Little Rock, Arkansas, calling it a
WPA "boondoggle." This zoo was designed by a
local architect and built out of native red stone
with relief labor. Businessmen of Little Rock con-
tributed the collection of monkeys.
- - 'if7- P^ ^
Amphitheatre and band shell in the Zoological
Park, Toledo, Ohio. A good example of a useful
project at low cost. The stone from which the band
shell was constructed had previously been removed
from an old canal. Ninety-six outdoor recreational
structures have been erected by WPA with relief
labor in two years.
Farm-to-market road built by WPA along Knob
Creek, Tennessee. A southern gentleman said, "If
WPA keeps going we will soon have the Civil War
paid for." Throughout the United States CWA,
FERA, and WPA have built or improved 300,000
miles of rural roads.
Redecking the boardwalk at Ocean City, New Jer-
sey. No resort town along the Atlantic Coast from
New York to Florida is happy without its board-
walk. Of these socially popular promenades, relief
labor has built or improved many miles.
Laying lateral drains along the Henry Hudson Drive
on the New Jersey side of the Palisades Interstate
Park. Stone drains are as enduring as cement ones,
and cheaper. WPA has laid such drains for 5,300
miles of road.
Operating a roller at the Boiling Field Airport,
Washington, D. C. On this project Army officers
have demonstrated that relief labor is as efficient
as any other type.
- , "
ifc=S>i- ^W -<
WPA park improvement in Providence, Rhode
Island. The Federal program has built or improved
6,300 small parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, and
Spreading black surface runways for a Philadelphia
airport. WPA has built and improved 215 airports
and landing fields, and built or improved 1,090,000
feet of runways. For the safety of air commerce
8,400 air markers and beacons have been installed.
WPA sewer project at Chester, Pennsylvania. In
two years WPA dug or improved 7,200 miles of
sewers, built 350 disposal plants and incinerators,
3,500 septic tanks, 780,000 sanitary toilets, several
thousand miles of mosquito control and drainage
A country school in Kansas. In rural areas CWA,
FERA, and WPA have built several thousand small
schools and reconditioned many more. In one state
four hundred schools of adobe or stone were
erected. WPA has virtually revived the use of stone s
f orsmal iTbuildjncjsj
WPA sewer project at Chester, Pennsylvania. In
two years WPA dug or improved 7,200 miles of
sewers, built 350 disposal plants and incinerators,
3,500 septic tanks, 780,000 sanitary toilets, several
thousand miles of mosquito control and drainage
A country school in Kansas. In rural areas CWA,
PER A, and WPA have built several thousand small
schools and reconditioned many more, in one state
four hundred schools of adobe or stone were
erected. WPA has virtually revived the use of stone s
f orsmal l
High school at Van Nuys, California. A shockproof
building to replace one that was destroyed by the
1933 earthquake. PWA allocated $470,000,000
for large school buildings.
Easter services of the Federal Music Project at the
Hollywood Bowl, California, in such public places
WPA has entertained in two years an aggregate
audience of 64,000,000 persons. Besides choral
groups and dance orchestras, WPA has maintained
48 symphony orchestras, I 10 concert orchestras,
and 80 bands.
A people's forum in Seattle. The Office of Educa-
tion of the Department of the Interior has con-
ducted experimental forums in 19 centers where
8,900 meetings were held with an aggregate at-
tendance of 478,000. This same program spon-
sored 3,200 radio forums and discussions.
A rugweaving project at Greensboro, North Caro-
lina. The labor of women cannot be used to make
roads or build bridges, but it can be employed in
the production of clothing or home furnishings. Of
all WPA workers, 15 percent are women. No other
Federal work agency has any program for using the
labor of jobless women.
Unemployed women repairing books in Greensboro,
North Carolina. More than 12,000,000 books have
been repaired or rebound in 15,000 public schools,
and in 1,800 libraries more than 17,000,000 books
have been reconditioned. By this use of relief labor
WPA has saved the taxpayers millions of dollars.
THE LONG IDLE YEARS DRAG ON: 1930-1933
Still the factories are closed
Still the workers have no money
The stores cannot sell goods
The workers are dispossessed
AFTER THREE YEARS OF IDLENESS: 1933
Alarming increase of unemployment
Workers move to shanty homes
Goods still remain on the shelves
industry is hopelessly dormant
THE GOVERNMENT LENDS A HELPING HAND: 1931
The industrialists ask for help
Industry sets federal money
Factories are slow to open
Goods still remain on the shelves
FEDERAL LOANS GO INTO ACTION: 1931-1933
Some factories are opened
Technological improvements follow
Fewer workers make more goods
Unemployment is not relieved
More and more goods pile up
NEW DEAL SPENDING PROGRAM BEGINS: 1933
Federal money is spent for relief
A federal work program begins
Industrialists are encouraged
The workers have money to spend
NEW DEAL SPENDING^PROVES PRACTICAL: 1934-1936
Workers can buy goods
Stores can buy new supplies
Workers can evacuate the shanties
Factories begin to operate
III. WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED?
GOD'S REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS
In 1840, Francis Wayland, president of Brown University, pub-
lished a college textbook on political economy. Of the virtues of
work, he said: "If God have set before us sufficient rewards to
stimulate us to labor; and if He have attached to idleness cor-
respondent punishments, it is manifest that the intention of this
constitution will not be accomplished, unless both of these classes
of motives are allowed to operate upon man."
Such a statement of principle is important because it comes from
a book that was used in colleges for a generation, a book that helped
develop the American philosophy of individualism.
Nearly a century has passed since Wayland wrote about God's
reward for work and His punishment for idleness. He conceded
that private enterprise might stagnate, but he said not a word in
his book about unemployment. He didn't need to, for there was
little in a frontier country in 1840.
Americans of certain classes still cling to the precepts of those
days. They recognize but two kinds of poverty the poverty that
WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 31
results from a man's being too sick to work, and the poverty that
results from a man's being too lazy to work. For the sick, the
answer was charity; for the lazy, punishment.
There was no place in that philosophy for the idea that poverty
may also be due to a man's inability to find work. Wayland would
have said in 1940: "Let the idle bestir themselves and find work or
let them suffer the fruits of indolence."
Prominent persons who today hold views like these, views that
were socially sound in 1840, would balk at using the transportation
system of 1840. Yet they are unwilling to face the unemployment
situation of 1938 with the same degree of realism that they apply
to other current problems. They prefer to deal with unemployment
as if enforced idleness were a matter of moral turpitude.
It is true that some men are idle because they are sick and others
because they are lazy, but after they have all been crossed off the
list we still have millions to account for who are neither sick nor
lazy. These unemployed workers represent an economic challenge
that is not resolved by moral shibboleths about the discipline of
Why, if they are able and willing to work, are these people job-
less? Who are they, and how great is their number? These are the
questions that we shall try to answer in this chapter.
The volume of unemployment at any given time is a subject as
controversial as the proposals for dealing with it. And since the
economic fortunes of all people are in some way involved, any
opinions about unemployment are bound to be tempered by the
wishes and interests of those who comment on it. That is evi-
denced in the exaggerated estimates of the volume of unemploy-
ment made from time to time by different observers.
Here, for example, are three estimates made about June, 1936:
American Federation of Labor 1 1,100,000
National Industrial Conference Board 9,700,000
The New York Sun, less than 4,000,000
32 THE RIGHT TO WORK
For the same month the United States Employment Service re-
ported that there were in its active files the names of 6,500,000 job
seekers. The total number of unemployed was still greater, of
course, because all the jobless do not register with the USES.
Controversy over the country's relief needs became so intense
that soon after the Presidential election of 1936 there developed
widespread agitation for a census of the unemployed. The "agita-
tors" this time were not radicals, but right-wing politicians, indus-
trialists and bankers. Their slogan was, "Too many people are
getting relief. Let us get the facts and stop this political racket."
Simultaneously they began renewing the old cry for a balanced
budget and lower taxes.
Finally, to put an end to wild surmise and pointless debate,
Congress in August, 1937, authorized the President to make a count
of the unemployed, leaving to him the responsibility for finding
the simplest, quickest, and most reliable method of procedure.
With John D. Biggers, a manufacturer of glass products, as ad-
ministrator, the poll was conducted with the cooperation of the
Post Office Department.
Prior to the count, which was taken between November 15 and
November 20, 1937, the government launched an extensive pub-
licity and instruction campaign. Registration cards were delivered
by letter carriers to every household in the land, and the unem-
ployed were asked to fill out the cards and return them through
the postal system.
The initial, over-all returns of the census were reported to the
President on January 1, 1938. The totals included two groups of
jobless workers, as follows:
Those employed on emergency work (WPA, NYA, CCC). 2,001,877
Others totally unemployed, able and wanting work 5,821,035
Total emergency workers and other unemployed 7,822,912
WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 33
In order to determine the extent of the voluntary registration a
test census was conducted on November 29 in 1,864 areas in all
parts of the country. On each of these carrier routes enumerators
made a house-to-house canvass to find out what proportion of the
unemployed in each household filled out registration cards. The
sample census revealed that seventy-two per cent of the unem-
ployed had filled out the cards distributed for their use.
On the basis of that percentage, it was estimated that the actual
number of totally unemployed and partially unemployed persons
in the United States, between November 16 and November 20,
1937, was between 7,822,912 and 10,970,000.
To tabulate all the information that may be extracted from
nearly 8,000,000 registration cards will take a large staff of experts
several months. Two weeks after the total number of registrants
was made available on January 1, 1938, the figures were broken
down for regions, states, counties, and towns.
THE CENSUS REVEALS . . .
What we now know from the official count is sufficient to silence
temporarily those who have estimated the number of jobless at
less than 6,000,000 or at less than 4,000,000. Statisticians who have
been doing their guessing at the other extreme find that the census
tends to confirm their claims, especially since the poll was taken
on the eve of the present recession. Between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000
more workers have lost their jobs since the middle of November.
Regardless, however, of whether the census represents more or
less than seventy-two per cent of the unemployed, it will yield cer-
tain useful items of information about the 7,822,912 unemployed
workers reported. For example, we shall learn from it:
1. Where the unemployed are, and what percentage of the employable
persons in each state, county, and city are without work.
2. The percentage of Negro and other races, although, unfortunately,
the unemployed were not asked to give information about nativity
34 THE RIGHT TO WORK
3. The ages of the unemployed and the number in each state and
4. The number of registrants living on farms or by farming, as well as
the number living in towns and cities; also the occupations of those
living in urban centers.
5. Data about the training and work experience of the registrants.
6. The amount of employment had the previous year and during the
week prior to November 16.
7. The number of other employable persons in their families, and the
number of dependents.
When the findings of the unemployment census have been com-
piled we shall have the information indicated above for all the
registered unemployed in any state or community. It will represent
an adequate cross-section of the unemployed as reported for No-
vember 16 to 20, 1937.
To complete the picture, there should have been, covering the
same period, an inventory of job opportunities in private industry
for the same states and localities. However, the existence of speci-
fied numbers of workers unemployed in different occupations and
fields of industry constitutes a negative inventory of employment
for such industries. The census will report, for those dates, the
number of workers various industries are not using.
Those who are in the best position to know the facts about un-
employment will not get from the federal census very much new
information. They already know in approximate terms (1) how
many unemployed there are; (2) where the unemployed are, in city
or country; and (3) what the occupational needs of the unem-
ployed are. Available information at the time of the census was
far in excess of the willingness of the government to provide com-
mensurate unemployment relief and public work projects.
There is, however, an important difference between the facts
already at hand and the information that will be available as a
result of the census. The earlier data related not to all the unem-
ployed, but only to workers who had applied for jobs through the
USES, to workers receiving or asking for relief, and to workers on
WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 35
the Federal Works Program. The census will tell us more about
workers already receiving public benefits as well as about other
unemployed workers who may or may not have been accounted for
in previous registrations.
FROM THE RECORDS
The United States Employment Service has made a number of
counts of the unemployed whose names are in its active files. These
are workers who have asked for jobs and are waiting to be called.
Relief workers who get public jobs are expected to register first
with the USES. The count as of July, 1936, showed:
6,619,891 the total number of workers in the active file
5,299,702 of the above number were men, and
1,320,189 of the total were women
3,507,484 of the total number were relief workers waiting to be as-
signed to jobs in private industry.
It will be seen from these figures that the 6,691,891 workers regis-
tered with the USES would be no more than two-thirds of the 10,-
000,000 workers unemployed, according to estimates current in
While there were approximately 10,000,000 jobless, of whom
nearly 7,000,000 were registered with the official federal placing
agency, there were on public jobs for the unemployed about
3,500,000, or about half the number registered with the USES and
a third of all the unemployed.
The Works Progress Administration has made its own tabula-
tions of the unemployed, the most comprehensive of which was for
March, 1935. This count was also a partial survey, being a report
of the unemployed on relief who were eligible and willing to be
put to work. This canvass covered:
4,157,813 relief households, in which were
6,151,747 eligible workers, 16 through 64 years of age, of which
4,985,120 or eighty-one per cent had previous work experience.
These counts by two federal agencies prove at least one thing
that in March, 1935, and in July, 1936, more than six million
36 THE RIGHT TO WORK
workers were seeking government aid in their search for work. We
do not know how many more were seeking work and were not
registered with the USES or assigned to WPA. We do not know,
either, whether the workers registered with the two agencies were
representative of the unemployed. It is probable that they were.
As might be expected, gainful workers are unevenly distributed
between city and country. The USES registration for July, 1936,
does not show how the applicants were distributed on the basis
of urban or rural residence. But the WPA report, when compared
with the United States Census of 1930, shows that:
Of gainful workers in 1930
609 of each 1,000 lived in cities,
391 of each 1,000 lived in rural areas;
Of workers on relief, March, 1935
653 of each 1,000 lived in cities
347 of each 1,000 lived in rural areas.
The poor of the industrial centers live by nothing save the labor
they can sell from one payday to the next; rural workers frequently
have other resources to fall back upon. More than any other work-
ers, the unemployed in cities are ill-fed, ill-housed, precariously
employed, and poorly protected against hazards to health. They
have few, if any, reserves.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the large industrial
and highly urbanized states head the unemployment list. One-
third of all the unemployed reporting for the March, 1935, WPA
survey were in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois. Add to
the figure for these four states the workers on relief in Massachu-
setts and New Jersey and the total for the six leading industrial
states becomes 40.8 per cent of the nation's jobless. These six states
contained 38.6 per cent of the gainful workers reported in 1930.
The distribution of the unemployed as accounted for by the rec-
ords of the USES and WPA raises certain other questions which
may be answered by the census. Do more people apply for relief in
large cities because there is more poverty there, or because relief
agencies in cities are more generous and approachable? Some rural
WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 37
communities have no relief at all; but neither do they have a rela-
tive share of the nation's wealth. If urban standards were applied,
would more people be eligible for relief and work benefits in rural
areas than are shown at present on the records of rural public
The unemployment census reported 7,822,912 persons as totally
unemployed, of whom 2,023,098, or about twenty-six per cent,
Jobless women, never a problem in previous depressions, in 1931
and 1932 suddenly made their appearance on breadlines, waiting
for food, or at factory gates, waiting for work. Formerly, women
and children were expected to remain at home, or to go to the
private charities for help. But this time there were too many of
When, in due time, job-finding agencies were set up, they usually
concentrated on getting work for men. In the same way, such pub-
lic work programs as there have been were designed solely to as-
sist jobless men.
Today when delegations of the unemployed make demands on
city councils or state legislatures, women accompany the men.
Women, and even children, take part in demonstrations and pa-
rades. In May, 1937, a "Women's Brigade" of the Workers Alliance
convened in Washington to demand Congressional approval of
the $1,500,000,000 Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1937.
That public work has usually conferred the major benefits on
men is probably attributable to the fact that most public work
calls for manual labor in construction or other outdoor work. But
when federal emergency work was initiated the women stepped
forward to demand their share of it.
In the two years ended June 30, 1936, the United States Employ-
ment Service received 7,585,000 job applications from men and
2,815,000 from women. Of the jobs filled by the USES, 1,323,000
38 THE RIGHT TO WORK
were given to women and 7,631,000 to men. Women comprised
twenty-seven per cent of the applicants and got fifteen per cent of
the jobs. This is what women received:
Total jobs from the USES 1,323,000
Jobs on public relief 410,000
Domestic jobs (more than a month) 340,000
Domestic jobs (less than a month) 283,000
Jobs in factories 100,000
Jobs in agriculture 27,000
Other private jobs 163,000
There is a notion abroad, and it persists, that women with chil-
dren to support should be content with home relief, no matter how
miserably low their budgets. Regardless of her wishes in the mat-
ter a widow with small children is urged to stay at home; but a
widower with children is expected to get out and hunt for work.
It is discrimination of this sort that women are resisting through
the various organizations for the unemployed.
In certain states WPA, in reducing the number of workers, has
tried to transfer women workers to the rolls of the Social Security
Board. Women with children have been forced off the work pro-
gram and advised to apply for the benefits paid to dependent chil-
dren. The women's response to that, in Cincinnati, Detroit, and a
number of other cities, has been to stage sit-down strikes, protesting
such action. To all contrary proposals they have answered, "We
don't want to be put on relief. We don't want to apply to the
Social Security Board. We don't want old age benefits. We want to
work. We have as much right to work as the men."
Usually women workers have met their strongest opposition
from local public officials who have not been converted to the idea
that unemployed women can do useful work. But they are also
opposed by social workers who subscribe to the good old doctrine
that women should be at home with their children, and by engi-
neers who would rather plan and supervise projects for men.
These obstacles, however, are probably only temporary, for
despite the reluctance of local public bodies to sponsor projects
WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 39
for women there are many more of them than there used to be. In
most places, too, the increase has been due largely to the insistence
of the women on equal opportunities for work.
HANDICAPS OF AGE AND RACE
Women are actually under no more of a handicap in getting
work relief benefits than are the very young or the old. In this
respect the work relief program reflects the prejudices of the labor
Youth and age seem to be over-represented among the workers
on the relief rolls. According to the prevailing practice in public
relief agencies, only the "first priority" worker of the family is
given a job. Usually the first priority worker is the father, and if
he is deemed unemployable, some other priority worker is given
the assignment. The other employable members of the family
must remain idle.
We do not know how many jobless workers there are among the
families of relief recipients. The unemployment census should
answer that question. Until it does we have in the reports of the
USES some information about the ages of applicants for jobs. Of
10,400,000 such applicants registered with the USES for the two
years ended June 30, 1936, about ninety per cent were reported
for age. This is how they were distributed:
All USES applicants reported for age 9,374,000 100%
Applicants 20 years and under 1,622,000 17%
21 to 24 years 1,511,000 16%
25 to 44 years 4,092,000 44%
45 years and over 2,149,000 23%
Of these applicants the USES reports 2,200,000 not classified by
occupations who are "predominantly persons without recent work
experience." Here are the young people "lost between school and
industry." Surely, if thirty-three per cent of the applicants for
work, including relief clients, are under twenty-five years of age,
it is a mistake to conclude that most of the eligibles are old.
40 THE RIGHT TO WORK
If the facts were known we might discover that the relief popu-
lation is overburdened with inexperienced young workers at one
end and at the other with older workers excluded from industry.
Closer examination of both the old and young workers would un-
doubtedly reveal further the extent of the discrimination by in-
dustry against these groups.
Motivated by purely profit considerations, private enterprise
cannot help but be discriminatory. It is obvious enough that work-
ers are hired, rejected, dismissed, or denied promotion for reasons
that have nothing to do with their abilities. It is also clear that
basically the racial, political, and other discriminations against
them are both socially and economically motivated.
No group of workers suffers more at the hands of discriminatory
private enterprise than do Negroes. In many industrial cities Ne-
groes, like the Mexicans, have been brought in by the trainload to
replace striking workers, and have then been left stranded. Even
in normal times they are the last to be hired and the first to be
About eleven per cent of all workers in the United States are
Negroes and, other things being equal, we should expect to find
that they comprised the same percentage of the workers on relief.
Instead, we find that Negroes make up fifteen per cent of the relief
population. Moreover, only four per cent of all Negroes on relief
are skilled workers, as against fourteen per cent of white workers.
The percentage of Negroes in cities is also higher than in rural
When disadvantaged groups, including the Negroes, approach
federal agencies asking for relief or for public work they should be
treated like any other applicants. The fact is, however, that since
the federal program for unemployment relief must be adminis-
tered through communities, it is the local people who supervise
the operations and select the recipients of relief in accordance with
prevailing local sentiment. And while the federal government can
eliminate some discrimination it cannot override the prejudices
and traditions of localities, states, and regions.
WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 41
That the federal program has been fairly free from discrimina-
tion with respect to Negroes, is indicated by the higher percentage
of colored workers on public; projects and relief, compared with
the percentage of Negroes in the general population. Jobs are not
provided for all Negroes, nor for all white persons on relief, and if
in some localities the Negro gets more than a proportionate share
of the work, it is due in part to the fact that he suffers more than a
proportionate share of the poverty.
MILLIONS OF MAN-YEARS
Unless the information gathered is to be used in remedying the
situation, there is no point in counting the unemployed. The first
consideration in attempting to solve the problem should be the
realization that idleness is costly. We are told that there is a short-
age of skilled workers. If such shortage exists, why should not steps
be taken to train some of the millions among the unemployed who
have never had a chance to acquire skills?
At a time when more trained workers are needed because of the
increasing use of machinery, we find that seventy per cent of the
relief workers are unskilled, whereas but fifty per cent of the gen-
eral worker population is unskilled.
This would seem to indicate that the great burden of unemploy-
ment is carried by the untrained who work with their hands, if it
were not that public work and relief work offer so few opportuni- -
ties for white collar and professional workers that many of them,
in order to get jobs, are forced to classify themselves as unskilled
Depending on the state, from forty to eighteen per cent of the
employables on relief are skilled workers, classified either as work-
ers with industrial skills or as skilled persons that do construction
work. The Works Program provides jobs for carpenters and brick-
layers but not for machinists or boilermakers. Public work jobs
are available for painters, plasterers, and plumbers, but there are
few for pressmen, moulders, welders or metal workers. If bakers,
42 THE RIGHT TO WORK
miners, tailors, and a million other special or skilled workers are
to get any relief jobs, they must be assigned to common labor.
Not to use the industrial craftsmen in accordance with their
skills is, of course, to deprive the people of needed services. But to
do otherwise would involve the government in a protracted con-
troversy with industry about the production of goods. True, it is
better to give the industrially skilled some kind of work rather
than none, but it would be a wiser policy to give them their own
kind of work. Unable to utilize their skills, WPA has been forced
to reclassify such workers to common labor.
From two to four per cent of the employables on relief have had
some professional or technical training; they include thousands of
teachers, musicians, artists, writers, and actors. These are the most
expensively trained workers on the relief rolls, and their continual
unemployment, like that of nurses, physicians, and dentists, results
in incalculable cultural and social losses. And when professional
and technical workers are assigned to common labor, the loss is
Unlike the unemployed in other classifications, the unemployed
technical and professional workers also include a higher percent-
age of women, the ratio being forty per cent of women to sixty per
cent of men. Otherwise, except in the industrial crafts, few women
are numbered among the skilled workers.
Such information as the government has about the workers on
relief has been adequate for an emergency program, but it is not
sufficient for large scale planning. The time is not far off when
government and industry together will have to review the workers
in the hiring line, and classify them according to their capabilities
so that there can be in the future a more comprehensive re-employ-
There is this to be said for the unemployed, whatever their
critics may claim to the contrary: they are peoplewho have worked.
In practically all their appeals to the government they ask for
work, and what is more, they expect to be provided with work. To
the point of despair they have waited for work from private em-
WHO ARE THE UNEMPLOYED? 43
ployers. Many of them have lost years of labor opportunity and if,
now, some of them seem to have resigned themselves to unemploy-
ment, we should not be surprised. The aggregate of all the time
that all the unemployed have lost amounts to millions of man-years
of good labor of every kind wasted in idleness.
IV. THE WORK THAT IS WAITING
BUYING LABOR TO SAVE IT
A man in North Dakota wrote to WPA headquarters, "In three
years I have been idle more than one year, and that's why I'm so
far behind. Why can't the government give me work if I can't get
private work? There is so much public work to do around here."
From Tennessee a man wrote, "It is not good for us or our town
for so many of us to lose work like this. We can't support our fam-
ilies like we want. If the government would hire us there is plenty
to be done close by."
A man in Vermont wrote, "I have never been on relief but some
of my neighbors have been. They do not get enough work to keep
them busy all the time. Then why can't WPA have projects for
them to work on when they are idle? My neighbors would rather
work than be on relief."
There can be no doubt that the people approve public work,
especially relief work, if it is timed and scheduled to meet needs in
the seasons of unemployment. When it is not, the result is idleness
This chapter, however, is not concerned entirely with the losses
of labor through idleness. It is an attempt to review some of the
fields of public work that await public attention.
Any observing person can find the evidences of labor lost wher-
ever he cares to look. He can detect it in the goods that people do
THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 45
not buy. Unable to work, the unemployed have purchased neither
clothing nor household furnishings, and have denied themselves
many essentials. Unable to pay for better foods, they are forced to
consume cheaper, less nourishing foodstuffs. Pressed for funds, the
poor eat bread instead of meat, potatoes instead of the more costly
green vegetables and fruit.
Good houses have lost tenants to poorer houses, until slum dwell-
ings everywhere are filled; and despite the obvious need for cheaper
and better houses, few are being built. The evidences of labor lost
are to be seen on every side in empty stores, vacant office buildings,
and idle factories. They can be seen, too, in neglected public
Roads, of course, are the most valuable and most extensive of
public properties, and so, when federal funds are made available
for work relief most localities want to use the labor for road build-
ing or for the improvement of roads. Almost invariably a contest
develops between those interests that favor expensively paved
ribbon highways from which the major benefits go to private enter-
prise and those that want the less expensive "feeder" side roads,
which are not so profitable to private road builders.
Of the 3,000,000 miles of public highways in the United States,
some sixty-five per cent were unsurfaced or unimproved in 1935.
Even today two out of three farmers still do not have good roads
because too much has been spent for cross-country speedways and
too little on the side roads, with the result that most rural folk are
marooned in bad weather. In the past, road building has received
its greatest stimulus from the pressure of city dwellers and auto-
mobile interests for hard-surfaced ribbon highways that are used
very little by farmers.
The cost of making the necessary improvements on 3,000,000
miles of highways would approximate twelve billion dollars. That
sum would allow for:
160,000 miles high type surface $24,000 per mile
840,000 miles low type surface 6,300 per mile
2,000,000 miles of dirt road repair 1,500 per mile
46 THE RIGHT TO WORK
Consider what the final item 2,000,000 miles of dirt road re-
pair, mostly on farm-to-market roads would mean if all these
roads were to be so improved that they could be traveled over in
stormy weather. In that job alone there are millions of potential
man-years of labor.
Street paving, alley improvements, the laying of sidewalks and
curbs in towns and cities, would call for work expenditures of
from ten to twenty billion dollars.
The railroad crossing problem is one of the most pressing in
this country. No less than 230,000 grade crossings should be elimi-
nated. At how many of these crossings have lives already been lost?
How would the cost of these lives compare with that of eliminating
the crossings? The total cost of the whole job would range from
two to four billion dollars. It will have to be faced some time; why
not in time to save thousands of human lives?
ARMORIES, CHURCH PEWS, HOSPITAL BEDS
Our deficiencies are greater now in private than in public build-
ings. We have continued, in spite of the emergency, to erect court-
houses, post offices, jails, office buildings, armories, and libraries,
and yet there are still not enough. But the shortage of schools and
hospitals is more serious still. Of those already built many are
badly in need of maintenance and sanitary improvements.
The emergency only emphasized the fact that the one-room
school is an accompaniment of the unimproved road. Where good
roads exist, we find more consolidated district schools with higher
teaching standards and better sanitary facilities. But because
local communities are not building new schools as fast as the old
ones run down, the nation would have to build at several times the
present rate to overtake our deficiency of four to five billion dollars
in school construction.
The deficiency in hospitals and hospital equipment may ap-
proximate two billion dollars, according to studies made by the
Milbank Memorial Fund, the Committee on the Cost of Medical
THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 47
Care, and by other groups. There are today only one million beds
in all the hospitals in the country and at least 400,000 more are
needed. As a matter of fact, most cities are better supplied with
church pews than with hospital beds, and some states would rather
build armories. The over-all cost of necessary hospital expendi-
tures would average $3,000 to $5,000 per bed.
The low income groups can rarely afford to live in new houses,
but they pay dearly in health cost for having to live in unsanitary
tenements, of which more than half are over thirty years old. The
urban population alone needs more than eight million house units
to replace sub-standard dwellings, while the rural population re-
quires more than three million. In addition to replacements, of
course, half a million new units would have to be built each year
to care for the increasing number of families. The deficiency in
urban and rural housing would therefore require public and pri-
vate expenditures of billions of dollars.
These are estimates based on present methods of construction,
but it is becoming ever more apparent that dwellings will have
to be built more quickly and cheaply if housing is to remain a
private enterprise. Today we are not even trying to keep pace with
the loss of houses through obsolescence, fire, and decay. What is
needed at once is a three-to-five billion dollar annual expenditure
of public or private funds which would continue for the next
decade. There is too much talk on the subject and too little con-
struction of houses for the low income groups that are most in
need of them.
Under the low rent housing program of PWA, fifty-one demon-
stration projects have been undertaken in thirty-six cities. These
will provide shelter for 21,000 families. The Resettlement Admin-
istration (now the Farm Security Administration) has sponsored
several suburban housing developments, including the much pub-
licized Greenbelt, near Washington.
All the projects of PWA and RA together, though, do not con-
stitute anything like an adequate approach to a problem which
must be reckoned in terms of millions of dwelling units. It is
48 THE RIGHT TO WORK
expected now, with the passage of the Wagner Housing Act, that
we shall see more federal housing. We should see more experi-
mentation, too, since under this Act a dwelling unit may not exceed
$1,000 per room or $4,000 for the unit. That provision may force
the use of new materials and new methods.
FLOODS AND SEWERS
Periodically during the past four years the federal government
has been called upon to relieve the suffering of people in drought
or flood areas. In both cases the source of the trouble has been
water; in one a lack of it, in the other, an overabundance. Too
frequently these conditions are man-made, the consequence of too
much farming in areas intended for grazing, of too much grazing
in regions of sparse vegetation, and of a reckless denuding of the
timber lands. Had the public domain, including the mountains,
not been overgrazed and overcleared of timber by private interests,
the ravages of the recent droughts would certainly not have been
so severe. It will take years of labor to undo the damage man has
wrought and prevent greater waste of our land resources.
That is why the government is now undertaking such an exten-
sive program for flood and erosion control. Flood control, called
"down-stream" engineering, is effected either by opening the
channels so that surplus water can be carried away, or by develop-
ing flood reservoirs to regulate the flow. That was what was needed
in the Ohio River Valley when the flood waters inundated large
Erosion control is quite the reverse. It applies mainly to areas
of low rainfall where the problem is to retain the water. One way
to accomplish that is to encourage vegetation to grow and to restore
the forests so that the rain may be absorbed where it falls. Then
as much of the water as cannot soak into the ground in these dry
areas should be stored in small reservoirs, where it may be used
for irrigation. This procedure is called "up-stream" engineering.
In the fight against floods and soil erosion the government has
THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 49
enlisted the services of several federal departments. The Army
Engineering Corps has estimated the work that will be needed to
control flood waters on all the main river systems. The Soil Erosion
and the Forestry Services have planned programs for the control
of soil erosion.
As a means of utilizing unemployed labor, flood and erosion
control projects offer administrative difficulties because of their
isolation from the centers of population where relief workers are
concentrated. The work, to be effectively carried on, must be done
from camp locations such as the CCC boys work from now. This
may eventually require a segregation of workers, reserving the
camp projects for the young men and other non-family workers.
In urban centers the problem of water supply and sewage dis-
posal presents many opportunities for public work. To bring in
pure water and to remove sewage are expensive obligations which
are no longer being adequately met by many cities. In the interest
of community health, funds must be made available to them. This,
in turn, suggests other related fields for public spending ma-
laria control, mosquito control, garbage disposal, and projects for
screening homes against flies. One definite health-insurance proj-
ect is the building of privies; over a million of them have been
constructed under federal direction and distributed to private
Who can say how much money needs to be spent for sewerage,
drainage, and general sanitation? Every river system is a problem in
itself, although the greatest health hazards are the rivers into which
some cities dump their sewage at points above those where other
cities draw drinking water. Eventually the rivers and beaches will
have to be cleaned up. Would it not be worth the cost to have the
waters of the Hudson River and the coast line from Coney Island
to the Atlantic rendered free of pollution?
Water mains and sewers are parts of a single system of supply
and disposal. Because both are so closely associated with the streams
and rivers, and so obviously related to general health, their main-
tenance becomes a national as well as local problem. The time has
50 THE RIGHT TO WORK
come for the federal government to take a greater part in assuring
cities an adequate water supply and thus to check the rising strug-
gle for the river basins. The sewage problem is likewise one of
national importance. Actually, millions of man-years of labor will
be needed to make living in cities safe.
THAT AMERICA MAY PLAY
The public highways and the various systems of trails in moun-
tains and forests are themselves recreational facilities. But when
the traveler sets out to swim, play games, hunt, fish, or perhaps only
to eat his lunch in the shade, another type of facility is needed:
parks and playgrounds. Cities have recently become very active
in providing such recreation space out of town. Bear Mountain
Park and Jones Beach, for example, are New York City's play-
grounds, although both are far removed from the city limits. On
a more extensive scale, the national parks in the western states
serve the same purpose.
We have no current data on which to base our estimates of the
country's public recreational needs. We do know, however, that
in no city is there adequate park or playground space. At the pres-
ent time, in 898 municipalities, there are about 300,000 acres of
parks and playgrounds, representing a public investment of $3,000
or more per acre. Yet if the park and play area were doubled, it
would still not be too extensive for the needs of certain crowded
The Report of the National Survey of Potential Product Capac-
ity, sponsored by the New York City Housing Authority and the
Emergency Relief Bureau of New York City in 1935, shows that
recreational expenditures in the United States for 1929 were in
excess of six billion dollars, of which about two billion went to
the movies. The Survey estimated that in 1935 at least 85,000,000
people were underserved recreationally and that if the poor had
had the same facilities as the middle class the expenditures in 1929
would have been twelve billion dollars.
THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 51
To meet the deficiencies in public recreation would call
for expenditures in excess of two billion dollars annually,
and would provide annually more than a million man-years of
As with any other type of construction project, the major part
of the expense for recreational facilities begins only after the build-
ing is done. Once the parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, stadia,
and other facilities are there, the community must face the expense
of maintaining and operating them. It is because many local com-
munities have been too slow in assuming this burden, that such
an extensive recreational program has had to be carried on
QUACKS, MIDWIVES, AND WITCH-DOCTORS
Great as is the lack of hospitals in the United States, the de-
ficiency in hospital services, in clinics, and in general medical care,
is even greater. According to the National Survey of Potential
Product Capacity, families with incomes of less than $1,200 per
year "are able to pay for only one-sixth of the nursing, one-fourth
of the eye care, one-third of the dental care, and two-thirds of the
surgical and hospital care that families in the higher income
brackets can afford." Lacking the money to buy scientific care, the
poor are forced to resort to quacks, patent medicines, midwives,
Paradoxically, while all these people lack proper medical care,
at least half the doctors, dentists, and nurses in the United States
do not have enough paying patients to provide them with a fair
Of the health provisions and health requirements for the coun-
try, the National Survey of Potential Product Capacity has made
certain estimates on the basis of 1929 figures. These estimates,
which follow, were compiled by the Survey from the report of the
Committee on the Cost of Medical Care and from other reliable
52 THE RIGHT TO WORK
Physicians (practicing) 142,000 171,848
Dentists 62,400 121,081
Nurses (graduate and public health) 293,800 270,150
Nurses (practical) 150,000 250,000
Pharmacists 132,000 150,000
Midwives 47,000 30,000
The cost of all medical care in 1929, based on various estimates,
was $3,316,000,000, or about $26 per capita. The estimated require-
ments for 1935 were $5,136,000,000, or $42 per capita. The de-
ficiency of $16 per person must be made up.
If millions of people could not pay for medical care in 1929, we
may assume that millions more cannot pay for it today. We know
now that such a situation, if permitted to continue, not only in-
flicts losses upon every community in which these people live, but
brings about a dangerous lowering of the entire nation's health
In January, 1938, reports of a survey made by the National Insti-
tute of Health of the United States Public Health Service revealed
that in the population on relief was found the highest frequency
rate in the country for both acute and chronic illnesses during
1935. Illnesses disabling for one week or longer occurred among
relief families at a rate fifty-seven per cent higher than among
families with incomes of $3,000 or over. In families just above the
relief level, but under $1,000 a year, the illness rate was less than
in relief families, but it was seventeen per cent higher than in the
$3,000 class. In the latter group chronic disability kept only one
family head in 250 from seeking work, whereas the same cause
rendered one out of every twenty heads of relief families un-
And not only do relief and low-income families experience more
frequent illness during a year than their more fortunate neighbors,
but their illnesses are, on the average, of longer duration, often
running as high as sixty-three per cent longer.
THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 53
In a surveyed population of 280,073 persons in eight large cities
where such data was available, the average case of disabling illness
in families with incomes of $3,000 and over received 5.7 calls from
a physician, compared with 3.9 calls per case in relief families. The
upper-income families thus received forty-six per cent more medi-
cal service per illness. In this connection, the report pointed out
that in 1935, the approximate year of the survey, a relatively large
amount of medical care was being financed from relief funds, but
that federal subsidies for medical care have since been discon-
A study of the country's death rate released in October, 1937,
revealed an even more alarming situation. The death rate among
the forty to fifty million Americans with incomes of $1,000 or less
from the diseases that cause three out of every four deaths in the
United States was twice that of the balance of the population. The
death rate from tuberculosis alone was seven times as great among
unskilled as among professional workers. Tuberculosis is the price
the poor pay for inadequate food, inadequate shelter and un-
It is time we recognized the fact that if masses of the people can-
not pay for health examinations and health care, these services will
have to be provided for them. To meet our health obligations ade-
quately would involve an outlay in public funds of not less than
a billion dollars a year, which would be a good investment in
national defense as well as national health.
In the field of education, estimates on our annual deficiency,
quite apart from school buildings, range from three to eleven bil-
lion dollars. The estimates, of course, vary as they include or
exclude various functions of education, or as they differ in the
standards they set for salaries.
In 1929 student enrollment in all educational institutions was
29,900,000; in 1934 it was 30,500,000. Instructors in all institutions
numbered 1,037,000 in 1929, and 1,042,000 in 1934. Most of these
were in elementary and secondary schools.
According to reports of the United States Office of Education,
54 THE RIGHT TO WORK
there is a shortage of at least 200,000 teachers in our public schools.
One teacher out of every three in the United States is working for
less than $750 a year, and 90,000 rural teachers in 1933 were receiv-
ing less than $450 a year. From 300,000 to 1,000,000 children were
actually denied their right to an education when many of our
schools closed their doors during the depression. Between 1930
and 1933, owing to shortage of funds, the cost per child per school
day had been reduced from sixty-three to forty-nine cents. And
although expenditures for education in 1934 were $3,380,-
000,000, educators all agree that they should have been much
To meet these deficiencies in part at least, and to keep schools
open in many places, the federal emergency program has allocated
funds for supplementary teaching. FERA and, more recently, WPA
have given financial support to nursery schools, to projects for adult
education, workers' education and other types of instruction, in
order that the services of thousands of jobless teachers may be
"ONE-THIRD OF THE NATION"
In 1934, the Brookings Institution published America's Capacity
to Consume,, summarizing the salient facts about income and ex-
penditure for different classes of people. Some of these figures are
pertinent to our discussion.
When the families and individuals in the United States are
classified in broad income groups, it appears that:
35.7% of the population live in minimum comfort on incomes from
$1,500 to $3,000, and
40.6% of the population live at subsistence and poverty levels on in-
comes under $1,500.
The lower group, which concerns us most, is composed of more
than 11,000,000 families and individuals without families, as
THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 55
5,779,000 families and non-family individuals with incomes of less
than $1,000 per year, and
5,754,000 families and non-family individuals with incomes from
$1,000 to $1,500 per year.
The average income of nearly six million families and indi-
viduals without families was about $650 per year, or $300 less
than the Brookings Institution estimated as a "liberal diet" for a
family of five. Based on 1929 prices, the study placed the "liberal"
family diet at $950 for a year and supplemented that with a leaner
estimate of $800 for an "adequate diet."
If such estimates mean anything at all, they clearly indicate that
at least five million families are living at a level considerably below
a decent standard. In line with this conclusion the Brookings In-
stitution pointed out that if all the below-subsistence families were
to enjoy a "liberal diet" there would need to be "an increase in the
production of all kinds of consumers' goods and services by some-
thing like seventy or eighty per cent."
At this point we come up against the dilemma which confronts
the federal work relief program. Most of the families supported by
federal work relief, and no less than three million other families
comprising more than twenty million persons, are living below a
decent level. If all these sub-marginal families could enjoy the
"liberal diet," there would be no surplus of food. If they could all
be decently clothed, there would be no surplus of raw materials,
and especially none of cotton.
But what is to be done when we are not permitted to use relief
labor for the production of the very goods which the sub-marginal
Let us see what happened to a social experiment intended to
relieve the market of surplus cotton in 1934. The government pur-
chased 2,000,000 bales of cotton, and no one raised the slightest
objection. The government's next step was to find uses for the
surplus cotton that would keep it from entering into competition
with other finished products.
The most obvious solution was to convert the cotton into mat-
56 THE RIGHT TO WORK
tresses and quilts, making them with relief labor and distributing
them to the needy. Immediately a chorus of protests went up from
the mattress manufacturers and from other industrialists who were
afraid of what federal mattress-making might lead to. The officials
of FERA reassured them that the mattresses would be given to
families that did not have mattresses and would certainly not be
able to buy them.
The government discovered that mattresses could be made with
unskilled labor. Mattress-making required very simple equipment
and was, moreover, good work for unemployed women. More than
two million mattresses were manufactured by the unemployed,
and distributed to the poor. The mattresses were well made; so
well made, in fact, that the manufacturers complained they were
too good and would not wear out as quickly as commercial mat-
tresses. It was bad for business. And so the project was discon-
tinued. There was, unfortunately, no pressure brought by organ-
ized labor or anyone else to keep it going.
But the government did not stop using the surplus cotton to
make quilts and comforters. That work is still going on, with the
result that several million quilts have already been made and
distributed to relief families.
THE PRODUCTS OF THEIR LABOR
How can the problem of enforced shortage be met, and how
long can it be avoided? We can build roads or public buildings
with relief labor, but not houses for the poor. We can use relief
funds for education, but very little for medical care. We can build
swimming pools to keep the children cool in summer, but every
obstacle is put in the way of our making clothes to keep them warm
On a small scale the unemployed on projects are permitted to
make clothing and bedding, and some are even allowed to preserve
or bottle fruits and vegetables, but at best these efforts fall tragi-
cally short of meeting existing needs. The workers on relief are
still unable to buy the products of their labor.
THE WORK THAT IS WAITING 57
Underlying this situation, of course, is the fact that private
industry has a proprietary stake in houses, clothing, food, and even
in medical care. Proprietary interests would thus be injured if the
government tried to supply deficiencies in these fields. It would,
we are told, be contrary to American tradition.
In the meantime the people, millions of them, do not have
enough food, clothing, or livable houses. Private industry, at the
same time, has the capacity to produce large quantities of goods
but it does not do so because not enough people have the money
to buy what they need.
At least five million families at the bottom of the economic scale
could use each year from $300 to $500 more goods per family than
they now use. This would mean less than two dollars per day in
increased consumption for families now earning less than $650
per year. But for the national income it would mean an increase
of billions of dollars expended for goods and services. There can
not be any real prosperity until this problem of distribution has
been met in positive fashion.
It is easy enough to imagine the work a man can do in a year,
but far more difficult to visualize how great is the loss to the nation
as a whole of 50,000,000 irrecoverable man-years of labor not used
over a period of six years. If some of that lost labor had gone into
medical care, how much healthier would all the people be? How
much lower would be the death rate of infants and mothers, or
the incidence of sickness? Had some of the lost labor gone into
manufacturing and building, how much better would the people
be clothed and housed?
A conservative estimate for making up all deficiencies that might
have been, and still may be, publicly met would approach ten
billion dollars per year. That, however, may well be more than the
federal and local governments will ever be willing to spend. And
meanwhile the relief-recovery program must worry along, expend-
ing far less than is needed while so much work still waits to be
V. THE "USEFUL AND
THE SOCIAL TEST
How far should the government go in giving jobs to the
Consider the carpenter who wrote to WPA: "I was working on
WPA, but they laid me off and told me to go to a PWA job. When
I went there the contractor on PWA wouldn't hire me because I
was over fifty years old, and now can I get my WPA job back?"
What answer can be given to the carpenter? He is a willing and
capable worker and he will be for perhaps fifteen years or more.
If boom times were to bring about a labor shortage the contractor
might hire him. But these are not boom times. Occasional odd jobs
are the best the carpenter has been able to get. Public work of the
relief type is preferable and more secure.
At the other end of the age scale is the young man who com-
plained, as many young men can: "I tried to get a job everywhere
but I can't find anything. They won't take me on WPA because I
can't get certified for relief. At the Welfare Bureau they won't put
me on relief because they say I don't have any dependents and I
ought to be able to find something to do."
What answer can be given to a young man wasting his best years
in idleness and getting neither work experience nor training? To
tell him to find a job when there is none is an evasion. When there
is work to be had in private industry he may be expected to take it.
If it cannot be found, even by a diligent searcher, the young man's
COG boys in Ohio go to school. Such instruction
may help them to find jobs later on. Nearly two
million men and women have enrolled in WPA
adult education classes. In three years 700,000
adults have learned to read and write.
Geography for the blind. For the benefit of 125,-
000 blind persons in the United States, WPA has
maintained projects for writing books and making
maps in Braille. Much of this work was done by
unemployed blind workers. Ten thousand specially
constructed gramophones for reading to the blind
have been made for the Library of Congress to
lend to blind persons.
CCC boys near Washington, D. C., learn about
tractors. During four years, 1,600,000 boys and
young men have enjoyed the work and experience
benefits of CCC. They have learned about work,
but too few of them have learned skills that have
labor market value.
Under the guidance of WPA artists, members of
the Paragon Boys Club, New York City, get lessons
in mural painting.
NYA girls learn dressmaking. For girls of this age
group the federal work program has offered noth-
ing comparable to CCC. Yet in every state are
thousands of girls very much in need of work ex-
perience and training.
"' *' ^^BL-^r^,
A low-price house in Alabama made of rammed
earth. The Resettlement Administration has re-
vived an ancient method of building houses. The
gravel and clay walls are cool in summer and
warm in winter. The cost of material and labor
is low. The houseless poor could use a million
houses of rammed earth or other inexpensive ma-
terials, but there would be opposition from the
PWA low-rent housing at Miami, Florida. These
small houses rent for about $5.50 per room per
month, which, cheap as it is, is not cheap enough
for the low income families in Florida.
The Cedar Central Apartments erected in Cleve-
land by PWA at a cost of $3,384,000. It replaces
eighteen acres of slums an eloquent illustration
of work yet to be done. If this project were mul-
tiplied a hundredfold there would still be millions
living in substandard houses. On their present in-
comes the slum dwellers could not afford to live in
Bluebeard Castle on the Virgin Islands. With WPA
funds this old landmark has been remodeled into
PWA has built or is building 204 bridges which
will cost about $685,000 each. WPA has built
19,200 bridges which will cost from $3,000 to $15,-
000 each, and has constructed 183,000 culverts
along public highways.
The city hall at Pawtucket, Rhode Island, on the
bank of the Seekonk River. This was a PWA job,
one of 314 city halls and courthouses erected by
WPA built this city hall at Casa Grande, Arizona.
Big cities can afford to borrow PWA funds for
public buildings. Little cities need public build-
ings, too, but they are often too poor to borrow,
in two years WPA has constructed 11,100 small
PWA piers in New York City big enough for the
biggest ships. The five in dock are from top and
left: Europa, Rex, Normandie, Georgic, and Beren-
Tragedy in the wake of a storm. WPA workers
uncovering the wreckage of a truck in which the
driver was killed. For emergency work in fires,
floods, and hurricanes, or for cleaning up after-
ward, WPA and CCC have functioned as a work
After the flood in a Kentucky town. WPA workers
cleaning up the wreckage in a residential district.
Here is a WPA service that nobody objects to.
Even those who at other times call relief workers
lazy are glad to have their services in an emer-
A South Dakota stream dried up by the drought.
Millions of cattle were moved by the government
to other regions for food and water.
THE "USEFUL AND NON-COMPETITIVE" BOGEY 59
idleness widens from a matter of private to one of public concern.
Meeting the work needs of the unemployed is the social test of
public work relief, but it raises the old question of private rights
in the labor market. How can the government employ the jobless
on useful and non-competitive projects in accordance with its
pledge to industry without invading the realm of private enter-
prise? It is demanded of work relief that it be socially useful and
yet not compete with private enterprise. The "socially useful"
phase of that policy is a recognition of federal responsibility to the
jobless worker and to the community. The "non-competitive"
phase seems to recognize the proprietary right of private industry
to exploit the labor market.
Can work be useful and yet non-competitive? Are not the two
terms mutually contradictory? Is it not true that private employers
could do most of the useful work undertaken by the government?
The postal service is in competition with the express companies.
The water systems in some large cities were once privately owned,
and so were the public roads. The public bridge across the bay
between San Francisco and Oakland is in direct competition with
the private ferries.
Ever since their foundation, the national and state governments
have been gradually forced to take over public functions, en-
croaching upon fields of private endeavor. Examples of such
encroachment are found in public education, public health, and
in such federal activities as the Government Printing Office. The
useful work of the Forest Service, on the other hand, is accepted
as non-competitive. Private industry does not regard as competi-
tive, either, the maintenance and inspection of lighthouses, har-
bors, and inland waterways. But all of these the postal service,
education, public health, and the rest are, significantly, non-
profit or low-profit areas of activity.
When the Civilian Conservation Corps builds a highway or
trail through the forest it is called public work. But building roads
is also an important private enterprise. With unemployed labor
WPA has erected public buildings including thousands of schools.
60 THE RIGHT TO WORK
But the construction of buildings is traditionally the province of
It is not easy to distinguish competitive from non-competitive
public work. Emergency public projects since 1933 have not fol-
lowed the old public work practices. Many kinds of work once
done by contractors are now being done by force account, the
government acting as planner, work supervisor, and paymaster.
For example, the sewer work in a large city was normally let by
contract, but the city, six years behind in its sewer schedule, was
unable to finance its construction as before. The work was there-
fore done as a work-relief force-account project. Since this was
competitive activity it might seem to represent a loss to the con-
In building the sewers with relief labor, however, it was not the
purpose of that city to enter into competition with the contractor.
The work was done because jobs were needed for unemployed
local workers. A contractor would not have been able to use the
labor at hand. In order to make a profit he would have demanded
the right to use his own workers. The city officials discovered, to
their surprise, that by conserving materials and using a higher
type of supervision they were able to lay the sewer by force account
at a cost as low as the contract bid.
Thousands of small communities, in undertaking such small
projects, have found that by using relief labor they achieve a
double purpose. Not only do they get useful work done but they
save on relief costs. That is the ultimate social test of work relief
from the community viewpoint.
DANCING IN THE STREETS
The people of a southern town danced in the street most of the
night. They had just finished paving Main Street, lifting it out of
the mud and dust. The workers on the job contributed two days of
labor without pay, working overtime to finish the pavement for
THE "USEFUL AND NON-COMPETITIVE" BOGEY 61
the Saturday night party. While the Mayor spoke, at the start of
the festivities, the relief workers who did the job occupied the seats
of honor in front of the crowd. When the foreman's turn came to
speak, he said, "The men were glad to have this work. It was done
honestly. We saved money on everything possible. Now this town
has a paved street that we have wanted for years. This is a gift
from Uncle Sam."
It was not, of course, a gift, because the town put up twenty per
cent of the cost; but hard times and the WPA did make the project
possible. The town, far from being demoralized, began to display
unheard-of civic pride. The owners of property along the paved
street started painting their buildings and removing unsightly
structures that had never before offended the eye. Property owners
on side streets decided to agitate for sidewalks leading to the newly
paved street. Within a year the town had more than fifty lawns
that had not existed before. Now the townsfolk want the WPA to
lay a sewer.
The officials of a small Oklahoma city wanted to use relief labor
to build an armory, and in order to obtain community authoriza-
tion for the purchase of materials, they called a public meeting.
The leaders of the city's various clubs and organizations did not,
it developed, see the need for an armory. The young people wanted
a hall where they could hold dances, but spokesmen for the glee
club and the town band preferred a hall with a stage where they
could put on entertainments. The two women's clubs wanted a
public building with a kitchen and a room for small meetings.
The Mayor replied: "These things can all be added to the armory,
but it looks as if we will have to call this building by another
After making four or five concessions to community groups with
other plans, the National Guard finally suggested putting the rifle
practice range in the basement. The building, however, was called
an armory, and was so dedicated. After that new difficulties arose.
The National Guard complained that the armory was in such
62 THE RIGHT TO WORK
demand for social functions that it was difficult to get the use of it
for their purposes.
So, in that small city, the armory became a community building
used by the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Theatre Club and the
Town Band, as well as by groups of women and young people for
social gatherings. It could not have been constructed entirely by
local contributions, and had it not been for available WPA labor
it might not have been built for many years.
But there is another side to this project that deserves mention.
The armory was built of stone, because stone could be brought in
from the nearby hills. In the town were two stonemasons who had
been jobless most of the time for more than ten years. They were
put in charge of the stonework and several young men were as-
signed to help them. After the armory was finished the two stone-
masons and their helpers were hired to do private stone jobs in
the same community. Owners of two private residences, for ex-
ample, put them to work building stone fences around their
A Colorado town employed relief labor on a new park project.
Among the park's most popular recreational facilities were a swim-
ming pool and a concrete dancing pavilion. Yet during the last
political campaign an eastern newspaper ridiculed the project as
a "boondoggle." The citizens so resented the story that they passed
resolutions condemning the newspaper.
These are not isolated cases of the constructive services rendered
by work relief projects. No resident of San Francisco or Oakland
would question the service value of the bridge over the bay con-
necting the two cities, or of the monumental bridge over the
Golden Gate, both of which were made possible by federal appro-
priations to relieve unemployment.
Small communities are just as proud as great cities to see their
towns get new community buildings, pavements, sewers, or recrea-
tional facilities. Isolated farmers are the first to benefit whenever
farm-to-market roads are built or surfaced, enabling them to get to
town on stormy days.
THE "USEFUL AND NON-COMPETITIVE" BOGEY 63
THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY IS NOT HAPPY
In pre-depression times private construction was a major in-
dustry in the United States. In 1928 the total volume of construc-
tion was more than eleven billion dollars, of which seventy-seven
per cent was for private work. By 1936 the total dollar-amount of
construction had come back to about seven billion dollars, of
which only forty-four per cent was for private enterprise. Much of
the fifty-six per cent of public construction in 1936 was being done,
not by the construction industry, but by force-account methods
with relief labor.
The following table shows the source of funds for construction
in the United States for selected years:
Source of Funds 1929 1932 1936
Total: All Sources 10,166,000,000 3,289,000,000 6,784,000,000
Federal 315,000,000 525,000,000 2,51 1,000,000
State and Local 2,100,000,000 1,403,000,000 1,301,000,000
Private 7,751,000,000 1,361,000,000 2,972,000,000
It is easy to understand why building contractors, road builders,
and other private interests that once made handsome profits out
of the construction industry are unhappy when all the public
construction is not done by contract. They had in 1936 about one-
third the amount of private construction work that they had in
1929, and now they are getting less public work. Yet this same in-
dustry cannot or will not use relief labor.
The trend toward work relief is disturbing to private enterprise
both for what it is and for what it may become. If public bodies
learn to do work just as well by the force-account method as by
contract, and if this type of work gets wide acceptance, it is likely
to continue. Federal, state, and local public bodies are learning to
plan and to supervise work, and they are learning how to do good
There might, it is true, be a more clearly defined division of
labor between the two basic types of public work. Although the
building and construction industry should not monopolize the
64 THE RIGHT TO WORK
benefits of an unemployment program, it is perhaps entitled to its
share. Expensive construction projects do give employment to
workers who need jobs and they do create a considerable amount
of indirect employment. But they are still not adequate for the
purposes of a government that must recognize the rights of mil-
lions of workers who need special consideration if their labor is to
be effectively utilized.
In attempting to cater to so many conflicting views on the work
issue, the federal unemployment program has attempted to make
too little money go too far. For example, when the present Works
Program began, large sums of money were allocated to the federal
agencies doing big expensive projects. Then came the winter of
1935-1936. The contractors on public buildings, dams, and other
big projects having a per man-year cost of $1,600 and over, closed
down completely because they could not operate at a profit. The
workers they laid off had to return to WPA, where it was necessary
to give them employment on force-account projects. Just at the
time when the workers taken originally from relief rolls needed
work most, the contractors could not or would not use them and
WPA had to. Then the critics of WPA said, "See how inefficient
the work is?"
There is another aspect of the same difficulty. When WPA was
trying to employ about eighty per cent of the unemployed, it was
receiving only about forty per cent of the funds allocated for all
the workers on the program. WPA has, in fact, been confronted
with the task of providing employment for relief workers at a per
man-year expenditure for the United States of less than $800 for
labor, supervision, equipment, and materials. In some states the
per-man limit per year has been as low as $400. Better work could
certainly be done if a little more money were available for the
utilization of relief labor.
The work relief division of the Works Program has had to find
types of work that would utilize many occupations and skills not
THE "USEFUL AND NON-COMPETITIVE" BOGEY 65
usually found on regular public work. It is these unusual projects,
in fact, which often come nearest to meeting the government's
pledge to industry to do only non-competitive work. If a project is
useful it is sure to be criticized because it is competitive, while
if it is non-competitive it is just as likely to be condemned by the
same critics for not being useful.
The term "boondoggling" may have had other origins, but it
derives its present connotation from an investigation into relief
projects in New York City. Hostile elements there charged that
too much money was being spent on useless projects in such fields
as health, education, recreation, and research. It does not matter,
now, that the findings of the investigation were favorable to the
work; the term is still used to discredit certain types of relief jobs.
"Boondoggling" is one answer to a serious contemporary prob-
lem. Technological advances in factory and office are constantly
disemploying large numbers of workers, and despite assurances
from American business that new industries will spring up, creat-
ing new occupations and new jobs, the truth is that such few new
industries as there are do not want the unemployed from the relief
rolls. In fact, no matter how many new industrial processes are
developed, many of the unemployed will still have to be retained
on public work.
And what of non-industrial pursuits? Acting, for example. In a
depression actors are naturally among the first to suffer. In 1929
the demand for their services fell off soon after the market crash.
Many of the theatres that closed then have never reopened. It is,
incidentally, a sorry commentary on our democracy that even in
good times the legitimate theatre and the opera were out of reach
of the vast majority in the United States, and that thousands of
competent actors were even then without an audience.
The federal government set a memorable precedent when it
undertook to employ actors at their own occupations. That, too,
was called "boondoggling." But despite all criticism, the theatre
projects have won wide approval.
Musicians, too, have shared in the new government program.
66 THE RIGHT TO WORK
Under federal auspices highly trained orchestras, soloists, choral
and chamber music groups have played to packed houses in thou-
sands of concerts from coast to coast. For the first time music other
than radio music was made available to the people at prices they
Creative artists, including sculptors, have always had a hard
time making a living in the United States. Art has been raised to
the luxury level, as something to be enjoyed by the rich alone. In
the meantime, art schools have been graduating hundreds of artists
every year, only to see them go hungry because no one will pay for
their products. Yet while all this talent was going to waste, thou-
sands of persons in this supposedly culturally advanced nation had
never seen an original canvas or water color.
In the Federal Arts Project, the Government, recognizing the
need of jobless artists, put them to work according to their special
skills. Today their paintings thousands of them hang in pub-
lic places where everyone may see them. Hundreds of their murals
add beauty and color to the hitherto drab walls of public buildings.
This is more "boondoggling."
IS CULTURE PUBLIC WORK?
Consider the architects. Theirs is a service, like the building of
low-cost houses for the poor, that has been too long neglected. Of
teachers, too, there is ever a supply far in excess of the demand.
Yet in the face of a growing need for teachers, the teaching profes-
sion has waited in vain for jobs. The federal government has ac-
cepted part of the responsibility by putting teachers to work
on such "boondoggling" projects as teaching the blind and the
mute, training handicapped and backward children, giving voca-
tional guidance, providing adult education in music and arts,
and offering courses for underprivileged workers and the un-
Slowly and almost grudgingly public recreation is being recog-
nized as a necessity. Millions of people living in congested urban
THE "USEFUL AND NON-COMPETITIVE" BOGEY 67
quarters have very definite recreational needs which have been
met only partly. Under the work relief program unemployed recre-
ational instructors have been put on the job in playgrounds,
athletic fields, swimming pools, and gymnasia, supervising young-
sters at play and thus keeping them off the streets. In many cities,
playgrounds, pools, and other facilities would never have been
built were it not for the federal projects. This is what some people
call "boondoggling"; but the government would provoke more
criticism today if it attempted to curtail this program than was
ever expressed in the course of establishing it.
The private labor market has not yet absorbed still other groups
of professional, technical, and white-collar workers. Thousands of
expensively trained doctors, lawyers, nurses, and dentists have
been condemned to idleness. But when the government sponsored
health projects that would enlist the services of nurses, doctors,
and dentists, some who professed to fear the coming of socialized
medicine opposed the projects as competitive.
Thousands of unemployed white-collar workers have been en-
gaged in cataloguing the records of local, state, and federal bureaus
and departments. Valuable historical information has been re-
covered and filed, or made available to libraries and museums.
Hundreds of writers have been put to work compiling that most
important of publishing ventures, The American Guide, while
more than a hundred local guidebooks will eventually be issued
for the states and for some of the leading cities.
But all of these are cultural projects which some critics would
never approve as public work. They honestly believe public money
should not be spent on the arts or on research, no matter how
valuable the results to communities or to the nation as a whole.
However, the "boondoggling" projects are not all in the cultural
fields. In New York City a research project to discover water-leaks
more than paid for itself. Many cities and counties have sponsored
tax surveys which have often brought to light enough untaxed or
undertaxed property to more than justify the project's cost. Geo-
logical surveys have uncovered a number of hitherto unsuspected
68 THE RIGHT TO WORK
natural resources. Other profitable studies have been made in
plant disease, soil conservation, and in the production of materials
which normally have to be imported.
In no field of public enterprise, however, have the processes of
public education been more extensive and vitalizing than in that
of unemployment relief. Thousands of communities have learned
under federal supervision to do things that were never done by
government in this country before. There is every indication that
the people themselves are vitally interested in doing more, and
that their confidence in democratic government is growing.
LABOR - A PERISHABLE COMMODITY
In this public educational process the federal government has
never been more responsible or responsive to the wishes of the
people than in the program for the unemployed. No phase of the
New Deal program for recovery has invaded the old order of things
more than has work relief, yet no phase of this program has moved
with more caution and respect for the old order.
It is true that the government pledged itself not to compete with
private enterprise in its work program for the unemployed. It is
also true that this pledge has not been fully kept, and cannot be.
To keep such a pledge would not only be of doubtful benefit to
industry, but if literally kept it would be a serious invasion of the
inherent rights of those workers who cannot get private employ-
When the livestock was dying in the drought region, the federal
government launched a buying program in which it purchased
millions of head of cattle and sheep. Some were killed on the spot
for their hides; some were transported to good pasture land; others
were slaughtered for meat which was packed in cans for distribu-
tion to the unemployed. The cattle program was an emergency
measure for saving a resource and preventing a loss. There was,
nevertheless, a certain amount of unavoidable loss which was
shared by all the people. But had the government's purchase plan
THE "USEFUL AND NON-COMPETITIVE" BOGEY 69
not been put into effect, the loss, and the suffering, too, would have
been far greater for having been concentrated in one area.
Federal work relief for the unemployed is another kind of
buying program. It permits the labor of idle workers to be pur-
chased and put to use rather than wasted. If private industry will
not or cannot buy the labor of the jobless and the government
does not, it must waste away, since labor is a perishable commodity.
But the labor of the unemployed cannot be wasted without leaving
a fearful cost behind. In the long run the cost of the idleness of
these workers is visited on society as a whole in lowered living
standards and in the loss of the many valuable services they might
As between the responsibility of the government for using the
labor of the unemployed and the pledge to industry not to use it
in competition, the choice is probably largely one of policy. Not
to use this labor would be an arrant waste of human material, in
view of the many types of public work and the great volume of it
that is waiting to be done.
It would be false economy to deny the unemployed the right to
work and it is equally false economy to leave undone the work
already too long delayed.
VI. PAYING THE BILL
"SOMETHING OUGHT TO BE DONE ABOUT IT"
People like our economics professor, who worry about the na-
tional debt, are more anxious than ever today, because for more
than three years the expenditures of the federal government have
exceeded revenues by more than three billion dollars each year.
There is, furthermore, no prospect of the expenditures and re-
ceipts being balanced very soon.
Here are the figures for three years ending 1936:
General expenditures $1 1,075,000,000
Emergency expenditures 10,949,000,000
Total Government expenditures
(1934, 1935, 1936) $22,024,000,000
Receipts of the Government
(1934, 1935, 1936) 11,032,000,000
Deficit for 1934, 1935, 1936 $10,992,000,000
The deficit for three years thus about equals the amount spent
for emergency relief and recovery purposes, a coincidence which
seems to support the conclusion that the budget could be balanced
if emergency expenditures were eliminated. But the whole story is
PAYING THE BILL 71
not told in these figures. Many general functions of the govern-
ment have been carried on with emergency funds, and many states
and cities have drawn liberally on them to meet their obligations.
The debate about government economy is carried on between
those who would balance the budget by reducing expenditures and
those who dare to think of increasing taxes. Significantly enough,
the champions of reduction are also the leaders in the fight against
any increase in relief expenditures.
When the bill to appropriate $1,500,000,000 for work relief was
before Congress, opposition was loud and bitter at first. Then
President Roosevelt asked Congress for legislation to deal with
wealthy tax dodgers. At once there was stunned silence in the
ranks of the rich, whose hundreds of incorporated yachts and
personal holding companies have been convenient devices for
The problem of balancing the budget is not serious in a land
where so much wealth accumulates and, through legal legerde-
main, escapes taxation in the process. If this government taxed
wealth as some governments do, the budget could be balanced in
one year and the debt could be wiped out in a very few more.
Much of that huge debt is owed by the government to the very men
of wealth who were suddenly silenced by the President's plea for
laws to handle tax dodgers.
There is little point, however, in demanding a just tax system
unless the government stands ready to impose upon itself every
possible economy, both by avoiding unwarranted spending and
by curtailing the giving of benefits wherever it can. Nevertheless,
in spite of all economies, government expenditures must inevitably
become greater each year. As more people demand more services,
federal and local agencies have to be expanded to provide these
When the government was piling up its greatest previous debt,
during the World War, there was no outcry then for "economy."
That, of course, was different. The difference, however, lay chiefly
in the economic status of the recipients of government benefits.
72 THE RIGHT TO WORK
Those into whose pockets war profits flowed most plentifully are
the ones who, today, are deploring "government spending."
Whether a government bestows tariff benefits on the rich or
relief benefits on the poor, it may do too much or too little. If one
set or class of people is given too much, an injury is imposed upon
others. Business groups in this country, for example, have gen-
erally won their demands, whether for higher tariffs or, as in the
airplane, automobile, and shipping industries, for billions in in-
direct subsidies. Can the government now deny the unemployed
the financial assistance that will guarantee their right to work?
Emergency relief and public work were put into effect primarily
as national substitutes for the old local welfare, but they differ
from it in being more businesslike and constructive in character.
Federal welfare has taken some of the sting out of applying for
public assistance, and that is what so many prosperous people
object to. They want to make certain that the person who gets
relief shall suffer humiliation in the process.
In another sense, too, federal welfare activity is disturbing.
Hidden away in three thousand counties and twenty thousand
towns, the aggregate cost of caring for the needy was not known in
former years and was not calculated on a national scale as it is now.
Since the national government has begun to share the cost more
people are aware of it and are made uneasy. They watch the rising
national debt and begin to wonder how and by whom the bill will
It must be borne in mind, first, that the federal government did
not take over responsibility for relief until all the other agencies
had obviously failed. Ever since it assumed that burden, the gov-
ernment has consistently tried to withdraw its support and to pass
the responsibility back to the states and localities. Yet every at-
tempt it has made to abandon the emergency unemployment pro-
gram has been fought both by the localities and by the unem-
PAYING THE BILL 73
ployed. Hostile interests have thus been able to make it appear that
the government has not been sufficiently hard-boiled and aggres-
sive in ridding itself of the relief burden.
A private charitable agency in a large eastern city recently made
an appeal for contributions, using this argument: "400,000 families
are in need and too proud to submit to public relief." The very
businessmen who support such a charity in this statement are
trapped in a contradiction of their own making. They have said
on many occasion that too much money is being spent on public
relief. Then, as sponsors of charity, they publicly admit that in a
single city 400,000 families are in need. The contradiction means
only that the sponsors of that charity believe that haphazard pri-
vate relief is better. Whether it is or not, we do know that private
relief is sketchier, which may be the reason why many persons of
wealth prefer it.
CHARITY AND THE DOLE COME DEAR
We should not forget what relief was like during those dark days
prior to 1933. In every community, groups were organized to beg
old clothes for the poor. Nobody in any city then was saying that
400,000 families were in need, but were "too proud to submit to
public relief." Instead, they were begging from door to door, glad
to obtain leavings. At least one high public official in Washington
approved a plan for a systematic gathering of the refuse from
clubs, hotels, and restaurants to be distributed through soup kitch-
ens. He said nothing of public work. Only the unemployed were
asking for that.
If people have to be helped because they cannot get work, we are
faced with a condition and not with a theory. Whether there is a
public dole or only private charity, whether there is work relief or
none at all, people will quite properly demand the right to live.
They do go on living, wearing ragged clothes, sleeping in slums,
eating inferior food, and getting indifferent medical care. Even in
1931 and 1932 millions of unemployed were living, but how they
lived is no credit to our vaunted American civilization.
74 THE RIGHT TO WORK
Twenty per cent or more of the population was being carried
along by all possible expedients, including mendicancy. Organized
private charity was of little help because with so little money and so
many to feed charity had to be spread too thin. Our faith in private
charity cost us dear in those depression years. We know now that
while the unemployed waited for charity the cost of their idleness
was piling up, and that much of it was being passed back to society.
These are some of the costs that have been paid or still wait to be
1. The cost of organized private charity which for all its moral and dis-
ciplinary implications did not meet the need.
2. The cost to individuals who loaned money, made personal gifts,
or gave board and rent to unemployed friends or relatives.
3. The cost of local public relief or work relief defrayed out of the tax
funds of states and localities but later supplemented by federal
funds also paid from taxes.
4. The negative costs reckoned in terms of the increase of crime, juve-
nile delinquency, vice, sickness, slum crowding, and other degrad-
ing accompaniments of social demoralization. Most of these costs
have been unloaded on the children of the unemployed.
5. The costs of working in sweatshops and of taking jobs at less than
a living wage. Such costs bring about a lower standard of living
and are passed on to all producers.
6. The costs of not training the youth, resulting in lessened self-con-
fidence and self-respect of workers who have learned no skills, a bur-
den that all society must share.
While these and other costs of wholesale idleness accumulated,
we still heard the strident voices of those who believed that the
situation might have been met with a little more charity. Per-
haps, but at what a pricel
THE POOR TAKE CARE OF THE POOR
Private charity is sometimes called the rich man's gift to the
poor. True, a few excessively rich individuals do give away large
amounts out of their incomes, but on the whole, according to a
PAYING THE BILL 75
recent survey, the total gifts of all who filed income tax returns
have never amounted to as much as two' per cent of their income,
even in prosperous years. The wealthiest members of a community
usually lend their names to any fund-raising drive, but that is fre-
quently their only contribution. It is well known among people
engaged in raising money for charitable purposes that, in propor-
tion, the poorer classes are always the more generous.
The most important levy placed directly on the poor is the loss
that all workers must bear when the unemployed among them
cannot buy the products of their labor. Employers lose, too, from
a contraction of the market, but the major share of the loss is
passed down to the workers. Thus the burden of poverty lies
heaviest on those nearest the brink of unemployment.
In any scheme for sharing the cost of poverty the poor are bound
to carry the load. They are' closer than the rich to the unemployed.
The jobless workers are their relatives or friends, with intimate
claims on them, and what they give to help the jobless they have
no hope of getting back. Nor have they much hope of themselves
escaping the abyss of poverty if their meager surplus goes regu-
larly to help others in greater need.
If, on the other hand, the unemployed are given public relief or
work, the situation is different. The funds to maintain a public
work program are either obtained by taxation or are borrowed by
the government. If the money comes out of immediate tax levies,
there is greater prospect of the burden's being equitably distrib-
uted, provided only that measures other than property or sales
taxes are resorted to. If the money is borrowed, it will have to be
paid back out of future taxes.
Money borrowed for welfare purposes is money borrowed by
the people from themselves. Generally it is the wealthy who buy
government and municipal bonds, and it is the wealthy who get
the usufructs from them in interest and tax exemption. Thus the
money obtained from the sale of bonds is really borrowed from
The well-to-do say of the public debt: "Our children will have
76 THE RIGHT TO WORK
to pay this bill." That is true; the children of the rich and of
the poor, too will have to pay the bill. We don't know yet how
the burden will be distributed among them but we do know that
when the public debt is liquidated the money will return to the
rich or to their children.
LOCAL MEDICINE FOR NATIONAL ILLS
The cost of caring for the unemployed is a particularly live is-
sue because there is no agreement on how or by whom it should be
paid. Shall the burden be carried by citizens according to their
wealth? In that case most of the money would be collected in the
big financial centers. Shall the money be collected by sales taxes?
Then the poor would be taxed out of all proportion to their abil-
ity to pay.
There seems to be a rising disposition to levy taxes on profits and
on accumulations of wealth rather than on the bread of the poor.
It is, indeed, this very tendency that is causing the wealthy so much
concern about the rising public debt.
The confusion about the unpaid bill is further intensified by the
persistent drive to make unemployment relief a local matter. In
the 1936 campaign, former President Hoover and Republican
Presidential Candidate Alfred M. Landon made capital of the
idea of passing the relief program back to the local communities.
The proposal would be sound enough if the wealth of the
country were evenly distributed. Actually, however, a few states
and cities are richer than all the others combined. It is even said
that in one New York county alone is owned half the wealth of
the United States.
One of the consequences of inadequate local relief is an increas-
ing migration of the people. Because local public or private agen-
cies take care of families first, single persons have to shift for them-
selves. They leave home and go to the cities, only to find the local
agencies unwilling to help them because they are transients. Desti-
tute families move from cities to live with relatives in the country.
PAYING THE BILL 77
Willy-nilly they manage somehow, although the cost of their idle-
ness and need reappears in some form, often in losses that are
spread subtly and invisibly over the years.
Defenders of the proposal to localize relief ignore the fact that
in the world of finance there is no decentralized local control. In-
vestment and banking affairs are managed from the great financial
centers. It is generally conceded, indeed, that a Wall Street acre
is the center of money control. In business, too, there is no local
control over the type of goods or services produced, over the vol-
ume of production, the number of workers hired, the wages paid,
or the price asked for the product. Local control of business would
not only be impractical, it would be grossly wasteful.
Yet those who would not expect business or finance to be con-
fined to county, municipal, or state control see no inconsistency in
their demand that relief be returned to the local communities.
Here is a national malady, nationally contracted, but the leaders
of industry and finance want to cure the ailment with local treat-
ment! It is hardly a debatable issue.
It is not debatable partly because all the local medicines were
tried without success between 1929 and 1932, but largely because
in 1932 the country awoke to the fact that the very security of the
nation was at stake and that national measures were needed.
Many who have managed to preserve their old standard of liv-
ing unimpaired have concluded that all the others might recover
theirs if they were thrown on their individual resources. From this
spurious reasoning, cherished largely by those who have escaped
disaster, stems an uncompromising determination to pass the re-
lief burden back to the localities and to the unemployed.
Since 1932 the federal government has appropriated eighteen to
twenty billion dollars for (1) loans to business and agriculture to
stimulate employment and to restore credit, (2) purchases of sur-
plus goods to relieve glutted markets, and (3) direct relief and work
78 THE RIGHT TO WORK
for the unemployed. Although the sums of money appropriated
for these emergency purposes were great, they did not equal more
than half the loss of national income in 1932. People like the pro-
fessor, who in 1932 were wondering when the spending would
start, are now wondering when it will stop.
They are the people who fear they may in some intangible fu-
ture be called on to pay more taxes. Many of them are well aware
that in the past they have not always carried their full share.
Through their lobbies in state capitols and at Washington they
have managed to get the taxes they favor, taxes that rest on con-
sumption more than on profits and surplus.
It is part of the public strategy of those who have come un-
scathed through the depression to express anxiety over the moral
effects of relief on the unemployed. Such solicitude was recently
professed by a leader of a business community who said: ". . . we
must beware of pampering, and of rendering potentially useful
citizens useless, by allowing them to assume that it is the govern-
ment's function not only to meet pressing temporary emergencies,
but to look after all their needs."
There can be little question of whose welfare such speakers are
concerned with their own, threatened by higher taxes, or that
of the unemployed, for whom starvation is the sole alternative to
relief. It is interesting to observe that the more fearful people are
of federal taxation, the more favorable they are to local relief re-
Unfortunately, most local communities lack the facilities either
to impose or to collect adequate taxes. Very often they simply do
not have the resources to tax; or, if they have the resources, they
are not always willing to assume tax burdens that they can possibly
On its work and relief program the government has spent more
than ten billion dollars. To match this, the states and municipali-
ties have appropriated in labor, materials, equipment, and money
less than three billion dollars. Some of the richer states have been
able to meet the federal government half way in supporting the
PAYING THE BILL 79
unemployed; other states, mainly in agricultural regions, have
contributed next to nothing.
Every state has its bankrupt towns, stranded towns, and ghost
towns. Some of them may at last be on the way to recovery, but
they are still deep in debt. They cannot borrow more money.
They hesitate to tax themselves more. In every state there are
towns too poor even to maintain adequate police and fire depart-
ments or school systems. An extreme case was Key West, Florida,
where four years ago there was no money with which to pay the
public employees, and no money for garbage collection or for re-
pairs to the city's fire signal system. Exposed to the hazards of fire
and disease, the city and its people had to be helped by federal
funds. It would be absurd to argue in favor of local relief respon-
sibility for cities so poor.
In New England there are scores of towns whose industries once
had large payrolls. The factories have long since closed; the peo-
ple have no employment prospects; the towns have no credit. The
goods that used to be produced in the factories were sent away to
market or were stored in warehouses, while the profits gleaned
from marketing them went to the cities, into the pockets of absen-
tee owners who today do not approve public work. They oppose
any increase in the bill for unemployment relief on the ground
that taxpayers have "rights." Those are heedless citizens who
would put the rights of a taxpayer above the rights of human be-
ings to earn a decent living.
For the poor in thousands of bankrupt or abandoned towns one
thing is certain. If they do not get federal aid, they will not get any.
Yet there will be no escaping the bill for their idleness. The un-
employed, with poetic justice, will return it to the owning class in
the form of underbuying.
The mayor and alderman of any town, the commissioners of
any county, and the officials of most states resort, in their negotia-
80 THE RIGHT TO WORK
tions concerning the financing of unemployment relief, to every
possible device to get the federal government to pay the bill. They
have been unusually successful, and often honest, in pleading
poverty. Yet while many communities are still very poor, others
are ceasing to be. As might be expected, the wealthy community
is usually able to exert the greatest political influence, although
on the whole the politically favored communities are relatively few.
Nevertheless, whether they can pay the bill for relief or not, or
even carry a share of it, local political units will vie with each other
to get control of the spending. If the money is to be used on public
work projects they strive for as much administrative control as
possible. In this they are not opposed by the federal government,
provided the local administration meets the established standards
and minimum rules of work integrity.
But however much they would like to do for the unemployed,
local and state officials have not been able to resist the highly ef-
fective demands of the wealthy elements in every community to
keep relief standards low.
It was almost entirely pressure from the federal agencies that
brought the standards up. Federal initiative, influenced in many
cases by labor support, raised the average work relief wage on
WPA in 1935 to $50 a month, or $15 above the average relief
budget under FERA. That is why the groups that cannot openly
oppose an average monthly wage of $50 want relief to be locally
administered. Obviously, most communities could not maintain
the standards established by the federal government, nor, even
if they were able to, could they resist the pressure to pull these
When the unemployed buy consumer goods it is the manufac-
turing and merchandising interests that gain. What a shock it
would be to business if we really did turn back to the rugged in-
dividualism and relief standards of 1931! The owning groups
would save money on taxes, but how much more would they lose
in reduced sales and lowered profits? So, along whatever avenue
we approach the problem we arrive at the same conclusion: The
PAYING THE BILL 81
idleness of part of the workers becomes the loss of all workers and
eventually, whether by federal taxation, local taxation, or no taxes
at all, the cost of idleness is borne by everyone.
If in an unemployment relief program there has to be a choice
between federal or local financial responsibility, the former ap-
pears to have the advantage both from the social and economic
viewpoint. At the outset local relief seems to offer a deceptively
easy escape. Federal relief, on the other hand, seems at first glance
to cost more, especially if it takes the form of work relief. But there
is this big difference: with work there is less loss through weak-
ened morale, less eventual cost due to the loss of skill through idle-
ness, and less waste as a consequence of planless and overlapping
measures. If narrow-visioned business leaders could only see the
wisdom in the government's program they would be less con-
cerned about who will pay the bill and more concerned about
getting all the unemployed to work.
VII; HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT
"THEY WON'T LEAVE THEIR WPA JOBS"
Newspapers in New York City and on Long Island recently car-
ried stories about farmers who had been forced to import Ne-
gro agricultural labor from the South because workers on relief
and on WPA would not accept farm employment. Press reports
also stated that WPA rates of $4 per day made it difficult for the
farmers to employ non-relief labor at $2 per day.
Investigation of the complaint disclosed that seventeen Negroes
had been brought from the South by one Long Island farmer;
that a similar number of Negroes had been imported in previous
years; and that the wages paid these Negroes were not $2 per day
but "$9 per week for six twelve-hour days and a package of ciga-
rettes for overtime." And from this the sum of $17 for bus fare from
the South was deducted.
Investigation also disclosed that Negroes brought in during
previous seasons did not earn enough to support themselves and
their families even while working, and that at the end of the sea-
son most of the imported Negroes were obliged to appeal for relief.
From November, 1936, until April, 1937, the county expended
$36,842 on relief for these imported agricultural workers or on
their transportation home.
HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 83
One newspaper, upon learning that there was another side to
this complaint about a shortage of agricultural workers, sent a
reporter out to investigate. He applied for work at fifteen different
farms, always making it a point not to ask any questions about
hours of work or wages. Not one of the fifteen farmers needed any
Complaints about a labor shortage are usually made by two
types of employers: those who will not pay a living wage, and those
who want many applicants for each job they can give. During a re-
ported "shortage" of wood choppers in northern New York, lum-
ber interests appealed to the government for permission to bring
in Canadians because American lumberjacks would rather work
on WPA. Inquiry revealed that a plentiful supply of American
workers was available to those companies that paid standard
Each year the best sugar companies in Colorado and surround-
ing states make the same complaints about a labor shortage, and
each year investigation has proved that beet growers willing to
pay the prevailing minimum rates are able to get labor. The ef-
fect of such complaints has been to encourage the importation of
Mexican workers from New Mexico. As a rule the rates of pay are
so low that at the close of the beet season the workers usually find
In August, 1937, a Los Angeles paper typically reported a short-
age of 5,000 workers in the California hop fields, and stressed the
unwillingness of 90,000 workers on relief rolls to take jobs. Inves-
1. That there was an ample supply of labor available for the hop
2. That earnings were so low that none but experienced workers with
the aid of their families could make a living.
3. That for workers imported into the region there were no camping
or other shelter facilities.
4. That there was no local anxiety about the labor supply, and that the
complaint originated 500 miles away.
84 THE RIGHT TO WORK
RELIEF - A WHIPPING BOY
Rarely does the cry for help go up from other than the tem-
porary marginal users of labor. Often such seasonal workers as
they need are obliged to move to the site of the work or to travel
long distances. The hours are long, the pay low, the conditions
In the cotton fields of Texas 10,000 workers are wanted for ten
or twenty days. In the berry fields of North Carolina 3,000 work-
ers are needed (to work forenoons only). In the hop fields of Cali-
fornia 5,000 workers are wanted. Workers are needed in the truck
gardens of New Jersey, in the cane fields of Louisiana, in the cherry
orchards of Michigan or the apple orchards of Oregon. Men are
wanted to fish salmon, to cut pulpwood, to pack shrimp, to sell
from door to door, to load or unload cars. Women are wanted for
housework, to work in factories or in the fields.
In all these activities and occupations of seasonal or marginal
character there are annual complaints of a labor shortage. But
during the last three or four years the usual outcry has been sup-
plemented by charges that relief or work relief or both make it im-
possible to get workers.
While most of the criticisms come from employers of seasonal
agricultural labor, some do come from manufacturers. From May
to August, 1937, WPA investigated one hundred cases in which
WPA was accused of keeping workers off the labor market. In not
a single instance were the charges substantiated by the facts. There
was no shortage of labor except at less than subsistence wages or in
cases where complainants had a reputation for not paying their
employees at all.
Often, too, employers that complain about the shortage of work-
ers and demand reductions in the relief rolls really want a special
type of labor. They may need skilled workers, and finding that the
skilled workers on relief are not the kind they want, they protest
anyway. All such complaints, however unjustified, help create a
bias against the workers on public projects, serving to set the re-
HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 85
lief population aside as a caste. The unemployed become a class
about which very little is known but about which much ill is
It will make no difference if a thousand complaints of labor
shortage lodged against WPA are investigated and found to be
groundless. Charges that WPA is robbing the labor market will
still be made as the seasons roll around.
This is probably inevitable because the federal relief program
has invaded the sacred confines of the so-called free labor market.
Some of the accusations concerning relief and work relief are made
by people who honestly believe they have been injured by WPA.
But most of the charges are made with mixed motives, by people
who are using relief and work relief as a whipping boy.
WHAT IS THE FREE LABOR MARKET?
The labor manager of a chain of sugar factories was asked to
join with WPA and the United States Employment Service in
drawing up a labor agreement that would prevent the bringing of
too many seasonal workers into some of the beet growing areas.
In response to the suggestion the sugar official said: "We will be
glad to cooperate. All we want is a supply of labor where and when
we need it."
He could not have made any other statement or taken any other
position. So long as his company is in competition with other
sugar companies, each must get its labor as cheaply as possible.
Each wants access to a large and competent labor supply. The
sugar official was concerned with making sugar to make a profit
and he was not, like the representatives of the federal and state
agencies, concerned with the welfare of his workers.
Later in the year when work in the beet fields began, the sugar
official complained that WPA was making it difficult to get labor.
Although all possible projects had been closed down and all the
beet workers laid off by WPA, still the sugar company insisted that
the existence of other WPA projects was interfering with the free
86 THE RIGHT TO WORK
labor market. The workers on WPA had, it is true, organized into
a union of the unemployed that served to implant in the minds of
the beet workers the idea of organization; and this, of course, was
particularly disturbing to the sugar companies' concept of a free
The sugar official was asked what the policy of the government
should be if in the autumn thousands of beet workers were left
stranded without shelter, without clothing for their children, and
without money for food. "What if 500 Mexican families brought
in from New Mexico are stranded in Montana and Wyoming?" He
replied: "To that I have no answer. My job is to get a supply of la-
bor when and where it is needed."
The answer of the sugar official is the answer of all private en-
terprise: it simply cannot be responsible. Industry's demand for an
ample supply of workers is in effect a demand that a large per-
centage of workers must be insecure and idle, but capable and
willing to work. Industry is willing to let demand and supply regu-
late wages and working conditions, but always with the under-
standing that at any given time there shall be workers of the proper
kind in greater numbers than are needed.
Such a free labor market is free only to those who can take ad-
vantage of it. To the vast army of the unemployed it resembles
more a slave market. If every employer in every industry and if
every farmer and trader could have the labor surplus demanded by
the sugar official, the volume of unemployment would have to be
For the sugar industry alone it would mean that a population
numbering thousands of families must subsist on a sub-marginal
level throughout the year in order to earn a few cents per hour
in the fields during the beet season. Are the handsome profits of
the beet sugar industry worth the sacrificing of so many human
The same question could be posed with respect to hundreds of
other industries that utilize cheap labor in abundance and prosper
in direct proportion to the number of applicants for jobs. The
HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 87
government with its work program has frankly entered the field
in an effort to shorten the hiring line and to relieve the misery of
some of the unemployed and sub-marginal workers.
THE FREE LABOR MARKET?
The labor surplus is often called the pool of reserve labor. In
the free, unregulated labor market any worker, according to his
energy and ability, should be able to find work. The most efficient
will get plenty, and others, depending on their efficiency or adapta-
bility, will get less. Some will get high wages and others low wages,
but for competitive labor to function as industry, in general,
would have it there must be a complete absence of either union or-
ganization or unemployment relief.
Such a free market could exist only if a similar degree of com-
petition existed between employers. As it is, monopolies, price fix-
ing, production control, and trade agreements among industries
that only pretend to be competitors have reduced the freedom of
the labor market to a fiction. The labor pool at times has become
a turbulent flood from which workers have been lucky to emerge
with any livelihood at all.
Advocates of a free labor market could not tolerate one that dis-
tributed benefits equally, because that would give the workers
more than the traditional amount of liberty and less than the tra-
ditional amount of insecurity.
When experts talk about the optimum labor market, they mean
one that is neither overstocked nor undersupplied with good work-
ers who have not been obliged to endure too much unemployment.
In such a market the number of workers in the reserve pool should
be sufficient to keep the economic forces in healthy balance. But
that is precisely the kind of market the sugar official does not want
for the kind of labor he needs.
We have not had an optimum market since 1929, and all indus-
tries, sugar included, have suffered in consequence. Millions of
workers, first reduced to the level of begging for work, were even-
tually reduced to begging for food.
88 THE RIGHT TO WORK
When, to relieve this situation, the government finally took a
hand in providing relief and jobs, private industry was not at first
opposed. But once the crisis had been averted by giving the job-
less public work, the government was blamed for "interfering"
with the labor market.
Here are some figures from the United States Employment
Service that show the extent of government "interference." During
two years, ending June 30, 1936, the USES received 10,400,000 ap-
plications and was able to supply 8,900,000 jobs, of which 6,700,000
were jobs on relief or public work.
Professional, technical, clerical workers,
and salespersons 1,700,000 600,000
Skilled workers 1,600,000 840,000
Production workers, mostly factory labor 2,270,000 1,200,000
Personal service and domestic workers.. 1,900,000 1,100,000
Unskilled workers of all classes 1,950,000 4,645,000
All others 980,000 515,000
It is apparent from the above table that jobs in the skilled and
technical fields are hard to get. The scarcity of demand, however,
is more marked in industrial than in construction skills. Many
professional and skilled workers were assigned to public employ-
ment; others had to be assigned to jobs as common laborers. Of
these there were 4,645,000 placements more than all other place-
ments combined and most of them on relief jobs.
There is the answer to employers who say there is a shortage of
trained workers. Either they do not know of the employment serv-
ice or they fail to make use of it.
The so-called labor pool comprises the total number of unem-
ployed workers from which all employers secure the labor they
need. The difficulty here is that no employer can say exactly how
many workers he will need or how much employment he will give.
HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 89
Hence, in the so-called free labor market, no one knows what the
reserve of labor should be for the next season or the coming year.
This uncertainty is supposed to be one of the advantages of
competitive industry because it makes of competition something
of a handicap game. Each employer gets what he can when he can,
and each worker is expected to do likewise if he can. And in-
dustries and workers that migrate from place to place only increase
the amount of uncertainty.
To illustrate, we may ask how much reserve labor is needed for
the textile industry? What labor is needed in the different
branches of the industry? How does labor demand in the southern
states vary from northern states? What should be the seasoned sur-
plus of labor in the coal industry? How do these demands com-
pare with those of the building industry? Should the percentage
of unemployed be greater for skilled than for unskilled workers,
or for women workers than for men?
In reality, then, the so-called pool of reserve labor is really a
number of pools as varied and complex as the stock of goods in a
department store. It offers no safe basis for determining how much
unemployment is just enough for the "good" of business. Private
industry, that does not want the laws of supply and demand to
operate in relation to prices and production, is perfectly willing
to let the regulation of wages and hours of work be guided by
chance. But the laws of chance are ruthless, and too costly for the
average worker. It is precisely because workers hold no aces in re-
serve that the big industrialists want to gamble with them in the
open labor market. When the big industrialists gamble against
one another thev favor having rules for the game.
LESS LABOR AND MORE MACHINES
How, for example, could the problem of seasonal beet labor be
met by the introduction of control? Each season the sugar com-
panies want WPA projects discontinued because they interfere
90 THE RIGHT TO. WORK
with the labor supply. Worker groups claim that if public work
is suspended, the sugar processors will induce farmers to pay less
for labor. At the end of the season the workers find themselves with-
out money and the farmers find they have gained little or nothing.
The sugar companies, on the other hand, usually fare well. But
if workers and farmers received adequate compensation, beet
sugar production, which is an uneconomic industry, might be
crowded out of existence.
The beet sugar industry survives because it is subsidized by pub-
lic money. It is protected, first, by a high tariff to keep prices of
sugar up. The sugar companies obtain the high tariff by telling
Congress it is necessary to protect the living standards of American
workers. In practice, however, the companies, in order to show a
profit, must depend upon wholesale exploitation of labor at sub-
At the production end the beet sugar industry is also protected,
because the workers who do not make a living wage turn to pub-
lic relief for supplementary subsistence or, when they are fired,
seek work from the federal government. Thus the industry is more
nearly on a federal dole than are the workers, who at least earn
part of their livelihood producing the sugar.
The beet sugar industry is only one of many that would oppose
any effective regulation of the labor market. Private industries
want a market such as they enjoyed before 1929, when there was
unemployment but no work relief. Industrialists like to point out
that in those days labor was self-sufficient. They argue, therefore,
that if nothing is done, things will drift back to where they were
in the "good old days."
The unemployed today are the same who would have scorned
public aid prior to 1929, but industry is not the same. Industry
is not in the business of making jobs but of curtailing them. It is
doing less pioneering and more digging in. Instead of creating new
work opportunities, industry has learned how to increase produc-
tion with less labor and more machines. The effect on unemploy-
ment has been obvious. Too few workers have been taken out of
A sewing project in Idaho. In all states and in
almost all counties, 220,000 women have been
employed on WPA sewing projects. In two years
these workers have produced for distribution
through local relief agencies 108,400,000 garments,
including dresses, shirts, jackets, and children's
A conning project in Vermont. WPA has built
746 canning units in 46 states. In sbme states the
canning unit is operated as a project and the prod-
uct is given to relief. In most places the unit is
a community property which the people, singly or
WPA household-aid worker in Boston takes the
place of an ill mother. Housekeeping-aid projects
have given employment to 12,000 women and have
served 518,000 families. These workers visit the
homes of the needy to care for the children, put
the house in order, and do other necessary work
in the event of infirmity, illness, or death.
WPA nursery school in Ohio. Mothers working on
WPA projects or other working mothers may leave
their small children in the nursery. WPA main-
tains more than a thousand nurseries.
Throughout the country 128,000,000 lunches are
served daily to undernourished children. The food
is provided by the local communities. WPA fur-
nishes the labor on these projects. The school lunch
program gives employment to 10,500 women from
the relief rolls.
NYA recreational project in a Chinese mission, San
Francisco. This phase of the WPA program has
given employment to 40,000. In part the program
is responsible for the construction of playgrounds,
sport fields, swimming pools; and in part for the
supervision of these facilities in the local or state
parks, the national parks, and institutions.
Forty thousand pieces of glazed tile were used in
this mosaic prepared for the Long Beach, Cali-
fornia, Municipal Auditorium. Under the CWA
program the federal government provided work
projects for unemployed artists. This program was
expanded under WPA. Five thousand artists have
been employed on creative work or in teaching and
research. More than 800 murals have been placed
in public buildings.
Part of a mural in the courthouse of Morristown,
New Jersey. WPA is returning art to the people.
Fifty-four hundred murals and paintings have been
placed in schools and other public buildings. In
addition to oil paintings, 35,000 prints and 300,000
photographs, map drawings, and other art pieces
have been produced.
"The Role of the Immigrant in the Industrial De-
velopment of America," a mural being painted on
the walls of a federal building at Ellis Island by
Children of Buffalo, New York, watching "Rip Van-
Winkle," a puppet show. This is the most popular
and least expensive type of children's theatre.
Archaeological "boondoggling." WPA workers
uncovering burials in an ancient mound. Scientists
have found that relief workers can be trained to
do the careful, patient digging required to un-
earth the hidden record of earlier American civil-
izations. Archaeological projects have discovered
materials which add invaluably to our store of
knowledge about extinct peoples.
WPA actors in "It Can't Happen Here." The play
opened on the same night in 21 cities with 28 casts;
it played 780 performances to 327,000 admissions.
The Federal Theatre Project has played to a total
audience of 27,000,000 in 27 states. A good por-
tion of the admissions were people who cannot
afford to attend private legitimate theatres. Fifty-
two actors from the casts of ".It Can't Happen
Here" were released for private jobs.
Cast of "Macbeth," one of the most popular WPA
plays. These actors played 116 performances in
New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Cleve-
land, and Indianapolis to an aggregate audience of
97,000. The Federal Theatre has reached many
small cities where the legitimate private theatre
has almost ceased to function.
Two Seneca Indians assembling a collection of
ancient masks, war clubs, bowls, beaded shirts, etc.,
for museums. Indians may also be unemployed.
Lincoln House at Lincoln Village, Rockport, Indiana.
WPA, through the historical American buildings
survey, has made available pictures and drawings
of 2,300 early buildings. Some of these have been
reconstructed as public museums.
Diorama of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1827.
Miniature reproductions of buildings and historic
scenes represent a new type of architectural art
being developed by WPA.
HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 91
the reserve labor pool, while other millions, with no personal re-
serves to fall back on are forced to hang on to uncertain part-time
The government, in its program of relief and work relief, has
tried to restore some security to the unemployed worker, and in
doing so has earned the enmity of those employers, big and small,
who would prefer to continue as before.
When millions are unemployed, private industry can afford to
be more selective in hiring workers. Only the top few are chosen,
because industry wants the healthiest, the best trained, and the
most energetic. Private industry wants only the bright, strong
workers between the ages of eighteen and forty. The older, the
slower, and the less efficient workers have to wait longer for jobs;
many of them have no chance at all.
SOCIAL RATHER THAN PROFIT MOTIVES
The federal work program serves mainly the middle group be-
tween the most employable workers at the top and the least em-
ployable at the bottom of the reserve labor pool. The govern-
ment assures private employers that it will give temporary jobs
to these workers, but only until industry can re-hire them. Yet
when private employers are urged to use such labor they protest:
"We can't use relief labor. It has been spoiled by the dole or pub-
lic work." Or: "We would hire this labor but these workers pre-
fer to stay on relief."
It does not matter that in the executive and directorial strata of
all businesses, incompetence and inefficiency are widespread. Only
in the production branches does business insist on the maximum
of skill, speed, and efficiency. Private employers cannot afford to
hire any but first-class workers that can make a profit for them,
nor can they afford to retain workers when there is no longer a
profit to be made from their services. As private enterprise oper-
ates, such practices are normal and legitimate. Employers could
not survive otherwise.
92 THE RIGHT TO WORK
The government as an employer of labor is not bound by the
restrictions of competitive enterprise. It can, therefore, assume the
larger responsibilities that private employers cannot or will not
assume. The government is guided by social rather than profit
motivations. This in itself introduces a contradiction. Can gov-
ernment provide work for the unemployed, having their welfare
in mind, and at the same time respect the demands of employers
for a free labor market?
Can the government give a little work to some of the idle work-
ers in the labor reserve and resist the pleas of the others? Em-
ployers profess to be fearful lest assumption of a little federal re-
sponsibility lead to more, and that more responsibility may lead
to new efforts on the part of the government to regulate the labor
If unemployment continues unabated there may be good rea-
son for such fears. A democratic government cannot long evade
the responsibilities inherent in a democracy. If pressed to it by
popular demand, democratic government may arrive at the point
of resisting the doctrine of a laissez faire labor market. Democratic
governments are slow to assume such responsibilities, but once
having assumed them, they are slower in giving them up.
TAMING WILD HORSES
Under the outlawed NRA the government attempted to regu-
late the labor market with a view to increasing work opportunities.
The suppression of child labor alone made thousands of openings
for adult workers. The forty-hour week spread work. But since the
abandonment of NRA many industries have gone back to forty-
four hours, some to fifty-four and even to seventy hours, with a
consequent lowering of wages per hour and a corresponding de-
crease in earnings and in the number of employed workers. Longer
hours generally mean more profits for industry. They also mean
more workers on the relief rolls, more unemployed living by work
relief, and a consequent diminution of the total national income.
HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 93
Under the old order of things the government had no more in-
terest in regulating the labor reserve than it had in regulating that
other wild horse of business, the stock market. We have seen the
financial community subjected to regulation for the general good.
We know, too, that the government can sponsor public power
plants and cooperative transmission lines in order to force down
the high rates for electricity. In order to guarantee to every citi-
zen the right to work the government may eventually have to reg-
ulate the labor market as well.
Federal emergency relief has already, to a limited extent, oper-
ated as a regulatory factor in the labor market. And WPA, as the
biggest single employer of labor in the United States, might easily
become the arbiter of the minimum wage and of working condi-
tions in private employment. No other public agency is in such
a powerful position. Through WPA the government can purchase
surplus labor just as, through other departments, it can buy sur-
Employers and economists who doubt the government's ca-
pacity to regulate the labor market would do well to study the
emergency work agencies. Perhaps the day has already passed when
the reserve pool of labor can be left to seek its own economic sal-
vation. If that be true, future economic crises may assume a differ-
Employers had a chance to regulate their own labor problems
under the NRA, but they fought effective regulation in any form.
They still have the opportunity, but they cannot or will not take it.
Imagine, for example, coal, steel, oil, and electric power cooperat-
ing, each industry with the other, to give labor a fair deal!
But in default of employer cooperation labor itself promises to
become a factor in bringing about regulation from within, through
the collective action of the workers. Unionization would tend to
shorten hours and otherwise increase employment. Organization
would also remove the fear that so many trained workers have, of
being eliminated by industry after they have reached a certain age.
In time, unionization should bring about such an equitable bal-
94 THE RIGHT TO WORK
ance between wages and profits that workers would no longer be
compelled to seek relief or work relief.
INVADING THE LUSH PRESERVES
The more sound regulation that can be injected into employ-
ment relations, the more secure will be the workers who still have
jobs. Regulation cannot, of course, help the millions of relief
workers who have already been rejected by industry. For a long
time to come, whatever may be achieved in labor organization and
labor market regulation, there will be many more workers than
jobs. Even the most humane and just employers, in business to
make money, cannot be expected to create jobs because workers
This today is the function of government. Every state can find
plenty of work that needs to be done. Instead of using two million
man-years of labor during the next twelve months, the govern-
ment could easily use ten million man-years, and there would still
be work deficiencies. At that rate the labor pool would be emptied
in three months.
If, then, public work to prevent unwanted idleness becomes a
regular federal function, we may achieve a new relationship be-
tween government and the labor market in which the unemployed
on public work will be the actual pool of reserve labor to which
a controlled industry will apply for workers.
But the New Deal Administration seems to have no such in-
tention of invading the lush preserve of private enterprise. Even
the general public would probably not tolerate that much "in-
vasion." American business, "generally apprehensive of the New
Deal, and frequently hostile to it," is not without outside support
in its criticism. Many workers, although not overly secure in their
own job tenure, have so little comprehension of their best eco-
nomic interests that they feel about regulation much as business
Other groups of workers, especially the chronically unemployed,
HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT IS ENOUGH? 95
want more regulation of industry and more public work. They have
sent thousands of letters and telegrams to Congress and the Presi-
dent demanding that the WPA program be expanded rather than
curtailed. Those who have given the problem any serious thought
are coming to realize that public work relief cannot be terminated
so long as there is unemployment, and that in time government
regulation of the labor market is likely to be more, rather than
VIII. A GOOD DAY'S WORK
CAN THEY DO A GOOD DAY'S WORK?
In a small Michigan community lives a man who is now
fifty years old. An experienced mechanic, he makes most of
his living doing odd jobs about town. From time to time he has
been forced to apply for relief and has been assigned to WPA
More than thirty years ago this man left his home town and
went to Grand Rapids where he worked in a furniture factory.
He later went West and worked on railroad construction. He
worked four years as a railroad fireman. He worked in a foundry
long enough to learn the moulder's trade. He went to Detroit and
worked several years in the automobile plants, holding various
In 1932 he was laid off. It was a general layoff this time; he had
survived several earlier reductions of the force. He stayed in De-
troit and tried for several months to get another job. There was
no question about his ability or his industry. It was his age. He
was forty-five then and was told he could not keep the pace. He
finally left Detroit and came back to his home town.
Today this worker speaks of himself as an old man, although
he is in good physical condition and has proved himself an efficient
and versatile worker. In his home town he has worked as a painter.
He drilled a well for a neighbor. As a mason, he erected a stone
wall. He built a brick fireplace and several chimneys. He has re-
paired many roofs. He did the plumbing in a remodeled home.
In the town garage he gets work occasionally as an auto mechanic.
A GOOD DAY'S WORK 97
But because he doesn't have steady work he has had to ask for
From that same town in Michigan came a young woman who
had had no work experience at all. She was a married woman with
two small children. When her husband, who had never been a
very good provider, deserted her, she thought she could find em-
ployment if she went to Chicago. She did get occasional jobs as a
domestic, but they didn't pay enough to support her children.
In the homes where she worked the children were not wanted.
Confident that in the West she could find work, she boarded
her children with a private family and started in an old Ford
car for California. She had counted on getting work along the
way, but that was 1932 and there was no work. Her car broke down
and she found herself adrift with a party of transients. In that
company she continued on her way, riding the freight trains. She
never reached California, but stopped in Arizona where she got
employment as a cleaning woman in an auto camp.
After working several months without getting enough to pay
for the support of her children, she resolved to return East. Again
she traveled on the freight trains. In desperation, unable to pay
their board bill, she stole the two little boys and again started on
the road. She hitchhiked part way, but on most of the journey
back to Arizona she and the children rode the freight trains, beg-
ging food from welfare agencies or from private citizens.
Working in the auto camp as a scrubwoman, and getting some
help from local welfare agencies, this woman has lived for four
years in Arizona. She has managed to keep the boys in school every
year, and now one lad is a superior student in second year high
school. For a year she has been working on WPA.
Of these two cases and they are not exceptional it can be
said that though both are willing and capable, this man and
woman are marginal workers. One has been forced out by private
industry and the other could never get in. Neither wants to be on
relief, but both have been forced to it by necessity. Both have had
work on WPA and both would rather be on WPA than on the re-
98 THE RIGHT TO WORK
lief rolls. In each of these cases we have the same problem: if these
workers cannot meet the stringent requirements for work in pri-
vate industry, what test should they be required to meet on relief
To this question there is an individualist answer that recalls
the Wayland book written in 1840. Concerning the man excluded
from industry the answer would be: "In the competitive labor
market workers try to get the best jobs they are able to hold. Em-
ployers try to get the best workers. The man made the proper ad-
justment. When he was forced out of one field of work he found
a place in another field."
In the case of the woman the answer would probably be: "She
should have stayed in her home community where she was known
and forced her husband by law to support her children."
The trouble with such answers is that they fail to answer. The
facts are that the man could not make an adequate living doing
odd jobs and that the woman was driven from home by necessity.
The answer for them is work, but there are millions of willing
workers like these, who cannot find enough work and whose po-
tential labor is going to waste.
THE KILLING PACE
Occupationally, the unemployed represent all crafts and skills,
the good workers and the bad, the most efficient and the least ef-
ficient. Many of them could not qualify for private work because
they are old, but they are not, as a rule, lazy. Many are young and
untrained, but lack of training is not a mark of laziness; industry
will not hire inexperienced workers if trained ones are available.
Many unemployed workers are in some way handicapped, and
not a few of them acquired their handicaps in private employ-
ment; yet private employers do not want them now. These varied
types of rejected, untrained, or unwanted workers could not pro-
duce at a profit.
But is the test of profit the only test? What we need to discover
A GOOD DAY'S WORK 99
now is whether there is not another standard which can be applied
in employing those that cannot meet the profit test. Otherwise, to
the extent that rejected workers fail to meet the prevailing stand-
ards of private industry, they will lose self-respect and personal
dignity through idleness and the community will lose as well the
benefit of their labor.
We can concede lower efficiency among certain types of unem-
ployed workers without defending inefficiency; age, ill health, and
malnutrition are frequently contributing causes. And without
denying the validity of the profit test for private industry, we can
still deny that the same test need be applied to all workers on
public projects. Other considerations must be taken into account.
Efficiency in private work will be as rigid as private industry can
make it, but in relief work it must be relative.
Perry A. Fellows, assistant chief engineer of WPA, in an address
before the Washington chapter of the Society for the Advancement
of Management, compared the idea of efficiency in private indus-
try with the social use of the term in public work. He said:
"Up to this decade the profit motive for work in America has so
perfected the means for producing the goods and comforts which we
all cherish that it is not strange if many people forget the existence of
any other significant motive for human endeavors; and within its
own realm of operations, the profit motive has set up standards of
achievement so logical and widely accepted that it is all too easy to
make the mistake of attempting to apply such standards where they
cannot rightly be applied.
"This is one of the difficulties which we face, not only in the exe-
cution of our federal work program, but in the very formation of it.
We are from first to last judged by many people having the point
of view to which the profit ideal is the supreme criterion. These
critics are not necessarily any more selfish than any of the rest of
us; they may be, personally, generous and philanthropic, but they
have not conceived of the federal work program as a kind of large
socio-economic endeavor to which their familiar profit standards
cannot at all points be correctly applied.
"The word 'efficiency' is a term in which many familiar profit
100 THE RIGHT TO WORK
standards are customarily summed up. It is supposed to connote the
best way of doing things. Actually, it may mean only the best way
of doing things for private profit. Instances can be found, without
searching very hard, in which a private profit involves a public loss.
Social bookkeeping includes items on its balance sheet which do not
appear in private ledgers."
We need not look far to find examples of profitable jobs in
private industry resulting in social loss and even havoc. An occa-
sional case, if it is shocking enough, may get national attention.
Newspaper readers will recall the circumstances under which sev-
eral women in New Jersey lost their lives painting radium watch
dials. The press reported the pitiable condition of the doomed
women and their reasons for bringing suit against the watch
A social loss accompanies the operation of mines in which the
workers are exposed to silicosis from breathing the glassy silica
dust while operating power drills. At Delemar, Nevada, some
years ago, there was a mill where precious metals were taken from
the ore through a "dry process/' by which the ore was crushed to a
fine powder. It was, commercially, the most profitable method, but
dozens of strong men, who thought they could withstand it, died
from the dread silicosis.
The profitable operation of industry brings with it other social
consequences beside personal hazards, which can be reduced, al-
though usually not without a certain sacrifice of profits. There are,
for example, many streams that have been polluted by industrial
wastes dumped into the waters. The fish in those streams have
been destroyed and wild life has been driven away. In countless
cities and towns throughout the country the smoke and fumes from
industrial plants have destroyed vegetation and undermined the
health of people for miles around. Invariably these industries are
very efficient in producing profits.
In this discussion, however, we are concerned only with the
social losses that may accompany industrial efficiency when it is
measured by the profit standard. These are social losses that can be
A GOOD DAY'S WORK 101
directly attributed to the killing pace that all workers must main-
tain and from the physical deterioration that accompanies certain
industrial profitmaking processes.
THE EMPLOYER'S TAX BILL
Suppose we apply the profit test to all workers and follow it to
its logical conclusion; what will be the consequence to the millions
unable to meet it? Workers may be worn down, crippled, or broken
in health to the point that the industries they once served can no
longer use them at a profit. From then on the social loss begins,
unless other occupations can be found for these partially incapaci-
Many persons rejected by industry will find some other employ-
ment, as did the man in Michigan, but in the process they may be
obliged to reduce their living standards. Some of the rejected or
technologically displaced workers may even find other private em-
ployment if they are given opportunities for re-training. But re-
training would not solve the problem of the former Detroit auto-
mobile worker. He has training, but he doesn't have speed.
Younger workers, not competing under the handicap of age, would
have a far better chance of finding jobs if they were trained.
It is possible that the question of training by federal work relief
agencies may come under discussion during coming months. It is a
problem in which the older craft unions have a considerable stake,
and so they may offer stubborn resistance to any federal training
program. This proprietary, semi-vested interest of craft unions in
skill is closely associated with the profit test.
Those who oppose training as part of the federal work program
would do well to realize that project work does not offer very ex-
tensive training opportunities. A few skills might be taught ade-
quately, but for others the possibilities on public work, particu-
larly through such agencies as CCC and WPA, are limited. The
most they could provide would be a pre-training service.
In the course of his work on CCC or WPA, if a youth is trans-
102 THE RIGHT TO WORK
ferred from one kind of occupation to another and permitted to
use different tools in different situations, he will acquire general
work ability. In no small degree WPA and CCC have already en-
abled many young workers to get experience in handling tools,
in the organization of work, in the care and use of materials, and
in "teaming up" with other workers. Such pre-training experience
as a substitute for apprenticeship would be amply justified if it
did no more than give a youth the opportunity to review a few
occupations before making a choice.
So far, however, pre-training has been incidental to, rather than
integrated with other objectives. It cannot, in the final analysis,
compensate for the social losses created by a ruthless application
of the profit test. For other workers than the young, the work relief
program might be likened to an industrial ambulance service that
removes the casualties of industry, especially in the mill towns
where the speed-up system, called the "stretch-out," prevails.
Under the stretch-out system, each worker is given all the work
he can possibly do to the limit of his endurance, and the pace of
all is set by the fastest. It is a good method for making profits, but
it is hard on human beings. The money it makes for employers is
more than offset by eventual social losses in the number of workers
prematurely worn out. Some mill hands last a long time; others
drop out very soon.
The factory or mill worker who has reached the end of his use-
fulness with one enterprise is not likely to be employed by an-
other where the same profit test is applied to his output. And if he
cannot find the same kind of work he must turn to other fields.
Then, if he is not accepted, he must ask for public work or be
content with the dole. Re-training him is a remote possibility.
The fierce competitive pace does two things. It eliminates those
workers that cannot maintain it and sets the standard for hiring
others. It serves as the measuring rod for putting some workers
out and for keeping others from getting in. It undoubtedly makes
money, but it as surely destroys workers.
Legally, the employer has no responsibility to his workers, either
A GOOD DAY'S WORK 103
to those who are coming to the end of their usefulness or to those
waiting outside for jobs. But in the long run, the social loss will
appear on the employer's tax bill, and when it does he may be
expected to join the chorus of those who call the unemployed lazy.
"NO RELIEF-BUMS NEED APPLY"
What will be the social effect on three or four million workers
as they come to realize that they can expect little in the way of
employment from private enterprise? Will the realization that
they have been excluded or rejected by the labor market, except
for very marginal work, stir them to concerted action? What effect
will their exclusion have upon the behavior of other people toward
them? Already the leaders of the unemployed are saying: "They
are pushing us aside as if we were a caste of untouchables."
It is a fact that workers who accept relief are treated as if they
were undesirables. Employers frequently refuse to hire workers
who have been on the relief rolls. In a Montana newspaper an
advertisement for workers closed with: "No relief bums need ap-
ply." In May, 1937, a Missouri businessman wrote to protest
against additional appropriations for relief on the ground that
workers on relief were not willing to take jobs in private industry.
Investigation disclosed that the gentleman from Missouri oper-
ated a lumber camp in the Ozarks in a region where the timber was
so sparse that the most competent choppers could not make a
living. Inquiry revealed, further, that he would not hire any work-
ers if they had previously been employed on WPA, although he
had been several times a successful bidder on government con-
tracts. In an interview the protesting gentleman admitted he was
not only against WPA, but that he opposed Social Security, the new
banking laws, bank deposit insurance, and the income tax.
Such employer attitudes are bound to have their effect, and the
more general they become the more will the unemployed be iso-
lated and ostracized. Yet, although excluded by the efficiency cult
and the profit test, they are still potentially useful members of
104 THE RIGHT TO WORK
society. A truly democratic government cannot push them aside,
and if the burden of finding employment for them falls on gov-
ernment a substantial share of the cost will have to be saddled on
the same recalcitrant employers who say: "No relief bums need
The fundamental incentives of the profit test are negative. It
survives on fear fear of wage cuts, layoffs, demotion, or discharge.
For industrial workers the chief incentive is insecurity. And be-
cause of this everpresent sense of insecurity, workers who have
jobs tend to pit themselves against workers who do not. For the
same reason unemployed workers who have not been reduced to
the level of relief are pitted against the workers who are on relief.
These are among the by-products of competitive enterprise in
which employers struggle for profits and workers struggle for jobs.
Such jungle relationships between workers and employers, like
those between classes of workers, are the natural consequences of
unregulated competition in a situation where available jobs are
far outnumbered by available workers. These are the negative
costs of too much emphasis on the profit test.
What standards should be established for the surplus workers
who can get little private employment or none at all? If public
work is provided for them, by what methods should they be super-
vised in order to obtain from them the maximum of efficiency and
work integrity? Is it possible to employ the jobless on public work
without using the incentive of insecurity?
WORKERS LIKE TO WORK
Except as workers are encouraged to seek private employment,
work relief is free of negative incentives. Lacking the profit mo-
tive, other means must be found for encouraging habits of indus-
try. To instil work integrity in the unemployed on relief projects,
it is essential to create work incentives to take the place of in-
It should not be necessary to keep workers backed fearfully
A GOOD DAY'S WORK 105
against a psychological wall, as the stretch-out does. We need to
bring about some more positive identification of the worker with
his work, an identification that is lacking in private enterprise.
The government work program for the unemployed must be a
program for rehabilitating workers, enabling them to regain or to
retain their self-respect.
In any public program dealing with many kinds of workers, the
engineers find that the old production practices, aiming at low
cost and high profits, cannot be applied. The new responsibility
is not one of making goods to make money, but of fitting work to
the workers. The engineers now have to maintain standards of
efficiency and production, and at the same time to be mindful of
the human side of employment.
Politically and theoretically, all men are created free and equal,
but all men cannot attend with equal skill the same number of
machines any more than they can bear equal tax burdens. It is
possible, though, that the slow workers may be more useful at
other tasks. Two workers, who may not be equal in productive
capacity on the same kind of work when they sell their labor, must
nevertheless pay the same price for bread. They may be equally
efficient at a given task but not equally fast. The private employer
cannot be concerned with adapting the slow worker, and so when
the government undertakes to employ him it is committed to a
more socially responsible approach.
We do not yet know how many new work incentives can be
developed to replace fear and insecurity. A way has to be found to
stimulate in the ditch digger the same personal interest in his
work that an artist displays. We already know from work relief
experience that it is not an impossible task. Workers on public jobs
are keenly critical of inefficient methods, and when their com-
plaints are adjusted they work with renewed interest, as though
the road or building they were constructing belonged to them col-
lectively. This feeling is native to workers, if the job situation can
be arranged to develop it.
The most encouraging thing about the work integrity problem
106 THE RIGHT TO WORK
is that normally the workers like to work. It is easy to arouse pride
of workmanship whenever workers are given the opportunity to
identify themselves with the products of their labor. The Paul
Bunyan stories in the lumber industry bore witness to a pride of
workmanship and production that died out when lumbering was
mechanized and the work de-personalized. Luckily, one generation
of industrial engineering has not been enough to rob the race of
traits that have been in the human make-up for thousands of years.
This, then, is the problem we must solve to revive the crafts-
manship incentive that has been smothered by the routine of
mechanized industry and by the profit test. It is easy to maintain
work integrity on jobs where men use their tools. In practically
all crafts there is bound to be a pride of workmanship and an in-
stinctive striving for efficiency. It may be possible to elevate these
psychological drives to the level they occupied in days not long
past, when drilling contests, wood sawing contests, corn shucking
races, beef butchering contests, and steer roping contests were the
chief events at holiday celebrations.
If workers on public projects are shovel leaners, it only means
that something is wrong with the work or with the supervision.
Loafing and inefficiency, although they exist in ever-lessening de-
gree, cannot and will not be defended. Happily, on public projects
today there tends to be a higher degree of work integrity and a
growing pride in the job. Integrity, we have learned, can be
achieved without either the poverty bogey or the job pacing set by
the fastest worker. It grows out of the interested, intelligent par-
ticipation of each worker according to his ability. If we can inspire
work integrity that is self-motivated we shall have come a long
way from the profitmaking pace that can only be negatively stimu-
lated through fear.
IX. WORK RELIEF AND THE
THEY CALL IT "HEAT" IN WASHINGTON
Today all sections of the country look to Washington. More
things are happening in Washington today than ever before
things that concern more people. It is only natural, therefore, that
interested groups and interested individuals should bring the
utmost pressure to bear on those who are in a position to influence
the direction of legislation or the bestowing of government
In Washington such pressure is called "heat." Pressure groups
that either oppose or favor a proposal before Congress put "heat"
on the Congress, on the President, on department heads. They
apply it most unrelentingly to administrative officials charged with
executing the acts of Congress. And surely no recent activity of
the federal government, no phase of the recovery program, con-
cerns more people or has been subjected to more "heat" than the
administration of relief.
In one way or another unemployment relief concerns people at
all economic levels employers, shopkeepers, workers on jobs,
workers without jobs, even people that do not have to work. A
great many of them are afraid that relief will increase their tax
108 THE RIGHT TO WORK
bills. Some see it interfering with their labor supply; others regard
it as a threat to their wage scales; a few are genuinely disturbed
about the moral implications of relief. But the unemployed are
concerned only with getting jobs.
Some groups apply "heat" because they have something to sell.
They want to unload on the government their supplies of steel,
cement, lumber, machinery. Some favor public work if they can
rent their equipment, sell insurance, dispose of textiles for sewing
rooms, or obtain contracts for federal projects. Pressure groups
may even insist on certain demands in one situation and on con-
trary demands in another.
Such a multitude of conflicting claims is the legitimate and in-
evitable consequence of a government spending-program. These
demands and counter demands merely reflect the self-interest of
the many groups and individuals that are bent on getting public
benefits while benefits are available.
The collecting and spending of public money inevitably raises
a two-way problem; it involves the people from whom the money
is collected and those on whom it is expended. But no money col-
lected and spent for any government function creates more dis-
cussion or arouses more antagonism than the money collected and
spent for unemployment relief.
"IT IS MY PRIVILEGE TO DODGE" . . .
Not long ago Mr. J. P. Morgan spoke his mind on the charge,
made by the President, that men of wealth use unfair devices to
escape taxation. Mr. Morgan, who has not been entirely innocent
of tax avoidance, was completely nonchalant about the matter. He
said, in effect, that the man who paid taxes he could sidestep was
downright foolish. Stated baldly, his attitude toward the govern-
ment was: "It is my privilege to dodge, and yours to catch me if
Citizens of Mr. Morgan's economic status are the leaders of the
pressure groups that have had most to say about the burden of
WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 109
unemployment relief on the taxpayer. They are the sponsors of
various associations that strive to keep relief appropriations at the
lowest possible level. During the past year or more they have been
sedulously promoting the idea that relief should be locally admin-
istered. Local relief, they claim, is more efficient and more humane.
They could add, if they would, that the cost of local relief would
then be saddled on the local residents, the middle class, and the
poor, and not on the wealthy congregated in the money-centers.
The same taxpayer groups have been active in creating public
sentiment for the sales tax, which is always a tax on consumption.
So successful have they been that sales tax laws are in effect in more
than twenty states and in a few cities. As a method of shouldering
on the poor the burden of caring for the poor, the sales tax is un-
At intervals since the inception of federal relief and work relief,
tax leagues have advocated that since workers who accept relief
are really paupers they should not be permitted to vote. As yet,
however, they have not attempted to pass a law disfranchising
Rarely are the taxpayer pressure groups organized by small tax-
payers, who, if they make complaints, are more likely to write as
individuals. For example, one citizen wrote: "This money should
not be spent to give work to aliens and communists. I am writing
as a taxpayer." And an employer protested: "We taxpayers don't
believe that the Government meant to give work to people who
will not take private employment. WPA projects should be closed
until the crops have been harvested."
SKILLFUL FLAG WAVING
Often the pressure group that specializes in "patriotism" can,
by skillful flag waving, arrive at objectives not too closely identified
with patriotism. This observation applies mainly to that species
known as the professional flag waver or patriot. The professional
can usually be distinguished by his skill in waving the flag with
one hand while serving some selfish interest with the other.
110 THE RIGHT TO WORK
Patriotic groups that have concentrated on the relief issue have
been most successful in getting attention. They delight in "point-
ing with alarm" to: (1) The burden of relief on the taxpayer; (2)
The danger of communists and other radicals using the relief
program to overthrow the government; (3) The tendency of relief
rolls and also work rolls to be filled with aliens; and (4) The de-
moralizing effects of the dole (in which they include work relief)
on the morale of the American workers.
It is not easy to say who these "patriots" are, because so few are
willing to identify themselves. We do know that most of the Ameri-
can soldiers who fought in the World War were recruited from the
same economic classes that the relief workers come from today.
Veterans' organizations know this, too, and have fought persist-
ently for veterans' preference in certification for relief and in the
assignment of workers from relief rolls to WPA projects.
Veterans' organizations have agitated unremittingly for the ex-
clusion of aliens from relief and work rolls so that more benefits
could be given to citizens and to veterans before all others. After
four years of incessant struggle against the distribution of unem-
ployment benefits on the basis of need only, these pressure groups
succeeded in having the exclusion of aliens and veterans' prefer-
ence written into the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of
In the early years of the depression the same patriotic pressure
groups managed to get a drive started to deport aliens. A number
of indigent aliens, illegally in the country, were actually deported.
Others, legally here, were offered free passage home. Pressure
groups would have the government consider any alien on relief an
undesirable pauper and subject to deportation. But that would
mean the breaking up of 100,000 or more families of which the
husband or wife is a citizen, and would gratuitously penalize more
than 200,000 American-born dependents.
In considering the plight of the unemployed foreign born it is
worth recalling that there was a time not long ago when this coun-
try welcomed a vast immigrant army every year. Agents of Ameri-
WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 111
can companies scoured the cities of Southern and Eastern Europe
in search of gullible workers. From steel mills, coal mines, factories
came the demand for cheap, foreign labor and plenty of it. The
immigrant worker, unlike the native-born, asked for little, and on
his strength and endurance much of American industry was built
and expanded. Is he now to be regarded as an undesirable citizen,
simply because the industries his labor developed no longer have
any use for him?
As for the patriotism of the unemployed who receive relief or
work benefits, this much can be said on the basis of four years of
federal relief experience: (1) Most of these workers are good neigh-
bors; (2) They are devoted to their families; (3) They are law-
abiding members of their communities; and (4) They try to give
the job a good day's work.
Leaders of patriotic groups in their attacks on New Deal unem-
ployment relief too often act from questionable motives. Under
cover of the relief issue they are really waging a major offensive
against all phases of the New Deal.
DEFENDERS OF BIG JOBS
In another chapter we considered the influence of those pres-
sure groups that favor big construction projects rather than the
type of projects normally handled by WPA. The contractors that
favor big jobs are represented by such powerful groups as the
Associated General Contractors of America and the American
Roadbuilders' Association. Like other organizations, they are eager
to get new markets opened for durable goods. They like govern-
ment contracts and are disturbed lest too much money be spent
for relief appropriations and not enough for materials.
In Massachusetts, FERA sponsored a project for operating a
knitting mill which had been idle for two years. The mill, one of
three small industrial plants in the town, had formerly employed
about a hundred workers. The other two plants, a paper mill and
a machine shop, functioned only intermittently. The knitting mill
112 THE RIGHT TO WORK
was put into operation with about eighty unemployed workers,
most of whom had held jobs there before.
Although operations were slow in starting, it was not long before
the mill was producing outerwear knit goods of the highest quality
at a cost under that of private production.
Other knitting mill owners, who had thought the mill could not
be operated with relief labor, began to protest. And when the force
at the mill had been increased to ninety workers and the produc-
tion costs declined still further, the knitting mill proprietors swung
Their protests were picked up by the press. Hundreds of news-
papers in all parts of the country published sympathetic editorials.
But not one explained that the local Chamber of Commerce
favored the project. Upon investigation, Washington officials
learned that the townsfolk in two public meetings had voted the
funds to pay for light, heat, power, and rent. FERA paid the wages
and supplied the raw materials from which thousands of sweaters
were knitted and distributed to relief families.
When the mill owners were told that the project had received
local approval and support, and that it was an efficient and useful
undertaking, a representative of the industry said: "We don't care
who is for it. We are against it."
The knitting industry, however, would have been glad to take
government contracts to make goods, although it would not have
felt obliged to give employment to the unemployed on relief. Cer-
tain individual mill owners, in fact, were not unwilling to rent
their plants and equipment to the government. But collectively
they were of another mind.
Members of the knitting industry behaved much as did the
mattress makers. They said: "The government should not manu-
facture goods. That is our way of making a living. The government
should buy from us."
Among the small merchants, though, a different attitude pre-
vails. In the mill town just referred to the small storekeepers fav-
WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 113
ored government operations because it brought to town a payroll
where none had been for many months.
The knitting mill, which started as a state FERA project, was
discontinued under WPA. Pressure against it was too great.
It is no criticism of labor unions to describe them as specialized
pressure groups. That they are is proof only that they have ad-
justed themselves to the ways of contemporary government. They
could not otherwise survive against highly organized industry.
Labor leaders have had experience with employer pressure groups;
they have fought to gain ground and to hold it. If union workers
are interested at all in the federal program for the jobless it is be-
cause they want to protect their hard-won standards and to obtain
all possible new benefits.
According as they are able or not able to get public benefits,
craft unions are likely to differ about the merits of WPA. The
carpenters in a city may be in favor of a works project and the
bricklayers against it; but each union within a month may have
changed its position. The asbestos workers in an eastern city said
in July, 1937: "WPA could go out as far as we are concerned. We
never get jobs in our trade." The same union held the opposite
opinion a month later because nineteen asbestos workers had been
assigned to WPA.
It is not surprising that union men who have jobs should be
interested in what the government does for the unemployed. They
are as anxious to see standards and relief-work wages kept high as
their employers are to have them kept low. The unions fear that
low standards on public relief work may tempt private employers
to "worsen" conditions for all labor. On this issue worker and em-
ployer groups are irreconcilable, and the government stands in the
middle whenever the Works Program hires the unemployed and
whatever the wage scale it sets.
The regular so-called "old line" craft unions are not opposed to
114 THE RIGHT TO WORK
the work relief program for the unemployed so long as the jobless
are not put to work in competition with them. Bricklayers, car-
penters, painters, engineers, or any other craft union workers, feel
they have rights in the job jurisdictions for their crafts.
The local union not only claims the exclusive right to do a cer-
tain kind of work in a prescribed territory, but tries to control the
number of persons who may learn the craft. The union, also,
within its preempted territorial jurisdiction, tries to maintain a
closed, or union, shop. These are a few of the difficulties the federal
government encounters when it offers employment to relief work-
ers in any craft over which a union claims control.
It is easy to understand why leaders of the old line unions owe
their first loyalty to their dues-paying members and why they want
to corner the good jobs. If there is a job shortage the non-union
workers among the unemployed must look out for themselves. Em-
ployers who have contracts with unions feel the same way: they
want their regular workers if they can get them. Not only are they
reluctant to hire strangers, but they are especially unwilling to
take any from the relief rolls. Left thus to their own devices, the
unemployed have done the only thing possible for their protection
they have formed their own unions.
THE UNEMPLOYED ORGANIZE
During the first three depression years, before there was any
federal relief or work relief, the unemployed did a great deal of
demonstrating. They paraded in the big cities; they staged job
marches to the city halls; they launched mass movements on Wash-
ington. There was plenty of activity, but none of it could have
been called organizational in character. The people met, demon-
strated as a crowd, and separated.
There was not even talk of unemployed unions in those direct
relief and pre-relief years. Though some of the unemployed were
members of trade unions, they had no organization of their own,
paid no dues to anything, had no committees, no regular officials,
WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 115
and no regular scheduled meetings of which records were kept. All
such evidences of unionism, insofar as they now exist, only ap-
peared after the unemployed were put to work on public relief
The "World Unemployment Day" demonstration of March 6,
1930, was a response to leadership; but it was not worker organiza-
tion. Six years later, on April 7, 1936, the Workers Alliance of
America convened in Washington. The 791 delegates from more
than 200 towns and cities did not gather simply as mass marchers,
but as spokesmen for groups of workers back home. They claimed
to represent 300,000 active members of the Workers Alliance ;
The delegates were not repulsed as were earlier job marchers on
Washington. Instead, they were permitted to use the luxurious
auditorium of the newly completed Department of Labor build-
ing. They made speeches, passed resolutions, sent committees to
visit representatives of the Administration and Congress, and, j
having finished their business, went their way.
We mention the Workers Alliance because it is at present the
only national organization of the unemployed and is now in its
third year of existence. It tries to be a federating agency for all
types of smaller unemployed groups in states and cities. Working
from its headquarters in Washington, the Alliance concerns itself
with putting pressure on Congress and on all administrative offi-
cials who have anything to do with work or relief. Affiliated with
neither the American Federation of Labor nor the Committee for
Industrial Organization, the Workers Alliance nevertheless strives
to be on friendly and cooperative terms with both.
Not all unions or other local organizations of the unemployed
are affiliated with the Workers Alliance. For example, Oklahoma
has a strong statewide union, the Veterans of Industry of America;
Pennsylvania has another, the Pennsylvania Security League. Both
are outside the Alliance. The Veterans of Industry is expanding
into neighboring states, where, as in Oklahoma, it aims to be a
guiding factor in elections. Its membership includes not only em-
ployed and unemployed workers but the small farmers as well.
116 THE RIGHT TO WORK
The Security League is made up largely of leaders of several Penn-
sylvania groups that are interested in relief, public work, and other
Although the Alliance claims to have in all its affiliated groups
a dues-paying membership of 300,000 workers, nobody knows ex-
actly what the aggregate is. But whatever its total membership, the
Alliance claims to speak for all unemployed workers. It is prepared
to advise all worker groups on when and how to exert pressure
against the government to get greater relief appropriations. Its
general objectives are few and simple. It encourages workers to
join the Alliance or the old established unions to fight for union
wages and improved working conditions, and to cooperate with
unions in trying to gain these ends. It urges the unemployed not
to take jobs as strikebreakers, but to support any unions that may
be on strike.
Because the Administration is tolerant toward labor organiza-
tion, public projects offer every inducement to unionization. With
no ban against them, unemployed unions spring up quite spon-
taneously in any community, especially when workers feel they
have grievances that need adjusting, when layoffs are threatened,
or when the leaders of such groups believe that by organization
they can obtain wage increases.
TACTICS OF UNIONS OF THE UNEMPLOYED
An example of spontaneous organization is the former National
Unemployed Workers Protective League that was started by about
thirty WPA workers in a middle western town. They elected offi-
cers, wrote a constitution, mimeographed handbills and got out a
letterhead on which was printed the name of the union, its motto,
and the names of officers. Next, a membership drive increased the
NUWPL membership to about 120 out of the 500 WPA workers in
At their meetings League members passed resolutions setting
forth specific grievances relating to low pay, shortage of projects,
WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 117
recent layoffs, adverse working conditions, and the arbitrary con-
duct of certain foremen. The statement of grievances was followed
by written demands, copies of which were sent to local WPA offi-
cials, the mayor of the own, state, and federal WPA officials, the
Secretary of Labor, and the President of the United States.
State and local WPA officials found upon investigation that
many of the grievances were justified, but that some of the larger
demands could not be met, particularly the demand for a twenty
per cent wage increase. Not satisfied, the NUWPL called a strike,
picketing all projects in an effort to persuade the rest of the relief
workers to come out. The WPA offices were picketed, too, and
committees were sent to the City Hall and the local Chamber of
Commerce, demanding support for the strikers.
Thereupon certain other organizations in the town passed reso-
lutions against the strikers, so that finally it became necessary to
close the projects for a few days. That only served to arouse
against the striking WPA workers the hostility of those who were
temporarily laid off. After a few days the projects were re-opened
and practically all of the strikers went back to work.
Several weeks later the union was reorganized, with new officers,
a new letterhead and a new name the WPA Defense Council.
The officers presented a sweeping demand to the WPA. They
wanted on each project job stewards who would represent all
workers on the projects. They got a job steward on each project for
those workers who wished to be represented by them, but WPA
officials refused to require all workers to submit their complaints
through the stewards.
The new union, the WPADC, has continued to function, al-
though it has never attracted to its ranks more than twenty per
cent of the relief workers. The active membership comprises less
than five per cent of the relief workers in the community.
The tactics of unemployed groups do not differ greatly from one
community to another. They pass resolutions, parade, throw picket
lines around offices or projects and send delegations to wait on the
officials in charge of relief or work relief. They usually concentrate
118 THE RIGHT TO WORK
their efforts on the government, although in some of the larger
cities they have gone straight to employers and business groups
demanding private jobs. On a number of occasions when business
leaders have publicly declared that work does exist for those who
will take it, they have been visited the next day by committees of
the unemployed asking the whereabouts of the work.
THE UNEMPLOYED AND OTHER UNIONS
When the unemployed try to organize, they receive scant en-
couragement from any quarter. The pressure groups of in-
dustry and finance become panicky at the thought of unemployed
unionism. They decry any unemployed activity as evidence of
the spread of "communism," not realizing that very few of the
unemployed have any knowledge of communism or any interest
The attitude of conservative labor leaders toward unions of the
unemployed is not essentially different. In a few localities the un-
employed have received encouragement from the regular unions,
but ordinarily the established craft unions are either indifferent to
or skeptical of any organizational efforts on the part of the unem-
Regular old line unions are job-security business associations.
The members expect to receive, through their union, work bene-
fits to which they would not otherwise have access. If there is a
building job to be had, the union bricklayers want the work; they
are not likely to favor sharing it with bricklayers who may belong
to a union of the unemployed.
Members of regular labor unions in good standing expect to be
served first; they pay dues to insure their job priority. A union
member too long out of work may fall behind in his dues and may
lose his union standing in the same way that he would lose his in-
surance policy if he could not pay the premiums. When a job ap-
pears on the horizon, the union worker who has not paid up cannot
step ahead of the union man who has. If the unemployed crowd in
WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 119
and the union workers are pushed out; if on WPA projects workers
are assigned only on the basis of need and ability, it is easy to see
why, on the work-relief issue, the regular unions sometimes line up
on the side of businessmen. The unions of the unemployed are
regarded as competitors by the more conservative unions.
The unemployed unions organize only in relation to relief work.
On public jobs such as the big PWA projects, operated by contract,
unions of the unemployed do not thrive. These jobs are under the
control of the regular unions. The unemployed unions, to the
extent that they exist, are found more often on the non-contract
or force account type of public work used on the projects of WPA.
As far as objectives go, the aims of the unions of the unemployed
are the same as those of other unions; they want plenty of work at
good wages. They prefer private jobs, but if they cannot get them
they demand public work. Like the members of other unions, they
would rather work than be on relief.
Yet unemployed unionism differs from any other in several
respects. It is cheaper; it embraces all crafts, all ages, and neither in
theory nor in practice does it draw lines on sex, race, or religion.
The unemployed union maintains no discipline and establishes
no standards of work ability. It is, in fact, so loosely integrated
that it almost ceases to be a union.
The unions of the unemployed also differ from regular unions
in being much more militant in the tactics they employ. They are
more catholic in their sympathies, too, as evidenced by their toler-
ance toward all workers. Their leaders are younger and perhaps
more idealistic and zealous; for most of them, the job of organizing
the unemployed is a labor of love. The money returns, when there
are any, rarely exceed seven to ten dollars a week. Most of the
organizers get nothing at all, in fact are usually money out of
Leaders of the unemployed tend to adopt all the concepts and
even the terminology of the regular unions. They demand a union
wage, collective bargaining, the closed shop. Unemployed workers
who do not go out with them on "strike" are called "scabs" or
120 THE RIGHT TO WORK
strikebreakers. When sit-in and sit-down strikes broke out in pri-
vate industry, the unemployed unions were quick to stage their
own sit-in and sit-downs, although such extreme tactics have usu-
ally been confined to a few unions of white collar and professional
workers in the larger cities, notably in New York.
THE UNEMPLOYED STAND ALONE
It was perhaps inevitable that in the current conflict between the
AF of L and the CIO, the unions of the unemployed should be-
come involved. With few exceptions, their sympathies and support
have been extended to the CIO. This is especially true in Ohio and
Michigan, where the tie-up between the two groups has been
closer than anywhere else. Before the CIO issue arose, the Workers
Alliance, on behalf of the unemployed unions, sought the coopera-
tion of the AF of L. But what the future relationship of the unem-
ployed unions to either the CIO or the AF of L will be is unpre-
Although unemployed groups are apt to have left-wing leanings,
during the last presidential election they were encouraged in their
pressure tactics in a number of states by right-wing politicians bent
on embarrassing the New Deal Administration. These alliances
proved to be not very happy ones, especially for the politicians who
gave the leaders of the unemployed financial support which they
could not afford to continue.
However difficult to understand their tactics may seem at times,
these unemployed unions have rendered a real service to large
numbers of workers. Not only have they been an educational force,
but in discouraging strikebreaking by the unemployed they have
stiffened the morale of regular union men in their struggle for
union recognition and better working conditions in private in-
dustry. They have also served as a protection for individual workers
on public relief projects. For no matter how hard the government
may try to establish satisfactory labor relations, there will always
WORK RELIEF AND THE PRESSURE GROUPS 121
be isolated cases of discrimination and favoritism on the part of
some foremen and minor officials.
The unions of the unemployed can be and have been effective
in obtaining equality of treatment on the job. To perform this
protective function and to present the case for all the jobless are
services that more than justify the existence of the unemployed
As a pressure group the unemployed stand alone. Opposed to
them are all the other pressure groups the taxpayer leagues seek-
ing special exemptions, the manufacturers in search of government
contracts, industries clamoring for tariff protection, publishers
wanting lower postage rates, contractors, and corrupt labor unions
demanding big public projects which they can monopolize.
In pressing for their demands, most pressure groups are no less
insistent than the unemployed; they are merely more subtle in
their approach. Through their well-financed and socially accept-
able lobbies they can get action because they have something to
trade, whereas the unemployed, having nothing but their labor to
offer, can only parade, write protests, and put their women and
children in the picket line. One method is no less democratic than
Every powerful interest in the country has its "representatives"
or its "spokesmen" in Washington. Even the mayors of cities have a
lobby, and states have their "ambassadors" at the capital. It is
through these pressure groups, each putting on "heat" in its own
way for its own interest, that democracy operates. Some pressure
groups win out because they have money; others control public
opinion through the press, the radio, or the screen. The unem-
ployed have only their votes behind them, but these votes, if they
are ever coordinated, may some day be able to command the things
the jobless army wants simply the right to work, the right to live.
X. WORK RELIEF AND THE
When, during the 1936 presidential campaign, the cry of "poli-
tics" was raised against the federal work relief program, WPA was
the center of attack. That, of course, was to be expected, since
WPA had on its rolls eight or ten times the number of workers on
all other federal work rolls combined.
The term "political," when applied to a public activity, or to
the activities of individuals in public life, frequently carries with
it the implication of bad faith or corruption. In that sense the New
Deal recovery program has been the least political enterprise ever
sponsored by any government. Especially is this true of the work
Most states and communities are familiar with the political
method of handling poor relief, and in many towns and counties
the old ways still survive, despite their injustice and corruption.
Federal direct relief, and later work relief, started out on a high
plane, and federal supervision has kept them there. It is probably
easier for the government, safely removed from the passions and
loyalties of localities, to be at the same time more impersonal and
If WPA is political at all it is because people are political, as
Cattle being shipped from the drought area of
South Dakota. Millions of drought cattle were pur-
chased by the federal government. Had they not
been, the farmers in that dry region would have
suffered a billion dollar loss.
Gully erosion on the Collins Game and Forest
Reservation between the Tennessee and Cumber-
land Rivers in Kentucky. The public domain is the
farm of the people. Millions of man-years of labor
will be required to restore the land surface of
Uncle Sam's neglected farm to the condition it
was in when he took it from the Indians.
WPA workers planting seedlings in the St. Joe
National Forest, Idaho. In 1936, under direction
of the United States Forest Service, WPA and
COG planted 215,000,000 trees on 219,000 acres.
An equal number were planted by the states and
other federal agencies as part of the erosion
control program. Our reforestation work is more
than 30 years behind.
CCC boys in Virginia. Workers like these in-
creased the wealth of the United States by a mil-
lion man-years of labor. A few items to their
credit are 37,000 small bridges in the national
parks and forests; 3,000 miles of fencing; 13,000
public camp places .with fire pits, running water,
and comfort stations. They stocked streams and
lakes for 200,000,000 fish. No estimate can be
made of the value of CCC work in forest preserva-
tion and erosion control.
COG boys making a road through the Lassen Na-
tional Forest, California. CCC has built 85,000
miles of forest road and 20,000 miles of forest and
mountain trail. These are defenses against forest
fire. CCC has expended 4,000,000 man-days of
labor fighting forest fires.
South Dakota farmers building a storage dam,
working against a background of dust. This dam
will bock up 230 acres of water in a section where
water must be conserved. Thousands of small dams
have been constructed in the drought states by
WPA and CCC; many were built under the FERA
A little storage dam in Kansas. With FERA and
WPA funds several thousands small storage ponds
have been constructed to hold back the water in
those regions where too little rain falls. Equally
important are the thousands of wells drilled by
the government drought aid program.
Apache Dam in New Mexico, built by COG to
control floods in the narrow canyons. COG has
constructed 4,000 small impounding and diversion
dams, moving 22,000,000 cubic yards of earth and
Water for Denver brought over the Continental
Divide in a sixty-two mile conduit built by PWA.
For most of the way it flows through tunnels and
Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River near Port-
land, Oregon. On this project will be spent $32,-
000,000 of PWA money. It is at once a flood con-
trol, erosion control, navigation and power de-
velopment project. It will save its cost in cheap
power to the Pacific Northwest.
Lock No. 7 (in Minnesota), one of several locks
and dams built by Army engineers, on the Mis-
sissippi River. For this combined project PWA
granted $100,000,000. For all rivers in the United
States an expenditure of $5,000,000,000 could
be made which would save far more than that in
flood control, electric power, and aid to naviga-
tion projects. If the work is not done more than
$5,000,000,000 will be lost.
.Control shaft in one of the diversion tunnels of
the world's biggest earth-fill dam at Fort Peck,
Montana. It will convert the Missouri River into a
lake 175 miles long. Although started by contrac-
tors, the work will be finished by Army engineers,
thus offering a good opportunity to compare gov-
ernment efficiency on public work with that of pri-
vate contractors. Fifty millions of PWA money
will be expended. This dam will control flood
waters which will be used for irrigation.
A Dust Bowl family moving to California. More
than 200,000 farm families have been forced out
on the roads in all parts of the United States.
As a temporary service, the Resettlement Admin-
istration has established a number of wayside
camps in which some migrants may find a tem-
porary habitat while searching for work. What
Rehabilitation loan farmer in Arkansas. Resettle-
ment Administration has extended rehabilitation
loans to 460,000 farm families for necessities. The
average loan was $360. It has also aided 54,000
farmers to reduce their debts from $175,000,000
to $130,000,000. Except where farmers can get
work on WPA, most federal assistance extended to
them is in the form of loans. To date, in spite of
drought conditions, they have repaid 46 percent of
Fairbury Farmsteads, Nebraska. One of 94 Re-
settlement Administration projects, of which 29,
providing homes for 1,316 families, are completed,
and 65 providing homes for 7,900 families are
under construction. Tenants are privileged to lease
these farms for periods of five years, or purchase
them under a 40 year plan at an interest rate of
3 percent. Average size of individual farms at Fair-
bury Farmsteads is 19 acres.
Tygart Valley Homesteads, West Virginia. A Re-
settlement Administration project for the rehabili-
tation of 250 families of timber workers and miners.
The income of the farmers will be derived from
various cooperative agricultural enterprises now
under way. There are still several million under-
privileged farm families in economic bondage.
WORK RELIEF AND THE PROFESSIONAL 123
people in a democracy should be. WPA has one hundred thousand
foremen on its rolls. Another hundred thousand persons have more
or less to do with selecting the workers, planning the projects, pro-
viding local contributions, or supervising the administration of
WPA in their communities. Most of the people who are connected
with WPA in administrative capacities are politically minded.
WPA could not function without the fullest cooperation of fed-
eral, state, and local political leaders, but it cannot, nevertheless,
be managed by politicians for the usual political ends. In the first
place, the work relief program is too openly administered. So many
people are interested from so many points of view that it does not
yield readily to the old time manipulation. Employers, labor
unions, and the unions of the unemployed scrutinize the work with
a critical eye. They are always asking questions, and if they are
not satisfied with the answers they get locally, they write to
A second obstacle in the way of politicians who like to "get their
feet in the trough," is that WPA is managed by a partnership con-
trol; it is both a federal and a local program. But the big difference
between WPA and other types of local public work is that the
local politicians do not handle the money. They neither pay the
labor, buy materials, or rent equipment, nor do they set the stand-
ards for such expenditures. It is this difference that takes the WPA
out of the old "pork barrel" category.
Furthermore, WPA is kept almost entirely free of political fa-
voritism by the federal policy of using trained workers in adminis-
trative positions. This practice was begun with FERA and CWA,
and has always been the standing tradition in other federal bu-
reaus and departments.
When trained workers were brought in to administer FERA, the
plan found little favor in many sections of the country. Special
interests wanted the money given to the states, which would then
dole it out to the local communities where the "people" would
decide how it should be spent.
FERA did grant money to states, but federal officials followed
124 THE RIGHT TO WORK
the money to the spending points. The government took the posi-
tion that even though the funds allocated by FERA technically
became state funds, the people expected them to be spent under
federal guidance and supervision. So it was that whenever things
went wrong there was a general assumption that the fault lay with
the federal government.
The FERA policy of using trained administrative personnel was
continued by WPA. And if WPA has been threatened from time
to time with political exploitation, the effects of it have been only
temporary; because basically WPA operates on a strictly profes-
It is this professional opposition to "spoils politics" that frus-
trates the aims of people who fatten on the gleanings of politics.
The professionals of the relief program are the "career" officials of
the government, who are stronger in their technical and expert
unity than any set of spoilsmen, and more enduring in their loyalty
than any politician.
The word "expert" is used here only in its commonsense appli-
cation. It implies effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity to work. It
applies as much to the thoroughly competent file clerk as to an
accountant who would quit his job rather than make a false report.
Specifically, in relation to the Works Program, we have in mind
the corps of engineers, social workers, labor officials, accountants,
and other special workers.
"THE UNWARRANTED USE OF BRAINS"
A well-known publisher who would not think of running his
newspaper with any but trained workers, declared in an editorial
in 1933, "This unwarranted use of brains in government must
This august ultimatum on the management of democratic gov-
ernment harks back to the days of Andrew Jackson when most
right thinking people believed that any honest average citizen
could administer any public office or hold any public job.
WORK RELIEF AND THE PROFESSIONAL 125
Long ago private industry got away from the notion that any
worker could hold any job, and while the publisher just quoted
may not have realized it, the government has been getting away
from the notion, too.
The real work of the New Deal Administration is carried on by
a corps of lesser officials, referred to in this chapter as "experts."
They have had a great deal to do with carrying on the emergency
program, and despite occasional local hostility they have success-
fully cooperated with political leaders in launching such programs
as CWA. In less than a month CWA set up projects in thousands
of communities and placed four million jobless workers on emer-
gency payrolls. This feat could have been accomplished only by
the hundreds of "experts" trained in the handling of work and
The "expert" is usually distinguished from the politician by his
professional integrity. He takes pride in his work and is jealous
of his reputation in his particular field. To the extent that the
politician is different, it is due to his being in a different situation,
for he, too, is a professional. His field is service to his constituents,
upon which depends the security of his job, whether he be an
Alderman, County Commissioner, Governor, or Congressman.
Contrary to popular belief, the saving trait of the politician is
his preoccupation with people. His wish to be of service to his
constituents is usually a genuine desire to do what he thinks people
want done. If he swings from one side of an issue to another, it is
more likely to mean that he has sensed a change of sentiment
among his constituents, rather than that he has changed his own
Politicians are necessary functionaries in a democracy. They
know more about the mechanics of government than the average
citizen can ever know, and more about local needs and problems
than the average citizen cares to know.
The local political worker, whatever his office, is forever beset
with requests and demands from individuals and groups. His con-
stituents expect him to help them get jobs; and if government
126 THE RIGHT TO WORK
rules stand in the way of their getting jobs, they expect the poli-
tician to alter the rules or to get exemption from them. To these
many and varied demands for favors the politician cannot turn
a deaf ear.
In his relation to the federal agencies, whether PWA, RFC, or
WPA, the politician stands between the wants of the people and
the rules of the program. He invariably finds the benefits available
to him too limited for the local demand, and so he cannot avoid
trying to get as many of them as he can for his constituents. In fact,
if political leaders behaved in any other fashion there would be no
need for a trained personnel in government service to meet relief
issues on the basis of objective realities.
The best evidence we have that politicians have not captured
control of the Works Program is the fact that there have been no
bags of money passed around and few scandals, although billions
of dollars have been expended through the agency of thousands
of people, not a few of them professional politicians.
POLITICIANS MEET THE SOCIAL WORKERS
American political traditions were disturbed most when the
federal government entrusted to trained social workers the task
of expending relief funds.
The government called upon social workers because they con-
stituted the only group that was in any way qualified to distribute
relief in terms of professional requirements. They had received
their training and experience in professional schools as well as
with private agencies. And whatever the shortcomings of ordinary
social work, the need for this type of training and experience was
imperative when the federal government assumed responsibility
Social workers were first engaged when FERA was established
to do a dole-dispensing job. At that time there was no thought of
work relief except as local communities carried on their own. It
was the social workers who got the federal unemployment relief
WORK RELIEF AND THE PROFESSIONAL 127
program under way. With no precedents to guide them, without
hustle or drum-beating, they perfected an administrative system
that functioned. Slowly, since then, the unemployment program
has evolved, changing form as it progressed, until it has finally be-
come a program of work.
Social workers knew about people, but very little about work,
certainly nothing about planning a work situation into which to
fit the jobless. Most of them, having worked for private charities
in the cities, had already encountered the unemployed. Unfortu-
nately, they were used to dealing with unemployment in terms of
the private charity bias and they brought with them into public
service the traditional concepts about "worthy" people, sobriety,
industry, patience, and gratitude. It was right, they felt, to believe
that any worker who wanted a job could get it, and some social
workers found it difficult to give up that idea when they encoun-
tered the unemployed in public service.
As for the jobless, many of them before they appealed for federal
aid had been without work for from one to three years. They had
suffered too much from local public relief and, before that, from
private charity. They had acquired a dislike for charity which car-
ried over to the local public dole and was later readily transferred
to federal relief. Thus, for the unemployed, the social worker be-
came the symbol of charity and relief, with all their despised and
Social workers had never been expected to put people to work.
They rarely did more in that respect than to establish woodyards
which were so often used to administer the "work test" that deter-
mined whether a relief applicant was "worthy." Sometimes,
though, they went so far as to put on drives through women's clubs
to find odd jobs for the unemployed, jobs like fixing screens, clean-
ing basements, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, or raking leaves.
Thus the social workers, through the private charities supported
by the rich, were the original "boondogglers."
Although most social workers favored federal unemployment
relief in 1933, few were qualified to plan a national program. Too
128 THE RIGHT TO WORK
many of them still cherished the old-fashioned notions about un-
employment. They believed, with the leaders of business, that the
existing social order was functioning well enough, and while ad-
mitting the volume of unemployment, they were unable to look
beyond the idle worker for the causes of his idleness. It has taken
some rapid and basic adjustments on the part of the social-work
profession to make the sudden transition from the private welfare
field wherein one point of view prevailed to the public field
wherein another had superseded it.
Imagine the shock it must have been for a social worker under
FERA to be asked to certify workers on strike. Formerly the social
worker would have said to the striker, "You had a job in the mill,
but you went on strike. Why don't you go back to your job in the
mill?" Even on WPA, in the few cases where work has been given
to strikers, there have been social workers who could not under-
stand why aid should be given a worker who of his own volition
stays away from work.
Social workers frequently bring to public service certain atti-
tudes which the politicians call "hard," but then, they would call
politicians irresponsible and sentimental. Social workers have, for
example, been slow to recognize that "reliefers" like to think of
themselves as workers; they show resistance to relief clients when
the latter insist on their rights as citizens.
In the final analyis, however, these "state-of-mind" obstacles to
social work in public relief are far outnumbered by other qualities,
not the least of which are professional integrity, industry and cour-
age. In a program committed to spending public money where it
is most needed, social work has been a bulwark against the de-
mands for distribution of public relief on the basis of nepotism,
favoritism, or purchase through politics.
That systematic social work is becoming a permanent part of
the fabric of the Works Program can readily be seen in the rapidity
with which the new terminology of social work is being appro-
priated. Not only the workers who deal with the unemployed, but
the engineers, and even the politicians, use freely and with confi-
WORK RELIEF AND THE PROFESSIONAL 129
dence such expressions as "client," "interview," "contact," "plan,"
"psychosis," "clearance," "certification," "priority," "budget," etc.
ENGINEERS HAVE ALSO BEEN LEARNING
Many members of the engineering profession found as much
difficulty as did social workers in adjusting themselves to the job
of putting rejected labor to work. In their experience few engineers
had ever encountered a responsibility quite like it. The profession
had grown up much like social work, as an adjunct of industry.
Engineers believed in a free labor market wherein workers com-
peted for jobs as employers competed for business.
The human side of unemployment had never been an engineer's
problem. In school and on the job the engineer learned about
work and materials, about chemical and mechanical forces, about
stresses and strains, how to make things and how to move them;
but he learned very little about people.
In private industry engineers served their employers well; often
they were the same employers who, by supporting private char-
itable agencies, helped pay the salaries of the social workers. In-
directly, through serving their employers, the engineers served
society by making goods swiftly and cheaply. The process of mak-
ing goods, however, was a means of making money.
Engineers perfected the automobile, enriching their employers
and, incidentally, benefiting society; they developed the road sys-
tem, so that more people could use more automobiles. Through
industrial management they timed labor to the speed of machines.
Through the application of inventions they steadily displaced
labor with machines. Yet few engineers have been aware of the
new problems created by the productive devices which they so
skillfully and confidently perfected.
Technological unemployment is only one by-product of the en-
gineer's genius one, however, from which he himself suffers. For
when unemployment became general, engineers were laid off along
with others. Ironically, now, the government calls on the jobless
130 THE RIGHT TO WORK
engineer to apply his knowledge to putting the other jobless to
work. In the process the engineer is learning that many of the time-
honored practices of private employment must be discarded. For
example, to use labor profitably in private industry one reduces the
cost of it by speeding up the work, by dividing and simplifying
processes, or by transferring human labor to machines. These are
not the methods of public work.
In the public service the engineer must find ways, not to elimi-
nate labor, but to use it lest it be wasted. He can still aim at ef-
ficiency and low unit costs in the production of goods, utilities or
services, but his first responsibility is to human needs and wants.
He is no longer producing goods and services to make profits, but
to make jobs. Instead of discharging the worker who cannot keep
up, or the worker who does not learn quickly, he must somehow
adapt the work and the program to the people for whom it is de-
signed. Or, failing that, he must find other work for the unadapta-
ble workers to do. In his new role the engineer works with people
for the public good, striving always to engage them on efficient and
useful projects. His is now a problem in human engineering.
THE USE OF EXPERTS HAS JUST BEGUN
Of the many engineers and social workers brought into the pub-
lic service, there will always be some who will leave it because they
have not been able to adapt themselves. Not a few of the social
workers have already returned to private agencies, but they are not
happy there. Even the private charities have had to adjust them-
selves to changing conditions; they must find new services to render
and new ways of rendering them.
For the government welfare program is not diminishing. It will
use more social workers, not only in the expansion of the Social
Security Board, but in the many other fields of federal welfare.
This is precisely what the most progressive social workers have
Of the many engineers brought into the public work relief pro-
WORK RELIEF AND THE PROFESSIONAL t31
gram, some will go back to private enterprise because they can
make more money; others will leave because they have neither the
ability nor the desire to cope with human problems. Most of the
engineers brought into the public service have found in the neces-
sity for humanizing work a new challenge, and they are accepting
it with the same professional integrity that they formerly exhibited
in private employment.
Engineers, like social workers, will be needed as long as there is
unemployment relief. Viewed logically, the government's Works
Program represents the next step in the evolution of the profession,
since it returns engineering to the field of public service whence it
In less than a century, the engineers, working with the theoreti-
cal scientists, have produced this complex and chaotic civilization.
Now, having built the factories, the engineers face the problem of
helping the government spread the advantages of factory produc-
tion to all the people. With their aid, private industry, through
technological improvements, enforced idleness on millions of
workers. Now as public servants, the engineers must find ways of
turning the idleness into useful and productive channels. The
same technical minds that revolutionized the building industry will
now have to work out plans to get the people decently and economi-
cally housed. They have found ways of transferring from the home
to the factory the drudgery of making clothing and processing
foods. It now remains for them to help devise the means of return-
ing the benefits of mass production from the factory to the home.
Throughout this experiment in human rehabilitation our vo-
cabulary with reference to relief, public work, and unemployment
has been rapidly changing. Among social workers we hear less
about the unemployed as "clients," and more about them as "work-
ers." We read less in the newspapers about charity and the dole,
and more about work. Very little is said any more about the
pauper's oath, and though there was once considerable agitation
carried on by associations of taxpayers for disfranchising the "re-
liefers," today this movement has been effectively checked.
132 THE RIGHT TO WORK
"CERTIFIED" FOR WORK
The principle that government benefits must be democratically
distributed among those qualified to receive them applies to relief
benefits as much as to the benefits of police protection, the mail
service, or free education.
The responsibility for deciding which of the many unemployed
workers will get the limited number of jobs to be distributed
through the emergency program is a problem of social work.
Whether by lot or by rotation from waiting lists, an equitable
method of selection must be devised. Thus far the government has
recognized need, determined through social investigation, as the
basis for granting relief benefits.
Once the workers have been selected or "certified" for work, the
next step is to assign them to the work they can do, or to
fir^d work they are fitted for. This, in the federal program, is called
the "assignment procedure." It is in part a social service function
and in part an engineering function, but it involves a new phase
of public work administration, a phase which is called "labor
If a worker cannot get along with the foreman, the adjustment of
the difficulty may be effected through social work or through engi-
neering, but it also tends to be a special function, related to, but
distinct from both. The same problem arises whenever workers are
not satisfied with the wages they get, the number of hours they
work, or the conditions under which they labor. These matters are
related to, but somewhat outside the field of either social work
or engineering. Workers on public projects may complain that
they are being discriminated against because they are of a different
political, religious, or racial group from that of the officials in
charge. Surely if workers are discriminated against on any grounds
whatsoever, they have a right to speak out and get redress. To
handle such problems as these is the function of the labor relations
advisor or officer.
WORK RELIEF AND THE PROFESSIONAL 133
On the other hand, while some workers complain of discrimina-
tion, others demand preferences. For example, if skilled workers
in the building trades insist that every public building project in
a city be done by union labor, all needy qualified workers will be
excluded because they cannot afford to join a union. Some groups
demand preference on the basis of military service, others because
they are local residents or natives of the state, or because they have
always voted for the political party in power. To grant a preference
to any group is to impose a discrimination on another. The task of
maintaining a proper balance between them lies within the field
of labor relations.
Workers have a right to organize, yet no matter how often that
right is acknowledged there is still opposition to it. Public officials
are often intolerant toward collective activity on the part of the
unemployed. Craft unions in one community, and industrial
unions in another, may object if the benefits of a work program go
to their rivals. Again, the regular unions may join forces to limit
the benefits that might be granted the unions of the unemployed.
Therefore, since the public work program cannot play favorites,
it is a labor relations function to see that the benefits are equitably
Employers may oppose the work program, claiming that it pays
wages that are too high or that it causes a shortage of labor. Yet
if we concede that workers have rights which the government is
obliged to respect, we must grant employers their rights, too. This,
again, is a labor relations responsibility.
The labor relations official needs to be a person of wide personal
contacts, with a liking for people; in short, he must have many of
the attributes of a politician. But whereas the politician may hon-
estly support any cause, the labor relations official can have no
cause; if he has any bias it must be toward fairness. All public
officials should be straightforward, but the labor relations officer
must be conspicuously so, and he must be free as well of any
suspicion of prejudice or partiality.
134 THE RIGHT TO WORK
THE USE OF EXPERTS
Largely through the aid of social workers, engineers, labor spe-
cialists, and experts in other fields, the people as a whole are acquir-
ing a new appreciation of public service. These professionals have
added dignity and prestige to the emergency relief work of the
federal government. Through their millions of contacts with peo-
ple, they have succeeded in arousing a national consciousness of
pressing social problems that have been long unrecognized.
We were aware of old age dependency, but we never realized
the appalling extent or the pitiable effects of it until old people
by the thousand began to gather at the federal relief offices. In the
same way the entire nation has become aware of the need of young
people for work experience and training. This awareness has en-
couraged the continuation of such agencies as the CCC and NYA.
For many years agricultural workers have suffered from acute
malnutrition. A few people have been aware of their plight, but it
was never publicly recognized. Today everyone knows about the
sharecroppers; the federal program brought their problem out into
the open. And now various groups, some newly organized, are put-
ting pressure on the government to relieve the extreme and dan-
gerous poverty that exists in certain rural areas.
For years we have managed somehow to get along despite our
chronic social ills, but once the government has brought them to
light, we cannot, in good conscience, let them fade out of public
The government is assuming many new burdens that need to
be assumed, and, although beset by many handicaps, is attempting
to do it professionally. With this acceptance of responsibility has
come an increasing demand for experts in the public service. Any-
thing less than the professional approach to these problems could
not withstand the scrutiny of critics within the government, nor of
those outside among the editors and politicians of the party that
is not in power. The integrity of any government is safeguarded
by a permanent civil service and a professional-minded personnel.
XI. MANAGEMENT PHASES OF
A WORKING PARTNERSHIP
If a thousand jobless workers in a community are to be employed
on public projects, the problem is, first, to ascertain the type of
work they can do and then to apply it to work the community
would like to have done. This constitutes a radical departure from
the old practices of public work; it puts government in partnership
with the community in providing work to employ people. To-
gether, the local and federal public agencies plan the projects, buy
the materials, supervise the jobs and pay the workers.
Among the arguments used against this method by advocates of
big projects is the claim that public work planned and supervised
by federal agencies cannot be efficient. Unfortunately for them, the
facts do not confirm this charge. It has been amply demonstrated
that government engineers can do big jobs more efficiently, at lower
cost, and with greater safety than can private contractors. We have
proved that relief work projects, when well supervised, are no less
efficient than private work. Public work under government aus-
pices need lack nothing in integrity.
This is the more significant when one considers the handicaps
under which the government operates. For, in addition to the
136 THE RIGHT TO WORK
limitations imposed by the available funds and by the choice of
projects suitable to the labor supply, there is the necessity for ad-
justing the amount of work to changing market requirements.
Public work to relieve unemployment should not be booming
when private industry is taking on workers. That is one of the
dangers of expending too much public money on big long-time
The consequences of overconcentration on big projects was well
illustrated in a western state where two large flood control projects
sponsored by one federal agency, were competing with each other
and with a third large project by another federal agency in the
same locality. All three projects were needed, but it was not im-
perative that all be done at the same time. What happened was
that as these projects got under way it was soon discovered that
there was not enough relief labor available. The workers were go-
ing into private employment.
Similar situations have developed on big public building proj-
ects that began at a time when labor was available, but later were
handicapped when a private building boom created a shortage of
skilled labor. A middle western state, as part of its work relief pro-
gram, undertook to build about fifty armories. Other projects
might perhaps have been more worthwhile, but this state wanted
armories, and with so many of them in work it was not long before
a shortage of skilled labor developed. The situation was finally
met by using fewer skilled workers and a large number of ap-
prentices or helpers. The craft unions, of course, objected. But
solely as a by-product of poor planning, a number of youths got a
much-needed opportunity to learn something about bricklaying
and the stonemason's craft.
Public work for the unemployed is still in an experimental
stage. It requires much more imagination and more careful plan-
ning than the promotion of big expensive projects. Most impor-
tant of all, such a program must be extremely adaptable; if it is
not, it will be wasteful. It can be successful only if there is the
maximum of cooperation between the federal government as the
MANAGEMENT PHASES OF WORK RELIEF 137
provider of money and guidance, and the local communities
as sponsors and administrators. Without comprehensive local
responsibility and federal responsiveness to local needs, the
welfare phase of the unemployment program could not be
ENCROACHING ON ONE ANOTHER
Up to now, the sole purpose of emergency public work for the
unemployed has been to preserve the existing economic order and
to restore the capitalist industrial system to its idealized equi-
librium. Whether that can be done remains to be seen.
If private industrial enterprise were ideally operated, jobs would
be available for all workers and opportunities for advancement
would never run short. Private employment failing, should the
government assume responsibility for giving work to all those who
cannot get private jobs? The government, by refusing to go that
far, has created a nice problem in management that of giving
some work to as many unemployed persons as possible.
Although the aim of the federal work program is to function
outside the field of private enterprise, it is impossible to employ
two or three million workers on public jobs without to some extent
disturbing private employment; the two systems, public and pri-
vate, cannot exist side by side without encroaching on one another.
Theoretically, the system of private work has the right of way, and
the system of emergency public work is expected to fit in as well as
it can; as the first picks up, the second is supposed to decline. But
if the first system, that of private employment, does not pick up as
it should, what then should be the policy of the government in
maintaining the system of public work?
The task of the federal agencies in charge of work relief is at the
same time to respect the purposes of the government, the rights of
industry, and the needs of the unemployed. In other words, there
should be no invasions of industry's rights that can possibly be
avoided. There must, however, be some. The invasions will be one,
138 THE RIGHT TO WORK
or both, of two types. If the government pays more than prevailing
rates on public work, it may invade the rights of certain marginal
low-paying employers who have set prevailing rates at levels which
do not attract the workers. A second type of invasion is typified
by public work projects that are competitive in nature.
INVASION - NOT BY INTENT
Work for the unemployed would be utterly without justification
if it did not relieve pressure in the overstocked labor market, and,
were it not useful work, it could not be done with integrity. Thus
work relief may invade not only industrial territory, but also, and
to a greater extent, governmental tradition and equilibrium in
states, counties, and municipalities. These are invasions, not by in-
tent, but in effect.
Federal public work for the unemployed is not designed to in-
vade the domain of local government. It is intended simply to as-
sist localities with programs that they would normally be expected
to carry out themselves. Such an emergency program must enjoy
considerable latitude to meet local needs from one community to
another. Failure to meet the need for funds in one town might
cause the unemployed untold hardship. In another, failure to fit
the job-providing program to local resources might result in doing
for a community what it could and should do for itself. This, in
turn, might impose another kind of injury by discouraging local
initiative and financial responsibility.
In still another sense a work-giving program must be flexible. It
must be able to meet local emergency needs such as flood, drought,
fire, or crop failure. These have never been the responsibility of
public work agencies established to finance and supervise big jobs.
We have already observed during recent floods how the work
force of such agencies as WPA and CCC can be organized in-
stantaneously into mobile units. These workers, because they can
be shifted from their regular work to disaster spots, constitute a
standing army prepared to meet all emergencies.
MANAGEMENT PHASES OF WORK RELIEF 139
A work program, to be efficiently and realistically operated, must
have access to necessary current information. That was imperative
in managing the federal cattle program, the drought program, and
the fight against the Ohio River flood.
If facts are needed, it is the responsibility of the localities to sup-
ply them; not any facts gathered in any way, but the essential in-
formation prepared so that it can be used. The federal govern-
ment, having written the specifications, must depend upon the
cooperation of the individual communities, or the work could not
be properly accomplished. It means the loss of some local auton-
omy, but any other arrangement for carrying out the unemploy-
ment program would result only in waste and lost motion.
Unavoidably in public work the responsibility for financial con-
trol tends to concentrate in federal hands. Government agencies
have to render scrupulous accounts through uniform reporting
methods, and no allowances for local practices and local differences
can be made in counting or accounting for the funds. In some com-
munities this is regarded as an invasion of local control, because
the federal government does not leave the counting and spending
of its money to local public officials.
But financial responsibility for public work must be centralized
if payrolls and record-keeping are not to become hopelessly con-
fused. It is only supervisory responsibility for public work that
cannot be centralized efficiently. The test of good administration
is the maximum of local supervision that exists in any community.
Insistence on local responsibility for planning a project, for re-
porting the unemployment needs, and for getting a project under
way, is the best means of stimulating local interest in the quality
of the work. Experience has proved that local supervisory offi-
cials on a work program lose nothing of their integrity by being
paid from federal funds, so long as they work in the interest of
the local community. If the project is sound, the quality of the
work high, and the maximum amount of wages distributed among
the relief workers, both federal and local interests have been well
140 THE RIGHT TO WORK
WORK RELIEF MUST BE FLEXIBLE
Whatever the number of workers employed in a federal pro-
gram, the chief administrative problem is the equitable distribu-
tion of the jobs among regions, states, and localities. For example,
if WPA had money enough to employ 1,500,000 workers during
any given month, how should the jobs be allocated? How many
should go to the New England states, the southern states or to the
Middle West? How many jobs should be given to New York as
compared with Ohio, Kentucky, or Arizona? And when the jobs
have been allocated to the states, how should they be distributed
within states? What portion of the California quota should be
given to Los Angeles or to San Francisco?
Determining factors in such decisions change with every season
and with changing conditions in the private labor market. Federal
and state WPA officials, to make these allocations fairly, must have
before them a continuous flow of factual information, and they
must have it at least a month or two in advance.
Failure to realize approximate equality in the distribution of
quotas to states and localities would have most unfortunate re-
sults. Too many jobs would antagonize employers; too few would
impose hardships on the unemployed. Cutting the quota too soon
would injure the workers; not to cut the quotas soon enough might
hamper the employers. This problem of timing, concerns most the
planting and harvesting of agricultural crops, including cotton,
garden truck, fruits, and sugar beets; but it also applies to the fish-
ing, lumber, and pulp industries.
It would be unfair to release beet field workers from public jobs
at the end of February or early in March if they were not needed
until early in April. It would be equally unfair to release workers
from public jobs at all if they have had no experience in the beet
fields. The entire procedure also involves the rates of pay in beet
fields, and the effect on those rates if no workers, or if too many,
A work program must therefore be adaptable to changing em-
MANAGEMENT PHASES OF WORK RELIEF 141
ployment needs in any community. But it must also be intelli-
gently responsive to local social needs. It is obvious that social
needs are served best when the unemployed are assigned to work
they are fitted to do. If able-bodied workers are entitled to employ-
ment at all, they deserve to get work that is suited to their training,
experience, and strength, provided, of course, that such work can
be reasonably provided.
ILL-HOUSED, ILL-CLAD, ILL-FED
If the proper variety of work cannot be provided to utilize the
skills of the unemployed, related or similar work should be made
available to them. And if the private labor market no longer de-
mands the skills possessed by certain workers, the relief program
must explore the possibilities of teaching them other skills. In the
case of workers who have had no training or work experience, the
solution lies in training. These are the social needs of the unem-
ployed which competitive industry cannot adequately meet, and
which government cannot ignore. They are too diverse to be satis-
fied on a national scale, and hence must be approached in terms of
state and local situations in cooperation with the federal agencies.
Quite apart from the needs of all the jobless, a work program
must consider the needs of certain special groups. Among these
are the Negroes, disadvantaged in the labor market in numbers
far out of proportion to their percentage in the general popula-
tion. Another group comprises the employable women with no
work experience in private industry, and a third embraces the
All over the country there is a growing demand for old age
pensions, paralleled by a movement to retire workers, usually at
the age of sixty-five. Rarely are these pensions adequate and rarely
do the workers willingly accept them. They call forced retirement
discrimination and demand work, even if their wages are no more
than the pension. To force such aging workers into publicly sup-
ported idleness is to give federal approval to the unsound economy
142 THE RIGHT TO WORK
of scarcity. Not to use their labor is economically wasteful. When
the local communities are unable, or unwilling, to make provision
for these disadvantaged groups, it becomes the function of govern-
ment to protect their interests.
Unemployment among youth is one of the most serious adminis-
trative problems that confronts the work program. From the point
of view of the community it may prove to be more important to
provide work for youths than for adults. Yet by one means or
another, young men and women find themselves excluded from
relief work. Temporary employment is given to some of them, but
too often these assignments are only meaningless substitutes for
work. They are never popular with young people who want real
work and are being demoralized for lack of it.
The New Deal Administration has admitted that one-third of the
people are ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-fed, and has promised that
something will be done about it. Something is being done about it
through public work relief, but not enough. If more people are to
be put to work, more work has to be found for them and new ways
of using their labor must be devised. It is not a sound policy to use
most men workers on road jobs or most women workers in sewing
rooms. If a third of the people are to be better housed, the govern-
ment may have to assign the unemployed to building new houses
or improving the old ones.
If a third of the nation is ill-clad, and if something is to be done
about it, the government may have to alter the existing restrictions
against making clothing, bedding, and furnishings for the unem-
ployed. With so much labor available, there is no reason for any-
one's being ill-housed, ill-clad, or ill-fed. Actually, it is the labor of
these ill-cared for people that is being wasted. To meet this situa-
tion a drastic revision of our present work policy may be necessary.
On regular old style public work done by contractors, both fed-
eral and state governments maintain a policy of paying prevailing
MANAGEMENT PHASES OF WORK RELIEF 143
wages. Normally, the prevailing wage is the local hourly rate for
any given occupation. If in one locality several rates are being paid
for the same occupation, the prevailing wage may be determined
by taking the weighted average of all the rates or the rate which is
paid to the largest number of workers.
Work relief agencies, principally WPA, started out to pay what
is called a "security wage," which is really a monthly payment
based on three conditioning factors:
1. On the basis of geographical location. Originally the states were
grouped in four regions but now there are only three. The lower
rates prevail in the southern states.
2. On the basis of urbanization. The counties in each state are di-
vided into five classes, depending on the size of the largest city in
the county. Cities are classes from those under 5,000 to those over
3. On the basis of occupational classification. The occupations and
skills are classed as unskilled, intermediate, skilled, professional, and
Organized labor protested that the security wage was an invasion
of the prevailing wage principle. Skilled workers warned that their
rates in private industry were in jeopardy. Finally, after a great
deal of pressure, the method of wage payment was changed.
A skilled worker in a large industrial city no longer works 140
hours a month for $85; he works out the $85 at the prevailing
wage. Thus if the hourly rate for his craft is $1.25, he is required to
work 68 hours. The same holds for other occupations, although in
low wage states, the rate for unskilled labor especially for women
is usually in excess of prevailing hourly wages.
All security workers now receive a monthly payment ranging
from $21 for unskilled labor in the rural South to $94 for profes-
sional and technical workers in the large cities of the northern
The security monthly wage, paid on the basis of hourly rates, has
had certain unforeseen consequences. For example:
1. Certain types of workers get assignments to work agencies such as
144 THE RIGHT TO WORK
WPA and settle down as if project employment were a regular oc-
cupation. Some fear to take other jobs because they have no as-
surance that they can get back on WPA if their outside work stops.
2. Among the skilled and technical workers on WPA are many who
have ability but do not have speed. At the prevailing rates of pay
for first-class workers they cannot be profitably employed by private
industry. Yet these workers on WPA get a prevailing rate for less
than prevailing amounts of work. Perhaps they should have the
monthly security payments for their classifications, but should be
required to do more hours per month to equal the output of a first-
3. For efficient skilled or technical workers, the present security and
prevailing rate policy is a temptation to seek outside employment
after the monthly work requirements on project employment have
been met. A skilled worker receiving in New York City $85 per
month at a prevailing rate of $1.50 per hour, earns his payments
in a work month of about 56 hours. The rest of the month is his.
The temptation is present to secure supplementary work, which too
frequently may be at rates of pay less than the prevailing wage.
It is good public policy in areas of extremely low living stand-
ards to allow project employment to pay slightly in excess of
prevailing wages. In a rural county of the south the WPA rate of
$21 for 140 hours of work is about double the wage for the same
amount of labor on a farm. It would be twice the farm rate even
on the basis of an hourly wage.
Under quite opposite circumstances, it may not be good public
policy to pay the prevailing hourly rate or better. In high wage
areas it puts relief work in competition with private employment.
Furthermore, it tends to place the workers who have security jobs
in a preferred class as compared with other unemployed workers
excluded from these jobs because of quota limitations.
SAFETY AND MORALE
Between one and two million workers are employed every day on
emergency jobs provided by the federal government. Every type
MANAGEMENT PHASES OF WORK RELIEF 145
of hazard is present in the various conditions under which this
jobless army earns a living. To care for the well-being of such a
host of toilers is probably the world's biggest safety job, and the
On WPA projects more than on others, workers of every type,
with training and without, are brought together. The government
may not operate factories, mines, or transportation lines, yet work-
ers from these industries are among the jobless of every community.
They have to be put to work in the ditch or on the roads. They are
taught to use tools shovels, picks, axes, saws and many do not
learn with ease. Women who never worked before are put at ma-
chines in sewing rooms. Young workers who have never learned
to "team up" with fellow workers or to "square off" to work are
assigned to project crews.
To bring together so many workers of so many kinds, and to
employ them so that the awkwardness of some does not endanger
others is a challenge to administration. It is necessary to segregate
those who cannot work on high places, or in a deep ditch, as well
as those who cannot, for their own safety, be assigned to heavy
When the Works Program got under way in 1935 special provi-
sion was made to protect all security wage workers through the
federal compensation service. Safety sections were established as a
regular part of all operations, and something of the success of the
plan is indicated in the figures for WPA. It was possible, or* the
basis of industrial experience in similar types of work, to estimate
what the accident and fatality rate on WPA might be.
During the first two years of WPA, ending June, 1937, the total
number of persons on all projects worked approximately five and
a half billion man-hours.
For that many billion man-hours of labor, according to estimates
posted in advance, 1,650 fatalities were expected, or one death for
each 3,300,000 man-hours worked. The actual number of fatalities
was 814, equivalent to one death for each 6,540,000 man-hours
146 THE RIGHT TO WORK
On the basis of the same estimates, there should have been 213,-
000 lost-time injuries in the course of five and a half billion man-
hours of work. The actual number of lost-time injuries was 95,000.
The excellence of that record may be explained by the fact that
between states and within states there is keen rivalry on WPA for
the safety record. Recently, when the Wisconsin WPA finished six
months without a fatality, the good news was wired to Washington
and neighboring states. WPA safety engineers, despite obstacles not
often found in private employment, are setting a safety record
which will be hard for industry to touch.
Nothing need be said here to justify the safety motive in any
type of work. Safety is good business; lost-time injuries and fatali-
ties cost money. But on relief work there is another reason why a
good safety record is worth striving for. It is well known that the
higher the morale of the workers, the better is the safety record. In
like manner, as the safety record of WPA has improved, so in turn
has the morale.
The value of high morale on work relief projects cannot be over-
emphasized. It must be remembered that a great many of the un-
employed had reached the verge of physical and spiritual disin-
tegration, and that work relief has been an effort to restore to them
their well-being and self-respect. Whether the effort has been suc-
cessful, and in large part it has been, at least the objective is de-
On the part of the government, WPA makes it clear that project
employment is temporary support until workers can get private
employment; that the jobs will be given and may be held without
discrimination, and that complaints will be heard and adjusted
so far as the limitations of the program permit.
On the part of the workers, WPA expects a fair day's work, a
conscientious effort to find private employment and cooperation in
helping the program serve the community. If by these or other
incentives, WPA succeeds in raising the morale of workers disem-
ployed by industry, the social effects will be well worth the cost of
MANAGEMENT PHASES OF WORK RELIEF 147
THE MEANS TEST
Eligible workers are certified, as we have noted, on the basis of
a social investigation to determine their need. This method, called
the "means test," is not popular with the unemployed, who call it
the "pauper's oath."
Sentiment to abolish the means test is on the increase, yet a con-
siderable section of public opinion still favors such a test. Its
sponsors look approvingly on it as a safeguard against the possi-
bility of too many workers seeking public aid. They believe the
means test has certain moral values. But so many millions of fam-
ilies and individuals have already applied for relief or work relief
that the means test has been robbed of its sting and whatever moral
values it may have had have about vanished.
If the means test were to be abandoned as the basis for selecting
unemployed workers, the next likely method would be to select
them, according to their classifications, from waiting lists. There
is actually no reason for believing that selection from a waiting list
would lead to any more abuses than does case work certification.
It is not necessary and may, in fact, be harmful to retain the means
test, which, like the pauper's oath, is one of those outmoded devices
intended to humiliate the poor.
Basically, the objective of the employment program is to help
workers until they can help themselves get established in normal
employment. This purpose is a distinctly social one and its im-
plications are more far-reaching than merely giving work, although
work is a means to a social end. But when social objectives are in-
troduced into a program for providing jobs, the way is opened for
other considerations which are also social.
From the viewpoint of the economy as a whole, unemployed per-
sons are given jobs in order that they may go on buying and con-
suming as workers normally do. Thus, for performing useful work
the unemployed are given money with which to buy goods to make
work for others. The entire process is called rehabilitation.
The possibilities of rehabilitation for different types of workers
148 THE RIGHT TO WORK
vary widely in different situations, as do the rehabilitation possi-
bilities for individuals. In this respect, what should the unem-
ployed workers expect of the government and what are the re-
sponsibilities of government to the unemployed?
The answer to both questions depends upon the workers in-
volved. Young men and women have a right to jobs and training.
If industry cannot or will not recognize that right, they must look
to the government. And what of the various types of marginal
workers, especially those being crowded out of the competitive
Whatever the needs of the unemployed may be, the public work
program cannot deal with them adequately except at close range.
It must work out a cooperative relationship with other public
agencies, with private agencies and with industry in serving the
It is this social responsibility toward the disadvantaged groups
in our society that makes the work program for the jobless different
from other forms of public work. In assuming this social responsi-
bility, the government has aroused concern in certain quarters
about the security of capitalism. Such fears are entirely unwar-
ranted. As a matter of sober fact, alarmists should realize that such
steps as the government has taken to relieve dire need are the best
possible insurance against more drastic changes in the existing
Agricultural Adjustment Administration, 13; purpose of, 12
American Federation of Labor, 115, 120; unemployment estimate of, 31
American Guide, The, 67
American Roadbuilders Assn., Ill
America's Capacity to Consume, 54
Army Engineering Corps, 49
Army of the Commonwealth, 4
Associated General Contractors of America, 111
Balancing the budget, 70, 71
Bear Mountain Park, 50
Biggers, John D., 32
"Boondoggling," 14, 22, 62, 65-67
Brookings Institution, 54, 55
Brown University, 30
Buildings, construction of public and private, 46, 60, 63, 136
Census, of unemployed, 31-37, 39; United States, 36
Civil Works Administration, 15, 16, 18, 123, 125; cost of, 24, 25; discontinued,
16; features of, 15; methods of, 16
Civilian Conservation Corps, 10, 49, 59, 101, 102, 134, 138; cost of, 24; employ-
ment figures, 21, 32; purpose of, 9; standing force of, 9
Cleveland, President, 4
Committee for Industrial Organization, 115, 120
Committee on the Cost of Medical Care, 47, 51
Coxey, General Jacob, 4
Death rate, 53
Education, 53; expenditure for, 54
Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Act, 8, 9
Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1937, 37, 110
Emergency Relief Bureau of New York City, 50
Engineers, 129-132, 134
Farm Security Administration, 47
Federal Administration of Public Works (see Public Works Administration)
Federal Arts Project, 66
Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933, 10
Federal Emergency Relief Administration, 10, 11, 13-15, 18, 19, 56, 111-113,
123, 124, 126, 128; cost of, 24, 25; education project, 54; program, 16, 17;
purpose of, 10; statistics, 21, 22; wages, 80; Work Division, 16, 17
Federal Relief (see Relief)
Fellows, Perry A., 99
Forestry Service, 49, 59
Government Printing Office, 59
Greenbelt, a housing development, 47
Health education, 51, 52
Hoover, Herbert, 76; and recovery, 7, 8; conferences with industrialists, 5
Hospitals, 46, 47; services of, 51-53
Housing, 47, 48
Idleness (see Unemployed)
Income, classification in groups, 54, 55; losses in national, 7, 24, 25; national, 6
Industry (see Private Industry)
Jackson, Andrew, 124
Jones Beach, 50
Labor market, free, 84-89, 92, 129
Labor relations, 132, 133
Labor unions, 15, 87, 93, 94, 123; as pressure groups, 113; craft, 101, 113, 114,
118, 133, 136; industrial, 133; unemployed, 114-116, 118-121, 123, 133
Landon, Alfred M., 76
Means test, 147
Milbank Memorial Fund, 46
National Industrial Conference Board, 31
National Institute of Health, survey, 52
National Recovery Administration, 12, 13; regulation of labor market, 92, 93
National Survey of Potential Product Capacity, 50, 51
National Unemployed Workers Protective League, 116, 117
National Youth Administration, 134; employment figures, 32
Negroes, 40, 41, 82, 141
New Deal, 10, 11, 68, 94, 111, 120, 122, 125, 142
New York City Housing Authority, 50
New Tork Sun, unemployment estimate, 31
Old Deal, 10; programs, 11
Pennsylvania Security League, 115, 116
Post Office Department, unemployment census, 32
Pressure groups, 107-110, 113, 115, 116, 118, 120, 121
Private industry, 57-60, 63, 64, 84, 86, 88-92, 94, 97-100, 103, 112, 125, 129,
130, 131, 137
Public highways, 46, 50; cost of, 45
Public Works Administration, 13, 15, 16, 20, 58, 119, 126; contract method, 14;
cost of, 24, 25; expenditure for labor and materials, 22, 23; housing program,
47; percentage from relief rolls, 23; purpose of, 12; statistics, 21, 22
Railroad crossings, 46
Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 3, 11, 126; purposes of, 9
Recreational facilities, 50, 51, 67
Relief, 11, 61, 62, 64, 68, 69, 75, 78, 84, 88, 90, 95, 97, 99, 115, 131, 132, 147;
administering unemployment, 11, 107; administrative forces, 18; appropria-
tion for, 71 ; benefits for women, 38, 39; benefits for young and old, 39; burden
of, 109, 110; CGG as pioneer agency of, 10; cost of, 24, 25, 74, 80; discrimina-
tion in, 40, 41; distribution of work, 140; elimination through unions, 94;
federal and work, 3, 17, 18, 19, 109, 111, 113, 134, 135, 142; for agricultural
workers, 82, 83; form of work, 14; illness among families, 52; loans, 9; moral
implications of, 108, 110; philosophy of, 19; program, 10, 13, 18, 23, 55, 72,
85, 91, 99, 102, 114, 122, 123, 125, 127, 137, 138, 139; safety on, 146; standards,
17; statistics, 22; test of public, 59, 60; training by agencies, 101; workers on,
35, 103, 104
Resettlement Administration, cost of, 24; housing program, 47
Roosevelt, administration, 8, 71 ; assumes office, 9
Sanitation, 49, 50
Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930, 5
Social Security, 38, 103, 130
Social workers, 126-132, 134
Society for the Advancement of Management, 99
Soil Erosion, service, 49
Supreme Court, declares NRA and AAA unconstitutional, 12
Teachers, 54, 66
Unemployed (and Unemployment), 3, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 23-25, 31, 36,
39, 45, 68, 69, 72-75, 79, 81, 85-87, 90, 92, 95, 99, 103, 104, 108, 112-114,
127-130, 132, 136-138, 140, 141, 147; administering relief to, 11; among
youth, 142; "Army of Commonwealth," 4; census of, 31-35, 37, 39; cost of,
6, 7, 24, 76, 80; crafts and skills of, 98; foreign born, 110; in 1840, 30; increase
of, 9; learning to employ, 13; on flood and erosion control projects, 49; patriot-
ism of, 111; rehabilitation of, 105, 131, 147, 148; seasons, 44, 84; security for,
91; skilled and unskilled, 41, 42, 88, 89; statistics, 6; unions of, 114-116, 118-
121, 123, 133; women, 37-39, 56, 141; work for, 78; work needs of, 59
Unions (see Labor Unions)
United States Employment Service, 20, 36, 37, 85, 88; jobs for women, 37, 38;
unemployment report, 32, 34, 35, 39
United States Office of Education, reports, 53, 54
United States Public Health Service, 52
Veterans of Industry of America, 115
Wages and hours, 21, 80, 89, 90, 92, 113, 132, 143, 144
Wagner Housing Act, 48
Water Control, 48-50, 136
Wayland, Francis, 30, 31, 98
Welfare Bureau, 58
Women, unemployed, 37-39, 56, 141
"Women's Brigade," 37
Work Relief (see Relief)
Workers Alliance, 115, 116, 120; "Women's Brigade," 37
Works Program, 18, 20, 41, 64, 113, 124, 126, 128, 131, 145; employment figures,
21, 35; general objective and basic principles, 19; method of administering
Works Progress Administration, 17, 19, 36, 38, 51, 58, 59, 61, 62, 64, 82-85, 89,
93, 95-97, 99, 101-103, 109-111, 113, 116, 117, 119, 122-124, 126, 128, 138,
140, 143-145; classification, 42; cost of, 24, 25; Defense Council, 117; educa-
tion projects, 54; employment figures, 32, 35; expenditures for labor and
materials, 22, 23; fatalities on, 145, 146; percentage from relief rolls, 23;
statistics, 21, 22; wages and hours under, 21, 80, 144
"World Unemployment Day," 115