Excerpts from the Minutes of a Meeting of the Executive Council of the AFL, May 9, 1912.


Mr. Gompers: In regard to our legislation pending in Congress, some considerable progress has been made. I refer you particularly to the report of the Legislative Committee under date of April 18, 1912, which was published in the May issue of the American Federationist. That report has also been printed in circular form and sent to the City Central Bodies and State Federations of Labor. The status of the bills referred to by the Legislative Committee is given in its report, up to the date of the report being made. Since then there has been some change in the status of the various bills before Congress, and I shall refer to them briefly, not necessarily in the order of their importance, but for convenient presentation for a better understanding.

The eight-hour bill which passed the House of Representatives by unanimous vote was before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor and reported favorably to the House without amendment. Since then the administration has interposed objection to the passage of the bill as it now stands, basing the opposition primarily upon the claim that it changes the status of the eight-hour law in the Panama Canal Zone in the construction of the Panama Canal; that the canal is now about 5/6 completed; that it would disarrange the working conditions to such a degree that they could not tell when the canal would be finished, whereas under the present operations it is more than likely it will be completed in 1913. The present provisions of the eight-hour law in the construction of the Panama Canal, and for contracts for material for the Panama Canal, apply to workmen, citizens of the United States, and excludes from the provisions of the eight-hour law alien or foreign workmen. The administration asks that the bill be so amended so that it shall not interfere with the present arrangements and the present application of the eight-hour law to the Panama Canal. With Secretary Morrison and the Legislative Committee I have had many conferences and had a conference upon this feature, and we have come to the conclusion that inasmuch as the Canal is almost completed, or is so far toward completion, that there is perhaps about a year's work yet to be done, that anything which might occur to the Canal if the present status of the eight-hour law in so far as it applies to the Canal were changed, more than likely the blame would be placed upon us rather than upon anyone else; that inasmuch as it is near completion that it would not be the wisest course for us to now insist upon a change in the status of the eight-hour law upon the Canal; that it is not so material as to warrant us taking a chance of so much opposition on the part of the administration as may possibly defeat the passage of the bill itself and its enactment into law. Then again we thought, why should we change our position from the protest we entered against the original amendment to the law which discriminated in the eight-hour law applying to the Panama Canal construction. The question of work or material for which contracts are given and let and produced in the United States, should apply to the Canal Zone, as well as the United States proper. Then again, there is this additional feature that the present law, and our eight-hour law which specifically provides that it shall have no application to existing contracts, and there are no great contracts yet to be made in regard to furnishing material and supplies for the Canal. The information we have is that in all likelihood the eight-hour bill as passed by the House and as reported favorably by the Senate Committee on Education and Labor will come up for consideration in the Senate this afternoon. In connection with that, you should know that Senator Root, of New York, has offered a number of amendments to the bill, which, if adopted would simply emasculate the bill itself and render it ineffective and perhaps less that what we now already have under the existing eight-hour law of August 1, 1892.

Mr. Lennon: With that one provision providing for the finishing of the Panama Canal under the old conditions, can we probably carry the bill?

Mr. Gompers: As a matter of fact, I think we can carry the bill just as it passed the House.

Mr. Lennon: But will the President sign it?

Mr. Gompers: I do not think that he would veto an eight-hour bill.

Mr. Morrison: Not after he has declared in favor of it.

Mr. Gompers: What we had in mind during our conferences in regard to consenting if necessary to any amendment, would be that the provisions of the present eight-hour law as it applies to the Panama Canal construction may remain in force, say until Jan. 1, 1914, and that thereafter the present bill and the prospective law we are advocating shall apply to the Government of the United States and all its possessions.

Mr. Mitchell: Has that possibility been communicated to those in charge of the bill at the Capitol?

Mr. Gompers: I cannot say that it has as yet.

Mr. Morrison: I discussed that with Senator Borah. He is the man in charge of the bill, and the position was that he thought he could get it through, and I told him to go to it and get it through just as it stood. Of course, if it came to a final showdown, that they wanted exemption in so far as the Panama Canal is concerned, so as to prevent delay in its construction, I told him that was of minor importance so far as we were concerned, and that there would be no objection, I thought, on our part.

Mr. Mitchell: Now then, this is the situation so far as the Senate, or our friends in the Senate are concerned; that they have been advised that they can pass the bill just as it passed the House, or if they cannot, we would not object to an amendment which would exempt the construction of the Panama Canal from the operations of the bill, at least until the Canal is completed.

Mr. Morrison: When the contracts for the Panama Canal were made, the eight-hour law was in existence, but it was only put into effect so far as the citizens of the United States were concerned. Such being the case, they are violating that law now and there will be no protest on the part of the labor movement so far as the Panama Canal was concerned.

Mr. Mitchell: Now what you want, as I understand it, is whether or not the Council endorses that position; whether that will be the position of the Council in regard to the bill now pending in the Senate, and I think we ought to dispose of that matter now, and not wait, so that the legislative committee can be advised in the matter. Then the communication Senator Borah has is that if the bill cannot be passed without amendment, that President Gompers and Secretary Morrison would consent to an amendment which would exclude from the operation of the bill the construction of the Panama Canal until it is completed, and that the present status of the eight-hour law as it applies to the Panama Canal may be continued until its completion. I make that in the form of a motion. (Motion seconded and carried.)

Mr. Mitchell: Now, in order that the Council may give directions to the legislative committee, I think the Council ought to indicate to them that they shall not agree to any further amendments to the bill that will weaken its effectiveness, so that the men up there may know how we stand on that.

I move that the President of the A.F. of L. be instructed or be advised that the Executive Council is opposed to any further amendments to the House Bill H.R. 9601 that will in any way weaken its provisions. (The motion was carried.)

Mr. Gompers: Next I desire to call your attention to the status of the legislation relating to the bill to regulate and limit the issuance of injunctions, and also the subject of contempt, also the subject of freeing the labor organizations from the operations of the Anti-trust law, and I refer to the developments since the last report of the Legislative Committee.

First, I ought to call your attention to the fact that we have had the most extraordinary experience with these bills, or bills having these purposes in view. We have had conferences night after night and day after day, with members of Congress, as well as with our attorneys and with our Legislative Committee and friends. We have had extended hearings before the Committees. The Judiciary Committee of the House has given many days to hearings. The original Wilson bill which was upon the lines of the old Pearre bill, and which has been before Congress for many sessions, was first introduced, and then perfected in some respects, and conferences after conferences outside of official hearings were held in order to get a bill that the Judiciary Committee would favor. As you know, that committee is made up exclusively of lawyers, and finds itself, as most of such committees do, in the position that they look to legal phraseology and the construction of a bill that shall deal with one subject in one bill, and not deal with a subject which the committee of lawyers believes should not be considered by that committee, but by another committee of Congress. I refer to the provisions of the Anti-Trust law and the law which we seek to obtain in order to relieve our organizations from its provisions as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States. As the result of these many conferences, we in a way consented to the provisions of a bill which would limit the issuance of injunctions in well defined form, and eliminating the provisions of the bill which would take the organizations of labor out of the Sherman Anti-Trust Law. We consented to this in our extremity of getting some relief. The bill, I ought to say, and I think its provisions will bear me out, would prohibit the issuance of injunctions in labor disputes, and would legalize not only the strike but the boycott and the actions taken by the labor organizations in regard to strikes and boycotts. The Judiciary Committee, after that quasi consent was given by us to the Clayton Bill, which was the modification of the Wilson Bill, ordered that it be reported favorably; and we saw a confidential draft of that bill, but it was several weeks before the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee reported that bill to the House. In the meantime, we had had several conferences with Senators and Representatives, and recognizing a political situation existing in Georgia, that could be utilized to our advantage, we called in Mr. Jerome Jones, the President of the Georgia State Federation of Labor, and asked him to see Senator Bacon of that State for the purpose of securing his co-operation to introduce the Wilson Bill. He came here and had an interview with Senator Bacon and the Senator objected to the bill and said that he did not like its provisions, and it did not seem to him to be at all what he could support, and gave many reasons. Further conferences were held with him, and his situation was quite apparent. Senator Bacon's term expires shortly and he is a candidate for reelection and if that be a reason, or for whatever reasons may exist, he suggested that he would frame a bill that he would father and contend for. In the course of a few days a draft of a bill was presented to us which was the result of the joint work of Senator Bacon and Senator Borah, and Representative Bartlett, of Georgia. The bill which we saw was one that was the most effectively drawn upon these questions, covering all of them; the injunction, contempt, Sherman Anti-Trust law. It was the best constructed bill upon that subject, and going as far as we ever hoped to reach. As I said, the Judiciary Committee reported to the House, and Senator Bacon introduced the bill in the senate, and Representative Bartlett simultaneously introduced it in the House. In the Senate it was referred, not to the Judiciary Committee, but to the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, of which Senator Borah is Chairman, and in the House it was referred to the Committee on Labor, of which Mr. Wilson is Chairman. A very few days thereafter the House Committee on Labor reported the bill favorably, and it was on the calendar. It created quite a stir in the Judiciary Committee. . . .

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The parliamentary situation in the House is this: that the Judiciary Committee in the call of the roll for bills emanating from this committee, cannot be reached for 7 weeks. The Committee on Labor cannot be reached in order to consider bills emanating from that committee in less than five weeks, and it is understood that Congress may adjourn its present session before either 5 or 7 weeks. Hence, under the ordinary procedure, neither of these bills can be considered, and therefore we went to the front for the purpose of securing from the Committee on Rules of the House a rule providing for the consideration of these bills. Mr. Henry, the Chairman of the Committee on Rules, is placed in the peculiar position of having in the Judiciary Committee fought for and advocated and voted for the Judiciary Committee Bill, and was willing to introduce a rule for the consideration of that bill, known as the Clayton Bill, or the modified Wilson Bill. But Mr. Henry says further that it places him in an awful position of inconsistency, and scarcely of loyalty to his committee, when he had fought for one bill, if he should attempt to bring out a rule for the consideration of another bill, but Mr. Bartlett retorts that he is not responsible for the delay of the Judiciary Committee in considering these bills. His bill was referred to the Committee on Labor and reported out of the Committee nearly two weeks in advance of the Clayton Bill, and he insists upon the consideration of his bill. A colloquy occurred upon this subject a few days ago in the House, and Mr. Bartlett offered a motion that the Committee on Rules be instructed to report a rule for the purpose of considering the Bartlett bill and that five hours be allotted for discussion upon the subject. The motion was adopted without a dissenting vote. Before this motion of Mr. Bartlett's was presented, Mr. Morrison, Mr. Hamilton, and myself had a conference with Chairman Henry of the Committee on Rules at the Capitol, and not knowing of this move of Mr. Bartlett, we found ourselves in the position that we could not fight the Clayton Bill or advocate the Bartlett Bill, because as I say, here was the report of the Judiciary Committee and the position of Mr. Henry, and we left there under the impression that Mr. Henry would have his Committee report a special rule for the consideration of the Clayton Bill today. Mr. Clayton said that there is no reason why another rule could not be presented at some later time after the passage of the Clayton Bill for the consideration of the Bartlett Bill. We left the Capitol with that matter as I have related in our minds.

That same day Mr. Bartlett presented his motion in the House, and when the motion was being discussed, Mr. Henry made mention of his conference with us and that the representatives of Labor had consented to the Clayton bill and the special rule for it, when Mr. Bartlett retorted that he was not a representative of Labor in the House, but that he was a representative in the House and a member of the United States Congress, and his duty was to the American people to obtain justice for them.

We expect that the Committee on Rules met this morning at eleven o'clock to consider a motion adopted by the House and referred to that Committee to report the Bartlett Bill, and Bartlett is going before that Committee and going to fight for his bill. That is the situation at this moment.

Mr. Mitchell: What is the situation in the Senate on this bill?

Mr. Gompers: In the Senate, Senator Borah, who is the joint author of the Bacon-Bartlett Bill, has that bill before his Committee, and he says that he doubts the wisdom or the practicability of having that bill come up before his Committee for consideration until the eight-hour bill which his Committee has reported to the Senate has passed, and we expect that in all likelihood that bill may come up for consideration in the Senate today. . . .

                                             Afternoon Session, Executive Council.

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[Mr. Gompers.] There are three bills pending in Congress about which there is a peculiar status. One, the Industrial and Vocational Educational Bill, the other the bill to create a Department of Labor, and third, for the creation of a Commission to investigate labor conditions, causes of discontent, and to devise ways and means of removing it. Now these three bills are causing considerable trouble to us, by reason of there being an effort made to make these three bills the sum total of legislation that we are to receive at the hands of Congress at this time. I have consulted you as members of the Executive Council in regard to the Industrial Investigation Commission, and you have given your approval to it with the understanding that the bill should not be held as an obstacle or as an offset to the legislation we are seeking at the hands of Congress at this session. There is a committee here and from very many sources the effort has been made to have the American Federation of Labor as an organization use its vast influence throughout the country to bring the pressure to bear upon the Members of Congress to pass these bills at once.

This is equally true of the Page Industrial and Vocational Education Bill and also it is true in regard to the Sulzer Bill for the creation of a Department of Labor.

Now, let me say in addition in regard to the Department of Labor bill, there was this which percolated through many sources and finally came to me; that there would be no difficulty at all in securing the almost immediate passage of the Department of Labor Bill and the intention being that the Administration would appoint a labor man to the secretaryship and that in itself would be regarded as sufficient legislation for labor at this session of Congress. The position which we have taken upon these three bills was that we should like them to pass Congress, but any effort that we are going to make will be secondary to the bill which we find essential to the freedom of the workers, as well as to the life of the organizations; that all this legislation is good and constructive, but as I say, secondary to the other, and to much more vital and immediately necessary legislation. I may for your information make mention of something in connection with our Congressman whom some of our friends the enemy designate as the only labor representative in Congress, Mr. Berger. The fact is that all the legislation which as been forced out of committees by the labor group, the legislation which we are seeking, has all been done primarily by the American Federation of Labor representatives, Legislative Committee and officers, and by the splendid assistance given under the leadership of Mr. Wilson and his other card members. This is a fact, that Mr. Berger has not appeared before the Committee on Labor or any other committee in support of any legislation demanded by Labor. As a matter of fact, he has not appeared before these committees for any purpose whatsoever. Further, this I ask you to regard as partly confidential, for the time being, that the Committee on the District of Columbia of which Mr. Berger is a member, reported out a bill which provides in its first section that all lobbyists must register and volunteer the statement to committees or to members of Congress by whom they are employed and for what purpose they are employed. To that section of the bill there can be no objection on our part. We are perfectly willing to disclose the men who come before committees or appear before the Congressmen in advocacy of legislation in the interests of labor and it may be a very good thing to have disclosed to Congress and to the world other men who come here to lobby or to further legislation in behalf of vested interests and corporate power, etc., but the second section of the bill prohibits the government employes from contributing in any way toward any fund or payment for attorneys or lobbyists appearing before congress in furtherance of legislation affecting these employes. In other words, to tighten the grip of officialdom upon the working people, employes of the government in their attempt to secure legislation at the hands of Congress. I have had considerable correspondence with the author of the bill, Judge Prouty, and only two days ago, meeting him in the lobby of the Capitol, we had quite an animated discussion upon it, and I am to write him or to see him again upon it, but I just wanted to call your attention to the fact that the one thing which has come before a committee of Congress of which Mr. Berger is a member, being a matter affecting labor, was one to gag the employes of the Government and to prevent them from contributing any sum for the purpose of securing legislation.

Mr. Mitchell: Berger was only a member of that Committee. Is he in any way responsible for that?

Mr. Gompers: It has come with the unanimous report of the committee. Whether he was in attendance at that committee I am not aware. Whether he gave his personal vote to report that bill I do not know, but here is the fact, that that is the only committee of which he is a member, and that bill has been reported out of the committee by order of the committee and there is no minority report nor protest. That bill has been reported now since April 12, and there has been not one word from him showing that he is dissatisfied. Surely a bill reported from his committee he ought to know something about.

Mr. Mitchell: Well of course, but the one thing is that the fact that a man is a member of the committee which reports a vicious bill does not carry with it the condemnation of this man. . . . Either that he favored it or that he was not opposed to it, or that he was absent himself from the consideration of it. Either of those three things would carry a condemnation of his conduct. What I want to know is if he is in any way responsible for it. Has he had a chance under the rules of the House, to submit a minority report?

Mr. Gompers: Any member, or any number of members of a committee, though in the minority, may submit a minority report, or minority reports, and up to this time there has been no such report. The test which every one of us under American citizenship places upon the conduct of a Congressman, is his doing of a thing, or his failure to do a certain thing. I call your attention to this, that you may know, as well as we here know, that he has not appeared before any committee of Congress having a labor bill before it, has never said a word for it before any Committee, and as a member of the Committee of the District of Columbia, he has either with his consent or by his neglect, permitted a bill without protest being reported by unanimous vote of the Committee of the District of Columbia of a character which I have indicated.

Mr. Mitchell: Well, have we taken any steps to ascertain who was present when the bill was reported out?

Mr. Gompers: We have not. When a bill is reported from a committee without a dissenting vote or a minority report, that is assumed to be the work of the committee, of which everyone of the committee is a member.

Mr. Mitchell: In these inquiries that come here as to the standing of Congressmen, by Congressmen seeking re-election, would we report without knowledge of a man's presence or his action or standing on the bill?

Mr. Gompers: In the house? No, on the contrary we give his voting, in the affirmative, or the negative, or absent, or not voting.

Mr. Mitchell: Then you would not give their attitude in the committees?

Mr. Gompers: We do not know it.

Mr. Mitchell: I think it would be well worth while, considering Mr. Berger's peculiar position here, that an inquiry would be made as to whether or not he was present during the consideration of this bill, and if he were present, as to what was his attitude toward it. If he were absent, as to the reasons for his absence. It seems to me that it is particularly important that that should be known.
Mr. Gompers: Is that our duty? Has not he made his own bed in that particular? If this bill had been reported only a day or so ago, that would be a matter which a man would have time in which to make a minority report, but nearly a month has passed and he has not even given the slightest indication that he dissents from the committee's report, the only committee of which he is a member, and I think it is a fair assumption, unless he shall give later evidence or protest, or opposition, that he has assented to it.

Mr. Mitchell: Well, that may be all right, but personally I am not willing to conclude in my own mind that a man is to be condemned until I know something about his own situation. I do not like Mr. Berger, nor do I sympathize with him in what he does or fails to do, and yet I have been in situations in my own affairs, as I presume all of you have at some time or other, where I have been criticized and condemned, as have others, when they could easily have explained or there might have been sufficient justification for their attitude, that I hesitate to even place in my own mind that another man is in the wrong without knowing something more about it or as much as I can possibly find out about it.

Mr. Valentine: Is it possible, Mr. President, to find out for the members of the Council, as to whether he was present at these hearings?

Mr. Gompers: There were no hearings. I could not tell you whether he was present at the committee meetings.

Mr. Mitchell: I move, Mr. Chairman, that the Legislative Committee be instructed to ascertain, if they can, whether or not Mr. Berger was present at the committee meeting when this bill was reported out, and as to his attitude in regard to this measure.

Motion was carried.

Mr. Huber: What has been his attitude on the other labor bills before Congress?

Mr. Gompers: When present, he has voted for the bill, but when the Eight-Hour bill was before the House he took occasion to express his dissent from the arguments presented by others, and particularly myself, upon the Eight-Hour Bill. For instance, the Record shows that when the bill was before the House, he took occasion to say that he objected to that phase and wanted to know whether Mr. Wilson accepted the statement made by me, that we do not ask the Government of the United States to have the Eight-Hour Law apply to workmen in private employments, and to air his dissent from the general trend of the argument set forth by the advocates of the Eight-Hour Bill.

Mr. Mitchell: I do not think it is difficult to understand Mr. Berger at all. I think he simply takes the view of the situation that the legislative policy of the American Federation of Labor is entirely weak and does not meet the situation; that it is merely a palliative; that what we ought to stand for is the revolution; that all these things amount to nothing, and that therefore while he will probably vote for our bills, he does not regard them as at all fundamental. I think that is his attitude.

Mr. Gompers: Let me call [to] your attention that as a matter of fact, in going from a committee room before which committee I appeared upon the subject of one of our bills, I met him in the presence of two or three other members of the Legislative Committee, and passed the time of day, and he asked me where I had been and I told him. I asked him whether he was going to help us in securing the Wilson Bill and he began arguing about it, that it is a mere palliative, and I called his attention to the fact that so far as the labor movement is concerned, it is vital to its existence, and his manner was so abrupt and brusque that I finally asked him, "well, when the bill comes before the House, I take it that you will vote for it, won't you?" He said he "did not know." I said, "Well you ought to know. You are a member of Congress. I think you ought to let us know your position on an important bill," and it was finally after about fifteen minutes of wrangling and insistence on my part, that he said "well, yes, I will vote for it, but I do not regard it as of any importance." When the Bacon-Bartlett bill was introduced, his press bureau from his own office sent out a telegram to the Socialist papers, ridiculing the provisions of that bill, and saying that it was merely a means to placate Labor and as a preparatory means for me to hand over the labor people to the Democratic Party.
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Executive Council Records, Minutes, reel 4, frames 1166-70, 1173-77, AFL Records.