• U.S.

MANPOWER: M-Day Is Around the Corner

12 minute read

The day is not far distant when men may say: All troubles lead to Paul Mc-Nutt.

The man who best understands that fact is named McNutt. For a few—only a few —of those troubles have begun to arrive.

To his War Manpower Commission office in one day last week came a frantic telegram from Washington’s big Yakima Valley applegrowers (they needed 35,000 more pickers right away or they would lose their crop), came the problem of a shipment of planes all ready to go to General MacArthur except for a single part (to come from a plant whose workers have been stolen by another factory), came an ugly message from one of McNutt’s regional aides (a group of West Coast farmers, unable to get labor, threatened to plant no crops for next year).

But for every manpower problem that has arrived, 100 or 1,000 are on their way. The only way to glimpse the catastrophic size of the problem is to take stock of conditions in a few sample spots—conditions often individually ridiculous but in the aggregate appalling:

> In Buffalo, where “scamping” (pirating of workers) has become a fine art, foremen make the rounds of war workers’ homes, to lure them to new jobs. One plant sent telegrams to another’s workmen, offering them all good jobs—sight unseen—at 7:30 next morning. Personnel managers were saying: “the way to get one good man is to hire four because three will quit.”

> In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Coal Co. has had a 35% turnover since Pearl Harbor, needs 400 more miners than it can find—and it takes longer (two years) to train a miner than a soldier.

> In Seattle, the aircraft mechanics’ union lost 2,518 members in a single month: a third to the Army, the rest to higher-paid jobs in the shipyards. In one little alloys plant with 50 vital employes, 18 left for the shipyards in a single week.

> In Los Angeles a small steel-castings company figures that with 60 steady common laborers it could increase production 20%, has tried in vain for three months to find the men; of its 500 workers. 10% are absent every day, mostly looking for better jobs. (Last week the personnel manager said: “Well, another of our old employes just left us; he was with us three and a half days.”) The Lockheed plant has 6,000 stars in its service flag, is adding 300 a month.

> In Chattanooga a want ad summarized the local situation: “WANTED: Registered druggist—young or old, deaf or dumb. Must have license and walk without crutches. Apply Cloverleaf Drug Store.”

> In Portland, Henry Kaiser’s burgeoning shipyards hired so many workers that department stores have taken quarter-page ads for clerks; the draft takes 1,000 men a month from Kaiser’s yards. Last week, impatient of waiting for Washington to act, Kaiser set up his own manpower system, went to New York City (whose 400,000 unemployed are one of the few real labor pools left in the U.S.), signed up 4,000 men in three days, shipped them across the continent.

>In Utah and Idaho, WMC recently worked out a voluntary “freezing” arrangement with employers and unions: henceforth no copper, lead or zinc miner can leave his job without permission; to make the agreement stick, the War Labor Board raised wages $1 a day — 25% instead of the 15% formula. Said one mine operator: “This is a perfect case of locking the barn door after the horse is stolen.” One-fifth of the miners are already gone.

> In Detroit, the auto industry’s new war plants have no shortage yet, expect to lose soon about half the men now deferred by draft boards—just at a time when Michigan factories, newly tooled up, will need 290,000 new workmen by June. The U.S. Employment Service, searching through draft files for skilled workers in civilian-industry jobs, has talked only an “infinitesimal” number into changing to war plants.

The real pinch has not yet come. A year ago there were 51,000,000 employed people in the U.S.

Within a year the armed services will reach 10-13,000,000, the youngest and the best.

War industry will need an estimated 20,000,000.

No one has yet figured out how many millions will be required to supply the nation’s basic economic needs for food, clothing and the necessities of life. But probably the U.S. must have about 63,000,000 men & women in the armed forces, war industry and essential civilian jobs by the end of 1043.

M-Day for Manpower is just around the corner. The nation has let experienced farm hands follow the lure of higher wages to the cities, to become rank apprentices at a new trade. It has let draft boards pluck skilled and infinitely precious war workers from industry. It has let the Navy’s busy recruiting trucks roam the nation, picking and choosing, skimming off the cream of American manpower with hardly a thought to national policy. Now the month of crisis is at hand.

Manpower. Since April, when President Roosevelt made tall, tan and terrific-Paul Vories McNutt head of WMC, Americans have expected the Manpower Tsar to start ordering them around: to tell businessmen whom they could hire, snatch housewives out of their homes. They did not realize that his title was ersatz, that he has authority to make policy but none to carry it out, that in all Washington there is hardly a man willing to lift a finger to give him that power. He cannot yet give orders to any worker. The nation’s 6,500 independent draft boards take men without a thought to WMC. All McNutt can do is persuade Major General Lewis B. Hershey, National Director of Selective Service, to issue directives—which the boards can then blithely ignore.

In these circumstances it is not surprising that McNutt made less noise than any other high Washington official. He spent the last two weeks of August on vacation, returned to his office for one day, promptly took off on a four-day junket for a Labor Day speech in Omaha. He returned to Washington for nine more days, then was off to make a speech at the American Legion convention in Kansas City.

But the last fortnight has brought a promising new burst of activity in McNutt’s air-conditioned offices. He worked out the voluntary freeze of Western miners and a similar plan for the Northwest lumber industry. He set up management-labor committees in cities where shortages are worst. He persuaded the Army & Navy to check with draft boards before accepting enlistments, and set up a drastic manpower plan for Government employes (who henceforth are subject to being moved to new jobs anywhere the Civil Service Commission sees fit). And before the House Tolan Committee, he made the strongest, clearest case yet for giving him similar power over all American workers.

His figures proved the need. To man the U.S. war effort (Army, Navy and war workers) WMC will have to shift about 18,000,000 men & women from one job to another, from home to factory, from school to farm. It will be the greatest occupational shift in U.S. history.

Yet the Administration still shies from the all-out control of manpower. A National Service Act is definitely out until after elections. Even then there is no assurance that Washington can bring itself to face the inevitable. But if Washington will not go to the inevitable, the inevitable is already on its way to Washington.

The shadow of things to come—when the inevitable arrives in Washington—is already cast by manpower control in Britain. There the Ministry of Labor under Ernest Bevin disposes of all manpower—for both military service and industry. No British industry can exist today without the Labor Ministry’s blessing: it has transferred workers to plants hundreds of miles away, puts them to work at new jobs. No worker can leave a war job, and no employer can fire a man, without the Ministry’s permission. Britain has registered all men & women, classified them by skills and experience, decided where and how they shall work.

The mature, relatively conservative British trade-union system—in contrast to the adolescent turmoil of U.S. management-labor relations—provided a favorable backdrop for such drastic decisions. Moreover the British law is democratic in intention: it treats all citizens alike, workers moved under the plan get travel expenses and an allowance for living away from home, those who think they have been treated unjustly can take grievances to joint management-labor committees which constitute a jury of their peers. But in the name of war, Britons live under a totalitarian labor system.

Of 16,000,000 men between 14 and 64, Britain now has 14,100,000 in the armed forces and at essential war jobs. Of 17,300,000 women in this age group, 7,800,000 are in uniform or at work. When the U.S. has a combined military, war-worker and essential-industry force of 61,000,000 it will reach the same stage of mobilization—and know what total war means.

Brainpower. But the U.S. cannot solve its manpower problem until it has first used its brainpower. Up to now the problem of manpower has been treated like the problem of raw materials (see p. 24) —by recklessly creating more & more priorities without regard to the realistic fact of how much is actually available.

War industry took top priority by boosting wages. The Army took a higher priority by the draft. War industry took a still higher priority by getting draft deferments. The draft took still higher priority by ordering reclassifications.

In all this no adequate calculation has been made of civilian needs. The population must be fed, clothed and given at least the bare necessities of life. But to date the armed services and war industry have made their claims on manpower without calculating what share of the total pool was available for them.

Nor has Administration brainpower yet been put into drafting a manpower law. McNutt has not presented such a bill to Congress. Last week two such bills were finally offered by individual Senators. Warren R. Austin (Vermont) introduced a bill to draft men 18 to 65 for war production. Lister Hill (Alabama) proposed one broader still to authorize the President to invoke “universal service and total mobilization.” But the nation had still to do its serious thinking on the problem.

Willpower. Sometimes it has appeared that even McNutt, whom critics had once called a Man on Horseback, is afraid of his job—and well he may be. If he does not get the power to act, the manpower problem will go screaming into chaos, and all the black blame will be his. If he gets the power, he will have the tough, delicate, dirty job of administering a law that affects the lives, ambitions, hopes and fears of 132,000,000 citizens. If he succeeds, he may be a national hero. If he fails, he may well become the most hated man in the U.S.

At 51, Paul McNutt is at the turning point of his career. Far behind him now is the period of unabashed politicking which lifted him to dean of Indiana University’s law school, National Commander of the American Legion, Governor of Indiana, a sure nomination as 1940’s Democratic candidate for Vice President had he not rejected it in favor of Franklin Roosevelt’s man Henry Wallace.

When he took the job of Manpower Commissioner, wise old Editor William Allen White had already written his political death warrant: “Paul Vories McNutt is merely Garner in a high hat, a white vest, a pongee-silk scarf, pumps and the glamor of a movie hero.” Today even in Indiana, McNutt has no political support from popular Governor Henry F. Schricker and large slices of the Democratic vote. His future rests on his success in his present job.

In a good many respects, handsome, energetic, clean-living Paul McNutt is a model of the successful American. He and pretty, brown-haired Mrs. McNutt live quietly in a six-room apartment at Washington’s fashionable Shoreham .Hotel, keep two dogs, give small dinner parties, play bridge, do a gregarious family’s amount of Washington party going. Paul McNutt shoots bad golf at the Burning Tree Golf Club, plays good poker with a little group of cronies that includes Presidential Secretary Stephen Early. Mrs. McNutt also golfs, is vice president of Washington’s Women’s Democratic Club, works for China Relief. Their 21-year-old daughter, Louise, is an honor student at George Washington University.

The question is whether Americans like Paul McNutt, and American families like his, have the will to see a tough war through. Britain’s will was prepared for the drafting of all war manpower by the shock of Dunkirk. In this war it may be that nations have the choice of steeling themselves to hard decisions in order to avoid disaster or being steeled when Dunkirks give them the willpower.

If McNutt succeeds in his job, WMC may—more than any economic theorists or post-war planners—set the shape of things to come for America. His problem is the problem of the Administration, of Congress, of the nation. All of them may go down to defeat unless they master the will to tackle the ugly, painful job.

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