• U.S.

National Affairs: More Horse Trading

5 minute read

Three months ago five U. S. cotton textile men, headed by Dr. Claudius T. Murchison. went to Japan and accomplished something remarkable. The Japanese had begun to make alarming inroads on the U. S. market for cotton goods. In recent years the almost standard method of competition in foreign trade has been horse stealing—for exporters to steal as much of a foreign market as they could by underselling, for the victims to steal it back by imposing political quotas, tariffs and restrictions, fair or unfair. Dr. Murchison and friends in a mere ten days got the powerful Japan Cotton Spinner’s Association to agree to steal no more of the U. S. market. The U. S. textile men promised to steal nothing back from the Japanese by political methods. Horse trading was substituted for horse stealing (TIME, March 8).

Last week in Washington was launched a still bigger and better attempt at horse trading. In the gilded auditorium of the Department of Labor Building in Washington, John G. Winant, former head of the Social Security Board got up to address a skimpy crowd of 300, most of them stodgy, elderly men. “Can we not reasonably expect,” he asked, “that, without creating inconsistencies between the textile industry of an individual country and the economic structure of that country as a whole, other social conditions in the textile industry can likewise be raised to the level of other industries?”

Many of his audience leaned forwrd in rapt attention, many of them listening not to his voice but to the voices of interpreters speaking to them through earphones, for his audience included Belgians, Czechoslovaks. Finns, Letts, Mexicans. Dutch. Poles, Swedes, Uruguayans,Yugoslavs, French, Chinese and Japanese. Equally rapt were British, Canadians, Indians. For all knew that though John Winant’s words sounded like idealism, they were really business.

I. L. O. Before the U. S. definitely turned its back on the League of Nations, one of the League’s subsidiaries, the International Labor Office, held its first Conference in Washington. Since then I. L. O. has gone about its business elsewhere. Annually I. L. O. holds a meeting at which its 62 member-nations are represented by three kinds of delegates; one representing each country’s labor; another, its employers; and two, its Government. The meetings’ chief activity is to draft treaties affecting labor conditions, and the treaties are submitted to the member nations for ratification. To date some 50 such treaties have been drafted, over 700 ratifications (two to 35 per treaty) have been obtained. The subjects of the treaties vary from prohibiting the employment of children under 14 at sea, to regulations for night work in bakeries.

Permanent head (director) of the I. L. O. is a tall, angular, alert, onetime British Civil Servant named Harold Beresford Butler, who attended the first I. L. O. conference in Washington in 1919. In 1934 President Roosevelt took the U. S. into the I. L. O. after an 18-year abstention.

One of the first U. S. Government delegates sent abroad to an I. L. O. conference was John Winant. Last week when another I. L. O. meeting assembled in Washington, John Winant was chief U. S. delegate, as such was elected president of the meeting.*

This meeting is a special “fact finding” textile conference, called because last June the I. L. O. conference failed to agree on a textile labor treaty providing for a worldwide, 40-hour textile week.

Horse Trade. The delegates in Washington well knew, however, that their job was more than finding dry-as-dust facts. They were there to trade and they knew it. Otherwise the Japanese delegation would not have been headed by able Juitsu Kitaoka, a small, dapper diplomat with a reputation for guile. Otherwise Britain would not have sent a delegation of 210 members including Lieut. Colonel Anthony John Muirhead, Parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Labor, or India her High Commissioner in London, Sir Firoz Khan Noon. Czechoslovakia would not have sent her Minister of Social Welfare Jaromir Necas, nor would Germany, who withdrew from I. L. O. when she quitthe League, have sent Attache Walther Becker as an official observer.

Chief backers of the 40-hour textile week are the U. S. and France. Their move to write such a treaty at the I. L. O. conference last year was blocked when the British held out because India has now a textile week of about 60 hours. The Japanese held out because their textile week is nearly the same as India’s, and they want to sell textiles cheap. The horse trade sought was to pin Japan down to 40 hours which would be considerably to Britain’s general advantage provided Japan’s price is not too high, for Japan will demand larger markets in the British possessions and the U. S.

Joker. From the U. S. standpoint any such horse trade would have peculiar significance. Under the Constitution the New Deal has not much chance of regulating by law the hours of labor in textiles. But there is no limit yet found to an Administration’s power to make treaties. If a treaty can be ratified limiting the hours of textile labor to 40 hours it will help to solve the problem of Japanese competition. It will become the law of the land and thus open new possibilities for Federal regulation by treaty of labor conditions in many another U. S. industry.

*Other U. S. delegates: For employers, O. Max Gardner; for labor, Emile Rieve, president of the American Federation of Hosiery Workers. Before next June Franklin Roosevelt will face a delicate question for he has to reappoint the U. S. labor delegate to the next Geneva Conference: to name either William Green or John L. Lewis would be embarrassing.

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