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The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Carroll. Will Mr. Colleran please come forward?
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL J. COLLERAN, PRESIDENT OF THE
OPERATIVE PLASTERERS AND CEMENT FINISHERS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION, AND MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR HOUSING COMMITTEE
The CHAIRMAN. Will you state your name and your connection?
Mr. COLLERAN. My name is Michael J. Colleran, and I am president of the Operative Plasterers and Cement Finishers International Association, and a member of the American Federation of Labor Housing Committee.
The CHAIRMAN. We will be pleased to have your testimony.
Mr. COLLERAN. I am approaching this question, Mr. Chairman, from a different point of view than that of the president of the American Federation of Labor, and also of the other committee members.
As a member of the A. F. of L. Housing Committee, I am, of course, in hearty accord with the provisions of this bill. Its passage, substantially in its present form, will be labor's principal concern in the current session of the Congress. I will not dwell, however, on the enormous and urgent need for a program of low-rent housing. Nor will I go into the reasons why such housing can be supplied only through machinery such as that set up in this biil. President Green has gone into these matters at considerable length before your committee already.
But I do want to take a few moments of your time to bring out a point which, I believe, has so far not been mentioned in the testimony. It may help to place the significance of this bill in a broader perspective, eliminating at the same time some of the strangeness and novelty which may seem to adhere to it. For I merely want to show that the general principle given such admirable working form in this piece of legislation received official and administrative sanetion as long ago as 1921. Indeed, it was enacted into law by Congress in 1930, through the good offices of Senator Wagner himselfeven though it has never actually been put into operation.
What I refer to, of course, is the principle of long-range planning for public-works construction.
The idea that public or public-aided construction is a major weapon of any modern government against unemployment and depression has been generally reognized for so long that I do not need to dwell on it. That such construction ought to be planned and timed in order to provide a cushion of employment ought to be when most needed, has likewise been a matter of general agreement. But, still, in spite of all the talk, and in spite of the large sums actually spent on public-works construction during the past 4 years by various teniporary Federal agencies, no permanent machinery has been set up which could plan for a long-range future program of construction.
Way back in 1921 Mr. Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce, and in a special capacity as chairman of a committee on unemployment, presented an eight-point report to President Harding. The main point in this report was the long-range planning of public works. It recommended the immediate appointment of a committee to take up the problem of planning and carrying out a longrange program of public-works construction, to offset future depressions. This committee, however, failed to function.
We are a nation that soon forgets. In 1922 we began to move back to normalcy, and then, in the midst of plenty, we failed to provide for the lean days of depression that were to follow. The three administrations from 1921 up to the present one failed to provide a plan to offset future depressions.
It may seem strange that my own direct and special interest in this problem dates from the big, boom, building year, 1923. To all outward appearances the building workers were receiving very high wages and bonuses; contractors vieing with each other at skyrocketing wages; mechanics were at a premium.
Organized labor realized that this condition could not last. They then decided to appeal to the Government, which during this period was also in the field with a large building program, competing with private industry for mechanics.
A committee of organized labor of the building trades, with a committee representing the consumer and investor, pleaded with the authorities in Washington at that time, requesting that the Government defer, in whole or in part, their building-construction program until some later date when unemployment would exist in the building trades.
This action called forth a great deal of public attention at the time, because it demonstrated that the building trades want steady employment, long-range planning, and stable wages rather than high peaks and deep depressions. If some such agency as that recommended by Mr. Hoover in 1921 had been in existence our own suggestions could have been incorporated in a plan which might in turn have considerably lightened the burden of the current depression, at least in its early stages.
In 1928, at the very peak of prosperity, Senator Wagner introduced his first bill on a planned long-range public-works program. This bill was very much like the suggestions in Hoover's report of 7 years earlier. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember Mayor LaGuardia, who was then in Congress, telling the other Republican Congressmen that they ought to go along with it, since it was Hoover's original idea. After a serious operation in committee, wherein this bill had its vitals removed, it evidently went on the convalescent list.
That brings us up to 1930. Let us see what the records have to say on unemployment. At an American Federation of Labor convention held in October of 1930 in the city of Boston, Mass., several statesmen appeared and addressed the convention. The addresses of these statesmen show that they were deeply concerned in the problems of widespread unemployment. Among those appearing was the Honorable David I. Walsh, the present chairman of this committee. He advanced one of the most constructive arguments that could be used in behalf of and for the enactment of this Wagner housing bill. I will now quote, in part, the Senator's remarks:
Unemployment! What is worse? What are the awful consequences of war-death, disease, famine, poverty? Of unemployment? Poverty, yes; debilitation, yes; disease, yes; and there is in addition undernourished children, suffering from cold, suffering from want of food, fathers disheartened and discouraged, mothers made physical wrecks from breaking hearts. Is there anything worse in life than the evils of unemployment that strikes at the very foundation of hope and cheer and peace in the human breast? Isn't there some place in our Government where one commanding voice must speak and behind that voice a heart-felt desire to remedy the pestilence against which he seeks a remedy? Only through the statemanship of the official leader in public life who is entrusted with the responsibility to guide and protect us in the hour of emergency can we get relief.
When there is no sympathy, when there is an attempt to urge that it is exaggerated, when that condition exists there can be no planning, there can be no developing of a statesmanlike policy that will seek a solution. My friends the time to remedy the problem of unemployment is not in the midst of unemployment, though it is a good time to concentrate attention upon the disastrous consequences of the policy of unemployment; it is an opportune time to call public men's attention to the problem and ask for a remedy, but unemployment should be attacked by a policy of prevention. Just as our Government is spending millions of dollars and exerting all its efforts and strength to prevent disease, to prevent the breaking down of the public health to protect us in time of war, we are justified in asking the Government to spend money and effort to protect us from unemployment in time of peace.
It is evident from these remarks justed quoted that Senator Walsh was whole-heartedly in sympathy with some legislation by someone which would help to solve the problem of unemployment.
The CHAIRMAN. I remember distinctly that speech. I was emphasizing that no extensive program of reform in Government could be accomplished without the Chief Executive of the State or the Federal Government leading it; that Governors and the President are looked upon as leaders of the social and economic policies of their political party when it is in control of the Government. If they did not take a hand and lead, there will not be any result critical of the then President because he had not presented a plan of relief. Isn't that correct?
Mr. COLLERAN. I was going to say, Senator, it is exactly as my opinion would follow in that, that you did make your appeal along that line.
At that same convention President Hoover appeared and spoke also, and he made a direct appeal from the platform and made it very plainly.
I think the whole of the Congress, the Senate and the House, and every Cabinet officer from the President down, should be interested in this, and that is why I am trying to bring out so forcibly, to show the inactivity, to show that my source of thought starts out with unemployment.
I showed you that in 1928 Senator Wagner attempted to have a bill passed which had it passed, would have had a chance to hold back the tide of depression that was approaching; and now I want to show
you that in 1930 these remarks were made in the city of Boston by President Hoover, showing the significance as to why we should have this legislation, and all I want to show you in this is leading up to the point that the President of the United States, to be consistent, cannot stand in the way of this legislation.
If you will allow me, I will not read this statement. It is not derogatory in any way, and I do not intend it to be, when I refer to any of these quotations. In President Hoover's remarks, at that time, he felt that something should be done, and the point I am trying to establish is that nothing was done.
The CHAIRMAN. Very well, you may proceed.
Mr. COLLERAN. At that same convention I will quote from President Hoover's address the following:
But some of these problems are problems of stability. With the job secure, other questions can be solved with much more assurance. You, as workers, know best of all how much a man gains from security in his job. It is the insurance of his manliness, it upholds the personal valuation of himself and of his family. To establish a system that assures this security is the supreme challenge to our responsibility as representatives of millions of our fellow workers and fellow citizens. The discharge of that responsibility does not allow present difficulties to rob us of our clear vision or the wholesome faith and courageous, aggressive character for which our country has been long the leader of the world.
The demonstration of Nation-wide cooperation and team play and the absence of conflict during this depression have increased the stability and wholesomeness of our industrial and social structure. We are justified in feeling that something like a new and improved tool has been added to the working kit for the solution of our future problems.
No one would invite either war or business depression, but from them may come some new inspirations. We find in these times courage and sympathy, generous helpfulness from our workpeople to those unfortunate sufferint not alone from the present but from fear for their future. We find inspiration in the courage of our employers, the resolution of the Nation that we sball build steadily to prevent and mitigate the destructiveness of these great business storms. It is this inspiration which gives confidence for the future and confirms our belief in fundamental human righteousness and the value of our American conception of mutuality of interest in our daily work.
We, too, the representatives of labor in convention assembled, felt that we might add our efforts toward a solution, the same which was embodied in a resolution presented and approved by the convention, which reads as follows:
TO REQUEST THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES TO CREATE A LONG-RANGE
PLANNING COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC WORKS TO AVERT UNEMPLOYMENT
Resolution No. 54, bv Delegates M. J. Colleran, W. A. O'Keefe, J. E. Rooney, T. A. Scully, Duncan Payne, of the Operative Plasterers' International Association of the United States and Canada, and Arthur M. Huddell, of the International Union of Operating Engineers :
Whereas the question of unemployment and how to cope with it is one of the major problems of this convention; and
Whereas President Hoover in his address to the convention stated that the Government was doing all in its power to relieve the present depression; and
Whereas consiste tly for the past 28 years we have been visited by a depression every 7 years; and
Whereas in 1921 President Hoover, acting as chairman of a committee to stully future unemployment appointed by the late President Harding, brought back 12 principles of a probable solution; and
Whereas the sixth principle of 12 proposed a long-range planning committee of public works; and
Whereas nothing has bern done to create such a board, who in the opinion of many would be the means of averting future depressions: Therefore be it
Resolved. That the president of the American Federation of Labor with the preside: ts of the other departments call on the President of the United States and request that a long-range planning committee of public works be created so as to avert future unemployment.
The report of the committee was unanimous adopted.
But with all of the wonderful statements made, and with resolutions adopted, we fail to find any action by the Government until February of 1931, and although many here have forgotten it, the Employment Stabilization Act of 1931 is the law of the land.
It has, however, never been put into operation.
Senator Wagner. May I interrupt you long enough there to say that one of the interesting parts of this that committees lately have
been making reports, and one of the things they have reportedshowing their ignorance of what the law of the land is-is that there ought to be a board created to prepare public works in advance, so that in times of depression we will accelerate, and in times of prosperity we will retard; but that law has been on the statute books since 1931, but it came in the midst of the depression and it was not carried out as it should be.
Mr. COLLERAN. That is just the very thing, in 1931, that would be in full operation and full swing at the present time, and the possibility of necessity for your bill of the present time might not exist, but it has failed just as the others have failed.
The CHAIRMAN. At least Congress did its part.
This bill also was sponsored by Senator Wagner. Following are some of the provisions of that act :
SEC. 5. Whenever, upon recommendation of the board, the President finds that there exists, or that within the 6 months next following there is likely to exist, in the United States or any substantial portion thereof, a period of business depression and unemployment he is requested to transmit to Congress by special message, at such time and from time to time thereafter, such supplemental estimates as he deems advisable for emergency appropriations, to be expended during such period upon authorized construction in order to aid in preventing unemployment and permit the Government to avail itself of the opportunity for speedy, efficient, and economical construction during any such period.
SEC. 7. For the purpose of aiding in the prevention of unemployment during periods of business depression and of permitting the Government to avail itself of opportunity for speedy, efficient, and economical construction during such periods, the President may direct the construction agencies to accelerate during such periods, to such extent as is deemed practicable, the prosecution of all authorized construction within'their control.
SEC 8. (a) It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress to arrange the construction of public works so far as practicable in such manner as will assist in the stabilization of industry and employment through the proper timing of such construction, and that to further this object there shall be advance planning, including preparation of detailed construction plans, of public works by the construction agencies and the board.
Obviously this is not a housing act. Nor could the board thus authorized actually receive large appropriations for public works or engage in or assist construction. Nevertheless, the idea enacted in Senate bill 5776 of the Seventy-first Congress depended for its successful carrying out on the existence of a permanent Federal agency equipped with adequate funds and powers to promote, assist, and carry out a really sizable construction program in a field where such construction is needed on a very wide scale. The fact that there is no such agency in existence today is certainly one main reason why the act has never been put into practice.
The only field which answers these requirements, which would make it possible to plan a really effective long-range construction program, is the field of low-rent housing. The social necessity of such construction in this country is almost limitless. Properly administered, a low-rent housing program in no way competes with legitimate private construction enterprise. And in boom years, when private enterprise is employing most of the building workers and there is an adequate supply of dwellings, the construction of publicly assisted housing for low-income families can be temporarily curtailed.