Law and Labor

Albert E. Bowen
Albert E. Bowen

President Smith, in his opening address this morning, spoke about the present confused floundering of the world consequent upon a waning devotion to fundamental principles. Dr. Widtsoe adverted to the same theme and particularly as evidenced by the frustrations of men in their gropings after a longed-for peace without adherence to the principles upon which peace depends. There is one exemplification of the drift away from peace and a powerful contributing factor to the prevailing instability about which I desire to speak. I hope I may do so without offense.

History Of Redress Of Wrongs

You all remember the accounts of earlier times when men took upon themselves the redress of their own grievances. If, for example, one killed a member of my family, I promptly went out and killed him or some member of his family. Then that family sought revenge against me or my family and so the course of reprisal and counter-reprisal ran, growing into family and clan feuds. In like manner, if one took or damaged the property of another, the injured one sought, through his own means, to recover his goods or their equivalent or to visit punishment on his despoiler. It is easy to see that there could be neither stability nor security under such a system. An orderly, stable society of individuals could not exist under such conditions. It was intolerable. The remedy, perhaps the only remedy, was to enact public laws applicable to all alike which defined the rights of individuals and provided remedies for the protection of those rights. A law defined murder and prescribed a penalty for him who committed it. Now if a murder were committed, it became not a private wrong against the murdered person to be avenged by his kindred, but rather an offense against the state which assumed the exclusive right to execute against the offender, the retribution of the law. The injured family may not always have been satisfied with results, but they had to learn to accept them. They no longer had a right to take punishment into their own hands and would themselves be subject to penalty if they did so. Similarly the law forbade theft and fixed the consequences for its violation. So if one’s property were stolen, he did not seek by violence to recover it or to punish the offender. The state took care of that through its own processes. These more serious wrongs were called crimes punishable by the state, not for restitution to the injured person, but for the preservation of public order. Other less serious trespasses were still recognized as offenses for the commission of which the injured one might seek recompense to himself. But his remedy was through the processes established by law and not by physical force or violence administered by himself.

Thus, for example, if one wrongfully entered upon or occupied the land or dwelling of another, the owner would file his complaint with the court. In orderly manner the cause would be heard and determined, and then the officers of the law would remove the trespasser, instead of the owner’s seeking by violence to do that for himself.

Justice Under Law

The finding of the judicial tribunal set up by the law ultimately became final, and the parties in dispute had to abide by it. Thus punishment of grievances, or protection of person and property, was taken out of the realm of private feuding and reprisals by physical might and put over into the realm of impartial judicial determination by reason and the application of principles of justice. This achievement marked a great day in the progress of civilization. Anarchy gave place to order, and it became possible for human beings to live together with a large degree of stability and freedom from haunting fears. Without such an accomplishment, large numbers of people could not have lived together.

Industrial Disputes

By now, someone will surely be asking what all this has to do with the purpose of a worshiping assembly such as is convened here today. I will tell you. I have presumed to present this sketchy background for the express purpose of drawing a parallel between that and the barbaric methods we now employ in our handling of industrial disputes. I have no hesitancy in saying that the strike is a totally uncivilized way of dealing with them. Strikes arise out of disagreements. Sometimes the dispute is between the employer and his employees; sometimes the employer has nothing to do with it, but it is between two different organized groups of employees, each claiming the right to negotiate with the employer. Sometimes workers are compelled to go on strike when they have no grievance at all and would prefer to go on working, but are compelled to walk off the job by the orders of the organization to which they belong. Sometimes they are voluntary members of such organizations, but often they are forced into membership against their will by violence or threats of violence. Often they are coerced into membership because otherwise they will not be permitted to work at all or to earn their daily bread.

Employees claim that they have long suffered injustices and are now balancing accounts, while employers assert that the demands of the workers are unreasonable and impossible of granting. Obviously, neither party to the dispute is in a condition to make an unbiased appraisal of the merits of these conflicting positions.

I am not here trying to fix the blame or to say who is in the right or to what extent. But I do say that such a situation breeds lawlessness, eventuates in anarchy, and will destroy any government or society that does not find an effective way of dealing with it.

There is no more excuse for permitting those with an industrial complaint, real or fancied, sincerely entertained or shammed, to cover up a sinister purpose, to take into their own hands the redressing of their own grievances, than there is for permitting any private individual to take upon himself the satisfaction of his own wrongs of whatsoever nature without regard to the good order and welfare of the whole society.

There is no more justification for permitting an organized group to stop a farmer carrying his own produce, the fruits of his own toil, to market and tip over and break his truck and destroy his foodstuffs unless he will take on and pay another driver whom he neither wants nor needs, than there is for permitting a man whose son has been killed, perhaps in a brawl, to go out and without investigation kill the perpetrator of the death.

There is no greater right in an organized body to obstruct public streets or to throw picket lines in front of entrances to places of work and hold others out by violence, intimidation, threat, and injury than there is in any person whose property has been stolen to retrieve it by force of arms, killing or maiming if need be in the process.

Neither does it help the cause any to say, even though true, that workers have in the past suffered gross wrongs. An evil is never cured by transferring the power to perpetrate it from one set of hands over into the hands of those on the opposite side. Wrong is just as sinister and just as fatal to orderly living when perpetrated by one side to a controversy as if perpetrated by the other. Former wrongs are not righted by the commission of new ones by the other party.

Defiance Of Law Decried

Our method of handling these industrial disputes belongs to the age of barbarism and is a national disgrace. So long as we tolerate law defiance, disorder, private usurpation of the right to redress wrongs, we have no right to be castigating other nations for their delinquencies or to assume the role of instructor to them. If we cannot maintain domestic order, how may we hope to achieve international order, or to have persuasive influence in establishing it?

The crying need of this age is for men of stature and character in the seats of power—men who have the intelligence to discern the right and the courage to pursue it without regard to personal consequences to themselves or their ambitions, men who will not succumb to the lure of expediency, but who dare to stand on principle though they stand alone. There are too many favor-currying little men sloshing around in positions requiring big men of unwavering integrity to fill them.

Why should great cities be thrown into darkness and their citizens exposed to the marauder because two contending parties choose to be belligerent? Why should water shipping and land transportation be stopped and whole innocent populations be reduced to hunger and cold and privation because two private parties, or perhaps only one of them, sets up its imperious will regardless of the good of the law-abiding public?

If laws are needed to define the rights, privileges, and obligations of the respective contenders, let such laws be passed, but let them be fair, impartial, and unbiased laws. You will never cure the evil with laws that shackle one of the disputants while leaving the other to roam at large with unrestrained license to do evil. If tribunals be needed to administer and enforce the laws, let them be impartially constituted, not packed with personnel so biased that their decision may with certainty be predicted before the cause is heard. And when a judgment has been rendered by a duly constituted tribunal, let that body not be dissolved and its judgment vacated under pressure and another tribunal set up to render the kind of decision the dissatisfied party wants. That practice only brings the whole system into disrepute and the government itself into contempt.

The authority of law must be preserved, orderly procedure maintained, the rights of the unoffending but suffering public made secure regardless of the wishes of the contending parties or the pressures they may bring to bear.

Future Freedom Of Religion At Stake

Another reason for the appropriateness of this discussion here is that the whole future of freedom of religion is at stake. There is war between the concept of a free people under a free government and totalitarian government with its inevitable stifling of individual freedom. That warfare involves religion. If the insufferable and inexcusable condition now prevailing is not corrected, then free government will give way to some form of totalitarianism, whether the despotism of one man or of a class or group or even of the state will not much matter. And totalitarianism must always destroy religious liberty. Free government as we have known it, what commonly is spoken of as our democracy, is foundationed in the great spiritual principle of the supreme importance of the individual and the divine derivation of the human soul. This concept finds its highest political exposition in the Declaration of Independence which proclaims in words of fire that men at birth, by the creative’s decree that gave them being—from the mere circumstance that they are men—are God-endowed with certain rights which are “unalienable” and which of right and by force of our basic law are inviolable and which no power on earth, not even the government itself, may properly infringe. Among these inalienable and inviolable rights are the right to life and to liberty. The right of man to liberty—to be free—is thus made coordinate with the right to life itself. The history of human struggle loudly proclaims that life without liberty is intolerable. For a fulness, the two must go together. These conceptions incorporated in the immortal Declaration are the product of more than a century and a half of the teachings of the Christian religion out of which they must draw their nourishment. If this wellspring is suffered to dry up, then individual freedom will wither and die.

Christian Religion And Democracy

For it is out of that religion that the whole concept of the common brotherhood of men as the children of the same God derives, each equal before the law. So intimately are the two intertwined that democracy and the Christian religion must survive or perish together. Neither has worked perfectly in human hands. But the failure of the perfect working of the principles of free government probably is fairly in proportion to the failure of men to live the Christian religion. The perfect working of the latter would insure the perfect working of the former. We may not, except at our peril, discard either of them. Together they have provided an atmosphere in which, in spite of imperfections, we have lived and flourished as has no other nation in recorded history. It is important to note that in those countries where freedom has perished, there has gone side by side with its decline, a breaking down and denial of the Christian religion, and in that country where the breakdown has been most complete, there has been accomplished the most thorough regimentation of the bodies and spirits of men. But a superficial, unbelieving profession of the Christian faith will not withstand the disintegrating forces at play in the world today. Only a genuine, deep-seated religious conviction carried over into practice can do that. The disciples who established the Ancient Church were not men who rationalized Jesus and his doctrines away, nor were satisfied with proclaiming him merely a great ethical teacher. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?”  Mark 8:27 Peter gave him the various conjectures that men had ventured concerning him. Jesus then put it to him directly, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered without equivocation or hesitancy, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”  Matt. 16:13-16 That is the kind of living faith which carried the Christian religion into ascendancy in the western world and ultimately gave to the world our democracy. It is the only kind of faith that can save the world from the unchristian doctrine of regimentation and authoritarian dominance over the lives of men.

It is that faith which it is the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to keep alive in the hearts of men and to perpetuate in this land.

Original Source

Elder Albert E. Bowen
Of the Council of the Twelve Apostles
Albert E. Bowen, Conference Report, October 1946, pp. 48-52
Accessed 1/1/2017