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|Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings on National Prohibition - 1926|
THE NATIONAL PROHIBITION LAW HEARINGS
TESTIMONY OF JAMES O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT OF THE METAL TRADES DEPARTMENT OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR
227 * * * * * THE NATIONAL PROHIBITION LAW * * * * *
Mr. FURUSETH. The so-called La Follette Seamen's Act.
Senator REED of Missouri. Yes.
Mr. FURUSETH. Yes, Sir; I was 21 years advocating it before it went into effect.
Senator REED of Missouri. You were 21 years advocating it 2
Mr. FURUSETH. Yes, Sir.
Senator REED of Missouri. Your sole object in appearing here is to secure a modification which you believe would benefit the moral and physical condition of the sailors I do not mean you confine it to that, but you believe it would have that effect, do you?
Mr. FURUSETH. I certainly do, sir, and that is my purpose in appearing.
Senator REED of Missouri. You believe that it would make for temperance and sobriety?
Mr. FURUSETH. That is what I believe, and that is my purpose in appearing here.
Senator REED of Missouri. That is all, Mr. Furuseth.
Senator WALSH. That is all, Mr. Furuseth. thank you.
Mr. CODMAN. Mr. James O'Connell, president of the Metal Trades Department.
(The witness was duly sworn by Senator Walsh.)
TESTIMONY OF JAMES O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT OF THE METAL TRADES DEPARTMENT OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR
Mr. O'CONNELL. My name is James O'Connell. I represent the metal trades department of the American Federation of Labor as its president. That is a division of the American Federation of Labor, representing about 500,000 members.
There are two or three phases of this matter that I have in mind, which you are giving consideration to, and I simply want to make a few observations, because there isn't any time to go into detail, and there has been so much said already. To what has been already said I might say "amen" and let it go at that.
There is one particular phase of this matter that I want to make clear to everybody. There seems to be a misunderstanding as to the position of organized labor on this whole question of prohibition, and there seems to he an effort being made to place organized labor in the position of desiring to bring back the saloon. I want to make it clear that there would be no, stronger opponents in all the forms that make up our society of the United States against the return of the saloon than would be organized labor.
The department which I have the honor to represent in convention by the way, these department conventions usually meet and always meet just prior to the convention of the American Federation of Labor, and generally important measures that are passed in these department conventions are taken into the general convention of the American Federation of Labor or in some way or other are introduced there. Our department at its last convention and preceding convention the year before passed. a resolution unanimously in favor of a modification of the Volstead Act.
Now, my observations as a man who travels and meets men and women in every walk of life I am traveling practically a third of my
time in all parts of the United States, meeting people in public and in private, in high and low society, coming in contact with men and women in every walk of life, it is not a question with me whether we should have 2.75 per cent beer or 6, 8, or 10 per cent wine. The question is: Is the present law being carried into effect? Is it operating? Is it doing what it is alleged it would do? My observations are that it is not. And far from that, that it is being flagrantly and openly violated on every hand by our citizens generally. It does not matter in what walk of life you appear. There are some classes of our citizens, of course, who are in a position to violate it more freely because they are in a position to buy it. That is to say, I mean they are in a position to pay the price. There are many thousands of our citizens who are not.
As has been said by Mr. Roberts this morning, no matter where you travel, in trains or in hotels, the conversation generally turns to prohibition. And usually and almost solely the conversation turns toward the modification of the Volstead Act.
Straw votes taken in smoking rooms, in Pullman cars, and in hotel lobbies result in a very large percentage in favor of the modification.
Now, I say that the prohibition law, the Volstead Act, is not in effect, simply because you can procure, if you have got the price, almost anything you want to drink at almost any place, in the better, hotels, in the clubs, in saloons not so called to-day. Only within a couple of weeks I was in one of the larger cities in fact, the largest city of our country and I was invited to go to a club with some gentlemen, and I went there, and there was everything that represented the old-time barroom, with its bar, with its rail for your feet and a man mixing drinks, and everything going in first-class shape. I recite this because it may interest some of the old timers.
Not a very long-distance walk from that place was another place where they were not so particular who came in. And as one who has observed things generally, a close student of human affairs, it struck me that the whole thing was a farce that something had to be done.
And to me it is not a question of the percentage of alcohol in beer or wine; it is a question. of what can we do? What is the best thing to be done? After several years of trying the Volstead Act and the prohibition law it is evident to everyone that it is not enforced, and it is evident to everyone that it is creating a state of affairs in our country that is anything but elevating by thus creating a morale among our citizenship that is not to its best interest; that it is creating a situation among our citizenship that is not for the best interests of our country.
And it is not a question of whether labor or some other class of our citizenship is in favor or not in favor of prohibition. The question is, which Congress has now to deal with, "Is this law being enforced? Can it be enforced? My observation is that it is impossible of enforcement with its present regulations; and I say that without any connection of any kind on one side or the other with any financial interest on one side or the other, and without any personal desire in the matter on one side or the other it is not for the best interests of our citizenship. I have no desire for liquor or beer; it has never troubled me, it has not troubled my relations in any way. I have suffered in no way, financially or otherwise, in my family or my
relationships. But as a man who has been engaged in public life now for 40 years, holding positions of importance all that time in a national way and an international way, now representing a very large body of the highest skilled mechanics in the world, near a half million of them, by their authority without any opposition, I say the present state of affairs must be improved upon or it will result in chaos.
Senator HARRELD. What was your position on the eighteenth amendment and the Volstead Act at the time it was passed?
Mr. O'CONNELL. At the time it was passed we were in a sort of war atmosphere. I do not think half of the citizenship had any idea what was being passed or what is meant.
Senator HARRELD. I mean, what was your position?
Mr. O'CONNELL. Personally I did not take any position upon it. Our organizations have not taken any position on it particularly, other than that they were opposed in a general way to laws being passed for the purpose of forming the morale of the citizenship of the country, of dictating how they should live. I do not care whether it refers to food or drink or smoke, it is impossible to legislate some things out of existence. You can no more regulate the food of the people by law than you can successfully regulate their drink. You can no more regulate smoking of cigarettes by females than you can hope to fly. There are some things that are impossible, and you are up against that impossible thing now. And it will require some real statesmanship and I think we have that among us to carry out what appears to be foisting upon the people of our country something that they will not carry out.
When we get into a state of public mind that the people refuse, to the extent of violating the law, to the extent of liability to punishment, that they willingly take a chance of that punishment in violating law, preferring to have their own way in the matter, then it is time something was done to correct the thing that causes that state of mind. And we are in a peculiar state of mind on this subject in this country. We are sort of coming back to normal after our war experience and the after-warmath of the whole thing, and we are wondering, many of us, how it was possible to put this piece of legislation over on the American people with such little trouble. It could not be done again. The thing is, How are we going to get ourselves free from a situation that we are opposed to? I am opposed to it, because I think it is wrong to say to me, so far as I am personally concerned, "You can not do this, or you can not do that, because it will injure you physically or morally or something else."
Somebody suggested the other day I think I read of some question that was asked here about the effect of other laws. Why are other laws passed? There is no comparison. There is law saying that if you commit murder you will be punished. Yes, but that law does not make it possible, or provide ways for committing crime. This legislation does open up avenue after avenue for the violation of the law.
Just in general, observing passing through, giving study to public thought, and observing things done all the time, keeping awake and seeing things that are going on, I say to you gentlemen that this act as it is now constituted is a failure and can not be enforced. I do not care how much money you agree to spend for its enforcement;
not care what laws you enact in addition to the present laws what additional punishments you provide for, you can not enforce, it. It is against a, man's own instinct. Without offering any criticism of anyone who is in favor of the law and its enforcement and all that, I can not help expressing the opinion that people become fanatical and eccentric in some states mind. Undoubtedly you will be told the tremendous improvement that has taken place in the lives, in the wealth and the happiness of the wageworkers of our country. Do not be deceived by the manner in which some gentlemen or ladies may be prepared with splendid English to present that picture to you, There are some pictures that can be elegantly and beautifully painted, but if you touch them they daub and they muss up.
In this situation organized labor is emphatically against anything that could possibly be done that would lead to the return of the old time, so called, corner saloon. We are against it soul and body with our very lives. We know what it was. Therefore some organizations ought to change their names. No one that I know of in this country is in favor of the saloon, and there is no occasion for an antisaloon outfit; there never was any occasion for it and never will be.
I think that is all I have to say, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. CODMAN. Thank you very much, Mr. O'Connell. I present John T. Frey, President of the Ohio State Federation of Labor.
TESTIMONY OF JOHN T. FREY, PRESIDENT OHIO STATE
Mr. FREY. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for twenty-three years I have been the editor of the International Moulders Journal, the official organ of the International Molders Union of North America. Far 27 years I have been an executive officer of that organization. I am also the president of the Ohio State Federation of Labor, and I am appearing before you this morning in the capacity of president of that organization because in the State of Ohio we have the center of the antisaloon movement, Westerville, Ohio, and we have a condition that is interesting the wage earners of the State, which I desire to place before you.
The Ohio State Federation of Labor is composed of some 47 central labor unions, some 1,200 local unions, and an approximate membership of 215,000. I would like to say that personally I am an iron molder by trade. The trade we follow requires very much manual labor, and that labor is performed, part of the day, with the dust of the sand of the foundry entering our nostrils. and our throats, and we complete the day's work by pouring the molten metal into the molds. So that it is a work that creates a very great thirst, a thirst which water itself will not quench. Water will not wash out the dust that has accumulated in our throats.
I want to: say, supporting Mr. Furuseth's statement, that men who work at hard labor that compels them to perspire find that if they endeavor during working hours to quench their thirst with water they drink too much and make. themselves sick. So it is the custom, or was
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