Appeal to Railway Employees


Appeal to Railway Employees


Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924




1919 August 20


Woodrow Wilson reminds the Railway Employees Department of the American Federation of Labor of the need to transport the produce of the country in order to help the nation return to normal after the war, and assures them of the Government’s full support on behalf of railway workers.


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library


Press Releases
Labor unions--United States




Statement by the President to the Railway Employees Department of
the American Federation of Labor.


I request that you lay this critical matter before the men in a new light. The vote they have taken was upon the question whether they should insist upon the wage increase they were asking or consent to the submission of their claims to a new tribunal, to be constituted by new legislation. That question no longer has any life in it. Such legislation is not now in contemplation. I request that you ask the men to reconsider the whole matter in view of the following considerations, to which I ask their thoughtful attention as Americans, and which I hope that you will lay before them as I here state them.

We are face to face with a situation which is more likely to affect the happiness and prosperity, and even the life, of our people than the war itself. We have now got to do nothing less than bring our industries and our labor of every kind back to a normal basis after the greatest upheaval known to history, and the winter just ahead of us may bring suffering infinitely greater than the war brought upon us if we blunder or fail in the process. An admirable spirit of self-sacrifice, of patriotic devotion, and of community action guided and inspired us while the fighting was one. We shall need all these now, and need them in a heightened degree, if we are to accomplish the first tasks of peace. They are more difficult than the tasks of war - more complex, less easily understood - and require more intelligence, patience, and sobriety. We mobilized our man power for the fighting, let us now mobilize our brain power and our consciences for the reconstruction. If we fail, it will mean national disaster. The primary first step is to increase production and facilitate transportation, so as to make up for the destruction wrought by the war, the terrible scarcities it created, and so as soon as possible relieve our people of the cruel burden of high prices. The railways are at the center of this whole process.

The Government has taken up with all its energy the task of bringing the profiteer to book, making the stocks of necessaries in the country available at lowered prices, stimulating production, and facilitating distribution, and very favorable results are already beginning to appear. There is reason to entertain the confident hope that substantial relief will result, and result in increasing measure. A general increase in the levels of wages would check and might defeat all this at its very beginning. Such increases would inevitably raise, not lower, the cost of living. Manufacturers and producers of every sort would have innumerable additional pretexts for increasing profits and all efforts to discover and defeat profiteering would be hopelessly confused. I believe that the present effects to reduce the costs of living will be successful, if no new elements of difficulty are thrown in the way; and I confidently count upon the men engaged in the service of the railways to assist, not obstruct. It is much more in their interest to do this than to insist upon wage increases which will undo everything the Government attempts. They are good Americans, along with the rest of us, and may, I am sure, be counted on to see the point.

It goes without saying that if our efforts to bring the cost of living down should fail, after we have had time enough to establish either success or failure, it will of course be necessary to accept the higher costs of living as a permanent basis of adjustment, and railway wages should be readjusted along with the rest. All that I am now urging is, that we should not be guilty of the inexcusable inconsistency of making general increases in wages on the assumption that the present cost of living will be permanent at the very time that we are trying with with great confidence to reduce the cost of living and are able to say that it is actually beginning to fall.

I am aware that railway employees have a sense of insecurity as to the future of the railroads and jave many misgivings as to whether their interests will be properly safeguarded when the present form of Federal control has come to an end. No doubt it is part this sense of uncertainty that prompts them to insist that their wage interests be adjusted now rather than under conditions which they cannot certainly foresee. But I do not think that their uneasiness is well grounded. I anticipate thatlegislation dealing with the future of the railroads will be in explicit terms afford adequate protection for the interests of the employees of the roads; but, quite apart from that it is clear that no legislation can make the railways other than what they are, a great public interest, and it is not likely that the President of the United States, whether in possession and control of the railroads or not, will lack opportunity or persuasive force to influence the decision of questions arising between the managers of the railroads ad and the railway employees. The employees may rest assured that, during my term of office, whether I am in actual possession of the railroads or not, I shall not fail to exert the full infoluence of the Executive to see that justice is done them.

I believe, therfefore, that they may be justified in the confidence that hearty cooperation with the Government now in its efforts to reduce the cost of living will by no means be prejudicial to their own interest, but will on the contrary prepare the way for morefavorable and satisfactory relations in the future.

I confidently count on their cooperation in this time of national test and crisis

Original Format



American Federation of Labor. Railway Employees Department





Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924, “Appeal to Railway Employees,” 1919 August 20, WWP20674, Woodrow Wilson Press Statements, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.