July 8, 1911.
Hon. John W. Boehne,
House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Your communication of June 10 received, but owing to my absence from the city, have been unable to answer until now. Your bill, H.R. 11177, "to prevent intimidation, coercion or undue influence of employes by individuals, firms, associations, co-partnerships or corporations, during political campaigns or elections," has been perused by me and meets my approval. During the last presidential contest a campaign of intimidation and coercion of workers was carried on to its fullest extent. Scores of letters from workmen in all parts of the country called attention to certain notices posted in factories and shops, threatening that if one of the nominees was elected, the plant would close down indefinitely the day after election, were received at this office. Other notices were to the effect that if the opposing candidate were elected, the plant would start up full time and keep going. In addition to this information, it was privately given out by many firms that employes would be discharged if they voted a certain way.
These attempts by threats and coercion to intimidate employes and prevent them from exercising their sacred right of casting the ballot according to their own judgment, are exceedingly reprehensible and to threaten a man with loss of employment in order to influence his voting power is a heinous offense. No more dastardly form of coercion could be used than to threaten a man with the loss of his opportunity to earn a livelihood for himself and those dependent on him. In some states a law has been passed making such an act punishable by fine and imprisonment. This law should be rigidly enforced and even though there is not a specific statute, means could be found to punish such practices if those entrusted with the enforcement of the laws will but act.
Governor Grothers of Maryland took a stand in this matter of intimidation of workmen that might well be copied by Governors in other states. Complaint was made to him by workmen that the owner of the mill where they were employed had threatened that if a certain individual was elected, the mill would be closed and the men thrown out of employment. Governor Grothers said: "As soon as the matter was reported to me I directed the proper authority in the county in question to make a rigid investigation. The registration law in Maryland, in my judgment, makes ample provisions for a case of this character in chapter 122, Acts of 1908, page 97, that nothing must be written on pay envelopes to influence employes politically. The law says: 'or other threats, express or implied, intended or calculated to influence the political opinions or actions of his employes.' This seems to me to be perfectly plain. It would be ridiculous for a law to imply that certain things written or printed would be wrong, but that it would not be wrong to say practically the same thing. The case reported to me is, I think, amenable to the law in question, and under this law a person, or persons, found guilty of violating it, could, I believe, be both fined and imprisoned."
Of what use is the ballot to the worker if he has not freedom to exercise it. The vote held subject to employer's dictation is no right at all. If workmen cannot vote according to the dictates of their own conscience and judgment, then indeed they become serfs holding only proxies for their employers.
Trusting that you may be successful in having H.R. 11177 enacted into law, and with kind regards, I am,
Yours fraternally, Saml Gompers.
President American Federation of Labor.
Reel 158, vol. 170, pp. 55-57, SG Letterbooks, DLC.