Theodore Roosevelt's Attitudes Toward Labor

Theodore Roosevelt had a complex and shifting relationship with organized labor during his years as president. In general, Roosevelt supported organized labor. While he feared labor violence and social disruption, he sympathized with the plight of industrial workers and tried to be fair and advocate measures that would assist them. He came to advocate Big Labor to counteract Big Business. Still, as with big business, he feared that organized labor would abuse its power.


Roosevelt explained why he supported organized labor in a 1911 editorial in The Outlook:

We believe in property rights; normally and in the long run property rights and human rights coincide; but where they are at variance we are for human rights first and for property rights second. . . . . In order to raise the status, not of the exceptional people, but of the great mass of those who work with their hands under modern industrial conditions, it is imperative that there should be more than merely individual action. The old plea that collective action by all the people through the State, or by some of them through a union or other association, is necessarily hostile to individual growth has been demonstrated to be false. On the contrary, in the world of labor as in the world of business, the advent of the the giant corporation and the very wealthy employer has meant that the absence of all governmental supervision implies the emergence of a very few exceptionally powerful men at the head and the stamping out of all individual initiative and power lower down.

There must, therefore, be collective action. This need of collective action is in part supplied by the unions, which, although they have on certain points been guilty of grave shortcomings, have nevertheless on the whole rendered inestimable service to the workingman. In addition, there  must be collective action through the Government, the agent of all of us.