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sewing machine produced a revolution. In 1830 there were only about 20 miles of railroad in this country, and it is during this period that the American Trades Union begins its first halting attempts to protect the wage workers.
The carpenters and joiners and the shipwrights had formed organizations early in the century, and in 1833 the carpenters' strike in New York led to the formation of a general trades union. In 1825 the New York women tailors struck, and women have made labor history in the clothing industry since that time. In 1836 the Lowell mill girls went on strike because the cost of board had been increased from $5 a week to $5.50 and there had been no increase in wages. These are all significant incidents as they show that necessity had aroused the wage workers and they show that the number of wage workers was steadily increasing.
Practically all the unions, with a few striking exceptions, previous to the Civil War were short lived. But it is during this time there occurred the events that make the great American labor problem of to-day. This is the richest country in the world, and it has the richest and in some respects the poorest people in the world.
Previous to the Civil War the process of monopolizing was in full swing. The land grabbers, the mine and forest grabbers opened the way for the oil field and water power monopolists. So the American labor movement has not only had to struggle against the individual employer but against great aggregations of wealth and the legislative power that wealth gives.
The history of the American labor movement forms a library. Its variations are endless, and its history as told in strikes and lockouts is one long series of outrages and injustice. Trades Unions have not only had to protect themselves in the factories, but they have had to fight for labor and social legislation from the beginning. When this legislation was obtained they had to fight for its enforce
They have had to fight the lawmakers and the judges, the police power and those who usurped police power. Nothing has been won without a bitter struggle and that struggle is only now approaching its climax.
The Workers Had No Rights.
In England, which had developed a leisure class that could afford to be philanthropic, labor legislation was due in a great measure to the efforts of those who realized the inhumanity of the conditions under which the workers toiled. America had no leisure class of like impulse, so the workers in the beginning had to do their own fighting.
The wages fight is always the basis of the struggle, for it is an attempt to make income square with the cost of living. Our first unions were formed by little groups of men who demanded some slightly increased share of the wealth they were producing, and they needed that increase in order to live.
At the same time there steadily grew the consciousness that the hours of labor were murderous. The day's work was from sunrise to dark and then an hour or two by candle light, and this six days in the week. The demand for a twelve hour day was greeted with savage opposition as a violation of the rights of property. It was conceded reluctantly by first one and then another employer, and would never have been observed if the fight for an eleven hour day had not immediately been started.
Today, when hours have been reduced, the great Ten Hour movement will seem a curious thing to many. Yet it was one of the hardest of all the fights, and employers and officials alike regarded it as leading to the destruction of American institutions and American liberty. Where the trades are not organized even in our time, and where there is not a combination of the workers of a State for the protection of all the workers, such restrictions of the hours of labor as there are on the statute books are not observed.
The Trades Unions have not only had the task of fighting the battle for fewer hours of work, but they have had to stand on guard and see that the law did not become a dead letter. Much of the wealth made in New England industries, and now possessed by the older and highly respectable families, had its origin in the merciless driving through many hours of the men, women and children in the factories.
The Women and Children.
Northern people view with horror the opposition in the south to the Keating Child Labor bill. There is not so much of philanthropy in this as there is the realization that the south, with its child labor, has an advantage not possessed by the north. There is no limit to the number of hours the women and children toil in tenement industry, and if the north did not possess a strong labor movement, no one can believe that there are not employers in plenty who would take advantage of this supposedly cheaper labor so that he could more advantageously compete in the open market with his goods.
Women were forced into the textile mills, the shoe shops, the sweatshops, the department stores, the meat packing establishments, the cigar factories, and now into the munitions factories and the foundries. American male workers
opposed their entrance into industry, and the early trades unions fought against their joining them. Fortunately the opposition to membership did not prevail, and women workers are a mighty fighting force in the trades union movement.
Trades Unionists in all except a portion of the south, won their demands for a limit to the age at which a child can enter the factory or store, and they also got their demands concerning night labor of women and children. In the large cities the object now is to prevent tenement work and the farming out of work, at low wages, to women and children in the country districts as is done in a few industries.
Where the workers do not combine, or where the combination is weak and there is union only under terrible stress, there is a reversion to the old and vicious conditions that prevailed before the unions began to exercise their power. Some American mill and factory towns have tenements as foul as those which existed in the Five Points, or in certain east and west-side districts of New York before the agitation for tenement house regulation was begun. So long as the workers do not form permanent organizations and maintain them these conditions will continue.
The struggle for a higher standard of living means the prevention of the waste of human life. The shorter work day tends to the physical and mental improvement of the workers. Improved dwelling places give the workers an incentive to still better conditions. The curtailment of the once unlimited power of the "boss" increases the self esteem and respect of the workers. Better and safer factory conditions have led to the demand for better social conditions.
Labor legislation and labor control of working conditions are the two most encouraging things of the present time.
There is another factor that has been a great influence in bringing about the demand for more and ever more labor and social legislation. That is the organization of the various benefit funds of the unions and the increasing number of unions which maintain their own homes for the sick or disabled, the growth of pension funds and the existence of such organizations as the Workmen's Sick and Death Benefit Society and the Workmen's Circle.
It is a mistake to think that the workers are thereby lifting a burden from the shoulders of the capitalists, and paying for things the capitalists would otherwise have to meet in the form of increased taxes. The control of their own affairs by the workers leads inevitably to his determination to control still more. The industrial insurance societies
have fattened on the poorest of the workers. The union. workers do not have to resort to the industrial societies.. They can belong to their own and at the same time obtain a measure of economic protection. The union worker does not have to go to the almshouse when he is old or ill, as more of them now have their own resorts and union homes. They are forming within present capitalist society a new order of things in which the welfare of all is considered.
Each year the unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the big railway Brotherhoods pay out millions of dollars in relief or death benefits. At the same time they stand between the whole working class and a violent lowering of the standard of living. Through their efforts the country is gradually finding itself and awakening to the understanding that the human being is the most important thing in the world.
An Army of Mercenaries.
America is not militaristic but it has the most menacing standing army that exists in any country. This is the strike breaking or detective force, ready to do anything for money, ready to go anywhere, and preying upon the whole population.
The only effective opposition offered them is that which comes from the trade unions. Every unionist is against police and military power being lodged in private hands. Yet it rests there. In the proceedings of the last convention of the American Federation is the following:
"Patience is a virtue. But wrongs, injustice and denial of rights deserve neither patience nor tolerance.
"The working people of the United States-organized and unorganized-are wonderfully patient; they have been blacklisted, jailed, robbed and killed. Unscrupulous employers have mistreated them in every way ingenuity can devise. The lust for more profit and power has ruined mentally, physically and morally many men. Large employers of labor and many small employers have during recent years delegated part of their legitimate functions to other concerns. They have surrendered the actual management of their affairs to outside parties. They have been deceived and robbed through impositions upon their credulity by scheming agencies labeled "information bureaus," "secret service companies," "detective agencies," "auditors and inspection companies," and other concerns representing themselves as employment agencies."
New York's Classified Telephone book lists over 125 of these agencies, all maintaining offices, all with a body of men
on call, and all ready for anything from breaking a strike, to spying on employees or any other dirty work.
They are ready any time to start for the coal mines of West Virginia (and during the Kanawa strike they went there in an armored car), to a clothing strike in Philadelphia, a teamsters' strike in Chicago, or any other place they are ordered to. They have shot up towns, assaulted and in many instances murdered strikers in cities. They were the men who fired on and murdered the strikers at Roosevelt, and they do the beating up in clothing or any other strikes. They break the picket line and make way for the scab.
It is in their determination to put an end to this that the trades unionists again have shown that they are the vital, living force in social betterment.
Ayer's Newspaper Directory lists 250 labor publications, with a circulation of over 2,000,000. Some of them are splendidly gotten out monthly magazines, as carefully edited and finely printed as any publications. Besides carrying technical and trade news they have articles of general importance and interest. The growth of the labor press has been steady and the improvement of it has been measureless.
In 1828, nearly 90 years ago, The Mechanics' Free Press appeared in Philadelphia. It could have had only a few hundred circulation, but it was the advance guard of the labor press.
The American Trades Union can claim vast credit for having, when American capitalism, relentless and greedy for profits made possible by the introduction of machinery, resisted all efforts to reduce the northern workers to a worse condition than the slaves of the south; for having resisted constant efforts to lower wages and battled valiantly for increased wages; for having started to pull the workers out of the slums of the city and the styes that clustered around the factories of the industrial town; for having worked for fewer hours, against child labor, against night work for women and children; for having forced factory improvements, tenement improvements and for having repeatedly compelled the city authorities to pay attention to street and other conditions in the tenement districts.
They have organized and administered their own system of relief, and in spite of serious lapses and defections have done it well.
They have now turned their efforts to obtaining social legislation that will improve the condition of all,