The Labor Question
“The organization of labor has hitherto been in the hands of unfit men, with too few exceptions. The leaders have been selfish, narrow-minded, or ignorant. The true way to utilize the strength of united labor is to develop the individual power of the members.”
The claims put forward by the Knights of Labor, and the means employed to enforce them, have roused and alarmed the American people, who have been at once perplexed and angered by the apparent organized determination to overthrow settled principles of business and industry, and to deny rights justly regarded as among the most fundamental and necessary to the existence of ordered society. That American citizens should ignore the elementary principles of the democratic system, and, apparently without suspecting the scope and meaning of their action, undertake to establish a tyranny subversive of their own laws and institutions, is perhaps what most surprises the public. But, happily for the country, the effect of the democratic spirit is to induce among thinking men a temperate and reasonable disposition; and the incongruity of the recent labor demonstrations with the social state which underlies them, instead of moving the American observer to sudden impatience and the desire to restore normal conditions forcibly, impels him to study the situation calmly, to the end that he may obtain a clear understanding of the causes of whatever is wrong or dangerous in it.
In the first place, it is to be remarked that the organization of labor for its own protection had proceeded so far, before the Knights of Labor appeared, as to embrace most skilled industry in nearly all occupations. It is also to be observed that all such organization involves and presupposes the establishment of a monopoly. The first appeal to a working-man to join a trades-union is put on the ground that he will thereby obtain some special privileges. At the beginning, the tendency of all these movements is to abuse the power which union gives. During half a century of trades-unionism this has been the general experience. In proportion to the ignorance and backwardness of the men the disposition to violence and tyranny has been exhibited. Self-interest being always one of the strongest influences in human society, and training of a special kind being required to develop perception of the reaction upon the agents of wrong done to others, the tendency to maintain one’s own rights, or what seem to be such, regardless of the rights of others, is necessarily strongest when the reflective faculty is weakest. So in the infancy of labor organization strikes with violence were common. The non-union man was treated as an outcast. In England, more than in the United States, intolerance was displayed by trades-unions, and at Sheffield and Birmingham shocking barbarities were for a time practiced, in the attempt to maintain the power and monopoly of the organizations.
Serious injury has been inflicted upon trade and manufactures by these outbreaks, but labor itself has suffered most from them. First, because all strikes with violence are effectively strikes against labor quite as much as against capital; second, because, owing to imprudent management, most strikes have been made on a falling market, and so have put the employers in a position where it was less costly to suspend production than to yield. Gradually, workingmen have learned some useful lessons, though it will no doubt be long before they generally accept and abide by that principle of arbitration which offers the most hopeful solution, or accommodation, of the labor problem. It is, however, in skilled labor principally that an advance has been made; that is to say, among the most intelligent workingmen. If to-day there seems to be a revival of lawlessness in labor circles, it is partly because for the first time an extensive organization of unskilled labor has entered the field. The apparent arrogance and unreasonableness of the Knights of Labor are in reality no new manifestations. They but follow the common law of development. All trades-unions began in the same way. Even the doctrine that employees may dictate to employers not alone the rate of wages, but the personality of the wage-earners, and may exclude from the enjoyment of the universal right to labor all who are not members of the union, is a comparatively old one, and is still enforced whenever and wherever the conditions are favorable.
The pretensions of the Knights of Labor have been given special prominence by the nature of their connection with the transportation system, and by the introduction, in aid of the strikes, of the boycott. For years we have been accustomed to hear of industrial strikes in which violence was employed. They have been so common in the Pennsylvania mining region as to excite little comment outside of the State where they occurred. But while these strikes have sometimes caused changes in the price of coal and other products, costing the public large amounts in the aggregate, they have not been so much in evidence as the recent disturbances. When a great railroad system is blocked by a lawless strike for weeks, the effects are serious and far-reaching. The Southwestern railroad strike, for example, has compelled the suspension of manufactories, thus depriving thousands of workingmen of subsistence. It has caused food famines in several country towns, thus increasing the cost of living to other thousands. It has disturbed trade, both wholesale and retail, by the blockade of goods in transit. In other ways it has reacted widely, and therefore has attracted public attention in an unusual degree. When such a reckless attack upon the business of the country is made for apparently no better reason than to display the power of the labor organization behind it, or, as has been said, to compel “recognition” of that organization by the railroad corporations, it is inevitable that the public should be interested, and natural that it should be somewhat alarmed. The use of the boycott has also tended to aggravate the feeling of uneasiness, and, viewed in connection with the demands of the Knights of Labor to exercise control over property they do not own, has created an impression that the situation is very serious. The boycott is undoubtedly an odious and despicable practice, and it has been so employed in this country as to emphasize its worst qualities. It is cowardly and cruel in principle: involving the combination of many against one; lending itself readily to purposes of private revenge and blackmail; and not merely un-American in spirit, but distinctly in violation of the laws of the country. Clearly, such an institution cannot be tolerated in the United States, and as clearly it never could have been invented or introduced by men possessing any comprehension of free institutions. Not the least disquieting feature of the labor case, indeed, is the obvious ignorance of a great many workingmen concerning the nature of the government of this country. But if this fact is not reassuring, it is at least a perfectly natural and inevitable result of the national policy. We have agreed to open the door wide to all the world, and all the world has accepted our invitation. We have relied confidently upon the tendency of our institutions, and above all upon our educational system, to counteract the disturbing effect of a continual influx of foreign ignorance. We have refused to adopt any precautions in the naturalization of foreigners, assuming that a brief residence in the country must bring full knowledge of the Constitution and laws. Under the circumstances, we ought not to be surprised that the public schools fail to keep pace with the immigration; that we acquire every year many thousands of citizens who cannot speak English, and who have not the faintest apprehension of American institutions and governmental theories; that, in effect, the country is being colonized from Europe with people who bring here complete theories of life, many of which are utterly opposed to our form, or to any form, of civilization.
If the social and industrial conditions in the United States were to-day anything like those which existed when this national policy was adopted, perhaps there would be no reason to fear the results. But those conditions have undergone radical change. Little by little, as the country has filled up, as its resources have been developed, as its material wealth has increased, as its population has become denser, as its industrial centres have attracted larger numbers of operatives, as luxury has grown, the inequalities, grievances, jealousies, which stimulate socialism in the Old World, have come to the front here. The law of free development, which has done such mighty things for us, has also wrought us not a little mischief. With the expansion of our opportunities for the acquisition of wealth there has gone an abandonment to greed which has produced much evil. In the race of speculation, honor, integrity, equity, all sterling principles, have been often sacrificed. Fortune, got no matter how, has been the goal of the majority. The laws, framed to prevent the more obvious and common offenses, have proved powerless to punish audacious and flagrant crimes. Great corporations, in no way specially vicious, but prone, like all men, to abuse their power, have absorbed the public domain, obtained possession of enormous tracts, divided millions, and then sought to evade their responsibilities. Capital employed in the industries has shown a greater stupidity than that of ignorant labor. It has acted with short-sighted rapacity and selfishness, has followed the principle of buying in the cheapest market to its most odious conclusions, has extinguished all sympathy between itself and the wage-earners.
It is true that the condition of labor is generally better than it ever was before. The assertion that the poor are growing poorer is emphatically untrue, and nowhere is it so destitute of foundation as in the United States. But it is equally true that the extension of luxury has been so great of late years as to heighten the contrast between wealth and decent poverty; so that, in comparison with the modern millionaire, a man whose condition fifty years ago would have been thought enviable am pears little better than a pauper. These sharp contrasts sink into men’s minds, and produce different impressions. When millionaires whose wealth has been obtained by sharp practice, by chicanery, by circumventing the laws, by monopolizing the national heritage, by gambling on the stock exchange, by making corners in food products, by wrecking railways, by watering stocks, flaunt their money in the faces of the poor, these latter may become either resentful or emulous. If they feel that they themselves have no vocation towards the enterprises which have produced this affluence; if they belong to the large class which lacks capacity to utilize opportunity; if they are at once intelligent and honest enough to perceive and revolt from the means employed, they will regard these evidences of prosperous audacity and knavery with indignation, and they will have a diminished respect for the system under which such triumphs can be obtained. If, on the other hand, the observers belong to the class from which so many modern rich men spring, they will carefully follow the careers of these pioneers, and will seek to catch the secret of their success, fully prepared to employ it on their own behalf at the earliest opportunity.
When, however, the foreign immigrant, imbued with Old World socialism, lands here, he sees no new or unfamiliar conditions. He finds society ranging between the mansion and the tenement-house. He finds superfluous wealth at one extreme, and squalid destitution at the other. In the arrangement of the social machinery he sees less ceremony and form than in Europe, and marks an absence of nominal rank. But he soon perceives that rank is really present, if it is conventionally put in the background, and that at bottom American society is modeled upon that of Europe. Remember that the foreigner brings with him strong opinions, generally, upon the wrongs of his class; and remember that there is at present no class in existence which possesses anything like the solidity and catholic unity of the workingmen. Socialism has brought this about, and it is idle to imagine that socialism has nothing to do with the United States. Because the extremists, the reds and anarchists, appear to command little sympathy, it must not be inferred that socialism has obtained no footing in the ranks of American labor. The programme of the Knights of Labor to-day is almost identical with that which the French collectivists adopted in 1880, and there is more than a coincidence in the fact. The truth is that, in proportion as the workingmen feel the impassability of the gulf that separates them from the rich class, they tend to become discontented and disaffected; and as the struggle for existence grows harder in our centres of population with the increase of immigration and the fierceness of commercial and industrial competition, the chances of the average poor man to acquire wealth become smaller, thus putting him among the protestants against the existing situation, and, by consequence, among the prospective agitators and advocates of socialist theories.
The influence of socialism upon the present labor troubles must be recognized. It is less a direct than a reflex influence. The American workingmen certainly entertain no revolutionary purpose wittingly, but it is none the less evident that they have been affected by the sentiments which are in the air. We are apt to count confidently upon the latent patriotism of the citizen. Hitherto that trust has certainly been justified. But the student of his own times cannot afford to ignore the peculiar tendency of modern socialism to break down the love of country, and substitute for it a class feeling as broad as humanity. A very careful observer, M. de Laveleye, says, “It [socialism] has become a kind of cosmopolitan religion. It oversteps frontiers, it obliterates race antipathies, and, above all, it eradicates patriotism, and tries to efface the very idea of it. Fellow-countrymen are enemies if they are employers; foreigners are brothers if they live by wages.” Of course this is intended to apply especially to the workingmen of Europe, but as the ranks of American labor are being continually recruited thence, the facts are not without significance for us. It is one among many tendencies having their influence upon the attitude of the labor unions just now so prominently before the public, and all these tendencies must be taken into account if a just comprehension of what is going on in the minds of the masses is to be obtained.
Socialist ideas, moreover, are propagated through a special literature, much of which is overlooked by men of business and politicians, but which has a considerable circulation. The theories advanced by those who quarrel with the existing condition of things are various and contradictory. Land nationalization appears, to the disciples of Henry George, the panacea for all evils. Others deny that the author of Progress and Poverty has found the true solution of the problem. Paternal government, collectivism, communism, are in turn advocated. But all the revolutionary projects agree in these particulars; namely, that the poor are victims of injustice, and that poverty ought to be made impossible by legislation. That any form of socialism should be entertained in this country may seem strange to those who continue to believe in the popular ability to obtain, through the ballot, whatever is worth having. But such a belief has ceased to be general. Labor has tried politics, and is not satisfied with the results. It has found the politicians always eager to profess whatever is required, but when they had attained their ends it has not found them willing to fulfill their promises. In truth, the workingmen have often been the dupes of demagogues, who, by undertaking to frame and carry out impossible or mischievous measures, have at once stimulated unreasonable demands, and prepared a decline of faith in the practicability of relief through the suffrage. It has been one of the misfortunes of American labor that its political power has deprived it of candid advisers. It has been flattered by all parties, and no party has had the courage to tell it unpalatable truths. The possession of this political power has caused it to be courted with a sycophancy which has had anything but wholesome effects, and the general tendency of politics upon labor has consequently been to disillusionize the intelligent workingmen, and to encourage the unenlightened in extravagant pretensions and unworkable theories.
If labor is now unreasonable and disposed to tyrannize, it is only following in the footsteps of other classes. Not many years have elapsed since the farmers of the West made a similar experiment with the ballot. They had grievances against the railroads. The transportation problem presents some paradoxes which, to those who have not studied it, are apt to look like inequities. They so appeared to the “Grangers,” who forthwith went out to do battle for what they thought their rights. With political power in their hands, they controlled the law-making machinery. They hurried through measures intended to regulate the railroad business in the popular interest. They honestly believed that their unquestionable command of the political forces of the state enabled them to solve all problems. As they did not understand transportation, the laws made by them proved impracticable, and when put in operation injured the public, and had to be repealed. Before this stage of evolution had been passed, however, popular sentiment reacted upon the judicial machinery, and was reflected in some decisions which do not probably count for nothing in the growth of the tendency to ignore settled doctrines of property rights which alarm the public to-day.
It is worth while to examine this case with some care, for it may have a decided bearing upon current events. In the “Granger” agitation, the protest of the threatened corporations against regulative legislation was largely grounded upon the venerable axiom that ownership and control go together, and that they cannot be separated without a fatal invasion of property rights. Through a series of judicial decisions, culminating in those by the United States Supreme Court in the so-called Elevator Cases, this defense was wrenched away from the corporations. The doctrine was laid down that the legislature had a right to regulate the profits and general management of any business in the operation of which a “public use” could be shown. It was pointed out at the time by a dissenting member of the court that this doctrine might be extended so as to include almost any and every occupation in which men could engage; and that consequently it subjected not only corporate but private business to the liability of a legislative interference easily pushed, by ignorance or malice, to the point of confiscation. Actual experiment soon proved that the transportation question could not be satisfactorily settled by measures not based on careful and intelligent study, and subsequently it was discovered that complete publicity was a more effective reform agency than iron-clad statutes. But the new doctrine of legislative interference with property remained, and it cannot be doubted that it has exercised the influence upon public opinion to be expected from the utterances of so august a tribunal.
It is interesting to observe that the question of the ownership and control of property underlies the dispute between the Knights of Labor and their employers, just as it did the earlier quarrel between the Grangers and the railroad corporations. As the latter figure largely in the new disturbance, it may be thought that it is only a fresh phase of the old trouble; and in one sense this is true. It is not a long journey from the theory of legislative regulation of corporate property to the theory of public (say trades-union) regulation of both corporate and private property. If the legislature, which is merely the agent of the people, can regulate, why may not the people, if they choose, proceed, without the intervention of an agent, to enforce their will? Such an argument might appear both reasonable and forcible to an ignorant man, and it must be admitted that the way has been prepared for the development of some such idea by antecedent events. The Knights of Labor claim the right to settle the wages they are to receive, and they deny to their employers the right to determine whom they shall employ. This is to separate control from ownership, and in effect to transfer the latter by a method of disguised confiscation. The proposition, when put nakedly, is revolting and alarming. Business men everywhere appear to think that it involves so vicious a doctrine that to admit it would be to paralyze industry and commerce, and to arrest progress completely. Yet it is a fact that the doctrine, in a slightly different form, has been the watchword, the war-cry, of many States in the Union, and that even in its present shape it has been repeatedly accepted at the hands of labor organizations.
The exigencies of commerce, the pressure of competition, have compelled or induced many employers to submit to terms which they considered unjust and principles which they believed revolutionary. The selfish engrossment of the majority in their own affairs, reinforced by the feelings of jealousy and dislike which corporate prosperity and corporate abuses had aroused, caused the invasion of property rights consequent upon the Granger agitation to be viewed with indifference. Now, when propositions of the same kind are advanced in a broader field and a more conspicuous manner, the effect is startling, and it might be thought, from much of the comment, that the whole question was brand-new, and had never before been pressed upon public attention. There is, no doubt, a decided difference between the earlier and the later methods of presentation. The Grangers invoked the law. They acted through the recognized constitutional machinery. They obtained the sanction of the court of last resort to their demands. They were not amenable to the charge of violence and lawlessness. In many of the recent strikes the defiance of law has been conspicuous. The men have acted apparently upon the theory that they had a right to enter upon and seize the property of their employers, and to forcibly prevent non-union laborers from taking their places. But the Grangers were for the most part Americans. They understood the system of government under which they lived. They were familiar with the Constitution. They knew that, possessing the ballot, they could control legislation. The Knights of Labor, on the other hand, are men of whom a large percentage are foreign born; who, representing unskilled labor, necessarily hold in their assemblies a considerable element of ignorance and deficient intelligence; who, like all ignorant bodies on first discovering the power of organization, are disposed to abuse that power; and who, therefore, naturally tend to seek by force that which better instructed people aim at through forms of law.
Nor is this the only distinction between the Knights of Labor and the Grangers. The former have compelled attention to the important fact that they are not warranted in assuming to represent American labor; that, indeed, they constitute but a very small portion of that labor; that they are a minority, — half a million as against eighteen millions of non-union workers; and that their contest is really far more against their own order than against capital. It is curious that they should inveigh against monopoly while they are endeavoring to set up the most odious and intolerable species of it, but there can be no doubt of the fact. The position they have taken is that no man who does not belong to their order has a right to work for his living, and that they are entitled to dictate to every American workingman for whom he shall labor and at what wages. It is only necessary to state these claims to perceive that they involve a despotism more intolerable than the most spiritless and abject people known to history ever endured; and, like all organized despotisms, the successful operation of this one demands the most servile submission on the part of the members. A typical illustration is the case of the Patterson silk-mill, all the hands in which were made to go on strike by a “walking delegate” who merely wished to show his authority. There was no grievance against the employers. The hands were satisfied with their condition. But when the walking delegate (who was a cigar-maker, and knew nothing about the silk business) demanded the adoption of some absurd changes in the mode of work, and was refused, he “snapped his fingers” as he passed through the mill, on his way out, and all the hands, without asking a question, dropped their work and walked into the street. Afterwards that walking delegate was punished by his order, for he had no authority for his action. But the servility demanded by the Knights of Labor is shown most strikingly in the unhesitating obedience paid to this man’s command by those who knew perfectly well that they had no cause of complaint, and that consequently a strike could not be justified.
So then it appears that while an outsider has no rights as against the Knights of Labor, a member of the order possesses no rights as against its officers and leaders. Its tyranny towards non-union men is not greater than its tyranny towards its own members. What an American citizen obtains by joining the order is, apparently, the suspension of almost every important right and immunity secured to him by the Constitution of the United States. He enters it a free man. He yields up his freedom thenceforth. He becomes a mere blind instrument in the hands of others, — of others whose ignorance and stupidity he might convince himself of by the slightest examination, yet whom he permits to control his destiny, and in whose incompetent hands he places his independence. Strange that men should bow their necks to so heavy a yoke in the search for greater liberty. Strange that it should be thought possible to secure broader liberties by abandoning those already enjoyed. The Knights of Labor, however, are ambitious. They aim at combining in their own persons the characteristics and functions at once of tyrants and slaves. For the sake of depriving their neighbors of freedom they voluntarily relinquish their own, and that they may the better play the part of masters they reduce themselves to the condition of serfs.
What the Declaration of Independence terms the “unalienable right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not recognized at all by these men. They practically assert that nobody who is not a Knight of Labor has any such right, and yet there are eighteen million workers in the country who do not belong to that order. The audacity, the irrationality, the subversive character, of the claims of this comparatively small number of law-breakers and revolutionists would perhaps justify amusement rather than alarm but for the manner in which their extraordinary attacks upon the structure of society have been received. For a considerable period it looked as though the trouble would be settled by general submission to their outrageous demands. When the impossibility of such a course became apparent, it was extremely doubtful for a time whether the local authorities would summon courage to do their duty. The instrumentalities for vindicating the law and keeping order were at hand, but those charged with setting them in motion were politicians, and they were manifestly afraid of offending the law-breakers. Only the steadily growing pressure of a public opinion the trend of which could not be mistaken at last compelled the adoption of decided and effective measures for the general protection.
Meantime the spectacle presented was humiliating. Governors of States were seen, not administering the laws with energy and firmness, but shutting their eyes to the rampant lawlessness that surrounded them, and talking about the desirability of arbitration between corporations whose property was being destroyed and the criminals who were destroying it. It is perhaps the first time that a proposition of the kind has been made, and it will be well for the country if it is the last. The effect of this cowardice and unfaithfulness to duty was of course to confirm the strikers in the belief that they were within their rights in blocking traffic, killing engines, intimidating non-union men, and generally taking possession of the property of other people. The extent to which confusion of thought may be carried was further shown in the appearance of a disposition to regard the kind of lawlessness existing as different from the kinds already provided against by the law, and to speak as if some new legislation were required to deal with it. Of course the truth is that every unlawful act committed by the strikers and boycotters has long been fully met by statutory provisions, and that nothing was needed but the proper enforcement of existing law.
Perhaps the gradual growth of trades-unionism and the silent advance of its claims and pretensions may have contributed to this confusion, but the bold and sudden movement of the Knights of Labor has compelled the American people to realize that the tendency of modern labor organization is to create an imperium in imperio, — a government established on lines which at many points traverse those on which the republic stands, and which, if it succeeds in its avowed aims, must revolutionize the Union. What success by the Knights of Labor, as at present led and organized, would mean for the public generally may perhaps be conjectured pretty accurately from current events. In Lynn, Massachusetts, for example, the Knights undertook to compel a whole class of tradesmen to close their stores at six o’clock in the evening. The majority—to their discredit be it said—abjectly submitted to this impudent command. They had their reward. The Knights naturally proceeded further. They demanded next that the tradesmen submit their tariffs of retail prices, to the end that their profits should be regulated. Fortunately, one man in Lynn, George Tarbox, was an old-fashioned American citizen. He knew his rights, “and, knowing, dared maintain.” He refused to obey the early-closing orders of the Knights of Labor. They threatened him with the boycott. He appealed to the public. The latter promptly responded, and the feeble folk who had bowed their necks to the yoke of the new tyrants gathered courage to rebel against the demand for the regulation of their price-lists. The lesson of this episode is important.
The organization of labor is inevitable and necessary. But the American people have a right to demand that when labor organizes it shall do so under and with due regard to the laws of the land, and that it shall not proceed as if society were in a chaotic state, and every man was at liberty to regulate his actions according to his individual fancies. What the public have most to complain of is that labor organizations ignore the laws, undertake to import principles antagonistic to them, employ their power in illegitimate ways, and do this with an air of complete innocence and as a matter of course. Even the older trades-unions, which have learned something by hard experience, by no means obtain from their organization the best possible results. They are not so prone to strikes as formerly, and they endeavor to avoid violence when they do strike. But they are not above resorting to the boycott, and they seek to maintain a monopoly which is a wrong to labor in the aggregate. There is another defect in their working. They put too much stress on rights and too little upon duties. The modern trades-unionist is a man very sure to know what is due to himself from his employer. He is not so sure to recognize what is due to his employer from himself. Trades-unionism certainly has not done much to promote conscientiousness and excellence in the performance of work. Rather it has tended to put all workingmen upon a dead level of perfunctory mediocrity. A system which aims at repressing individual superiorities in the avowed interest of the inferior workmen can have no other effect. A system which discourages enthusiasm in the employee, lest it should lead the employer to put his standard too high and expect too much, is distinctly debasing in its influence. It may secure work for a larger number, but it can do so only by the sacrifice of excellence, faithfulness, ambition, and individualism.
This is what most schemes of socialism demand and necessitate, indeed. They are, with scarcely an exception, framed in direct opposition to natural law. The doctrine of the survival of the fittest finds no acceptance with modern socialists. They seek to reverse all the processes of evolution in order to find equal subsistence for the undeserving and the deserving, for the incapable and the capable, for the lazy and the industrious, for the stupid and the bright, for the vicious and the virtuous. At every step in the application of such doctrines, however, fresh difficulties are encountered; and as self-interest almost invariably determines the course finally taken, many odd contradictions and anomalies are involved. In the social republic there is to be no monopoly at all. In trades-unionism monopoly is the chief object, and to maintain it not only is all outside labor discriminated against, but the prospects of the coming generation are deliberately injured by the strict limitation of apprenticeship. Founded on principles which seem to apply to all labor, these organizations inevitably resolve themselves into close corporations. Initiated for the legitimate purpose of resisting the selfishness and greed of capital, they have developed a rapacity of their own which is interfering seriously with production and industry generally, and which must be checked and brought within bounds before they can be what their founders hoped.
The organization of labor has hitherto been in the hands of unfit men, with too few exceptions. The leaders have been selfish, narrow-minded, or ignorant. The true way to utilize the strength of united labor is to develop the individual power of the members. By no other means have great nations ever been formed. An association, the effective strength of which depends upon the surrender of the rights and liberties of its members, may be a dangerous instrument for the use of adventurers and demagogues, but it cannot advance the interests of the men themselves. The most urgent want of labor to-day is self-control. In this free country no man endowed with average abilities need remain all his life poor. If he has thrift, self-restraint, perseverance, he will pass from the ranks of labor to the ranks of capital. It is the saving man who becomes the capitalist, — the man who has force to deny himself indulgences. What a lesson lies in the drink-bill of the American workingmen, for instance! At a moderate estimate, it amounts to between four and five hundred million dollars a year. While labor is throwing away that enormous sum annually, with what show of consistency can it lament its condition? One year’s remission of that destructive self-indulgence would solve every labor problem extant; would provide a fund for the establishment of coöperative works, for the sustenance of the sick and aged, for the maintenance and education of orphans, for libraries and scientific schools, for all manner of helps.
At present the workingman can hardly make both ends meet. Is it not because he insists on creating capitalists out of the saloon-keepers, and, not content with that, on submitting all his rights of citizenship to the same objects of worship? The saloon in politics is the most hideous abuse of the day, but where would it be if the workingmen withdrew their support from it? It keeps them poor. It keeps our politics corrupt. It supplies a constant stream of base adventurers, who disgrace the American name at home and abroad. It makes the terms “public office” and “public plunder” synonymous. It stifles progress, fosters pauperism, brutalizes husbands and fathers, breaks women’s hearts, puts rags on the workingman’s back, disease in his body, and shame and despair in his heart. Yet when labor is most disturbed, when the demand for advanced wages is loudest, when strikes are most frequent, when hunger and misery are most rife in the homes of the poor, the saloon flourishes still. There may be no bread at home, but there is always beer and whiskey at the bar, and the men who consider themselves the victims of circumstances or the “thralls” of capital squander their earnings, spend their savings, in these dens. Can there be a serious labor question while this state of things continues? Can workingmen talk gravely of their wrongs while it is plain to all the world that if they only saved the capital they earn they would be comfortable?
This aspect of the case has not been sufficiently examined, and for reasons which will probably occur readily to the reader. But it is really the key to the situation. When we see on the one side a yearly waste of between four and five hundred millions of dollars, and on the other side a body of men, the squanderers of this vast fund, complaining that they have not sufficient opportunities, we cannot long be at a loss to comprehend the true nature of the existing dissatisfaction. It is clear that labor has been incited to seek from without the relief which ought to be sought from within. The socialist theory of a paternal state system which provides everybody with work and wages is a mischievous fallacy. It simply encourages indolence and dependence. The first duty of labor is to demonstrate its capacity for self-government. At this moment its drink-bill is an impeachment of that capacity. No man who spends half his earnings at a saloon can get on in the world, or has the least right to expect to get on. Nor can any body of men follow the same course with better results. Prosperity is the reward of persevering, temperate, ungrudging work. In these days there is, however, a great wind of new doctrine. We are asked to believe that it is possible to succeed in very different ways: that the less a man works, for example, the more he ought to receive; that national prosperity can be advanced by diminishing production; and many other equally hard sayings. But it may be confidently affirmed that these new theories are destined to be short-lived, and that the world will have to be managed eventually upon pretty much the old lines.
Labor has got upon the wrong track. That is the truth. It has been misled by incompetent advisers. It has, no doubt, great opportunities before it. Organization under better management may lead it to a successful solution of the coöperative problem, will certainly give it adequate protection, and is capable of developing the best that its capacities can offer. But it is not by pursuing chimeras that the question can be settled satisfactorily, nor by ignoring duties and insisting upon rights. Thrift and temperance and reasonableness are three indispensable requisites to a forward movement. There can, however, be no thrift or temperance so long as a handful of ignorant men are permitted to throw scores of thousands of workingmen out of employment; so long as the saloon rules labor and handles it in politics; so long as the money that would carry comfort and decency to every laboring man’s home in the land is diverted to enrich brewers and whiskey distillers and the keepers of their retail places. There can be no reasonableness so long as labor takes its arguments from the mouths of its worst enemies, and starves itself to feed fat a crowd of chattering demagogues, who have only their own mean and sordid interests at heart, and neither understand nor care to understand the things which really concern their clients. It is necessary to dwell strongly upon these considerations. The man who cannot govern his own appetites must fail in the battle of life. The man who cannot deny himself must remain poor. No outside conditions can compensate for want of force of character. No regulation of the hours of labor, no increase in wages, no monopoly of work, no trades-union rules, however cunningly contrived, can change the laws of nature. While the world lasts there will be fit and unfit men, and the former will prosper and the latter will fail, — will fail because they are not adapted to their environment. It may be possible to conceive of a world in which the present incapable should succeed; in which sloth and intemperance and defective intelligence should lead to fortune. But it would have to be a world radically different from this, and therefore it is that the unfit ones whom we have with us must continue to fail to the end. The workingmen do not seem to have considered these primary matters much as yet, but they are in greater present need of self-discipline than of anything else; and until they perceive this, and undertake to educate themselves, using their organization as a means to self-help rather than as an offensive weapon wherewith to attack trade and industry, they are likely to do themselves and the country more harm than good.
Unfortunately, the steady progress of such an educational process in the United States is seriously interfered with by the constant addition of an ignorant element to the labor population. Since this influx has for many years consisted largely of foreigners from the continent of Europe, who do not speak English, moreover, and who bring to us ideas of social growth often wholly antagonistic to American views, the difficulty has increased. It is not merely total ignorance of our laws and governmental system that we have to contend with, but independent beliefs about government and the state which are opposed to our own altogether. One result of this is the conversion of labor organizations into socialist propaganda, and the gradual introduction to labor agitation of socialist ideas and propositions. The extension of secret societies, ostensibly organized for mutual protection and help, thus involves a pressure upon the political machinery liable to become more dangerous and subversive as the numerical strength of the societies grows. This, however, is but one of the embarrassing consequences of the national hospitality. A country possessing a homogeneous population, and depending for the increase of that population upon natural multiplication, may have to pass through many trials before it attains the stability of settled civilization; yet it will, as a rule, proceed steadily from one experiment to another, and will profit, by its various lessons. But if a country is continually adding to its population from without; if it is compelled to educate a large percentage of its adult citizens, as well as its children; if at every critical juncture it has to deal with a formidable element which has no past experiences to guide it, the result must be that the same hard lessons will have to be learned again and again, and that much friction and loss of time will have to he endured.
It may be that eventually we shall conquer these difficulties; that complete assimilation will take place at last. But before that can happen we shall be, for an indefinite period, so far as can now be seen, subjected to periodical disturbance and disquietude from this cause, and the national progress will be checked while we are laboriously and painfully recommencing the instruction which, under normal conditions, might have been necessary only once. The time is also approaching when our saturation point will have been reached, and when the pressure of population upon the means of subsistence will constitute as grave a problem as it has long been in Europe. If foreign immigration is to continue unchecked, not many years more of indifference to the implications will be permitted to our politicians, and from present indications it seems anything but certain that they will be prepared to meet the problem intelligently and successfully. But in the absence of any pronounced or organized public opinion on the subject of immigration, the only course open is to consider the existing conditions as settled, and to make the best of them. It is indeed curious that no protest has yet been heard from American labor on this head, if we except that from the Pacific coast against the Chinese; for, logically considered, the spirit of trades-unionism ought to be strongly opposed to any further increase of the labor element, and experience has shown that in such cases foreigners are generally the first to manifest hostility to new-comers.
Importing ignorance and socialism freely as we do, however, we cannot reasonably complain of the results. If of late they have been more disagreeable than usual, we must remember that the whole world is agitated by the labor question. It seems possible that we could have escaped dangerous agitation of the problem by pursuing a more conservative policy; by insisting more, for instance, upon America for Americans. Perhaps we have not sufficiently realized that even the largest continent must be filled in time. But we must lie upon the bed as we have made it, and since we are already face to face with revolutionary theories of the social system and the relations between capital and labor, we must endeavor to secure the ultimate preponderance of American over exotic doctrines; unless, indeed, we are prepared to indorse the superiority of the latter.
As to that, no doubt, probably, need be entertained. The largest liberty compatible with the maintenance of equal rights has been the national maxim since the foundation of the republic, and it has worked well, on the whole. A system which carefully provides for the free development of individuality is necessarily open to abuses. Where the respect for individual liberty coexists with a feverish pursuit of wealth, excessive greed will occasionally be evolved, and mischievous and demoralizing aggregations of capital will occur. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. In the aggregate the democratic system has been vindicated. The advance of national prosperity, in despite of many and grave drawbacks, has been so great as to excite the wonder of all other nations. The increase in the popular standard of comfort has been, if not so rapid as it might have been, certainly quicker and greater than in any other country. If we have produced a small number of millionaires, we have created millions of well-to-do citizens. The reports of our savings-banks show a substantial condition of society in the middle and lower grades. Notwithstanding their waste of capital in self-indulgence, the poor are better off than at any former time, or in any other part of the world. Thanks to our liberal institutions, there is no barrier between our workingmen and capitalists. Any laborer with health and pluck and judgment may become rich, and thousands do. It is not, then, to be expected that Americans will give up the advantages which they believe inhere in their system of government, to adopt methods which demand the extinction of individuality, the surrender of freedom of action, and the conversion of the great republic into a sort of compromise between a military despotism and a scheme of national pauperism.
All such notions are idle fantasies. This country will proceed on the lines hitherto pursued and approved by sufficient experience. But it does not follow that there is not ample room for improvement in many things, and, among others, in the relations between capital and labor. Of late much has been said on behalf of arbitration. No doubt arbitration is a good thing, and courts of conciliation are good; in fact, anything is good which puts reason before main strength and passion, and which compels both parties to a dispute to discuss it coolly before an impartial and mutually friendly council. But before arbitration is adopted it is necessary to determine just where the opportunity for it begins, and recent events have shown the existence of a good deal of confusion on this point. It may be laid down as an essential preliminary that arbitration is only in order when both parties are within their rights. If a body of workmen have struck, and are resting quietly, refraining from all interference with the property of their employers, the case is one for arbitration. But if the strike has been followed by violence and lawlessness, arbitration is out of place. The case is then one for the police to deal with, and, if necessary, the militia. No doubt as to this can be permitted. Arbitration presupposes mutual fair play and forbearance. Of course the question involved goes to the very bottom of that of the rights of strikers. Those rights begin and end with the right to refuse to work for a given wage. If, after so refusing to work, the striker undertakes to prevent any one else from working in his place, he puts himself in the wrong, and he must recede from that false position before arbitration can be applicable. Whenever this is fully realized by the workingmen the strike will be abandoned; and this is a change to be hoped for, inasmuch as it is fatally defective as an aid to labor. It can only succeed when it is impossible to replace the striking element. As such occasions are comparatively rare in a country where the organized labor forms so small a percentage of the whole, it follows that a lawful strike can seldom succeed; once undertaken, however, the temptation to proceed to violence is great, — so great that when the strikers are unskilled laborers it is found almost impossible to withstand it. In effect, when a lawful strike has any prospect of success arbitration would be better. When it has no prospect of success it is very liable to degenerate into crime. In any case, it is clumsy, uncertain, and dangerous.
Whatever constitutes a motive for a strike is cause for arbitration. But arbitration, to be respected, must be respectable. President Cleveland’s message on the subject, and the law framed in Congress to carry his suggestion into effect, do not appear to meet the requirements of the case. It is extremely doubtful whether anything can be expected from professional arbitrators politically appointed. Every dispute between labor and capital involves special points, understood, as a rule, only by the men concerned on both sides, or by other men engaged in the same kind of business or manufacture. These are natural arbitrators, and their decisions carry weight, but no such respect is likely to be paid the judgments of politicians. As to compulsory arbitration, it is a contradiction in terms, and the very idea involves the most revolutionary tendencies. To propose that the decision of an arbitrator shall be binding, without any regard to its reasonableness or even its legality, is to propose to change the relations between men so radically that the Constitution and the laws would thenceforth be practically little better than dead letters. If capital and labor are both disposed to be reasonable, they can and will find common standing-ground. The older trades-unions are already regarding the strike with distrust. The policy recently outlined by Mr. Arthur, the head of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, represents the most advanced views on this subject. Mr. Arthur does not believe in strikes, and keeps his order out of them as much as possible. One result is that his organization is powerful and respected, and that when it has grievances little difficulty is experienced in getting them removed.
Labor, of course, often has just cause of complaint. Capital is greedy and hard in too many instances, and tries to get the most possible service for the least possible pay. Employers who look on their employees merely as machines cannot expect to be regarded with affection. Great corporations that screw their men down to the lowest notch in wages will never enlist the sympathy of the public. Selfishness and rapacity when manifested by rich men are even more odious than when the poor exhibit those evil qualities. If, when violence has been offered corporate property, the expression of public indignation has been less than the circumstances seemed to demand, the prevailing lukewarmness was undoubtedly attributable to want of sympathy with employers believed to be heartless and ungenerous to their servants. Sometimes these beliefs are ill-founded. There are corporations that treat their employees kindly and considerately. But it is to be regretted that there are very few of them, and that in the majority of cases the relations are those of mutual distrust or indifference.
It is questionable whether, in the absence of esteem or liking of any kind, better relations can be established. Certainly the tendencies of labor organization are away from closer connection between employer and employed at present. The movement toward stronger demands for labor menaces whatever entente exists, and if the policy of the unions continues to be grasping and one-sided the effect upon capital must be serious. Most serious, however, for labor; for capital can always wait and can always subsist, while labor can do neither. Precisely because capital is realized labor it is stronger than labor. It represents the extent to which its possessors have advanced, in accumulating savings, beyond those who have to work for their daily bread. Capital, moreover, can always move, while labor is not free to go where it pleases. In a contest of strength between the two forces, labor must always succumb, and this no matter what numerical strength the latter possesses. The more extensive and the fiercer the conflict, the sooner must it end, for its extension can only involve rapid exhaustion of the material resources of labor.
But all the friends and advisers of the workingman should warn him against entrance into such a strife. It is not that he is altogether wrong, or that he is not entitled to demand certain improvements in his condition. It is that, no matter what his equities, he cannot obtain them by unreasonable methods. A strike upon a falling market may appear just as to its surface propositions, but it is doomed to failure. A demand for increased wages or reduced working hours, or both, during a period of industrial depression is hopeless. As to the proposal for a shorter working-day, it is impossible to believe that those who make it at all understand what they are doing, for their success would be a calamity to them. This, however, is a graft from the tree of socialism, and as incongruous as most of the theories with which those wrong-headed people have filled the air, in these days of audacious and lawless speculation. Perhaps it is necessary that actual experiment should be had, to convince those whose reasoning powers are slight that if production generally is diminished, the production of the wage-fund also must be reduced; and that if the same amount of work is to be performed, but by an increased number of hands, the average payments to labor will be smaller. When the impossibility of obviating either of these results is comprehended, there will probably be less disposition among workingmen to believe that problems of wages and hours of labor can be determined by fiat.
There is a question connected with the labor issue which insists upon prompt determination, and which cannot be allowed to drift. It is the question, recently brought home to the country in startling ways, of anarchism. The general demand is naturally for stern repressive measures, and, the situation being what it is, they are necessary. But when the anarchists of to-day have been put down, how are we going to protect ourselves against the anarchists of to-morrow? It is a very grave consideration. These men form precisely the element from which modern civilization has most to apprehend. They are at odds with society from the foundations upward. They deny the justice and the desirability of any existing institutions. They are proletarians, having no property stake anywhere. They believe in destruction, and not in conservation. They are wholly unapproachable by reason. In short, they live in society only for the purpose of injuring, and if possible overthrowing, civilization. Such men, insane with the insanity produced by unbalanced speculation upon defective intelligence, upon those anæmic brains which the deadly vices of great capitals curse the world with, — such men must, be it admitted, suffer the full penalty of declaring open war upon the existing order of things, when they are taken flagrante delicto. But does it follow that this is the only or the best way of protecting society against them? Has the nation no responsibility that admits, without question, these perverted creatures; that allows them to establish their propaganda; that looks oi indifferently while they are educating their dupes to lust after riot and massacre and anarchy; that leaves them free to do mischief until they have advanced from incendiary words to incendiary acts?
Such a policy renders rigorous suppression ultimately unavoidable. But where is the boasted freedom of speech and action, when it can only be enjoyed on such conditions? Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that freedom of speech is never more than relative, and that if we are to avoid the necessity of putting down anarchist riots we must see to it that the dissemination of anarchist doctrine is prevented. We have here a new problem. The anarchists are not to be regarded as fair material for citizenship. They hate American democracy as cordially as European absolutism. As one of them frankly declared at Chicago recently, they are against all laws and all governments, against the whole social and political system, against organized labor as much as capital. They have no sentimental associations with this republic. They come from the Old Worlds revolutionary muck-heap, and all their instincts and tendencies are aggressive, subversive, and destructive. From their first appearance here they form an element of danger, a rallying-point for all the foes of society to gather around. All the influence exercised by them is sinister. They corrupt those workingmen who speak their language. They encourage and play into the hands of the criminal class. To permit all this, however, is deliberately to prepare the way for the forcible repression which such a course always compels, and this is to vitiate our system of government radically. Being what it is, anarchism should be prevented from germinating, instead of being permitted to grow, and then cut down with pain and difficulty when it is ripe. It has no more justification for free play among us than a cult of piracy would have, or such an academy of larceny as Fagin the Jew kept. The safety of the state, which is not less a supreme law than in the days of Roman dominion, demands that every propaganda of iniquity be extirpated. There cannot be two opinions among sane men as to the character of anarchist doctrine, and the danger of permitting such doctrine to be taught ignorant foreigners, who have no saving familiarity with American principles, has been too plainly manifested already for any doubt to be entertained on that point. Anarchism, therefore, ought to be taken at the beginning, not at the end. Humanity, policy, alike justify this view. If we permit these people to sow, we cannot complain at the character of the crop left to us to reap. We can prevent the sowing, and that is our plain duty in the future, both to ourselves and to the anarchists.
The labor question will slowly work itself into a more hopeful condition, if not too much interfered with. The experiments lately undertaken in the line of transferring the ownership of property by forcible confiscation have resulted so discouragingly for the experimenters that they have probably learned some fundamental truths in connection with the actual power of labor organization.
Unfortunately for human progress, it usually requires some such painful demonstration to convince the masses that there is a wide distinction between the possession of force and the power to compass economic ends. If the Knights of Labor have learned some useful lessons, however, the employers of labor have perhaps received some instruction also. The generality of labor organization at present tends to quicken the equitable tendencies of capital. The employer reflects more deeply upon the rights of labor when he realizes its ability to check or stop production. There is room for concession on both sides, and if only time is given, capital and labor may come closer together. The chief danger lies in the hot-headedness of the least educated labor elements. Thus far they have been unable to control themselves at difficult junctures, and have shown a disposition to resort to illegitimate weapons, which they will have to abandon. In the end reason and equity must rule, and we may be sure that, under the system of free development which the republic of the United States offers to all its citizens, the workingmen will obtain and enjoy every right and advantage which it is proper and lawful for them to possess: and while this does not imply that they are entitled to one right other or more than their fellow-citizens can claim, it does imply that they have more to hope from temperate and rational action than they can possibly secure in any other way.