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Title: A History of Trade Unionism in the United States
Author: Perlman, Selig, 1888-1959
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A History of Trade Unionism in the United States" ***

Social Science Text-Books





Assistant Professor of Economics in the University of Wisconsin;
Co-author of the History of Labour in the United States

New York





Set up and electrotyped. October, 1922.


The present _History of Trade Unionism in the United States_ is in part
a summary of work in labor history by Professor John R. Commons and
collaborators at the University of Wisconsin from 1904 to 1918, and in
part an attempt by the author to carry the work further. Part I of the
present book is based on the _History of Labour in the United States_ by
Commons and Associates (Introduction: John R. Commons; Colonial and
Federal Beginnings, to 1827: David J. Saposs; Citizenship, 1827-1833:
Helen L. Summer; Trade Unionism, 1833-1839: Edward B. Mittelman;
Humanitarianism, 1840-1860: Henry E. Hoagland; Nationalization,
1860-1877: John B. Andrews; and Upheaval and Reorganization, 1876-1896:
by the present author), published by the Macmillan Company in 1918 in
two volumes.

Part II, "The Larger Career of Unionism," brings the story from 1897
down to date; and Part III, "Conclusions and Inferences," is an attempt
to bring together several of the general ideas suggested by the History.
Chapter 12, entitled "An Economic Interpretation," follows the line of
analysis laid down by Professor Commons in his study of the American
shoemakers, 1648-1895.[1]

The author wishes to express his strong gratitude to Professors Richard
T. Ely and John R. Commons for their kind aid at every stage of this
work. He also wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to Mr. Edwin E.
Witte, Director of the Wisconsin State Legislative Reference Library,
upon whose extensive and still unpublished researches he based his
summary of the history of the injunction; and to Professor Frederick L.
Paxson, who subjected the manuscript to criticism from the point of view
of General American History.



[1] See his _Labor and Administration_, Chapter XIV (Macmillan, 1913).



PREFACE                                            v




  (1) Early Beginnings, to 1827                    8
  (2) Equal Citizenship, 1827-1832                 9
  (3) The Period of the "Wild-Cat" Prosperity,
      1833-1837                                   18
  (4) The Long Depression, 1837-1862              29

2 THE "GREENBACK" PERIOD, 1862-1879               42


4 REVIVAL AND UPHEAVAL, 1879-1887                 81


6 STABILIZATION, 1888-1897                       130

7 TRADE UNIONISM AND THE COURTS                  146


  1898-1914                                      163

  (1) The Miners                                 167
  (2) The Railway Men                            180
  (3) The Machinery and Metal Trades             186
  (4) The Employers' Reaction                    190
  (5) Legislation, Courts, and Politics          198


10 THE WAR-TIME BALANCE SHEET                    226

11 RECENT DEVELOPMENTS                           245


12 AN ECONOMIC INTERPRETATION                    265

13 THE IDEALISTIC FACTOR                         279


  TRADE UNIONISM                                 295

BIBLIOGRAPHY                                     307






(1) _Early Beginnings, to 1827_

The customary chronology records the first American labor strike in
1741. In that year the New York bakers went out on strike. A closer
analysis discloses, however, that this outbreak was a protest of master
bakers against a municipal regulation of the price of bread, not a wage
earners' strike against employers. The earliest genuine labor strike in
America occurred, as far as known, in 1786, when the Philadelphia
printers "turned out" for a minimum wage of six dollars a week. The
second strike on record was in 1791 by Philadelphia house carpenters for
the ten-hour day. The Baltimore sailors were successful in advancing
their wages through strikes in the years 1795, 1805, and 1807, but their
endeavors were recurrent, not permanent. Even more ephemeral were
several riotous sailors' strikes as well as a ship builders' strike in
1817 at Medford, Massachusetts. Doubtless many other such outbreaks
occurred during the period to 1820, but left no record of their

A strike undoubtedly is a symptom of discontent. However, one can
hardly speak of a beginning of trade unionism until such discontent has
become expressed in an organization that keeps alive after a strike, or
between strikes. Such permanent organizations existed prior to the
twenties only in two trades, namely, shoemaking and printing.

The first continuous organization of wage earners was that of the
Philadelphia shoemakers, organized in 1792. This society, however,
existed for less than a year and did not even leave us its name. The
shoemakers of Philadelphia again organized in 1794 under the name of the
Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers and maintained their existence
as such at least until 1806. In 1799 the society conducted the first
organized strike, which lasted nine or ten weeks. Prior to 1799, the
only recorded strikes of any workmen were "unorganized" and, indeed,
such were the majority of the strikes that occurred prior to the decade
of the thirties in the nineteenth century.

The printers organized their first society in 1794 in New York under the
name of The Typographical Society and it continued in existence for ten
years and six months. The printers of Philadelphia, who had struck in
1786, neglected to keep up an organization after winning their demands.
Between the years 1800 and 1805, the shoemakers and the printers had
continuous organizations in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. In
1809 the shoemakers of Pittsburgh and the Boston printers were added to
the list, and somewhat later the Albany and Washington printers. In 1810
the printers organized in New Orleans.

The separation of the journeymen from the masters, first shown in the
formation of these organizations, was emphasized in the attitude toward
employer members. The question arose over the continuation in membership
of those who became employers. The shoemakers excluded such members from
the organization. The printers, on the other hand, were more liberal.
But in 1817 the New York society put them out on the ground that "the
interests of the journeymen are _separate_ and in some respects
_opposite_ to those of the employers."

The strike was the chief weapon of these early societies. Generally a
committee was chosen by the society to present a price list or scale of
wages to the masters individually. The first complete wage scale
presented in this country was drawn up by the organized printers of New
York in 1800. The strikes were mainly over wages and were generally
conducted in an orderly and comparatively peaceful manner. In only one
instance, that of the Philadelphia shoemakers of 1806, is there evidence
of violence and intimidation. In that case "scabs" were beaten and
employers intimidated by demonstrations in front of the shop or by
breaking shop windows. During a strike the duties of "picketing" were
discharged by tramping committees. The Philadelphia shoemakers, however,
as early as 1799, employed for this purpose a paid officer. This strike
was for higher wages for workers on boots. Although those who worked on
shoes made no demands of their own, they were obliged to strike, much
against their will. We thus meet with the first sympathetic strike on
record. In 1809 the New York shoemakers, starting with a strike against
one firm, ordered a general strike when they discovered that that firm
was getting its work done in other shops. The payment of strike benefits
dates from the first authenticated strike, namely in 1786. The method of
payment varied from society to society, but the constitution of the New
York shoemakers, as early as 1805, provided for a permanent strike fund.

The aggressive trade unionism of these early trade societies forced the
masters to combine against them. Associations of masters in their
capacity as merchants had usually preceded the journeymen's societies.
Their function was to counteract destructive competition from
"advertisers" and sellers in the "public market" at low prices. As soon,
however, as the wage question became serious, the masters' associations
proceeded to take on the function of dealing with labor--mostly aiming
to break up the trade societies. Generally they sought to create an
available force of non-union labor by means of advertising, but often
they turned to the courts and brought action against the journeymen's
societies on the ground of conspiracy.

The bitterness of the masters' associations against the the journeymen's
societies perhaps was caused not so much by their resistance to
reductions in wages as by their imposition of working rules, such as the
limitation of the number of apprentices, the minimum wage, and what we
would now call the "closed shop." The conspiracy trials largely turned
upon the "closed shop" and in these the shoemakers figured

Altogether six criminal conspiracy cases are recorded against the
shoemakers from 1806 to 1815. One occurred in Philadelphia in 1806; one
in New York in 1809; two in Baltimore in 1809; and two in Pittsburgh,
the first in 1814 and the other in 1815. Each case was tried before a
jury which was judge both of law and fact. Four of the cases were
decided against the journeymen. In one of the Baltimore cases judgment
was rendered in favor of the journeymen. The Pittsburgh case of 1815 was
compromised, the shoemakers paying the costs and returning to work at
the old wages. The outcome in the other cases is not definitely known.
It was brought out in the testimony that the masters financed, in part
at least, the New York and Pittsburgh prosecutions.

Effective as the convictions in court for conspiracy may have been in
checking the early trade societies, of much greater consequence was the
industrial depression which set in after the conclusion of the
Napoleonic Wars. The lifting of the Embargo enabled the foreign traders
and manufacturers to dump their products upon the American market. The
incipient American industries were in no position to withstand this
destructive competition. Conditions were made worse by past over
investment and by the collapse of currency inflation.

Trade unionism for the time being had to come to an end. The effect on
the journeymen's societies was paralyzing. Only those survived which
turned to mutual insurance. Several of the printers' societies had
already instituted benefit features, and these now helped them
considerably to maintain their organization. The shoe-makers' societies
on the other hand had remained to the end purely trade-regulating
organizations and went to the wall.

Depression reached its ebb in 1820. Thereafter conditions improved,
giving rise to aggressive organizations of wage earners in several
industries. We find strikes and permanent organizations among hatters,
tailors, weavers, nailers, and cabinet makers. And for the first time we
meet with organizations of factory workers--female workers.

Beginning with 1824 and running through 1825, the year which saw the
culmination of a period of high prices, a number of strikes occurred in
the important industrial centers. The majority were called to enforce
higher wages. In Philadelphia, 2900 weavers out of about 4500 in the
city were on strike. But the strike that attracted the most public
attention was that of the Boston house carpenters for the ten-hour day
in 1825.

The Boston journeymen carpenters chose the most strategic time for their
strike. They called it in the spring of the year when there was a great
demand for carpenters owing to a recent fire. Close to six hundred
journeymen were involved in this struggle. The journeymen's demand for
the ten-hour day drew a characteristic reply from the "gentlemen engaged
in building," the customers of the master builders. They condemned the
journeymen on the moral ground that an agitation for a shorter day would
open "a wide door for idleness and vice"; hinted broadly at the foreign
origin of the agitation; declared that all combinations intending to
regulate the value of labor by abridging the working day were in a high
degree unjust and injurious to the other classes in the community;
announced their resolution to support the masters at the sacrifice of
suspending building altogether; and bound themselves not to employ any
journeyman or master who might enforce the ten-hour day. The strike

The renewed trade-union activities brought forth a fresh crop of trials
for conspiracy.[3] One case involved Philadelphia master shoemakers who
combined to reduce wages, two were against journeymen tailors in
Philadelphia and Buffalo and the fourth was a hatters' case in New
York. The masters were acquitted and the hatters were found guilty of
combining to deprive a non-union man of his livelihood. In the
Philadelphia tailors' case, the journeymen were convicted on the charge
of intimidation. Of the Buffalo tailors' case it is only known that it
ended in the conviction of the journeymen.

(2) _Equal Citizenship, 1827-1832_

So far we have dealt only with trade societies but not yet with a labor
movement. A labor movement presupposes a feeling of solidarity which
goes beyond the boundaries of a single trade and extends to other wage
earners. The American labor movement began in 1827, when the several
trades in Philadelphia organized the Mechanics' Union of Trade
Associations, which was, so far as now known, the first city central
organization of trades in the world. This Union, originally intended as
an economic organization, changed to a political one the following year
and initiated what was probably the most interesting and most typically
American labor movement--a struggle for "equality of citizenship." It
was brought to a head by the severe industrial depression of the time.
But the decisive impulse came from the nation-wide democratic upheaval
led by Andrew Jackson, for which the poorer classes in the cities
displayed no less enthusiasm than the agricultural West. To the wage
earner this outburst of democratic fervor offered an opportunity to try
out his recently acquired franchise. Of the then industrial States,
Massachusetts granted suffrage to the workingmen in 1820 and New York in
1822. In Pennsylvania the constitution of 1790 had extended the right of
suffrage to those who paid any kind of a state or county tax, however

The wage earners' Jacksonianism struck a note all its own. If the
farmer and country merchant, who had passed through the abstract stage
of political aspiration with the Jeffersonian democratic movement, were
now, with Jackson, reaching out for the material advantages which
political power might yield, the wage earners, being as yet novices in
politics, naturally were more strongly impressed with that aspect of the
democratic upheaval which emphasized the rights of man in general and
social equality in particular. If the middle class Jacksonian was
probably thinking first of reducing the debt on his farm or perchance of
getting a political office, and only as an after-thought proceeding to
look for a justification in the Declaration of Independence, as yet the
wage earner was starting with the abstract notion of equal citizenship
as contained in the Declaration, and only then proceeding to search for
the remedies which would square reality with the idea. Hence it was that
the aspiration toward equal citizenship became the keynote of labor's
earliest political movement. The issue was drawn primarily between the
rich and the poor, not between the functional classes, employers and
employes. While the workmen took good care to exclude from their ranks
"persons not living by some useful occupation, such as bankers, brokers,
rich men, etc.," they did not draw the line on employers as such, master
workmen and independent "producers."

The workingmen's bill of complaints, as set forth in the Philadelphia
_Mechanic's Free Press_ and other labor papers, clearly marks off the
movement as a rebellion by the class of newly enfranchised wage earners
against conditions which made them feel degraded in their own eyes as
full fledged citizens of the commonwealth.

The complaints were of different sorts but revolved around the charge
of the usurpation of government by an "aristocracy." Incontrovertible
proof of this charge was found in special legislation chartering banks
and other corporations. The banks were indicted upon two counts. First,
the unstable bank paper money defrauded the wage earner of a
considerable portion of the purchasing power of his wages. Second, banks
restricted competition and shut off avenues for the "man on the make."
The latter accusation may be understood only if we keep in mind that
this was a period when bank credits began to play an essential part in
the conduct of industry; that with the extension of the market into the
States and territories South and West, with the resulting delay in
collections, business could be carried on only by those who enjoyed
credit facilities at the banks. Now, as credit generally follows access
to the market, it was inevitable that the beneficiary of the banking
system should not be the master or journeyman but the merchant for whom
both worked.[4] To the uninitiated, however, this arrangement could only
appear in the light of a huge conspiracy entered into by the chartered
monopolies, the banks, and the unchartered monopolist, the merchant, to
shut out the possible competition by the master and journeyman. The
grievance appeared all the more serious since all banks were chartered
by special enactments of the legislature, which thus appeared as an
accomplice in the conspiracy.

In addition to giving active help to the rich, the workingmen argued,
the government was too callous to the suffering of the poor and pointed
to the practice of imprisonment for debt. The Boston Prison Discipline
Society, a philanthropic organization, estimated in 1829 that about
75,000 persons were annually imprisoned for debt in the United States.
Many of these were imprisoned for very small debts. In one Massachusetts
prison, for example, out of 37 cases, 20 were for less than $20. The
Philadelphia printer and philanthropist, Mathew Carey, father of the
economist Henry C. Carey, cited a contemporary Boston case of a blind
man with a family dependent on him imprisoned for a debt of six dollars.
A labor paper reported an astounding case of a widow in Providence,
Rhode Island, whose husband had lost his life in a fire while attempting
to save the property of the man who later caused her imprisonment for a
debt of 68 cents. The physical conditions in debtors' jails were
appalling, according to unimpeachable contemporary reports. Little did
such treatment of the poor accord with their newly acquired dignity as

Another grievance, particularly exasperating because the government was
responsible, grew in Pennsylvania out of the administration of the
compulsory militia system. Service was obligatory upon all male citizens
and non-attendance was punished by fine or imprisonment. The rich
delinquent did not mind, but the poor delinquent when unable to pay was
given a jail sentence.

Other complaints by workingmen went back to the failure of government to
protect the poorer citizen's right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness." The lack of a mechanic's lien law, which would protect his
wages in the case of his employer's bankruptcy, was keenly felt by the
workingmen. A labor paper estimated in 1829 that, owing to the lack of a
lien law on buildings, not less than three or four hundred thousand
dollars in wages were annually lost.

But the most distinctive demands of the workingmen went much further.
This was an age of egalitarianism. The Western frontiersmen demanded
equality with the wealthy Eastern merchant and banker, and found in
Andrew Jackson an ideal spokesman. For a brief moment it seemed that by
equality the workingmen meant an equal division of all property. That
was the program which received temporary endorsement at the first
workingmen's meeting in New York in April 1829. "Equal division" was
advocated by a self-taught mechanic by the name of Thomas Skidmore, who
elaborated his ideas in a book bearing the self-revealing title of "_The
Rights of Man to Property: being a Proposition to make it Equal among
the Adults of the Present Generation: and to Provide for its Equal
Transmission to Every Individual of Each Succeeding Generation, on
Arriving at the Age of Maturity_," published in 1829. This Skidmorian
program was better known as "agrarianism," probably from the title of a
book by Thomas Paine, _Agrarian Justice, as Opposed to Agrarian Law and
to Agrarian Monopoly_, published in 1797 in London, which advocated
equal division by means of an inheritance tax. Its adoption by the New
York workingmen was little more than a stratagem, for their intention
was to forestall any attempts by employers to lengthen the working day
to eleven hours by raising the question of "the nature of the tenure by
which all men hold title to their property." Apparently the stratagem
worked, for the employers immediately dropped the eleven-hour issue.
But, although the workingmen quickly thereafter repudiated agrarianism,
they succeeded only too well in affixing to their movement the mark of
the beast in the eyes of their opponents and the general public.

Except during the brief but damaging "agrarian" episode, the demand for
free public education or "Republican" education occupied the foreground.
We, who live in an age when free education at the expense of the
community is considered practically an inalienable right of every child,
find it extremely difficult to understand the vehemence of the
opposition which the demand aroused on the part of the press and the
"conservative" classes, when first brought up by the workingmen. The
explanation lies partly in the political situation, partly in the moral
character of the "intellectual" spokesmen for the workingmen, and partly
in the inborn conservatism of the tax-paying classes upon whom the
financial burden would fall. That the educational situation was
deplorable much proof is unnecessary. Pennsylvania had some public
schools, but parents had to declare themselves too poor to send their
children to a private school before they were allowed the privilege of
sending them there. In fact so much odium attached to these schools that
they were practically useless and the State became distinguished for the
number of children not attending school. As late as 1837 a labor paper
estimated that 250,000 out of 400,000 children in Pennsylvania of school
age were not in any school. The Public School Society of New York
estimated in a report for 1829 that in New York City alone there were
24,200 children between the ages of five and fifteen years not attending
any school whatever.

To meet these conditions the workingmen outlined a comprehensive
educational program. It was not merely a literary education that the
workingmen desired. The idea of industrial education, or training for a
vocation, which is even now young in this country, was undoubtedly first
introduced by the leaders of this early labor movement. They demanded a
system of public education which would "combine a knowledge of the
practical arts with that of the useful sciences." The idea of industrial
education appears to have originated in a group of which two
"intellectuals," Robert Dale Owen and Frances Wright, were the leading

Robert Dale Owen was the eldest son of Robert Owen, the famous English
manufacturer-philanthropist, who originated the system of socialism
known as "Owenism." Born in Scotland, he was educated at Hofwyl,
Switzerland, in a school conducted by Emmanuel von Fellenberg, the
associate of the famous Pestalozzi, as a self-governing children's
republic on the manner of the present "Julior Republics." Owen himself
said that he owed his abiding faith in human virtue and social progress
to his years at Hofwyl. In 1825 Robert Dale left England to join his
father in a communistic experiment at New Harmony, Indiana, and together
they lived through the vicissitudes which attended that experiment.
There he met Frances Wright, America's first suffragist, with whom he
formed an intimate friendship lasting through many years. The failure at
New Harmony convinced him that his father had overlooked the importance
of the anti-social habits which the members had formed before they
joined; and he concluded that those could be prevented only by applying
a rational system of education to the young. These conclusions, together
with the recollections of his experience at Hofwyl, led him to advocate
a new system of education, which came to be called "state guardianship."

State guardianship was a demand for the establishment by the state of
boarding schools where children should receive, not only equal
instruction, general as well as industrial, but equal food and equal
clothing at the public expense. Under this system, it was asserted,
public schools would become "not schools of charity, but schools of the
nation, to the support of which all would contribute; and instead of
being almost a disgrace, it would become an honor to have been educated
there." It was urged as an especial advantage that, as children would be
clothed and cared for at all times, the fact that poor parents could not
afford to dress their children "as decently as their neighbors" would
not prevent their attendance.

State guardianship became the battle cry of an important faction in the
Workingmen's party in New York. Elsewhere a less radical program was
advocated. In Philadelphia the workingmen demanded only that high
schools be on the Hofwyl model, whereas in the smaller cities and towns
in both Pennsylvania and New York the demand was for "literary" day
schools. Yet the underlying principle was the same everywhere. A labor
candidate for Congress in the First Congressional District of
Philadelphia in 1830 expressed it succinctly during his campaign. He
made his plea on the ground that "he is the friend and indefatigable
defender of a system of general education, which will place the citizens
of this extensive Republic on an equality; a system that will fit the
children of the poor, as well as the rich, to become our future
legislators; a system that will bring the children of the poor and the
rich to mix together as a band of Republican brethren."

In New England the workingmen's movement for equal citizenship was
simultaneously a reaction against the factory system. To the cry for a
Republican system of education was added an anti-child labor crusade.
One who did more than any other to call attention to the evils of the
factory system of that day was a lawyer by the name of Seth Luther, who,
according to his own account, had "for years lived among cotton mills,
worked in them, travelled among them." His "_Address to the Working Men
of New England on the State of Education, and on the Condition of the
Producing Classes in Europe and America, with Particular Reference to
the Effect of Manufacturing (as now conducted) on the Health and
Happiness of the Poor, and on the Safety of our Republic_" was delivered
widely and undoubtedly had considerable influence over the labor
movement of the period. The average working day in the best factories at
that time was nearly thirteen hours. For the children who were sent into
the factories at an early age these hours precluded, of course, any
possibility of obtaining even the most rudimentary education.

The New England movement was an effort to unite producers of all kinds,
including not only farmers but factory workers with mechanics and city
workingmen. In many parts of the State of New York the workingmen's
parties included the three classes--"farmers, mechanics, and working
men,"--but New England added a fourth class, the factory operatives. It
was early found, however, that the movement could expect little or no
help from the factory operatives, who were for the most part women and

The years 1828, 1829, and 1830 were years of political labor movements
and labor parties. Philadelphia originated the first workingmen's party,
then came New York and Boston, and finally state-wide movements and
political organizations in each of the three States. In New York the
workingmen scored their most striking single success, when in 1829 they
cast 6000 votes out of a total of 21,000. In Philadelphia the labor
ticket polled 2400 in 1828 and the labor party gained the balance of
power in the city. But the inexperience of the labor politicians coupled
with machinations on the part of "designing men" of both older parties
soon lost the labor parties their advantage. In New York Tammany made
the demand for a mechanics' lien law its own and later saw that it
became enacted into law. In New York, also, the situation became
complicated by factional strife between the Skidmorian "agrarians," the
Owenite state guardianship faction, and a third faction which eschewed
either "panacea." Then, too, the opposition parties and press seized
upon agrarianism and Owen's alleged atheism to brand the whole labor
movement. The labor party was decidedly unfortunate in its choice of
intellectuals and "ideologists."

It would be, however, a mistake to conclude that the Philadelphia, New
York, or New England political movements were totally without results.
Though unsuccessful in electing their candidates to office, they did
succeed in placing their demands to advantage before the public.
Humanitarians, like Horace Mann, took up independently the fight for
free public education and carried it to success. In Pennsylvania, public
schools, free from the taint of charity, date since 1836. In New York
City the public school system was established in 1832. The same is true
of the demand for a mechanics' lien law, of the abolition of
imprisonment for debt, and of others.

(3) _The Period of the "Wild-cat" Prosperity, 1833-1837_

With the break-up of the workingmen's parties, labor's newly acquired
sense of solidarity was temporarily lost, leaving only the restricted
solidarity of the isolated trade society. Within that limit, however,
important progress began to be made. In 1833, there were in New York
twenty-nine organized trades; in Philadelphia, twenty-one; and in
Baltimore, seventeen. Among those organized in Philadelphia were
hand-loom weavers, plasterers, bricklayers, black and white smiths,
cigar makers, plumbers, and women workers including tailoresses,
seamstresses, binders, folders, milliners, corset makers, and mantua
workers. Several trades, such as the printers and tailors in New York
and the Philadelphia carpenters, which formerly were organized upon the
benevolent basis, were now reorganized as trade societies. The
benevolent New York Typographical Society was reduced to secondary
importance by the appearance in 1831 of the New York Typographical

But the factor that compelled labor to organize on a much larger scale
was the remarkable rise in prices from 1835 to 1837. This rise in prices
was coincident with the "wild-cat" prosperity, which followed a rapid
multiplication of state banks with the right of issue of paper
currency--largely irredeemable "wild-cat" currency. Cost of living
having doubled, the subject of wages became a burning issue. At the same
time the general business prosperity rendered demands for higher wages
easily attainable. The outcome was a luxuriant growth of trade unionism.

In 1836 there were in Philadelphia fifty-eight trade unions; in Newark,
New Jersey, sixteen; in New York, fifty-two; in Pittsburgh, thirteen; in
Cincinnati, fourteen; and in Louisville, seven. In Buffalo the
journeymen builders' association included all the building trades. The
tailors of Louisville, Cincinnati, and St. Louis made a concentrated
effort against their employers in these three cities.

The wave of organization reached at last the women workers. In 1830 the
well-known Philadelphia philanthropist, Mathew Carey, asserted that
there were in the cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and
Baltimore about 20,000 women who could not by constant employment for
sixteen hours out of twenty-four earn more than $1.25 a week. These were
mostly seamstresses and tailoresses, umbrella makers, shoe binders,
cigar makers, and book binders. In New York there was in 1835 a Female
Union Association, in Baltimore a United Seamstresses' Society, and in
Philadelphia probably the first federation of women workers in this
country. In Lynn, Massachusetts, a "Female Society of Lynn and Vicinity
for the Protection and Promotion of Female Industry" operated during
1833 and 1834 among the shoe binders and had at one time 1000 members,
who, like the seamstresses, were home workers and earned scanty wages.

Where nearly every trade was in motion, it did not take long to discover
a common direction and a common purpose. This was expressed in city
"trades' unions," or federations of all organized trades in a city, and
in its ascendency over the individual trade societies.

The first trades' union was organized August 14, 1833, in New York.
Baltimore followed in September, Philadelphia in November, and Boston in
March 1834. New York after 1820 was the metropolis of the country and
also the largest industrial and commercial center. There the house
carpenters had struck for higher wages in the latter part of May 1833,
and fifteen other trades met and pledged their support. Out of this grew
the New York Trades' Union. It had an official organ in a weekly, the
_National Trades' Union_, published from 1834 to 1836, and a daily, _The
Union_, issued in 1836. Ely Moore, a printer, was made president. Moore
was elected a few months later as the first representative of labor in

In addition, trades' unions were organized in Washington; in New
Brunswick and Newark, New Jersey; in Albany, Troy, and Schenectady, New
York; and in the "Far West"--Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville.

Except in Boston, the trades' unions felt anxious to draw the line
between themselves and the political labor organizations of the
preceding years. In Philadelphia, where as we have seen, the formation
of an analogous organization, the Mechanics' Union of Trade Associations
of 1828, had served as a preliminary for a political movement, the
General Trades' Union took especial precaution and provided in the
constitution that "no party, political or religious questions shall at
any time be agitated in or acted upon in the Union." Its official organ,
the _National Laborer_, declared that "_the Trades' Union never will be
political_ because its members have learned from experience that the
introduction of politics into their societies has thwarted every effort
to ameliorate their conditions."

The repudiation of active politics did not carry with it a condemnation
of legislative action or "lobbying." On the contrary, these years
witnessed the first sustained legislative campaign that was ever
conducted by a labor organization, namely the campaign by the New York
Trades' Union for the suppression of the competition from prison-made
goods. Under the pressure of the New York Union the State Legislature
created in 1834 a special commission on prison labor with its president,
Ely Moore, as one of the three commissioners. On this question of
prison labor the trade unionists clashed with the humanitarian prison
reformers, who regarded productive labor by prisoners as a necessary
means of their reform to an honest mode of living; and the humanitarian
won. After several months' work the commission submitted what was to the
Union an entirely unsatisfactory report. It approved the prison-labor
system as a whole and recommended only minor changes. Ely Moore signed
the report, but a public meeting of workingmen condemned it.

The rediscovered solidarity between the several trades now embodied in
the city trades' unions found its first expression on a large scale in a
ten-hour movement.

The first concerted demand for the ten-hour day was made by the
workingmen of Baltimore in August 1833, and extended over seventeen
trades. But the mechanics' aspiration for a ten-hour day--perhaps the
strongest spiritual inheritance from the preceding movement for equal
citizenship,[5] had to await a change in the general condition of
industry to render trade union effort effective before it could turn
into a well sustained movement. That change finally came with the
prosperous year of 1835.

The movement was precipitated in Boston. There, as we saw, the
carpenters had been defeated in an effort to establish a ten-hour day in
1825,[6] but made another attempt in the spring of 1835. This time,
however, they did not stand alone but were joined by the masons and
stone-cutters. As before, the principal attack was directed against the
"capitalists," that is, the owners of the buildings and the real estate
speculators. The employer or small contractor was viewed
sympathetically. "We would not be too severe on our employers," said the
strikers' circular, which was sent out broadcast over the country, "they
are slaves to the capitalists, as we are to them."

The strike was protracted. The details of it are not known, but we know
that it won sympathy throughout the country. A committee visited in July
the different cities on the Atlantic coast to solicit aid for the
strikers. In Philadelphia, when the committee arrived in company with
delegates from New York, Newark, and Paterson, the Trades' Union held a
special meeting and resolved to stand by the "Boston House Wrights" who,
"in imitation of the noble and decided stand taken by their
Revolutionary Fathers, have determined to throw off the shackles of more
mercenary tyrants than theirs." Many societies voted varying sums of
money in aid of the strikers.

The Boston strike was lost, but the sympathy which it evoked among
mechanics in various cities was quickly turned to account. Wherever the
Boston circular reached, it acted like a spark upon powder. In
Philadelphia the ten-hour movement took on the aspect of a crusade. Not
only the building trades, as in Boston, but most of the mechanical
branches were involved. Street parades and mass meetings were held. The
public press, both friendly and hostile, discussed it at length. Work
was suspended and after but a brief "standout" the whole ended in a
complete victory for the workingmen. Unskilled laborers, too, struck for
the ten-hour day and, in the attempt to prevent others from taking their
jobs, riotous scenes occurred which attracted considerable attention.
The movement proved so irresistible that the Common Council announced a
ten-hour day for public servants. Lawyers, physicians, merchants, and
politicians took up the cause of the workingmen. On June 8 the master
carpenters granted the ten-hour day and by June 22 the victory was

The victory in Philadelphia was so overwhelming and was given so much
publicity that its influence extended to many smaller towns. In fact,
the ten-hour system, which remained in vogue in this country in the
skilled trades until the nineties, dates largely from this movement in
the middle of the thirties.

The great advance in the cost of living during 1835 and 1836 compelled
an extensive movement for higher wages. Prices had in some instances
more than doubled. Most of these strikes were hastily undertaken.
Prices, of course, were rising rapidly but the societies were new and
lacked balance. A strike in one trade was an example to others to
strike. In a few instances, however, there was considerable planning and

The strike epidemic affected even the girls who worked in the textile
factories. The first strike of factory girls on record had occurred in
Dover, New Hampshire, in 1828. A factory strike in Paterson, New Jersey,
which occurred in the same year, occasioned the first recorded calling
out of militia to quell labor disturbances. There the strikers were,
however, for the most part men. But the factory strike which attracted
the greatest public attention was the Lowell strike in February, 1834,
against a 15 percent reduction in wages. The strike was short and
unsuccessful, notwithstanding that 800 striking girls at first exhibited
a determination to carry their struggle to the end. It appears that
public opinion in New England was disagreeably impressed by this early
manifestation of feminism. Another notable factory strike was one in
Paterson in July 1835. Unlike similar strikes, it had been preceded by
an organization. The chief demand was the eleven-hour day. The strike
involved twenty mills and 2000 persons. Two weeks later the employers
reduced hours from thirteen and a half to twelve hours for five days and
to nine hours on Saturday. This broke the strike. The character of the
agitation among the factory workers stamps it as ephemeral. Even more
ephemeral was the agitation among immigrant laborers, mostly Irish, on
canals and roads, which usually took the form of riots.

As in the preceding period, the aggressiveness of the trade societies
eventually gave rise to combative masters' associations. These, goaded
by restrictive union practices, notably the closed shop, appealed to the
courts for relief. By 1836 employers' associations appeared in nearly
every trade in which labor was aggressive; in New York there were at
least eight and in Philadelphia seven. In Philadelphia, at the
initiative of the master carpenters and cordwainers, there came to exist
an informal federation of the masters' associations in the several

From 1829 to 1842 there were eight recorded prosecutions of labor
organizations for conspiracy. The workingmen were convicted in two
cases; in two other cases the courts sustained demurrers to the
indictments; in three cases the defendants were acquitted after jury
trials; and the outcome of one case is unknown. Finally, in 1842, long
after the offending societies had gone out of existence under the stress
of unemployment and depressions, the Supreme Judicial Court of
Massachusetts handed down a decision, which for forty years laid to
rest the doctrine of conspiracy as applied to labor unions.[7]

The unity of action of the several trades displayed in the city trades'
unions engendered before long a still wider solidarity in the form of a
National Trades' Union. It came together in August 1834, in New York
City upon the invitation of the General Trades' Union of New York. The
delegates were from the trades' unions of New York, Philadelphia,
Boston, Brooklyn, Poughkeepsie, and Newark. Ely Moore, then labor
candidate for Congress, was elected president. An attempt by the only
"intellectual" present, a Doctor Charles Douglass, representing the
Boston Trades' Union, to strike a political note was immediately
squelched. A second convention was held in 1835 and a third one in 1837.

The National Trades' Union played a conspicuous part in securing the
ten-hour day for government employes. The victory of the ten-hour
principle in private employment in 1835 generally led to its adoption by
states and municipalities. However, the Federal government was slow to
follow the example, since Federal officials were immune from the direct
political pressure which the workingmen were able to use with advantage
upon locally elected office holders.

In October 1835, the mechanics employed in the New York and Brooklyn
Navy Yards petitioned the Secretary of the Navy for a reduction of the
hours of labor to ten. The latter referred the petition to the Board of
Navy Commissioners, who returned the petition with the opinion that it
would be detrimental to the government to accede to their request. This
forced the matter into the attention of the National Trades' Union. At
its second convention in 1835 it decided to petition Congress for a
ten-hour day for employes on government works. The petition was
introduced by the labor Congressman from New York, Ely Moore. Congress
curtly replied, however, that it was not a matter for legislation but
"that the persons employed should redress their own grievances." With
Congress in such a mood, the hopes of the workingmen turned to the

A first step was made in the summer of 1836, when the workers in the
Navy Yard at Philadelphia struck for a ten-hour day and appealed to
President Jackson for relief. They would have nothing further to do with
Congress. They had supported President Jackson in his fight against the
United States Bank and now sought a return favor. At a town meeting of
"citizens, mechanics, and working men," a committee was appointed to lay
the issue before him. He proved indeed more responsive than Congress and
ordered the ten-hour system established.

But the order applied only to the localities where the strike occurred.
The agitation had been chiefly local. Besides Philadelphia and New York
the mechanics secured the ten-hour day in Baltimore and Annapolis, but
in the District of Columbia and elsewhere they were still working twelve
or fourteen hours. In other words, the ten-hour day was secured only
where trade societies existed.

But the organized labor movement did not rest with a partial success.
The campaign of pressure on the President went on. Finally, although
somewhat belatedly, President Van Buren issued on March 31, 1840, the
famous executive order establishing the ten-hour day on government work
without a reduction in wages.

The victory came after the National Trades' Union had gone out of
existence and should be, more correctly, correlated with a labor
political movement. Early in 1837 came a financial panic. The industrial
depression wiped out in a short time every form of labor organization
from the trade societies to the National Trades' Union. Labor stood
defenseless against the economic storm. In this emergency it turned to
politics as a measure of despair.

The political dissatisfaction assumed the form of hostility towards
banks and corporations in general. The workingmen held the banks
responsible for the existing anarchy in currency, from which they
suffered both as consumers and producers. Moreover, they felt that there
was something uncanny and threatening about corporations with their
continuous existence and limited liability. Even while their attention
had been engrossed by trade unionism, the workingmen were awake to the
issue of monopoly. Together with their employers they had therefore
supported Jackson in his assault upon the largest "monster" of them
all--the Bank of the United States. The local organizations of the
Democratic party, however, did not always remain true to faith. In such
circumstances the workingmen, again acting in conjunction with their
masters, frequently extended their support to the "insurgent"
anti-monopoly candidates in the Democratic party conventions. Such a
revolt took place in Philadelphia in 1835; and in New York, although
Tammany had elected Ely Moore, the President of the General Trades'
Union of New York, to Congress in 1834, a similar revolt occurred. The
upshot was a triumphant return of the rebels into the fold of Tammany in
1837. During the next twenty years, Tammany came nearer to being a
workingmen's organization than at any other time in its career.

(4) _The Long Depression, 1837-1862_

The twenty-five years which elapsed from 1837 to 1862 form a period of
business depression and industrial disorganization only briefly
interrupted during 1850-1853 by the gold discoveries in California. The
aggressive unions of the thirties practically disappeared. With industry
disorganized, trade unionism, or the effort to protect the standard of
living by means of strikes, was out of question. As the prospect for
immediate amelioration became dimmed by circumstances, an opportunity
arrived for theories and philosophies of radical social reform. Once the
sun with its life-giving heat has set, one begins to see the cold and
distant stars.

The uniqueness of the period of the forties in the labor movement
proceeds not only from the large volume of star-gazing, but also from
the accompanying fact that, for the first and only time in American
history, the labor movement was dominated by men and women from the
educated class, the "intellectuals," who thus served in the capacity of
expert astrologers.

And there was no lack of stars in the heaven of social reform to occupy
both intellectual and wage earner. First, there was the efficiency
scheme of the followers of Charles Fourier, the French socialist, or, as
they preferred to call themselves, the Associationists. Theirs was a
proposal aiming directly to meet the issue of the prevailing industrial
disorganization and wasteful competition. Albert Brisbane, Horace
Greeley, and the Brook Farm enthusiasts and "Associationists" of the
forties, made famous by their intimate association with Ralph Waldo
Emerson, had much in common with the present-day efficiency engineers.
This "old" efficiency of theirs, like the new one, was chiefly concerned
with increasing the production of wealth through the application of the
"natural" laws of human nature. With the enormous increase in production
to be brought about by "Fourierism" and "Association," the question of
justice in distribution was relegated to a secondary place. Where they
differed from the new efficiency was in method, for they believed
efficiency would be attained if only the human instincts or "passions"
were given free play, while the efficiency engineers of today trust less
to unguided instinct and more to "scientific management" of human

Midway between trade unionism and the simon-pure, idealistic reform
philosophies stood producers' and consumers' cooperation. It had the
merit of being a practical program most suitable to a time of
depression, while on its spiritual side it did not fail to satisfy the
loftiest intellectual. It was the resultant of the two most potent
forces which acted upon the movement of the forties, the pressure of an
inadequate income of the wage earner and the influence of the
intellectuals. During no other period has there been, relatively
speaking, so much effort along that line.

Although, as we shall see, the eighties were properly the era of
producers' cooperation on a large scale, the self-governing workshop had
always been familiar to the American labor movement. The earliest
attempt, as far as we have knowledge, occurred in Philadelphia in 1791,
when the house carpenters out on strike offered by way of retaliation
against their employers to undertake contracts at 25 percent less than
the price charged by the masters. Fourteen years later, in 1806, the
journeymen cordwainers of the same city, following their conviction in
court on the charge of conspiracy brought in by their masters, opened up
a cooperative shoe warehouse and store. As a rule the workingmen took up
productive cooperation when they had failed in strikes.

In 1836 many of the trade societies began to lose their strikes and
turned to cooperation. The cordwainers working on ladies' shoes entered
upon a strike for higher wages in March 1836, and opened three months
later a "manufactory" or a warehouse of their own. The handloom weavers
in two of the suburbs of Philadelphia started cooperative associations
at the same time. At the end of 1836 the hand-loom weavers of
Philadelphia proper had two cooperative shops and were planning to open
a third. In New Brunswick, New Jersey, the journeymen cordwainers opened
a shop after an unsuccessful strike early in 1836; likewise the tailors
of Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Louisville. In New York the carpenters had
done so already in 1833, and the painters of New York and Brooklyn
opened their shops in 1837.

Before long the spirit became so contagious that the Trades' Union of
Philadelphia, the city federation of trade societies, was obliged to
take notice. Early in 1837 a conference of about 200 delegates requested
each trade society to submit estimates for a shop to employ ten members.
However, further steps were prevented by the financial panic and
business depression.

The forties witnessed several similar attempts. When the iron molders of
Cincinnati failed to win a strike in the autumn of 1847, a few of their
number collected what funds they could and organized a sort of
joint-stock company which they called "The Journeymen Molders' Union
Foundry." Two local philanthropists erected their buildings. In
Pittsburgh a group of puddlers tried to raise money by selling stock to
anyone who wished to take an interest in their cooperative venture.

The cooperative ventures multiplied in 1850 and 1851, following a
widespread failure of strikes and were entered upon with particular
readiness by the German immigrants. Among the Germans was an attitude
towards producers' cooperation, based more nearly on general principles
than the practical exigencies of a strike. Fresh from the scenes of
revolutions in Europe, they were more given to dreams about
reconstructing society and more trustful in the honesty and integrity of
their leaders. The cooperative movement among the Germans was identified
with the name of Wilhelm Weitling, the well-known German communist, who
settled in America about 1850. This movement centered in and around New
York. The cooperative principle met with success among the
English-speaking people only outside the larger cities. In Buffalo,
after an unsuccessful strike, the tailors formed an association with a
membership of 108 and in October 1850, were able to give employment to
80 of that number.

Again, following an unsuccessful Pittsburgh strike of iron founders in
1849, about a dozen of the strikers went to Wheeling, Virginia, each
investing $3000, and opened a cooperative foundry shop. Two other
foundries were opened on a similar basis in Stetsonville, Ohio, and
Sharon, Pennsylvania. These associations of iron founders, however,
might better be called association of small capitalists or

During the forties, consumers' or distributive cooperation was also
given a trial. The early history of consumers' cooperation is but
fragmentary and, so far as we know, the first cooperative attempt which
had for its exclusive aim "competence to purchaser" was made in
Philadelphia early in 1829. A store was established on North Fifth
Street, which sold goods at wholesale prices to members, who paid twenty
cents a month for its privileges.

In 1831 distributive cooperation was much discussed in Boston by a "New
England Association of Farmers, Mechanics, and Other Working Men." A
half dozen cooperative attempts are mentioned in the Cooperator,
published in Utica in 1832, but only in the case of the journeymen
cordwainers of Lynn do we discover an undertaking which can with
certainty be considered as an effort to achieve distributive
cooperation. Several germs of cooperative effort are found between 1833
and 1845, but all that is known about them is that their promoters
sought to effect a saving by the purchase of goods in large quantities
which were then broken up and distributed at a slight advance above
original cost in order to meet expenses. The managers were unpaid, the
members' interest in the business was not maintained, and the stores
soon failed, or passed into the possession of private owners.

It was the depression of 1846-1849 which supplied the movement for
distributive cooperation with the needed stimulus, especially in New
England. Although the matter was discussed in New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Maryland, and even as far west as Ohio and Illinois, yet
in none of the industrial centers of these States, except perhaps in New
York, was it put into successful operation.

In New England, however, the conditions were exceptionally favorable. A
strike movement for higher wages during a partial industrial revival of
1843-1844 had failed completely. This failure, added to the fact that
women and girls were employed under very unsatisfactory conditions,
strengthened the interest of humanitarians in the laboring people and
especially in cooperation as a possible means of alleviating their

Under the stimulus of these agitations, the New England Protective Union
was formed in 1845. Until 1849, however, it bore the name of the Working
Men's Protective Union. As often happens, prosperity brought disunion
and, in 1853, a schism occurred in the organization due to personal
differences. The seceders formed a separate organization known as the
American Protective Union.

The Working Men's Protective Union embodied a larger conception of the
cooperative idea than had been expressed before. The important thought
was that an economy of a few dollars a year in the purchase of
commodities was a poor way out of labor difficulties, but was valuable
only as a preparation for something better.

Though the resources of these laborers were small, they began the work
with great hopes. This business, starting so unpretentiously, assumed
larger and increasing proportions until in October, 1852, the Union
embraced 403 divisions of which 167 reported a capital of $241,712 and
165 of these announced annual sales amounting to $1,696,825. Though the
schism of 1853, mentioned above, weakened the body, the agent of the
American Protective Union claimed for the divisions comprising it sales
aggregating in value over nine and one-fourth millions dollars in the
seven years ending in 1859.

It is not possible to tell what might have been the outcome of this
cooperative movement had the peaceful development of the country
remained uninterrupted. As it happened, the disturbed era of the Civil
War witnessed the near annihilation of all workingmen's cooperation.

It is not difficult to see the causes which led to the destruction of
the still tender plant. Men left their homes for the battle field,
foreigners poured into New England towns and replaced the Americans in
the shops, while share-holders frequently became frightened at the state
of trade and gladly saw the entire cooperative enterprise pass into the
hands of the storekeeper.

This first American cooperative movement on a large scale resembled the
British movement in many respects, namely open membership, equal voting
by members irrespective of number of shares, cash sales and federation
of societies for wholesale purchases, but differed in that goods were
sold to members nearly at cost rather than at the market price. Dr.
James Ford in his _Cooperation in New England, Urban and Rural_,[8]
describes two survivals from this period, the Central Union Association
of New Bedford, Massachusetts, founded in 1848, and the Acushnet
Cooperative Association, also of New Bedford, which began business in

But the most characteristic labor movement of the forties was a
resurgence of the old Agrarianism of the twenties.

Skidmore's "equal division" of all property appealed to the workingmen
of New York because it seemed to be based on equality of opportunity.
One of Skidmore's temporary associates, a Welshman by the name of George
Henry Evans, drew from him an inspiration for a new kind of agrarianism
to which few could object. This new doctrine was a true Agrarianism,
since it followed in the steps of the original "Agrarians," the brothers
Gracchi in ancient Rome. Like the Gracchi, Evans centered his plan
around the "ager publicum"--the vast American public domain. Evans began
his agitation about 1844.

Man's right to life, according to Evans, logically implied his right to
use the materials of nature necessary for being. For practical reasons
he would not interfere with natural resources which have already passed
under private ownership. Evans proposed instead that Congress give each
would-be settler land for a homestead free of charge.

As late as 1852 debaters in Congress pointed out that in the preceding
sixty years only 100,000,000 acres of the public lands had been sold and
that 1,400,000,000 acres still remained at the disposal of the
government. Estimates of the required time to dispose of this residuum
at the same rate of sale varied from 400 or 500 to 900 years. With the
exaggerated views prevalent, it is no wonder that Evans believed that
the right of the individual to as much land as his right to live calls
for would remain a living right for as long a period in the future as a
practical statesman may be required to take into account.

The consequences of free homesteads were not hard to picture. The
landless wage earners could be furnished transportation and an outfit,
for the money spent for poor relief would be more profitably expended in
sending the poor to the land. Private societies and trade unions, when
laborers were too numerous, could aid in transporting the surplus to the
waiting homesteads and towns that would grow up. With the immobility of
labor thus offering no serious obstacle to the execution of the plan,
the wage earners of the East would have the option of continuing to work
for wages or of taking up their share of the vacant lands. Moreover,
mechanics could set up as independent producers in the new settlements.
Enough at least would go West to force employers to offer better wages
and shorter hours. Those unable to meet the expenses of moving would
profit by higher wages at home. An equal opportunity to go on land would
benefit both pioneer and stay-at-home.

But Evans would go still further in assuring equality of opportunity. He
would make the individual's right to the resources of nature safe
against the creditors through a law exempting homesteads from attachment
for debts and even against himself by making the homestead inalienable.
Moreover to assure that right to the American people _in perpetuo_ he
would prohibit future disposal of the public land in large blocks to
moneyed purchasers as practiced by the government heretofore. Thus the
program of the new agrarianism: free homesteads, homestead exemption,
and land limitation.

Evans had a plan of political action, which was as unique as his
economic program. His previous political experiences with the New York
Workingmen's party had taught him that a minority party could not hope
to win by its own votes and that the politicians cared more for offices
than for measures. They would endorse any measure which was supported by
voters who held the balance of power. His plan of action was, therefore,
to ask all candidates to pledge their support to his measures. In
exchange for such a pledge, the candidates would receive the votes of
the workingmen. In case neither candidate would sign the pledge, it
might be necessary to nominate an independent as a warning to future
candidates; but not as an indication of a new party organization.

Evans' ideas quickly won the adherence of the few labor papers then
existing. Horace Greeley's New York Tribune endorsed the homestead
movement as early as 1845. The next five years witnessed a remarkable
spread of the ideas of the free homestead movement in the press of the
country. It was estimated in 1845 that 2000 papers were published in the
United States and that in 1850, 600 of these supported land reform.

Petitions and memorials having proved of little avail, the land
reformers tried Evans' pet plan of bargaining votes for the support of
their principles. Tammany was quick to start the bidding. In May, 1851,
a mass-meeting was held at Tammany Hall "of all those in favor of land
and other industrial reform, to be made elements in the Presidential
contest of 1852." A platform was adopted which proclaimed man's right to
the soil and urged that freedom of the public lands be endorsed by the
Democratic party. Senator Isaac A. Walker of Wisconsin was nominated as
the candidate of the party for President.

For a while the professional politician triumphed over the too trusting
workingman reformer. But the cause found strong allies in the other
classes of the American community. From the poor whites of the upland
region of the South came a similar demand formulated by the Tennessee
tailor, Andrew Johnson, later President of the United States, who
introduced his first homestead bill in 1845. From the Western pioneers
and settlers came the demand for increased population and development of
resources, leading both to homesteads for settlers and land grants for
railways. The opposition came from manufacturers and landowners of the
East and from the Southern slave owners. The West and East finally
combined and the policy of the West prevailed, but not before the South
had seceded from the Union.

Not the entire reform was accepted. The Western spirit dominated. The
homestead law, as finally adopted in 1862, granted one hundred and sixty
acres as a free gift to every settler. But the same Congress launched
upon a policy of extensive land grants to railways. The homestead
legislation doubtless prevented great estates similar to those which
sprang of a different policy of the Australian colonies, but did not
carry out the broad principles of inalienability and land limitation of
the original Agrarians.

Their principle of homestead exemption, however, is now almost
universally adopted. Thus the homestead agitation begun by Evans and a
group of wage earners and farmers in 1844 was carried to victory, though
to an incomplete victory. It contained a fruitful lesson to labor in
politics. The vested interests in the East were seen ultimately to
capitulate before a popular movement which at no time aspired toward
political power and office, but, concentrating on one issue, endeavored
instead to permeate with its ideas the public opinion of the country at

Of all the "isms" so prevalent during the forties, "Agrarianism" alone
came close to modern socialism, as it alone advocated class struggle and
carried it into the political field, although, owing to the peculiarity
of the American party structure, it urged a policy of "reward your
friends, and punish your enemies" rather than an out and out labor
party. It is noteworthy that of all social reform movements of the
forties Agrarianism alone was not initiated by the intellectuals. On
the other hand, another movement for legislative reform, namely the
shorter-hour movement for women and children working in the mills and
factories, was entirely managed by humanitarians. Its philosophy was the
furthest removed from the class struggle idea.

For only a short year or two did prosperity show itself from behind the
clouds to cause a mushroom growth of trade unions, once in 1850-1851 and
again in 1853-1854, following the gold discoveries in California. During
these few years unionism disentangled itself from humanitarianism and
cooperationism and came out in its wholly modern form of restrictive
craft unionism, only to be again suppressed by the business depressions
that preceded and followed the panic of 1857. Considered as a whole,
however, the period of the forties and fifties was the zenith in
American history of theories of social reform, of "panaceas," of

The trade union wave of the fifties was so short lived and the trade
unionists were so preoccupied with the pressing need of advancing their
wages to keep pace with the soaring prices caused by the influx of
California gold, that we miss the tendency which was so strong in the
thirties to reach out for a wider basis of labor organization in city
trades' unions, and ultimately in a National Trades' Union. On the other
hand, the fifties foreshadowed a new form of expansion of labor
organization--the joining together in a nation-wide organization of all
local unions of one trade. The printers[9] organized nationally in
1850, the locomotive engineers and the hat-finishers in 1854; and the
iron molders, and the machinists and blacksmiths in 1859; in addition
there were at least a half dozen less successful attempts in other


[2] See below, 147-148.

[3] See below, 148-149.

[4] See below, 270-272.

[5] The workingmen felt that they required leisure to be able to
exercise their rights of citizens.

[6] The ship carpenters had been similarly defeated in 1832.

[7] For a detailed discussion of these trials see below, 149-152.

[8] Published in 1916 by the Russell Sage Foundation, pp. 16-18.

[9] The printers had organized nationally for the first time in 1836,
but the organization lasted less than two years; likewise the
cordwainers or shoemakers. But we must keep in mind that what
constituted national organization in the thirties would pass only for
regional or sectional organization in later years.



The few national trade unions which were formed at the close of the
fifties did not constitute by themselves a labor movement. It needed the
industrial prosperity caused by the price inflation of the Civil War
time to bring forth again a mass movement of labor.

We shall say little of labor's attitude towards the question of war and
peace before the War had started. Like many other citizens of the North
and the Border States the handful of organized workers favored a
compromise. They held a labor convention in Philadelphia, in which a
great labor leader of the sixties, William H. Sylvis, President of the
International Molders' Union, took a prominent part and pronounced in
favor of the compromise solution advanced by Congressman Crittenden of
Kentucky. But no sooner had Fort Sumter been fired upon by the
secessionists than labor rallied to the support of the Federal Union.
Entire local unions enlisted at the call of President Lincoln, and
Sylvis himself assisted in recruiting a company composed of molders.

The first effect of the War was a paralysis of business and an increase
of unemployment. The existing labor organizations nearly all went to the
wall. The period of industrial stagnation, however, lasted only until
the middle of 1862.

The legal tender acts of 1862 and 1863 authorized the issue of paper
currency of "greenbacks" to the amount of $1,050,000,000, and
immediately prices began to soar. For the next sixteen years, namely
until 1879, when the government resumed the redemption of greenbacks in
gold, prices of commodities and labor expressed in terms of paper money
showed varying degrees of inflation; hence the term "greenback" period.
During the War the advance in prices was due in part to the
extraordinary demand by the government for the supply of the army and,
of course, to speculation.

In July 1863, retail prices were 43 percent above those of 1860 and
wages only 12 percent above; in July 1864, retail prices rose to 70
percent and wages to 30 percent above 1860; and in July 1865, prices
rose to 76 percent and wages only to 50 percent above the level of 1860.
The unequal pace of the price movement drove labor to organize along
trade-union lines.

The order observed in the thirties was again followed out. First came a
flock of local trade unions; these soon combined in city centrals--or as
they came to be called, trades' assemblies--paralleling the trades'
union of the thirties; and lastly, came an attempt to federate the
several trades' assemblies into an International Industrial Assembly of
North America. Local trade unions were organized literally in every
trade beginning in the second half of 1862. The first trades' assembly
was formed in Rochester, New York, in March 1863; and before long there
was one in every town of importance. The International Industrial
Assembly was attempted in 1864, but failed to live up to the
expectations: The time had passed for a national federation of city
centrals. As in the thirties the spread of unionism over the breadth of
the land called out as a counterpart a widespread movement of employers'
associations. The latter differed, however, from their predecessors in
the thirties in that they made little use of the courts in their fight
against the unions.

The growth of the national trade unions was a true index of the
condition of business. Four were organized in 1864 as compared to two
organized in 1863, none in 1862, and one in 1861. During 1865, which
marked the height of the intense business activity, six more national
unions were organized. In 1866 industry entered upon a period of
depression, which reached its lowest depth in 1867 and continued until
1869. Accordingly, not a single national union was organized in 1866 and
only one in 1867. In 1868 two new national labor unions were organized.
In 1869 two more unions were formed--a total of seven for the four
depressed years, compared with ten in the preceding two prosperous
years. In the summer of 1870 business became good and remained good for
approximately three years. Nine new national unions appeared in these
three years. These same years are marked also by a growth of the unions
previously organized. For instance, the machinists and blacksmiths, with
only 1500 members in 1870, had 18,000 in 1873. Other unions showed
similar gains.

An estimate of the total trade union membership at any one time (in view
of the total lack of reliable statistics) would be extremely hazardous.
The New York _Herald_ estimated it in August 1869, to be about 170,000.
A labor leader claimed at the same time that the total was as high as
600,000. Probably 300,000 would be a conservative estimate for the time
immediately preceding the panic of 1873.

Although the strength of labor was really the strength of the national
trade unions, especially during the depression of the later sixties, far
greater attention was attracted outside as well as inside the labor
movement by the National Labor Union, a loosely built federation of
national trade unions, city trades' assemblies, local trade unions, and
reform organizations of various descriptions, from philosophical
anarchists to socialists and woman suffragists. The National Labor Union
did not excel in practical activity, but it formed an accurate mirror of
the aspirations and ideals of the American mechanics of the time of the
Civil War and after. During its six years' existence it ran the gamut of
all important issues which agitated the labor movement of the time.

The National Labor Union came together in its first convention in 1866.
The most pressing problem of the day was unemployment due to the return
of the demobilized soldiers and the shutting down of war industries. The
convention centered on the demand to reduce the working day to eight
hours. But eight hours had by that time come to signify more than a
means to increase employment. The eight-hour movement drew its
inspiration from an economic theory advanced by a self-taught Boston
machinist, Ira Steward. And so naturally did this theory flow from the
usual premises in the thinking of the American workman that once
formulated by Steward it may be said to have become an official theory
of the labor movement.

Steward's doctrine is well expressed by a couplet which was very popular
with the eight-hour speakers of that period: "Whether you work by the
piece or work by the day, decreasing the hours increases the pay."
Steward believed that the amount of wages is determined by no other
factor than the worker's standard of living. He held that wages cannot
fall below the standard of living not because, as the classical
economists said, it would cause late marriages and a reduction in the
supply of labor, but solely because the wage earner will refuse to work
for less than enough to maintain his standard of living. Steward
possessed such abundant faith in this purely psychological check on the
employer that he made it the cornerstone of his theory of social
progress. Raise the worker's standard of living, he said, and the
employer will be immediately forced to raise wages; no more can wages
fall below the level of the worker's standard of living than New England
can be ruled against her will. The lever for raising the standard of
living was the eight-hour day. Increase the worker's leisure and you
will increase his wants; increase his wants and you will immediately
raise his wages. Although he occasionally tried to soften his doctrine
by the argument that a shorter work-day not only does not decrease but
may actually increase output, his was a distinctly revolutionary
doctrine; he aimed at the total abolition of profits through their
absorption into wages. But the instrument was nothing more radical than
a progressive universal shortening the hours.

So much for the general policy. To bring it to pass two alternatives
were possible: trade unionism or legislation. Steward chose the latter
as the more hopeful and speedy one. Steward knew that appeals to the
humanity of the employers had largely failed; efforts to secure the
reform by cooperation had failed; the early trade unions had failed; and
there seemed to be no recourse left now but to accomplish the reduction
of hours by legislative enactment.

In 1866 Steward organized the Grand Eight-Hour League of Massachusetts
as a special propagandist organization of the eight-hour philosophy. The
League was a secret organization with pass words and obligations,
intended as the central organization of a chain of subordinate leagues
in the State, afterwards to be created. Of a total of about eighty local
leagues in existence from 1865 to 1877, about twenty were in
Massachusetts, eight elsewhere in New England, at least twenty-five in
Michigan, four or five in Pennsylvania, about seven in Illinois, as many
in Wisconsin, and smaller numbers in Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, and
California. Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Pennsylvania had each a Grand
Eight-Hour League. Practically all of these organizations disappeared
soon after the panic of 1873.

The National Labor Union centered on the passage of an eight-hour law
for employes of the Federal government. It was believed, perhaps not
without some justice, that the effect of such law would eventually lead
to the introduction of the same standard in private employment--not
indeed through the operation of the law of supply and demand, for it was
realized that this would be practically negligible, but rather through
its contagious effect on the minds of employes and even employers. It
will be recalled that, at the time of the ten-hour agitation of the
thirties, the Federal government had lagged about five years behind
private employers in granting the demanded concession. That in the
sixties the workingmen chose government employment as the entering wedge
shows a measure of political self-confidence which the preceding
generation of workingmen lacked.

The first bill in Congress was introduced by Senator Gratz Brown of
Missouri in March 1866. In the summer a delegation from the National
Labor Union was received by President Andrew Johnson. The President
pointed to his past record favorable to the workingmen but refrained
from any definite promises. Finally, an eight-hour bill for government
employes was passed by the House in March 1867, and by the Senate in
June 1868. On June 29, 1868, President Johnson signed it and it went
into effect immediately.

The result of the eight-hour law was not all that the friends of the
bill hoped. The various officials in charge of government work put their
own interpretations upon it and there resulted much diversity in its
observance, and consequently great dissatisfaction. There seemed to be
no clear understanding as to the intent of Congress in enacting the law.
Some held that the reduction in working hours must of necessity bring
with it a corresponding reduction in wages. The officials' view of the
situation was given by Secretary Gideon Wells. He pointed out that
Congress, by reducing the hours of labor in government work, had forced
upon the department of the Navy the employment of a larger number of men
in order to accomplish the necessary work; and that at the same time
Congress had reduced the appropriation for that department. This had
rendered unavoidable a twenty percent reduction in wages paid employes
in the Navy Yard. Such a state of uncertainty continued four years
longer. At last on May 13, 1872, President Grant prohibited by
proclamation any wage reductions in the execution of the law. On May 18,
1872, Congress passed a law for the restitution of back pay.

The expectations of the workingmen that the Federal law would blaze the
way for the eight-hour system in private employment failed to
materialize. The depression during the seventies took up all the impetus
in that direction which the law may have generated. Even as far as
government work is concerned forty years had to elapse before its
application could be rounded out by extending it to contract work done
for the government by private employers.

We have dealt at length with this subject because it marked an important
landmark. It demonstrated to the wage earners that, provided they
concentrated on a modest object and kept up a steady pressure, their
prospects for success were not entirely hopeless, hard as the road may
seem to travel. The other and far more ambitious object of the
workingman of the sixties, that of enacting general eight-hour laws in
the several States, at first appeared to be within easy reach--so
yielding political parties and State legislatures seemed to be to the
demands of the organized workmen. Yet before long these successes proved
to be entirely illusory.

The year 1867 was the banner year for such State legislation. Eight-hour
laws were passed in Illinois, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Missouri, and New
York. California passed such a law in 1868. In Pennsylvania, Michigan,
Maryland, and Minnesota bills were introduced but were defeated. Two
common features characterized these laws, whether enacted or merely
proposed to the legislatures. There were none which did not permit of
longer hours than those named in the law, provided they were so
specified in the contract. A contract requiring ten or more hours a day
was perfectly legal. The eight-hour day was the legal day only "when the
contract was silent on the subject or where there is no express contract
to the contrary," as stated in the Wisconsin law. But the greatest
weakness was a lack of a provision for enforcement. New York's
experience is typical and characteristic. When the workingmen appealed
to Governor Fenton to enforce the law, he replied that the act had
received his official signature and he felt that it "would be an
unwarrantable assumption" on his part to take any step requiring its
enforcement. "Every law," he said, "was obligatory by its own nature,
and could derive no additional force from any further act of his."

In Massachusetts, however, the workingmen succeeded after hard and
protracted labor in obtaining an enforceable ten-hour law for women--the
first effective law of its kind passed in any American State. This law,
which was passed in 1874, provides that "no minor under the age of
eighteen years, and no woman over that age" shall be employed more than
ten hours in one day or sixty hours in any one week in any manufacturing
establishment in the State. The penalty for each violation was fixed at
fifty dollars.

The repeated disappointments with politics and legislation led in the
early seventies to a revival of faith in trade unionism. Even in the
early sixties we find not a few unions, national and local, limiting
their hours by agreement with employers. The national unions, however,
for the most part left the matter to the local unions for settlement as
their strength or local conditions might dictate. In some cases the
local unions were advised to accept a reduction of wages in order to
secure the system, showing faith in Steward's theory that such reduction
could not be permanent.

The movement to establish the eight-hour day through trade unionism
reached its climax in the summer of 1872, when business prosperity was
at its height. This year witnessed in New York City a general eight-hour
strike. However, it succeeded in only a few trades, and even there the
gain was only temporary, since it was lost during the years of
depression which followed the financial panic of 1873.

To come back to the National Labor Union. At the second convention in
1867 the enthusiasm was transferred from eight-hour laws to the bizarre
social reform philosophy known as "greenbackism."

"Greenbackism" was, in substance, a plan to give the man without capital
an equal opportunity in business with his rich competitor. It meant
taking away from bankers and middlemen their control over credit and
thereby furnishing credit and capital through the aid of the government
to the producers of physical products. On its face greenbackism was a
program of currency reform and derived its name from the so-called
"greenback," the paper money issued during the Civil War. But it was
more than currency reform--it was industrial democracy.

"Greenbackism" was the American counterpart of the contemporary
radicalism of Europe. Its program had much in common with that of
Lassalle in Germany who would have the state lend its credit to
cooperative associations of workingmen in the confident expectation that
with such backing they would drive private capitalism out of existence
by the competitive route. But greenbackism differed from the scheme of
Lassalle in that it would utilize the government's enormous Civil War
debt, instead of its taxing power, as a means of furnishing capital to
labor. This was to be done by reducing the rate of interest on the
government bonds to three percent and by making them convertible into
legal tender currency and convertible back into bonds, at the will of
the holder of either. In other words, the greenback currency, instead of
being, as it was at the time, an irredeemable promise to pay in specie,
would be redeemable in government bonds. On the other hand, if a
government bondholder could secure slightly more than three percent by
lending to a private borrower, he would return his bonds to the
government, take out the corresponding amount in greenbacks and lend it
to the producer on his private note or mortgage. This would involve, of
course, the possible inflation of legal tender currency to the amount of
outstanding bonds. But inflation was immaterial, since all prices would
be affected alike and meanwhile the farmers, the workingmen, and their
cooperative establishments would be able to secure capital at slightly
more than three percent instead of the nine or twelve percent which they
were compelled to pay at the bank. Thereby they would be placed on a
competitive level with the middleman, and the wage earner would be
assisted to escape the wage system into self-employment.

Such was the curious doctrine which captured the leaders of the
organized wage earners in 1867. The way had indeed been prepared for it
in 1866, when the wage earners espoused producers' cooperation as the
only solution. But, in the following year, 1867, they concluded that no
system of combination or cooperation could secure to labor its natural
rights as long as the credit system enabled non-producers to accumulate
wealth faster than labor was able to add to the national wealth.
Cooperation would follow "as a natural consequence," if producers could
secure through legislation credit at a low rate of interest. The
government was to extend to the producer "free capital" in addition to
free land which he received with the Homestead Act.

The producers' cooperation, which offered the occasion for the espousal
of greenbackism, was itself preceded by a movement for consumers'
cooperation. Following the upward sweep of prices, workmen had begun
toward the end of 1862 to make definite preparations for distributive
cooperation. They endeavored to cut off the profits of the middleman by
establishing cooperative grocery stores, meat markets, and coal yards.
The first substantial effort of this kind to attract wide attention was
the formation in December 1862, of the Union Cooperative Association of
Philadelphia, which opened a store. The prime mover and the financial
secretary of this organization was Thomas Phillips, a shoemaker who came
from England in 1852, fired with the principles of the Rochdale
pioneers, that is, cash sales, dividends on purchases rather than on
stock, and "one man, one vote." By 1866 the movement had extended until
practically every important industrial town between Boston and San
Francisco had some form of distributive cooperation. This was the high
tide of the movement. Unfortunately, the condition of the country was
unfavorable to these enterprises and they were destined to early
collapse. The year 1865 witnessed disastrous business failures. The
country was in an uncertain condition and at the end of the sixties the
entire movement had died out.

From 1866 to 1869 experiments in productive cooperation were made by
practically all leading trades including the bakers, coach makers,
collar makers, coal miners, shipwrights, machinists and blacksmiths,
foundry workers, nailers, ship carpenters, and calkers, glass blowers,
hatters, boiler makers, plumbers, iron rollers, tailors, printers,
needle women, and molders. A large proportion of these attempts grew out
of unsuccessful strikes. The most important undertakings were among the
workers in iron, undoubtedly due in large measure to the indefatigable
efforts of William H. Sylvis, the founder of the Iron Molders'
International Union.

At the close of 1869 members of the Iron Molders' International Union
owned and operated many cooperative foundries chiefly in New York and
Pennsylvania. The first of the foundries established at Troy in the
early summer of 1866 was followed quickly by one in Albany and then
during the next eighteen months by ten more--one each in Rochester,
Chicago, Quincy, Louisville, Somerset, Pittsburgh, and two each in Troy
and Cleveland. The original foundry at Troy was an immediate financial
success and was hailed with joy by those who believed that under the
name of cooperationists the baffled trade unionists might yet conquer.
The New York _Sun_ congratulated the iron molders of Troy and declared
that Sylvis had checkmated the association of stove manufacturers and,
by the establishment of this cooperative foundry, had made the greatest
contribution of the year to the labor cause.

But the results of the Troy experiment, typical of the others, show how
far from a successful solution of the labor problem is productive
cooperation. Although this "Troy Cooperative Iron Founders' Association"
was planned with great deliberation and launched at a time when the
regular stove manufacturers were embarrassed by strikes, and although it
was regularly incorporated with a provision that each member was
entitled to but one vote whether he held one share at $100, or the
maximum privilege of fifty in the total of two thousand shares, it
failed as did the others in furnishing permanent relief to the workers
as a class. At the end of the third year of this enterprise, the
_American Workman_ published a sympathetic account of its progress
unconsciously disclosing its fatal weakness, namely, the inevitable
tendency of cooperators to adopt the capitalistic view. The writer of
this account quotes from these cooperators to show that "the fewer the
stockholders in the company the greater its success."

A similar instance is furnished by the Cooperative Foundry Company of
Rochester. This venture has also been a financial success, though a
partial failure as a cooperative enterprise. When it was established in
1867 all employes were stockholders and profits were divided as follows:
Twelve percent on capital and the balance in proportion to the earnings
of the men. But the capitalist was stronger than the cooperative
brother. Dividends on capital were advanced in a few years to seventeen
and one-half percent, then to twenty-five, and finally the distribution
of any part of the profits in proportion to wages was discontinued.
Money was made every year and dividends paid, which in 1884 amounted to
forty percent on the capital. At that time about one-fifth of the
employes were stockholders. Also in this case cooperation did not
prevent the usual conflict between employer and employe, as is shown in
a strike of three and a half months' duration. It is interesting to
notice that one of the strikers, a member of the Molders' Union, owned
stock to the amount of $7000.

The machinists, too, throughout this period took an active interest in
cooperation. Their convention which met in October, 1865, appointed a
committee to report on a plan of action to establish a cooperative shop
under the auspices of the International Union. The plan failed of
adoption, but of machinists' shops on the joint-stock plan there were a
good many. Two other trades noted for their enthusiasm for cooperation
at this time were the shoemakers and the coopers. The former, organized
in the Order of St. Crispin, then the largest trade union in the
country, advocated cooperation even when their success in strikes was at
its height. "The present demand of the Crispin is steady employment and
fair wages, but his future is self-employment" was one of their mottoes.
During the seventies they repeatedly attempted to carry this motto into
effect. The seventies also saw the beginning of the most successful
single venture in productive cooperation ever undertaken in this
country, namely, the eight cooperative cooperage shops in Minneapolis,
which were established at varying intervals from 1874 to 1886. The
coopers took care to enforce true cooperation by providing for equal
holding of stock and for a division of ordinary profits and losses in
proportion to wages. The cooper shops prospered, but already ten years
later four out of the eight existing in 1886 had passed into private

In 1866 when the eight-hour demand was as yet uppermost, the National
Labor Union resolved for an independent labor party. The espousal of
greenbackism in 1867 only reenforced that resolution. The leaders
realized only too well that neither the Republican nor Democratic party
would voluntarily make an issue of a scheme purporting to assist the
wage earner to become an independent producer. Accordingly, the history
of the National Labor Union became largely the history of labor's first
attempt to play a lone political hand on a national scale.

Each annual session of the National Labor Union faithfully reaffirmed
the decision to "cut loose" from the old parties. But such a vast
undertaking demanded time. It was not until 1872 that the National Labor
Union met as a political convention to nominate a national ticket. From
the first the stars were inauspicious. Charges were made that political
aspirants sought to control the convention in order to influence
nominations by the Republican and Democratic parties. A "greenback"
platform was adopted as a matter of course and the new party was
christened the National Labor and Reform Party. On the first formal
ballot for nomination for President, Judge David Davis of Illinois, a
personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, received 88 votes, Wendell Phillips,
the abolitionist, 52, and the remainder scattered. On the third ballot
Davis was nominated. Governor J. Parker of New Jersey was nominated for
Vice-President. At first Judge Davis accepted the nomination, but
resigned after the Democrats had nominated Horace Greeley. The loss of
the candidate spelled the death of the party. The National Labor Union
itself had been only an empty shell since 1870, when the national trade
unions, disaffected with the turn towards politics, withdrew. Now, its
pet project a failure, it, too, broke up.

In 1873, on the eve of the financial panic, the national trade unions
attempted to reconstruct a national labor federation on a purely
trade-union basis in the form of a National Industrial Congress. But the
economic disaster of the panic nipped it in the bud just as it cut off
the life of the overwhelming majority of the existing labor
organizations. Another attempt to get together on a national basis was
made in the National Labor Congress at Pittsburgh in 1876. But those who
responded were not interested in trade unionism and, mirroring the
prevailing labor sentiment during the long years of depressions, had
only politics on their mind, greenback or socialist. As neither
greenbacker nor socialist would meet the other half-way, the attempt
naturally came to naught.

Greenbackism was popular with the working people during the depressed
seventies because it now meant to them primarily currency inflation and
a rise of prices and, consequently, industrial prosperity--not the
phantastic scheme of the National Labor Union. Yet in the Presidential
election of 1876 the Greenback party candidate, Peter Cooper, the well
known manufacturer and philanthropist, drew only a poor 100,000, which
came practically from the rural districts only. It was not until the
great strikes of 1877 had brought in their train a political labor
upheaval that the greenback movement assumed a formidable form.

The strikes of 1877, which on account of the wide area affected, the
degree of violence displayed, and the amount of life and property lost,
impressed contemporaries as being nothing short of social revolution,
were precipitated by a general ten percent reduction in wages on the
three trunk lines running West, the Pennsylvania, the Baltimore & Ohio,
and the New York Central, in June and July 1877. This reduction came on
top of an earlier ten percent reduction after the panic. The railway men
were practically unorganized so that the steadying influence of previous
organization was totally lacking in the critical situation of unrest
which the newly announced wage reduction created. One must take also
into account that in the four terrible years which elapsed since the
panic, America had developed a new type of a man--the tramp--who
naturally gravitated towards places where trouble was expected.

The first outbreak occurred at Martinsburg, West Virginia, on July 17,
the day after the ten percent reduction had gone into effect. The
strike spread like wildfire over the adjacent sections of the Baltimore
& Ohio road, the strikers assuming absolute control at many points. The
militia was either unwilling or powerless to cope with the violence. In
Baltimore, where in the interest of public safety all the freight trains
had stopped running, two companies of militia were beleaguered by a mob
to prevent their being dispatched to Cumberland, where the strikers were
in control. Order was restored only when Federal troops arrived.

But these occurrences fade into insignificance when compared with the
destructive effects of the strike on the Pennsylvania in and around
Pittsburgh. The situation there was aggravated by a hatred of the
Pennsylvania railway corporation shared by nearly all residents on the
ground of an alleged rate discrimination against the city. The
Pittsburgh militia fraternized with the strikers, and when 600 troops
which arrived from Philadelphia attempted to restore order and killed
about twenty rioters, they were besieged in a roundhouse by a furious
mob. In the battle the railway yards were set on fire. Damages amounting
to about $5,000,000 were caused. The besieged militia men finally gained
egress and retreated fighting rear-guard actions. At last order was
restored by patrols of citizens. The strike spread also to the Erie
railway and caused disturbances in several places, but not nearly of the
same serious nature as on the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania. The
other places to which the strike spread were Toledo, Louisville,
Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco.

The strikes failed in every case but their moral effect was enormous.
The general public still retained a fresh memory of the Commune of Paris
of 1871 and feared for the foundations of the established order. The
wage earners, on the other hand, felt that the strikers had not been
fairly dealt with. It was on this intense labor discontent that the
greenback agitation fed and grew.

Whereas in 1876 the greenback labor vote was negligible, notwithstanding
the exhortations by many of the former trade union leaders who turned
greenback agitators, now, following the great strikes, greenbackism
became primarily a labor movement. Local Greenback-Labor parties were
being organized everywhere and a national Greenback-Labor party was not
far behind in forming. The continued industrial depression was a
decisive factor, the winter of 1877-1878 marking perhaps the point of
its greatest intensity. Naturally the greenback movement was growing
apace. One of the notable successes in the spring of 1878 was the
election of Terence V. Powderly, later Grand Master Workman of the
Knights of Labor, as mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The Congressional election in the autumn of 1878 marked the zenith of
the movement. The aggregate greenback vote cast in the election exceeded
a million, and fourteen Representatives were sent to Congress. In New
England the movement was strong enough to poll almost a third of the
total vote in Maine, over 8 percent of the total vote in both
Connecticut and New Hampshire, and from 4 to 6 percent, in the other
States. In Maine the greenbackers elected 32 members of the upper house
and 151 members of the lower house and one Congressman, Thompson Murch
of Rochland, who was secretary of the National Granite Cutters' Union.
However, the bulk of the vote in that State was obviously agricultural.
In Massachusetts, the situation was dominated by General Benjamin F.
Butler, lifelong Republican politician, who had succeeded in getting
the Democratic nomination for governor and was endorsed by the Greenback
convention. He received a large vote but was defeated for office.

But just as the Greenback-Labor movement was assuming promising
proportions a change for the better in the industrial situation cut
under the very roots of its existence. In addition, one month after the
election of 1878, its principal issue disappeared. January 1, 1879, was
the date fixed by the act for resumption of redemption of greenbacks in
gold and on December 17, 1878, the premium on gold disappeared. From
that day on, the greenback became a dead issue.

Another factor of great importance was the large increase in the volume
of the currency. In 1881 the currency, which had averaged about
$725,000,000 for the years 1876-1878, reached over $1,111,000,000. Under
these conditions, all that remained available to the platform-makers and
propagandists of the party was their opposition to the so-called
"monopolistic" national banks with their control over currency and to
the refunding of the bonded debt of the government.

The disappearance of the financial issue snapped the threads which had
held together the farmer and the wage-worker. So long as depression
continued, the issue was financial and the two had, as they thought, a
common enemy--the banker. The financial issue once settled, or at least
suspended, the object of the attack by labor became the employer, and
that of the attack by the farmer--the railway corporation and the
warehouse man. Prosperity had mitigated the grievances of both classes,
but while the farmer still had a great deal to expect from politics in
the form of state regulation of railway rates, the wage earners'
struggle now turned entirely economic and not political.

In California, as in the Eastern industrial States, the railway strikes
of 1877 precipitated a political movement. California had retained gold
as currency throughout the entire period of paper money, and the labor
movement at no time had accepted the greenback platform. The political
issue after 1877 was racial, not financial, and the weapon was not
merely the ballot, but also "direct action"--violence. The anti-Chinese
agitation in California, culminating as it did in the Exclusion Law
passed by Congress in 1882, was doubtless the most important single
factor in the history of American labor, for without it the entire
country might have been overrun by Mongolian labor and the labor
movement might have become a conflict of races instead of one of

The seventies witnessed another of those recurring attempts of
consumers' cooperation already noticed in the forties and sixties. This
time the movement was organized by the "Sovereigns of Industry," a
secret order, founded at Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1874 by one
William H. Earle. The spirit of the Order was entirely peaceful and
unobtrusive as expressed in the first paragraph of the Declaration of
Purposes which reads as follows:

"The Order of the Sovereigns of Industry is an association of the
industrial or laboring classes, without regard to race, sex, color,
nationality, or occupation; not founded for the purpose of waging any
war of aggression upon any other class, or for fostering any antagonism
of labor against capital, or of arraying the poor against the rich; but
for mutual assistance in self-improvement and self-protection."

The scheme of organization called for a local council including members
from the town or district, a state council, comprising representatives
from the local councils and a National Council in which the States were
represented. The president of the National Council was the founder of
the Order, William H. Earle.

Success accompanied the efforts of the promoters of the Sovereigns of
Industry for a few years. The total membership in 1875-1876 was 40,000,
of whom seventy-five percent were in New England and forty-three percent
in Massachusetts. Though the Order extended into other States and even
reached the territories, its chief strength always remained in New
England and the Middle States. During the last period of its existence a
national organ was published at Washington, but the Order does not
appear to have gained a foothold in any of the more Southern sections of
the country.

In 1875, 101 local councils reported as having some method of supplying
members with goods, 46 of whom operated stores. The largest store
belonged to the council at Springfield, Massachusetts, which in 1875
built the "Sovereign Block" at a cost of $35,500. In his address at the
fourth annual session in Washington, President Earle stated that the
store in Springfield led all the others with sales amounting to $119,000
for the preceding year. About one-half of the councils failed to report,
but at the Congress of 1876 President Earle estimated the annual trade
at $3,000,000.

Much enthusiasm accompanied the progress of the movement. The hall in
"Sovereign Block" at Springfield was dedicated amid such jubilation as
marks an event thought to be the forerunner of a new era. There is
indeed a certain pathos in the high hopes expressed in the Address of
Dedication by President Earle, for, though the Order continued to thrive
until 1878, shortly after a decline began, and dissolution was its fate
in 1880.

The failure of the Sovereigns marked the latest attempt on a large
scale[11] to inoculate the American workingmen with the sort of
cooperative spirit which proved so successful in England.[12]

This failure of distributive cooperation to gain the strong and lasting
foothold in this country that it has abroad has been accounted for in
various ways by different writers. Great emphasis has been laid upon the
lack of capital, the lack of suitable legislation on the subject of
cooperation, the mutual isolation of the educated and wage-earning
classes, the lack of business ability among wage earners, and the
altogether too frequent venality and corruption among cooperators.

Probably the lack of adequate leadership has played as important a part
as any. It is peculiar to America that the wage earner of exceptional
ability can easily find a way for escaping into the class of independent
producers or even employers of labor. The American trade union movement
has suffered much less from this difficulty. The trade unions are
fighting organizations; they demand the sort of leader who is of a
combative spirit, who possesses the organizing ability and the "personal
magnetism" to keep his men in line; and for this kind of ability the
business world offers no particular demand. On the other hand, the
qualifications which go to make a successful manager of a cooperative
store, namely, steadiness, conservatism of judgment, attention to detail
and business punctuality always will be in great demand in the business
world. Hence, when no barrier is interposed in the form of preempted
opportunities or class bias, the exceptional workingman who possesses
these qualifications will likely desert his class and set up in business
for himself. In England, fortunately for the cooperative movement, such
an escape is very difficult.

The failure of consumers' cooperation in America was helped also by two
other peculiarly American conditions. European economists, when speaking
of the working class, assume generally that it is fixed in residence and
contrast it with capital, which they say is fluid as between city and
city and even between country and country. American labor, however,
native as well as immigrant, is probably more mobile than capital; for,
tradition and habit which keep the great majority of European wage
earners in the place where their fathers and forefathers had lived
before them are generally absent in this country, except perhaps in
parts of New England and the South. It is therefore natural that the
cooperative spirit, which after all is but an enlarged and more
generalized form of the old spirit of neighborliness and mutual trust,
should have failed to develop to its full strength in America.

Another condition fatal to the development of the cooperative spirit is
the racial heterogeneity of the American wage-earning class, which
separates it into mutually isolated groups even as the social classes of
England and Scotland are separated by class spirit. As a result, we find
a want of mutual trust which depends so much on "consciousness of kind."
This is further aggravated by competition and a continuous displacement
in industry of nationalities of a high standard of living by those of a
lower one. This conflict of nationalities, which lies also at the root
of the closed shop policy of many of the American trade unions, is
probably the most effective carrier that there is to a widespread growth
of the cooperative spirit among American wage earners. This is further
hindered by other national characteristics which more or less pervade
all classes of society, namely, the traditional individualism--the
heritage of puritanism and the pioneer days, and the emphasis upon
earning capacity with a corresponding aversion to thrift.


[10] The National Labor Union came out against Chinese immigration in
1869, when the issue was brought home to the Eastern wage earners
following the importation by a shoe manufacturer in North Adams,
Massachusetts, of Chinese strike breakers.

[11] There were many cooperative stores in the eighties and a concerted
effort to duplicate the venture of the Sovereigns was attempted as late
as 1919 under the pressure of the soaring cost of living.

[12] Where Consumers' Cooperation has worked under most favorable
conditions as in England, its achievements have been all that its most
ardent champions could have desired. Such is the picture presented by
Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb in the following glowing terms:

"The organization of industry by Associations of Consumers offers, as
far as it goes, a genuine alternative to capitalist ownership, because
it supersedes the capitalist power, whether individual or joint-stock,
alike in the control of the instruments of production by which the
community lives, and in the absorption of the profits, which otherwise
support a capitalist class. The ownership and control are vested in, and
the profits are distributed among, the whole community of consumers,
irrespective of their industrial wealth. Through the device of dividend
on purchases the Cooperative Movement maintains an open democracy,
through the control of this democracy of consumers it has directly or
indirectly kept down prices, and protected the wage-earning class from
exploitation by the Credit System and from the extortions of monopolist
traders and speculators. By this same device on purchases, and the
automatic accumulation of part of the profit in the capital of each
society and in that of the Wholesales, it has demonstratedly added to
the personal wealth of the manual working class, and has, alike in Great
Britain, and in other countries, afforded both a valuable financial
reserve to the wage earners against all emergencies and an instrument
for their elevation from the penury to which competition is always
depressing them. By making possible the upgrowth of great business
enterprises in working class hands, the Cooperative Movement has,
without divorcing them from their fellows, given to thousands of the
manual workers both administrative experience and a well-grounded
confidence; and has thus enabled them to take a fuller part in political
and social life than would otherwise have been probable."--_New
Statesman_, May 30, 1916. "Special Supplement on the Cooperative

Indeed the success of the consumer's cooperative movement in European
countries has been marvellous, even measured by bare figures. In all
Europe in 1914, there were about 9,000,000 cooperators of whom one-third
lived in Great Britain and not less than two and a half millions in
Germany. In England and Scotland alone, the 1400 stores and two
Wholesale Cooperative Societies controlled in 1914 about 420 million
dollars of retail distributive trade and employed nearly 50,000
operatives in processes of production in their own workshops and



With the practical disintegration of the organized labor movement in the
seventies, two nuclei held together and showed promise of future growth.
One was the "Noble Order of the Knights of Labor" and the other a small
trade union movement grouped around the International Cigar Makers'

The "Noble Order of the Knights of Labor," while it first became
important in the labor movement after 1873, was founded in 1869 by Uriah
Smith Stephens, a tailor who had been educated for the ministry, as a
secret organization. Secrecy was adopted as a protection against
persecutions by employers.

The principles of the Order were set forth by Stephens in the secret
ritual. "Open and public association having failed after a struggle of
centuries to protect or advance the interest of labor, we have lawfully
constituted this Assembly," and "in using this power of organized effort
and cooperation, we but imitate the example of capital heretofore set in
numberless instances;" for, "in all the multifarious branches of trade,
capital has its combinations, and, whether intended or not, it crushes
the manly hopes of labor and tramples poor humanity into the dust."
However, "we mean no conflict with legitimate enterprise, no antagonism
to necessary capital." The remedy consists first in work of education:
"We mean to create a healthy public opinion on the subject of labor (the
only creator of values or capital) and the justice of its receiving a
full, just share of the values or capital it has created." The next
remedy was legislation: "We shall, with all our strength, support laws
made to harmonize the interests of labor and capital, for labor alone
gives life and value to capital, and also those laws which tend to
lighten the exhaustiveness of toil." Next in order were mutual benefits.
"We shall use every lawful and honorable means to procure and retain
employ for one another, coupled with a just and fair remuneration, and,
should accident or misfortune befall one of our number, render such aid
as lies within our power to give, without inquiring his country or his

For nine years the Order remained a secret organization and showed but a
slow growth. In 1878 it was forced to abolish secrecy. The public mind
was rendered uneasy by the revolutionary uprising of workingmen of Paris
who set up the famous "Commune of Paris" of 1871, by the destructive
great railway strikes in this country in 1877 and, lastly, by a wave of
criminal disorders in the anthracite coal mining region in Eastern
Pennsylvania,[13] and became only too prone to attribute revolutionary
and criminal intents to any labor organization that cloaked itself in
secrecy. Simultaneously with coming out into the open, the Knights
adopted a new program, called the Preamble of the Knights of Labor, in
place of the vague Secret Ritual which hitherto served as the
authoritative expression of aims.

This Preamble recites how "wealth," with its development, has become so
aggressive that "unless checked" it "will inevitably lead to the
pauperisation and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses." Hence, if
the toilers are "to enjoy the blessings of life," they must organize
"every department of productive industry" in order to "check" the power
of wealth and to put a stop to "unjust accumulation." The battle cry in
this fight must be "moral worth not wealth, the true standard of
individual and national greatness." As the "action" of the toilers ought
to be guided by "knowledge," it is necessary to know "the true condition
of the producing masses"; therefore, the Order demands "from the various
governments the establishment of bureaus of labor statistics." Next in
order comes the "establishment of cooperative institutions productive
and distributive." Union of all trades, "education," and producers'
cooperation remained forever after the cardinal points in the Knights of
Labor philosophy and were steadily referred to as "First Principles,"
namely principles bequeathed to the Order by Uriah Stephens and the
other "Founders."[14]

These idealistic "First Principles" found an ardent champion in Terence
V. Powderly, a machinist by trade and twice mayor of Scranton,
Pennsylvania, on a labor ticket, who succeeded Stephens in 1878 to the
headship of the Order. Powderly bore unmistakably the stamp of this sort
of idealism throughout all the time when he was the foremost labor
leader in the country. Unlike Samuel Gompers, who came to supplant him
about 1890, he was foreign to that spirit of combative unionism which
accepts the wage system but concentrates on a struggle to wrest
concessions from the employers. Even when circumstances which were
largely beyond his control made Powderly a strike leader on a huge
scale, his heart lay elsewhere--in circumventing the wage system by
opening to the worker an escape into self-employment through

Producers' cooperation, then, was the ambitious program by which the
Order of the Knights of Labor expected to lead the American wage-earning
class out of the bondage of the wage system into the Canaan of
self-employment. Thus the Order was the true successor of the
cooperative movement in the forties and sixties. Its motto was
"Cooperation of the Order, by the Order, and for the Order." Not
scattered local initiative, but the Order as a whole was to carry on the
work. The plan resembled the Rochdale system of England in that it
proposed to start with an organization of consumers--the large and
ever-growing membership of the Order. But it departed radically from the
English prototype in that instead of setting out to save money for the
consumer, it primarily aimed to create a market for the productive
establishments which were to follow. Consumers' cooperation was to be
but a stepping stone to producers' self-employment. Eventually when the
Order had grown to include nearly all useful members of society--so the
plan contemplated--it would control practically the whole market and
cooperative production would become the rule rather than the exception.
So far, therefore, as "First Principles" went, the Order was not an
instrument of the "class struggle," but an association of idealistic
cooperators. It was this pure idealism which drew to the Order of the
Knights of Labor the sympathetic interest of writers on social subjects
and university teachers, then unfortunately too few in number, like Dr.
Richard T. Ely[15] and President John Bascom of Wisconsin.

The other survival in the seventies of the labor movement of the
sixties, which has already been mentioned, namely the trade union
movement grouped around the Cigar Makers' Union, was neither so purely
American in its origin as the Knights of Labor nor so persistently
idealistic. On the contrary, its first membership was foreign and its
program, as we shall see, became before long primarily opportunist and
"pragmatic." The training school for this opportunistic trade unionism
was the socialist movement during the sixties and seventies,
particularly the American branch of the International Workingmen's
Association, the "First _Internationale_," which was founded by Karl
Marx in London in 1864. The conception of _economic_ labor organization
which was advanced by the _Internationale_ in a socialistic formulation
underwent in the course of years a process of change: On the one hand,
through constant conflict with the rival conception of _political_ labor
organization urged by American followers of the German socialist,
Ferdinand Lassalle, and on the other hand, through contact with American
reality. Out of that double contact emerged the trade unionism of the
American Federation of Labor.

The _Internationale_ is generally reputed to have been organized by Karl
Marx for the propaganda of international socialism. As a matter of fact,
its starting point was the practical effort of British trade union
leaders to organize the workingmen of the Continent and to prevent the
importation of Continental strike-breakers. That Karl Marx wrote its
_Inaugural Address_ was merely incidental. It chanced that what he wrote
was acceptable to the British unionists rather than the draft of an
address representing the views of Giuseppe Mazzini, the leader of the
"New Italy" and the "New Europe," which was submitted to them at the
same time and advocated elaborate plans of cooperation. Marx emphasized
the class solidarity of labor against Mazzini's harmony of capital and
labor. He did this by reciting what British labor had done through the
Rochdale system of cooperation without the help of capitalists and what
the British Parliament had done in enacting the ten-hour law of 1847
against the protest of capitalists. Now that British trade unionists in
1864 were demanding the right of suffrage and laws to protect their
unions, it followed that Marx merely stated their demands when he
affirmed the independent economic and political organization of labor in
all lands. His _Inaugural Address_ was a trade union document, not a
_Communist Manifesto_. Indeed not until Bakunin and his following of
anarchists had nearly captured the organization in the years 1869 to
1872 did the program of socialism become the leading issue.

The philosophy of the _Internationale_ at the period of its ascendency
was based on the economic organization of the working class in trade
unions. These must precede the political seizure of the government by
labor. Then, when the workingmen's party should achieve control, it
would be able to build up successively the socialist state on the
foundation of a sufficient number of existing trade unions.

This conception differed widely from the teaching of Ferdinand Lassalle.
Lassallean socialism was born in 1863 with Lassalle's _Open Letter_ to a
workingmen's committee in Leipzig. It sprang from his antagonism to
Schultze-Delizsch's[16] system of voluntary cooperation. In Lassalle's
eagerness to condemn the idea of the harmony of capital and labor, which
lay at the basis of Schultze's scheme for cooperation, he struck at the
same time a blow against all forms of non-political organization of wage
earners. Perhaps the fact that he was ignorant of the British trade
unions accounts for his insufficient appreciation of trade unionism. But
no matter what the cause may have been, to Lassalle there was but one
means of solving the labor problem-political action. When political
control was finally achieved, the labor party, with the aid of state
credit, would build up a network of cooperative societies into which
eventually all industry would pass.

In short, the distinction between the ideas of the _Internationale_ and
of Lassalle consisted in the fact that the former advocated trade
unionism prior to and underlying political organization, while the
latter considered a political victory as the basis of socialism. These
antagonistic starting points are apparent at the very beginning of
American socialism as well as in the trade unionism and socialism of
succeeding years.

Two distinct phases can be seen in the history of the _Internationale_
in America. During the first phase, which began in 1866 and lasted until
1870, the _Internationale_ had no important organization of its own on
American soil, but tried to establish itself through affiliation with
the National Labor Union. The inducement held out to the latter was of a
practical nature, the international regulation of immigration. During
the second phase the _Internationale_ had its "sections" in nearly every
large city of the country, centering in New York and Chicago, and the
practical trade union part of its work receded before its activity on
behalf of the propaganda of socialism.

These "sections," with a maximum membership which probably never
exceeded a thousand, nearly all foreigners, became a preparatory school
in trade union leadership for many of the later organizers and leaders
of the American Federation of Labor: for example, Adolph Strasser, the
German cigar maker, whose organization became the new model in trade
unionism, and P.J. McGuire, the American-born carpenter, who founded the
Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and who was for many years the
secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor.

Fate had decreed that these sections of a handful of immigrants should
play for a time high-sounding parts in the world labor movement. When,
at the World Congress of the International Workingmen's Association at
the Hague in 1872, the anarchist faction led by Bakunin had shown such
strength that Marx and his socialist faction deemed it wise to move the
General Council out of mischief's way, they removed it to New York and
entrusted its powers into the hands of the faithful German Marxians on
this side of the Atlantic. This spelled the end of the _Internationale_
as a world organization, but enormously increased the stakes of the
factional fights within the handful of American Internationalists. The
organization of the workers into trade unions, the _Internationale's_
first principle, was forgotten in the heat of intemperate struggles for
empty honors and powerless offices. On top of that, with the panic of
1873 and the ensuing prolonged depression, the political drift asserted
itself in socialism as it had in the labor movement in general and the
movement, erstwhile devoted primarily to organization of trade unions,
entered, urged on by the Lassalleans, into a series of political
campaigns somewhat successful at first but soon succumbing to the
inevitable fate of all amateurish attempts. Upon men of Strasser's
practical mental grasp these petty tempests in the melting pot could
only produce an impression of sheer futility, and he turned to trade
unionism as the only activity worth his while. Strasser had been elected
president of the Cigar Makers' International Union in 1877, in the midst
of a great strike in New York against the tenement-house system.

The president of the local New York union of cigar makers was at the
time Samuel Gompers, a young man of twenty-seven, who was born in
England and came to America in 1862. In his endeavor to build up a model
for the "new" unionism and in his almost uninterrupted headship of that
movement for forty years is indicated Gompers' truly representative
character. Born of Dutch-Jewish parents in England in 1850, he typifies
the cosmopolitan origins of American unionism. His early contact in the
union of his trade with men like Strasser, upon whom the ideas of Marx
and the International Workingmen's Association had left an indelible
stamp, and his thorough study of Marx gave him that grounding both in
idealism and class consciousness which has produced many strong leaders
of American unions and saved them from defection to other interests.
Aggressive and uncompromising in a perpetual fight for the strongest
possible position and power of trade unions, but always strong for
collective agreements with the opposing employers, he displays the
business tactics of organized labor. At the head of an organization
which denies itself power over its constituent unions, he has brought
and held together the most widely divergent and often antagonistic
unions, while permitting each to develop and even to change its
character to fit the changing industrial conditions.

The dismal failure of the strike against the tenement house system in
cigar making brought home to both Strasser and Gompers the weakness of
the plan of organization of their union as well as that of American
trade unions in general. They consequently resolved to rebuild their
union upon the pattern of the British unions, although they firmly
intended that it should remain a militant organization. The change
involved, first, complete authority over the local unions in the hands
of the international officers; second, an increase in the membership
dues for the purpose of building up a large fund; and, third, the
adoption of a far-reaching benefit system in order to assure stability
to the organization. This was accomplished at the convention held in
August, 1879. This convention simultaneously adopted the British idea of
the "equalization of funds," which gave the international officers the
power to order a well-to-do local union to transfer a portion of its
funds to another local union in financial straits. With the various
modifications of the feature of "equalization of funds," the system of
government in the Cigar Makers' International Union was later used as a
model by the other national and international trade unions.

As Strasser and men of his ilk grew more and more absorbed in the
practical problems of the everyday struggle of the wage-earners for
better conditions of employment, the socialistic portion of their
original philosophy kept receding further and further into the
background until they arrived at pure trade unionism. But their trade
unionism differed vastly from the "native" American trade unionism of
their time, which still hankered for the haven of producers'
cooperation. The philosophy which these new leaders developed might be
termed a philosophy of pure wage-consciousness. It signified a labor
movement reduced to an opportunistic basis, accepting the existence of
capitalism and having for its object the enlarging of the bargaining
power of the wage earner in the sale of his labor. Its opportunism was
instrumental--its idealism was home and family and individual
betterment. It also implied an attitude of aloofness from all those
movements which aspire to replace the wage system by cooperation,
whether voluntary or subsidized by government, whether greenbackism,
socialism, or anarchism.

Perhaps the most concise definition of this philosophy is to be found
in Strasser's testimony before the Senate Committee on Education and
Labor in 1883:

     "_Q._ You are seeking to improve home matters first?

     "_A._ Yes, sir, I look first to the trade I represent; I look first
     to cigars, to the interests of men who employ me to represent their

     "_Chairman_: I was only asking you in regard to your ultimate ends.

     "_Witness_: We have no ultimate ends. We are going on from day to
     day. We are fighting only for immediate objects--objects that can
     be realized in a few years.

     "By Mr. Call: _Q._ You want something better to eat and to wear,
     and better houses to live in?

     "_A._ Yes, we want to dress better and to live better, and become
     better citizens generally.

     "_The Chairman_: I see that you are a little sensitive lest it
     should be thought that you are a mere theoriser, I do not look upon
     you in that light at all.

     "_The Witness_: Well, we say in our constitution that we are
     opposed to theorists, and I have to represent the organization
     here. We are all practical men."

Another offshoot of the same Marxian _Internationale_ were the "Chicago
Anarchists."[17] The _Internationale_, as we saw, emphasized trade
unionism as the first step in the direction of socialism, in opposition
to the political socialism of Lassalle, which ignored the trade union
and would start with a political party outright. Shorn of its
socialistic futurity this philosophy became non-political "business"
unionism; but, when combined with a strong revolutionary spirit, it
became a non-political revolutionary unionism, or syndicalism.

The organization of those industrial revolutionaries was called the
International Working People's Association, also known as the "Black"
or anarchist International, which was formed at Pittsburgh in 1883. Like
the old _Internationale_ it busied itself with forming trade unions, but
insisted that they conform to a revolutionary model. Such a "model"
trade union was the Federation of Metal Workers of America, which was
organized in 1885. It said in its Declaration of Principles that the
entire abolition of the present system of society can alone emancipate
the workers, but under no consideration should they resort to politics;
"our organization should be a school to educate its members for the new
condition of society, when the workers will regulate their own affairs
without any interference by the few. Since the emancipation of the
productive classes must come by their own efforts, it is unwise to
meddle in present politics.... All _direct_ struggles of the laboring
masses have our fullest sympathy." Alongside the revolutionary trade
unions were workers' armed organizations ready to usher in the new order
by force. "By force," recited the Pittsburgh Manifesto of the Black
International, "our ancestors liberated themselves from political
oppression, by force their children will have to liberate themselves
from economic bondage. It is, therefore, your right, it is your duty,
says Jefferson,--to arms!"

The following ten years were to decide whether the leadership of the
American labor movement was to be with the "practical men of the trade
unions" or with the cooperative idealists of the Knights of Labor.


[13] After the defeat of a strong anthracite miners' union in 1869,
which was an open organization, the fight against the employers was
carried on by a secret organization known as the Molly Maguires, which
used the method of terrorism and assassination. It was later exposed and
many were sentenced and executed.

[14] The Preamble further provides that the Order will stand for the
reservation of all lands for actual settlers; the "abrogation of all
laws that do not bear equally upon capital and labor, the removal of
unjust technicalities, delays, and discriminations in the administration
of justice, and the adopting of measures providing for the health and
safety of those engaged in mining, manufacturing, or building pursuits";
the enactment of a weekly pay law, a mechanics' lien law, and a law
prohibiting child labor under fourteen years of age; the abolition of
the contract system on national, state, and municipal work, and of the
system of leasing out convicts; equal pay for equal work for both sexes;
reduction of hours of labor to eight per day; "the substitution of
arbitration for strikes, whenever and wherever employers and employees
are willing to meet on equitable grounds"; the establishment of "a
purely national circulating medium based upon the faith and resources of
the nation, issued directly to the people, without the intervention of
any system of banking corporations, which money shall be a legal tender
in payment of all debts, public or private".

[15] Dr. Ely in his pioneer work, _The Labor Movement in America_,
published in 1886, showed a most genuine sympathy for the idealistic
strivings and gropings of labor for a better social order. He even
advised some of his pupils at the Johns Hopkins University to join the
Knights of Labor in order to gain a better understanding of the labor

[16] Schultze-Delizsch was a German thinker and practical reformer of
the liberal school.

[17] The Anarchists who were tried and executed after the Haymarket
Square bomb in Chicago in May, 1886. See below, 91-93.



With the return of business prosperity in 1879, the labor movement
revived. The first symptom of the upward trend was a rapid
multiplication of city federations of organized trades, variously known
as trade councils, amalgamated trade and labor unions, trades
assemblies, and the like. Practically all of these came into existence
after 1879, since hardly any of the "trades' assemblies" of the sixties
had survived the depression.

As was said above, the national trade unions existed during the sixties
and seventies in only about thirty trades. Eighteen of these had either
retained a nucleus during the seventies or were first formed during that
decade. The following is a list of the national unions in existence in
1880 with the year of formation: Typographical (1850), Hat Finishers
(1854), Iron Molders (1859), Locomotive Engineers (1863), Cigar Makers
(1864), Bricklayers and Masons (1865), Silk and Fur Hat Finishers
(1866), Railway Conductors (1868), Coopers (1870), German-American
Typographia (1873), Locomotive Firemen (1873), Horseshoers (1874),
Furniture Workers (1873), Iron and Steel Workers (1876), Granite Cutters
(1877), Lake Seamen (1878), Cotton Mill Spinners (1878), New England
Boot and Shoe Lasters (1879).

In 1880 the Western greenbottle blowers' national union was established;
in 1881 the national unions of boiler makers and carpenters; in 1882,
plasterers and metal workers; in 1883, tailors, lithographers, wood
carvers, railroad brakemen, and silk workers.

An illustration of the rapid growth in trade union membership during
this period is given in the following figures: the bricklayers' union
had 303 in 1880; 1558 in 1881; 6848 in 1882; 9193 in 1883. The
typographical union had 5968 members in 1879; 6520 in 1880; 7931 in
1881; 10,439 in 1882; 12,273 in 1883. The total trade union membership
in the country, counting the three railway organizations and those
organized only locally, amounted to between 200,000 and 225,000 in 1883
and probably was not below 300,000 in the beginning of 1885.

A distinguishing characteristic of the trade unions of this time was the
predominance in them of the foreign element. The Illinois Bureau of
Labor describes the ethnical composition of the trade unions of that
State during 1886, and states that 21 percent were American, 33 percent
German, 19 percent Irish, 10 percent British other than Irish, 12
percent Scandinavian, and the Poles, Bohemians, and Italians formed
about 5 percent. The strong predominance of the foreign element in
American trade unions should not appear unusual, since, owing to the
breakdown of the apprenticeship system, the United States had been
drawing its supply of skilled labor from abroad.

The Order of the Knights of Labor, despite its "First Principles" based
on the cooperative ideal, was soon forced to make concessions to a large
element of its membership which was pressing for strikes. With the
advent of prosperity, the Order expanded, although the Knights of Labor
played but a subordinate part in the labor movement of the early
eighties. The membership was 20,151 in 1879; 28,136 in 1880; 19,422 in
1881; 42,517 in 1882; 51,914 in 1883; showing a steady and rapid growth,
with the exception of the year 1881. But these figures are decidedly
deceptive as a means of measuring the strength of the Order, for the
membership fluctuated widely; so that in the year 1883, when it reached
50,000 no less than one-half of this number passed in and out of the
organization during the year. The enormous fluctuation, while reducing
the economic strength of the Order, brought large masses of people under
its influence and prepared the ground for the upheaval in the middle of
the eighties. It also brought the Order to the attention of the public
press. The labor press gave the Order great publicity, but the Knights
did not rely on gratuitous newspaper publicity. They set to work a host
of lecturers, who held public meetings throughout the country adding
recruits and advertising the Order.

The most important Knights of Labor strike of this period was the
telegraphers' strike in 1883. The telegraphers had a national
organization in 1870, which soon collapsed. In 1882 they again organized
on a national basis and affiliated with the Order as District Assembly
45.[18] The strike was declared on June 19, 1883, against all commercial
telegraph companies in the country, among which the Western Union, with
about 4000 operators, was by far the largest. The demands were one day's
rest in seven, an eight-hour day shift and a seven-hour night shift, and
a general increase of 15 percent in wages. The public and a large
portion of the press gave their sympathy to the strikers, not so much on
account of the oppressed condition of the telegraphers as of the general
hatred that prevailed against Jay Gould, who then controlled the
Western Union Company. This strike was the first in the eighties to call
the attention of the general American public to the existence of a labor
question, and received considerable attention at the hands of the Senate
Committee on Education and Labor. By the end of July, over a month after
the beginning of the strike, the men who escaped the blacklist went back
to work on the old terms.

From 1879 till 1882 the labor movement was typical of a period of rising
prices. It was practically restricted to skilled workmen, who organized
to wrest from employers still better conditions than those which
prosperity would have given under individual bargaining. The movement
was essentially opportunistic and displayed no particular class feeling
and no revolutionary tendencies. The solidarity of labor was not denied
by the trade unions, but they did not try to reduce the idea to
practice: each trade coped more or less successfully with its own
employers. Even the Knights of Labor, the organization _par excellence_
of the solidarity of labor, was at this time, in so far as practical
efforts went, merely a faint echo of the trade unions.

But the situation radically changed during the depression of 1884-1885.
The unskilled and the semi-skilled, affected as they were by wage
reductions and unemployment even in a larger measure than the skilled,
were drawn into the movement. Labor organizations assumed the nature of
a real class movement. The idea of the solidarity of labor ceased to be
merely verbal and took on life! General strikes, sympathetic strikes,
nationwide boycotts and nation-wide political movements became the order
of the day. The effects of an unusually large immigration joined hands
with the depression. The eighties were the banner decade of the entire
century for immigration. The aggregate number of immigrants arriving was
5,246,613--two and a half millions larger than during the seventies and
one million and a half larger than during the nineties. The eighties
witnessed the highest tide of immigration from Great Britain and the
North of Europe and the beginning of the tide of South and East European

However, the depression of 1883-1885 had one redeeming feature by which
it was distinguished from other depressions. With falling prices,
diminishing margins of profit, and decreasing wages, the amount of
employment was not materially diminished. Times continued hard during
1885, a slight improvement showing itself only during the last months of
the year. The years 1886 and 1887 were a period of gradual recovery, and
normal conditions may be said to have returned about the middle of 1887.
Except in New England, the old wages, which had been reduced during the
bad years, were won again by the spring of 1887.

The year 1884 was one of decisive failure in strikes. They were
practically all directed against reductions in wages and for the right
of organization. The most conspicuous strikes were those of the Fall
River spinners, the Troy stove mounters, the Cincinnati cigar makers and
the Hocking Valley coal miners.

The failure of strikes brought into use the other weapon of labor--the
boycott. But not until the latter part of 1884, when the failure of the
strike as a weapon became apparent, did the boycott assume the nature of
an epidemic. The boycott movement was a truly national one, affecting
the South and the Far West as well as the East and Middle West. The
number of boycotts during 1885 was nearly seven times as large as during
1884. Nearly all of the boycotts either originated with, or were taken
up by, the Knights of Labor.

The strike again came into prominence in the latter half of 1885. This
coincided with the beginning of an upward trend in general business
conditions. The strikes of 1885, even more than those of the preceding
year, were spontaneous outbreaks of unorganized masses.

The frequent railway strikes were a characteristic feature of the labor
movement in 1885. Most notable was the Gould railway strike in March,
1885. On February 26, a cut of 10 percent was ordered in the wages of
the shopmen of the Wabash road. A similar reduction had been made in
October, 1884, on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas. Strikes occurred on the
two roads, one on February 27 and the other March 9, and the strikers
were joined by the men on the third Gould road, the Missouri Pacific, at
all points where the two lines touched, making altogether over 4500 men
on strike. The train service personnel, that is, the locomotive
engineers, firemen, brakemen, and conductors, supported the strikers and
to this fact more than to any other was due their speedy victory. The
wages were restored and the strikers reemployed. But six months later
this was followed by a second strike. The road, now in the hands of a
receiver, reduced the force of shopmen at Moberly, Missouri, to the
lowest possible limit, which virtually meant a lockout of the members of
the Knights of Labor in direct violation of the conditions of settlement
of the preceding strike. The General Executive Board of the Knights,
after a futile attempt to have a conference with the receiver, declared
a boycott on Wabash rolling stock. This order, had it been carried out,
would have affected over 20,000 miles of railway and would have equalled
the dimensions of the great railway strike of 1877. But Jay Gould would
not risk a general strike on his lines at this time. According to an
appointment made between him and the executive board of the Knights of
Labor, a conference was held between that board and the managers of the
Missouri Pacific and the Wabash railroads, at which he threw his
influence in favor of making concessions to the men. He assured the
Knights that in all troubles he wanted the men to come directly to him,
that he believed in labor organizations and in the arbitration of all
difficulties and that he "would always endeavor to do what was right."
The Knights demanded the discharge of all new men hired in the Wabash
shops since the beginning of the lockout, the reinstatement of all
discharged men, the leaders being given priority, and an assurance that
no discrimination against the members of the Order would be made in the
future. A settlement was finally made at another conference, and the
receiver of the Wabash road agreed, under pressure by Jay Gould, to
issue an order conceding the demands of the Knights of Labor.

The significance of the second Wabash strike in the history of railway
strikes was that the railway brotherhoods (engineers, firemen, brakemen,
and conductors), in contrast with their conduct during the first Wabash
strike, now refused to lend any aid to the striking shopmen, although
many of the members were also Knights of Labor.

But far more important was the effect of the strike upon the general
labor movement. Here a labor organization for the first time dealt on an
equal footing with probably the most powerful capitalist in the country.
It forced Jay Gould to recognize it as a power equal to himself, a fact
which he conceded when he declared his readiness to arbitrate all labor
difficulties that might arise. The oppressed laboring masses finally
discovered a powerful champion. All the pent-up feeling of bitterness
and resentment which had accumulated during the two years of depression,
in consequence of the repeated cuts in wages and the intensified
domination by employers, now found vent in a rush to organize under the
banner of the powerful Knights of Labor. To the natural tendency on the
part of the oppressed to exaggerate the power of a mysterious
emancipator whom they suddenly found coming to their aid, there was
added the influence of sensational reports in the public press. The
newspapers especially took delight in exaggerating the powers and
strength of the Order.

In 1885 the New York _Sun_ detailed one of its reporters to "get up a
story of the strength and purposes of the Knights of Labor." This story
was copied by newspapers and magazines throughout the country and aided
considerably in bringing the Knights of Labor into prominence. The
following extract illustrates the exaggerated notion of the power of the
Knights of Labor.

"Five men in this country control the chief interests of five hundred
thousand workingmen, and can at any moment take the means of livelihood
from two and a half millions of souls. These men compose the executive
board of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor of America. The ability
of the president and cabinet to turn out all the men in the civil
service, and to shift from one post to another the duties of the men in
the army and navy, is a petty authority compared with that of these five
Knights. The authority of the late Cardinal was, and that of the
bishops of the Methodist Church is, narrow and prescribed, so far as
material affairs are concerned, in comparison with that of these five

"They can stay the nimble touch of almost every telegraph operator; can
shut up most of the mills and factories, and can disable the railroads.
They can issue an edict against any manufactured goods so as to make
their subjects cease buying them, and the tradesmen stop selling them.

"They can array labor against capital, putting labor on the offensive or
the defensive, for quiet and stubborn self-protection, or for angry,
organized assault, as they will."

Before long the Order was able to benefit by this publicity in quarters
where the tale of its great power could only attract unqualified
attention, namely, in Congress. The Knights of Labor led in the
agitation for prohibiting the immigration of alien contract laborers.
The problem of contract immigrant labor rapidly came to the front in
1884, when such labor began frequently to be used to defeat strikes.

Twenty persons appeared to testify before the committee in favor of the
bill, of whom all but two or three belonged to the Knights of Labor. The
anti-contract labor law which was passed by Congress on February 2,
1885, therefore, was due almost entirely to the efforts of the Knights
of Labor. The trade unions gave little active support, for to the
skilled workingmen the importation of contract Italian and Hungarian
laborers was a matter of small importance. On the other hand, to the
Knights of Labor with their vast contingent of unskilled it was a strong
menace. Although the law could not be enforced and had to be amended in
1887 in order to render it effective, its passage nevertheless attests
the political influence already exercised by the Order in 1885.

The outcome of the Gould strike of 1885 and the dramatic exaggeration of
the prowess of the Order by press and even by pulpit were largely
responsible for the psychological setting that called forth and
surrounded the great upheaval of 1886. This upheaval meant more than the
mere quickening of the pace of the movement begun in preceding years and
decades. It signalled the appearance on the scene of a new class which
had not hitherto found a place in the labor movement, namely the
unskilled. All the peculiar characteristics of the dramatic events in
1886 and 1887, the highly feverish pace at which organizations grew, the
nation-wide wave of strikes, particularly sympathetic strikes, the wide
use of the boycott, the obliteration, apparently complete, of all lines
that divided the laboring class, whether geographic or trade, the
violence and turbulence which accompanied the movement--all of these
were the signs of a great movement by the class of the unskilled, which
had finally risen in rebellion. This movement, rising as an elemental
protest against oppression and degradation, could be but feebly
restrained by any considerations of expediency and prudence; nor, of
course, could it be restrained by any lessons from experience. But, if
the origin and powerful sweep of this movement were largely spontaneous
and elemental, the issues which it took up were supplied by the existing
organizations, namely the trade unions and the Knights of Labor. These
served also as the dykes between which the rapid streams were gathered
and, if at times it seemed that they must burst under the pressure,
still they gave form and direction to the movement and partly succeeded
in introducing order where chaos had reigned. The issue which first
brought unity in this great mass movement was a nation-wide strike for
the eight-hour day declared for May 1, 1886.

The initiative in this strike was taken not by the Order but by the
trade unionists and on the eve of the strike the general officers of the
Knights adopted an attitude of hostility. But if the slogan failed to
arouse the enthusiasm of the national leaders of the Knights, it
nevertheless found ready response in the ranks of labor. The great class
of the unskilled and unorganized, which had come to look upon the
Knights of Labor as the all-powerful liberator of the laboring masses
from oppression, now eagerly seized upon this demand as the issue upon
which the first battle with capital should be fought.

The agitation assumed large proportions in March. The main argument for
the shorter day was work for the unemployed. With the exception of the
cigar makers, it was left wholly in the hands of local organizations.
The Knights of Labor as an organization figured far less prominently
than the trade unions, and among the latter the building trades and the
German-speaking furniture workers and cigar makers stood in the front of
the movement. Early in the strike the workingmen's cause was gravely
injured by a bomb explosion on Haymarket Square in Chicago, attributed
to anarchists, which killed and wounded a score of policemen.

The bomb explosion on Haymarket Square connected two movements which had
heretofore marched separately, despite a certain mutual affinity. For
what many of the Knights of Labor were practising during the upheaval in
a less drastic manner and without stopping to look for a theoretical
justification, the contemporary Chicago "anarchists,"[19] the largest
branch of the "Black International," had elevated into a well
rounded-out system of thought. Both syndicalism and the Knights of Labor
upheaval were related chapters in the revolutionary movement of the
eighties. Whether in its conscious or unconscious form, this syndicalism
was characterized by an extreme combativeness, by the ease with which
minor disputes grew into widespread strikes involving many trades and
large territories, by a reluctance, if not an out and out refusal, to
enter into agreements with employers however temporary, and lastly by a
ready resort to violence. In 1886 the membership of the Black
International probably was about 5000 or 6000 and of this number about
1000 were English speaking.

The circumstances of the bomb explosion were the following. A strikers'
meeting was held near the McCormick Reaper Works in Chicago, late on the
third of May. About this time strike-breakers employed in these works
began to leave for home and were attacked by strikers. The police
arrived in large numbers and upon being received with stones, fired and
killed four and wounded many. The same evening the International issued
a call in which appeared the word _"Revenge"_ with the appeal:
"Workingmen, arm yourselves and appear in full force." A protest mass
meeting met the next day on Haymarket Square and was addressed by
Internationalists. The police were present in numbers and, as they
formed in line and advanced on the crowd, some unknown hand hurled a
bomb into their midst killing and wounding many.

It is unnecessary to describe here the period of police terror in
Chicago, the hysterical attitude of the press, or the state of panic
that came over the inhabitants of the city. Nor is it necessary to deal
in detail with the trial and sentence of the accused. Suffice it to say
that the Haymarket bomb showed to the labor movement what it might
expect from the public and the government if it combined violence with a
revolutionary purpose.

Although the bomb outrage was attributed to the anarchists and not
generally to the strikers for the eight-hour day, it did materially
reduce the sympathy of the public as well as intimidate many strikers.
Nevertheless, _Bradstreet's_ estimated that no fewer than 340,000 men
took part in the movement; 190,000 actually struck, only 42,000 of this
number with success, and 150,000 secured shorter hours without a strike.
Thus the total number of those who secured with or without strikes the
eight-hour day was something less than 200,000. But even those who for
the present succeeded, whether with or without striking, soon lost the
concession, and _Bradstreet's_ estimated in January, 1887, that, so far
as the payment of former wages for a shorter day's work is concerned,
the grand total of those retaining the concession did not exceed, if it
equalled, 15,000.

American labor movements have never experienced such a rush to organize
as the one in the latter part of 1885 and during 1886. During 1886 the
combined membership of labor organizations was exceptionally large and
for the first time came near the million mark. The Knights of Labor had
a membership of 700,000 and the trade unions at least 250,000, the
former composed largely of unskilled and the latter of skilled. The
Knights of Labor gained in a remarkably short time--in a few
months--over 600,000 new members and grew from 1610 local assemblies
with 104,066 members in good standing in July 1885, to 5892 assemblies
with 702,924 members in July 1886. The greatest portion of this growth
occurred after January 1, 1886. In the state of New York there were in
July 1886, about 110,000 members (60,809 in District Assembly 49 of New
York City alone); in Pennsylvania, 95,000 (51,557 in District Assembly
1, Philadelphia, alone); in Massachusetts, 90,000 (81,191 in District
Assembly 30 of Boston); and in Illinois, 32,000.

In the state of Illinois, for which detailed information for that year
is available, there were 204 local assemblies with 34,974 members, of
which 65 percent were found in Cook County (Chicago) alone. One hundred
and forty-nine assemblies were mixed, that is comprised members of
different trades including unskilled and only 55 were trade assemblies.
Reckoned according to country of birth the membership was 45 percent
American, 16 percent German, 13 percent Irish, 10 percent British, 5
percent Scandinavian, and the remaining 2 percent scattered. The trade
unions also gained many members but in a considerably lesser proportion.

The high water mark was reached in the autumn of 1886. But in the early
months of 1887 a reaction became visible. By July 1, the membership of
the Order had diminished to 510,351. While a share of this retrogression
may have been due to the natural reaction of large masses of people who
had been suddenly set in motion without experience, a more immediate
cause came from the employers. Profiting by past lessons, they organized
strong associations. The main object of these employers' associations
was the defeat of the Knights. They were organized sectionally and
nationally. In small localities, where the power of the Knights was
especially great, all employers regardless of industry joined in a
single association. But in large manufacturing centers, where the rich
corporation prevailed, they included the employers of only one industry.
To attain their end these associations made liberal use of the lockout,
the blacklist, and armed guards and detectives. Often they treated
agreements entered into with the Order as contracts signed under duress.
The situation in the latter part of 1886 and in 1887 had been clearly
foreshadowed in the treatment accorded the Knights of Labor on the Gould
railways in the Southwest in the early part of 1886.

As already mentioned, at the settlement of the strike on the Gould
system in March 1885, the employes were assured that the road would
institute no discriminations against the Knights of Labor. However, it
is apparent that a series of petty discriminations was indulged in by
minor officials, which kept the men in a state of unrest. It culminated
in the discharge of a foreman, a member of the Knights, from the car
shop at Marshall, Texas, on the Texas & Pacific Road, which had shortly
before passed into the hands of a receiver. A strike broke out over the
entire road on March 1, 1886. It is necessary, however, to note that the
Knights of Labor themselves were meditating aggressive action two months
before the strike. District Assembly 101, the organization embracing the
employes on the Southwest system, held a convention on January 10, and
authorized the officers to call a strike at any time they might find
opportune to enforce the two following demands: first, the formal
"recognition" of the Order; and second, a daily wage of $1.50 for the
unskilled. The latter demand is peculiarly characteristic of the Knights
of Labor and of the feeling of labor solidarity that prevailed in the
movement. But evidently the organization preferred to make the issue
turn on discrimination against members. Another peculiarity which marked
off this strike as the beginning of a new era was the facility with
which it led to a sympathetic strike on the Missouri Pacific and all
leased and operated lines. This strike broke out simultaneously over the
entire system on March 6. It affected more than 5000 miles of railway
situated in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Indian Territory, and Nebraska.
The strikers did not content themselves with mere picketing, but
actually took possession of the railroad property and by a systematic
"killing" of engines, that is removing some indispensable part,
effectively stopped all the freight traffic. The number of men actively
on strike was in the neighborhood of 9000, including practically all of
the shopmen, yardmen, and section gangs. The engineers, firemen,
brakemen, and conductors took no active part and had to be forced to
leave their posts under threats from the strikers.

The leader, one Martin Irons, accurately represented the feelings of the
strikers. Personally honest and probably well-meaning, his attitude was
overbearing and tyrannical. With him as with those who followed him, a
strike was not a more or less drastic means of forcing a better labor
contract, but necessarily assumed the aspect of a crusade against
capital. Hence all compromise and any policy of give and take were

Negotiations were conducted by Jay Gould and Powderly to submit the
dispute to arbitration, but they failed and, after two months of
sporadic violence, the strike spent itself and came to an end. It left,
however, a profound impression upon the public mind, second only to the
impression made by the great railway strike of 1877; and a
Congressional committee was appointed to investigate the whole matter.

The disputes during the second half of 1886 ended, for the most part,
disastrously to labor. The number of men involved in six months, was
estimated at 97,300. Of these, about 75,300 were in nine great lockouts,
of whom 54,000 suffered defeat at the hands of associated employers. The
most important lockouts were against 15,000 laundry workers at Troy, New
York, in June; against 20,000 Chicago packing house workers; and against
20,000 knitters at Cohoes, New York, both in October.

The lockout of the Chicago butcher workmen attracted the most attention.
These men had obtained the eight-hour day without a strike during May. A
short time thereafter, upon the initiative of Armour & Company, the
employers formed a packers' association and, in the beginning of
October, notified the men of a return to the ten-hour day on October 11.
They justified this action on the ground that they could not compete
with Cincinnati and Kansas City, which operated on the ten-hour system.
On October 8, the men, who were organized in District Assemblies 27 and
54, suspended work, and the memorable lockout began. The packers'
association rejected all offers of compromise and on October 18 the men
were ordered to work on the ten-hour basis. But the dispute in October,
which was marked by a complete lack of ill-feeling on the part of the
men and was one of the most peaceable labor disputes of the year, was in
reality a mere prelude to a second disturbance which broke out in the
plant of Swift & Company on November 2 and became general throughout the
stockyards on November 6. The men demanded a return to the eight-hour
day, but the packers' association, which was now joined by Swift &
Company, who formerly had kept aloof, not only refused to give up the
ten-hour day, but declared that they would employ no Knights of Labor in
the future. The Knights retaliated by declaring a boycott on the meat of
Armour & Company. The behavior of the men was now no longer peaceable as
before, and the employers took extra precautions by prevailing upon the
governor to send two regiments of militia in addition to the several
hundred Pinkerton detectives employed by the association. To all
appearances, the men were slowly gaining over the employers, for on
November 10 the packers' association rescinded its decision not to
employ Knights, when suddenly on November 15, like a thunderbolt out of
a clear sky, a telegram arrived from Grand Master Workman Powderly
ordering the men back to work. Powderly had refused to consider the
reports from the members of the General Executive Board who were on the
ground, but, as was charged by them, was guided instead by the advice of
a priest who had appealed to him to call off the strike and thus put an
end to the suffering of the men and their families.

New York witnessed an even more characteristic Knights of Labor strike
and on a larger scale. This strike began as two insignificant separate
strikes, one by coal-handlers at the Jersey ports supplying New York
with coal and the other by longshoremen on the New York water front;
both starting on January 1, 1887. Eighty-five coal-handlers employed by
the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, members of the Knights of
Labor, struck against a reduction of 2-1/2 cents an hour in the wages of
the "top-men" and were joined by the trimmers who had grievances of
their own. Soon the strike spread to the other roads and the number of
striking coal-handlers reached 3000. The longshoremen's strike was begun
by 200 men, employed by the Old Dominion Steamship Company, against a
reduction in wages and the hiring of cheap men by the week. The strikers
were not organized, but the Ocean Association, a part of the Knights of
Labor, took up their cause and was assisted by the longshoremen's union.
Both strikes soon widened out through a series of sympathetic strikes of
related trades and finally became united into one. The Ocean Association
declared a boycott on the freight of the Old Dominion Company and this
was strictly obeyed by all of the longshoremen's unions. The
International Boatmen's Union refused to allow their boats to be used
for "scab coal" or to permit their members to steer the companies'
boats. The longshoremen joined the boatmen in refusing to handle coal,
and the shovelers followed. Then the grain handlers on both floating and
stationary elevators refused to load ships with grain on which there was
scab coal, and the bag-sewers stood with them. The longshoremen now
resolved to go out and refused to work on ships which received scab
coal, and finally they decided to stop work altogether on all kinds of
craft in the harbor until the trouble should be settled. The strike
spirit spread to a large number of freight handlers working for
railroads along the river front, so that in the last week of January the
number of strikers in New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, reached
approximately 28,000; 13,000 longshoremen, 1000 boatmen, 6000 grain
handlers, 7500 coal-handlers, and 400 bag-sewers.

On February 11, August Corbin, president and receiver of the
Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, fearing a strike by the miners
working in the coal mines operated by that road, settled the strike by
restoring to the eighty-five coal-handlers, the original strikers, their
former rate of wages. The Knights of Labor felt impelled to accept such
a trivial settlement for two reasons. The coal-handlers' strike, which
drove up the price of coal to the consumer, was very unpopular, and the
strike itself had begun to weaken when the brewers and stationary
engineers, who for some obscure reason had been ordered to strike in
sympathy, refused to come out. The situation was left unchanged, as far
as the coal-handlers employed by the other companies, the longshoremen,
and the many thousands of men who went out on sympathetic strike were
concerned. The men began to return to work by the thousands and the
entire strike collapsed.

The determined attack and stubborn resistance of the employers'
associations after the strikes of May 1886, coupled with the obvious
incompetence displayed by the leaders, caused the turn of the tide in
the labor movement in the first half of 1887. This, however, manifested
itself during 1887 exclusively in the large cities, where the movement
had borne in the purest form the character of an uprising by the class
of the unskilled and where the hardest battles were fought with the
employers. District Assembly 49, New York, fell from its membership of
60,809 in June 1886, to 32,826 in July 1887. During the same interval,
District Assembly 1, Philadelphia, decreased from 51,557 to 11,294, and
District Assembly 30, Boston, from 81,197 to 31,644. In Chicago there
were about 40,000 Knights immediately before the packers' strike in
October 1886, and only about 17,000 on July 1, 1887. The falling off of
the largest district assemblies in 10 large cities practically equalled
the total loss of the Order, which amounted approximately to 191,000. At
the same time the membership of the smallest district assemblies, which
were for the most part located in small cities, remained stationary and,
outside of the national and district trade assemblies which were formed
by separation from mixed district assemblies, thirty-seven new district
assemblies were formed, also mostly in rural localities. In addition,
state assemblies were added in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana,
Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia, and
Wisconsin, with an average membership of about 2000 each.

It thus becomes clear that by the middle of 1887, the Great Upheaval of
the unskilled and semi-skilled portions of the working class had already
subsided beneath the strength of the combined employers and the
unwieldiness of their own organization. After 1887 the Knights of Labor
lost its hold upon the large cities with their wage-conscious and
largely foreign population, and became an organization predominantly of
country people, of mechanics, small merchants, and farmers,--a class of
people which was more or less purely American and decidedly middle class
in its philosophy.

The industrial upheaval in the middle of the eighties had, like the
great strike of 1877, a political reverberation. Although the latter was
heard throughout the entire country, it centered in the city of New
York, where the situation was complicated by court interference in the
labor struggle.

A local assembly of the Knights of Labor had declared a boycott against
one George Theiss, a proprietor of a music and beer garden. The latter
at first submitted and paid a fine of $1000 to the labor organization,
but later brought action in court against the officers charging them
with intimidation and extortion.

The judge, George C. Barrett, in his charge to the jury, conceded that
striking, picketing, and boycotting as such were not prohibited by law,
if not accompanied by force, threats, or intimidation. But in the case
under consideration the action of the pickets in advising passers-by not
to patronize the establishment and in distributing boycott circulars
constituted intimidation. Also, since the $1000 fine was obtained by
fear induced by a threat to continue the unlawful injury to Theiss
inflicted by the "boycott," the case was one of extortion covered by the
penal code. It made no difference whether the money was appropriated by
the defendants for personal use or whether it was turned over to their
organization. The jury, which reflected the current public opinion
against boycotts, found all of the five defendants guilty of extortion,
and Judge Barrett sentenced them to prison for terms ranging from one
year and six months to three years and eight months.

The Theiss case, coming as it did at a time of general restlessness of
labor and closely after the defeat of the eight-hour movement, greatly
hastened the growth of the sentiment for an independent labor party. The
New York Central Labor Union, the most famous and most influential
organization of its kind in the country at the time, with a membership
estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000, placed itself at the head of the
movement in which both socialists and non-socialists joined. Henry
George, the originator of the single tax movement, was nominated by the
labor party for Mayor of New York and was allowed to draw up his own
platform, which he made of course a simon-pure single tax platform. The
labor demands were compressed into one plank. They were as follows: The
reform of court procedure so that "the practice of drawing grand jurors
from one class should cease, and the requirements of a property
qualification for trial jurors should be abolished"; the stopping of the
"officious intermeddling of the police with peaceful assemblages"; the
enforcement of the laws for safety and the sanitary inspection of
buildings; the abolition of contract labor on public work; and equal pay
for equal work without distinction of sex on such work.

The George campaign was more in the nature of a religious revival than
of a political election campaign. It was also a culminating point in the
great labor upheaval. The enthusiasm of the laboring people reached its
highest pitch. They felt that, baffled and defeated as they were in
their economic struggle, they were now nearing victory in the struggle
for the control of government. Mass meetings were numerous and large.
Most of them were held in the open air, usually on the street corners.
From the system by which one speaker followed another, speaking at
several meeting places in a night, the labor campaign got its nickname
of the "tailboard campaign." The common people, women and men, gathered
in hundreds and often thousands around trucks from which the shifting
speakers addressed the crowd. The speakers were volunteers, including
representatives of the liberal professions, lawyers, physicians,
teachers, ministers, and labor leaders. At such mass meetings George did
most of his campaigning, making several speeches a night, once as many
as eleven. The single tax and the prevailing political corruption were
favorite topics. Against George and his adherents were pitted the
powerful press of the city of New York, all the political power of the
old parties, and all the influence of the business class. George's
opponents were Abram S. Hewitt, an anti-Tammany Democrat whom Tammany
had picked for its candidate in this emergency, and Theodore Roosevelt,
then as yet known only as a courageous young politician.

The vote cast was 90,000 for Hewitt, 68,000 for George, and 60,000 for
Roosevelt. There is possible ground for the belief that George was
counted out of thousands of votes. The nature of the George vote can be
sufficiently gathered from an analysis of the pledges to vote for him.
An apparently trustworthy investigation was made by a representative of
the New York Sun. He drew the conclusion that the vast majority were not
simply wage earners, but also naturalized immigrants, mainly Irish,
Germans, and Bohemians, the native element being in the minority. While
the Irish were divided between George and Hewitt, the majority of the
German element had gone over to Henry George. The outcome was hailed as
a victory by George and his supporters and this view was also taken by
the general press.

In spite of this propitious beginning the political labor movement soon
suffered the fate of all reform political movements. The strength of the
new party was frittered away in doctrinaire factional strife between the
single taxers and the socialists. The trade union element became
discouraged and lost interest. So that at the next State election, in
which George ran for Secretary of State, presumably because that office
came nearest to meeting the requirement for a single taxer seeking a
practical scope of action, the vote in the city fell to 37,000 and in
the whole State amounted only to 72,000. This ended the political labor
movement in New York.

Outside of New York the political labor movement was not associated
either with the single tax or any other "ism." As in New York it was a
spontaneous expression of dissatisfaction brought on by failure in
strikes. The movement scored a victory in Milwaukee, where it elected a
mayor, and in Chicago where it polled 25,000 out of a total of 92,000.
But, as in New York, it fell to pieces without leaving a permanent


[18] See the next chapter for the scheme of organization followed by the

[19] See above, 79-80.



We now come to the most significant aspect of the Great Upheaval: the
life and death struggle between two opposed principles of labor
organization and between two opposed labor programs. The Upheaval
offered the practical test which the labor movement required for an
intelligent decision between the rival claims of Knights and trade
unionists. The test as well as the conflict turned principally on
"structure," that is on the difference between "craft autonomists" and
those who would have labor organized "under one head," or what we would
now call the "one big union" advocates.

As the issue of "structure" proved in the crucial eighties, and has
remained ever since, the outstanding factional issue in the labor
movement, it might be well at this point to pass in brief review the
structural developments in labor organization from the beginning and try
to correlate them with other important developments.

The early[20] societies of shoemakers and printers were purely local in
scope and the relations between "locals" extended only to feeble
attempts to deal with the competition of traveling journeymen.
Occasionally, they corresponded on trade matters, notifying each other
of their purposes and the nature of their demands, or expressing
fraternal greetings; chiefly for the purpose of counteracting
advertisements by employers for journeymen or keeping out dishonest
members and so-called "scabs." This mostly relates to printers. The
shoemakers, despite their bitter contests with their employers, did even
less. The Philadelphia Mechanics' Trades Association in 1827, which we
noted as the first attempted federation of trades in the United States
if not in the world, was organized as a move of sympathy for the
carpenters striking for the ten-hour day. During the period of the
"wild-cat" prosperity the local federation of trades, under the name of
"Trades' Union,"[21] comes to occupy the center of the stage in New
York, Philadelphia, Boston, and appeared even as far "West" as
Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville. The constitution of the New York
"Trades' Union" provided, among other things, that each society should
pay a monthly per capita tax of 6-1/4 cents to be used as a strike fund.
Later, when strikes multiplied, the Union limited the right to claim
strike aid and appointed a standing committee on mediation. In 1835 it
discussed a plan for an employment exchange or a "call room." The
constitution of the Philadelphia Union required that a strike be
endorsed by a two-thirds majority before granting aid.

The National Trades' Union, the federation of city trades' unions,
1834-1836, was a further development of the same idea. Its first and
second conventions went little beyond the theoretical. The latter,
however, passed a significant resolution urging the trade societies to
observe a uniform wage policy throughout the country and, should the
employers combine to resist it, the unions should make "one general

The last convention in 1836 went far beyond preceding conventions in its
plans for solidifying the workingmen of the country. First and foremost,
a "national fund" was provided for, to be made up of a levy of two cents
per month on each of the members of the trades' unions and local
societies represented. The policies of the National Trades' Union
instead of merely advisory were henceforth to be binding. But before the
new policies could be tried, as we know, the entire trade union movement
was wiped out by the panic.

The city "trades' union" of the thirties accorded with a situation where
the effects of the extension of the market were noticeable in the labor
market, and little as yet in the commodity market; when the competitive
menace to labor was the low paid out-of-town mechanic coming to the
city, not the out-of-town product made under lower labor costs selling
in the same market as the products of unionized labor. Under these
conditions the local trade society, reenforced by the city federation of
trades, sufficed. The "trades' union," moreover, served also as a source
of reserve strength.

Twenty years later the whole situation was changed. The fifties were a
decade of extensive construction of railways. Before 1850 there was more
traffic by water than by rail. After 1860 the relative importance of
land and water transportation was reversed. Furthermore, the most
important railway building during the ten years preceding 1860 was the
construction of East and West trunk lines; and the sixties were marked
by the establishment of through lines for freight and the consolidation
of connecting lines. The through freight lines greatly hastened freight
traffic and by the consolidations through transportation became doubly

Arteries of traffic had thus extended from the Eastern coast to the
Mississippi Valley. Local markets had widened to embrace half a
continent. Competitive menaces had become more serious and threatened
from a distance. Local unionism no longer sufficed. Consequently, as we
saw, in the labor movement of the sixties the national trade union was

There were four distinct sets of causes which operated during the
sixties to bring about nationalization; two grew out of the changes in
transportation, already alluded to, and two were largely independent of
such changes.

The first and most far-reaching cause, as illustrated by the stove
molders, was the competition of the products of different localities
side by side in the same market. Stoves manufactured in Albany, New
York, were now displayed in St. Louis by the side of stoves made in
Detroit. No longer could the molder in Albany be indifferent to the fate
of his fellow craftsman in Louisville. With the molders the
nationalization of the organization was destined to proceed to its
utmost length. In order that union conditions should be maintained even
in the best organized centers, it became necessary to equalize
competitive conditions in the various localities. That led to a
well-knit national organization to control working conditions, trade
rules, and strikes. In other trades, where the competitive area of the
product was still restricted to the locality, the paramount
nationalizing influence was a more intensive competition for employment
between migratory out-of-town journeymen and the locally organized
mechanics. This describes the situation in the printing trade, where the
bulk of work was newspaper and not book and job printing. Accordingly,
the printers did not need to entrust their national officers with
anything more than the control of the traveling journeymen and the
result was that the local unions remained practically independent.

The third cause of concerted national action in a trade union was the
organization of employers. Where the power of a local union began to be
threatened by an employers' association, the next logical step was to
combine in a national union.

The fourth cause was the application of machinery and the introduction
of division of labor, which split up the established trades and laid
industry open to invasion by "green hands." The shoemaking industry,
which during the sixties had reached the factory stage, illustrates this
in a most striking manner. Few other industries experienced anything
like a similar change during this period.

Of course, none of the causes of nationalization here enumerated
operated in entire isolation. In some trades one cause, in other trades
other causes, had the predominating influence. Consequently, in some
trades the national union resembled an agglomeration of loosely allied
states, each one reserving the right to engage in independent action and
expecting from its allies no more than a benevolent neutrality. In other
trades, on the contrary, the national union was supreme in declaring
industrial war and in making peace, and even claimed absolute right to
formulate the civil laws of the trade for times of industrial peace.

The national trade union was, therefore, a response to obvious and
pressing necessity. However slow or imperfect may have been the
adjustment of internal organizations to the conditions of the trade,
still the groove was defined and consequently the amount of possible
floundering largely limited. Not so with the next step, namely the
national federation of trades. In the sixties we saw the national trade
unions join with other local and miscellaneous labor organizations in
the National Labor Union upon a political platform of eight-hours and
greenbackism. In 1873 the same national unions asserted their rejection
of "panaceas" and politics by attempting to create in the National Labor
Congress a federation of trades of a strictly economic character. The
panic and depression nipped that in the bud. When trade unionism revived
in 1879 the national trade unions returned to the idea of a national
federation of labor, but this time they followed the model of the
British Trades Union Congress, the organization which cares for the
legislative interests of British labor. This was the "Federation of
Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada,"
which was set up in 1881.

It is easy to understand why the unions of the early eighties did not
feel the need of a federation on economic lines. The trade unions of
today look to the American Federation of Labor for the discharge of
important economic functions, therefore it is primarily an economic
organization. These functions are the assistance of national trade
unions in organizing their trades, the adjustment of disputes between
unions claiming the same "jurisdiction," and concerted action in matters
of especial importance such as shorter hours, the "open-shop," or
boycotts. None of these functions would have been of material importance
to the trade unions of the early eighties. Existing in well-defined
trades, which were not affected by technical changes, they had no
"jurisdictional" disputes; operating at a period of prosperity with
full employment and rising wages, they did not realize a necessity for
concerted action; the era of the boycotts had not yet begun. As for
having a common agency to do the work of organizing, the trade unions of
the early eighties had no keen desire to organize any but the skilled
workmen; and, since the competition of workmen in small towns had not
yet made itself felt, each national trade union strove to organize
primarily the workmen of its trade in the larger cities, a function for
which its own means were adequate.

The new organization of 1881 was a loose federation of trade and labor
unions with a legislative committee at the head, with Samuel Gompers of
the cigar makers as a member. The platform was purely legislative and
demanded legal incorporation for trade unions,[22] compulsory education
for children, the prohibition of child labor under fourteen, uniform
apprentice laws, the enforcement of the national eight-hour law, prison
labor reform, abolition of the "truck" and "order" system, mechanics'
lien, abolition of conspiracy laws as applied to labor organizations, a
national bureau of labor statistics, a protective tariff for American
labor, an anti-contract immigrant law, and recommended "all trade and
labor organizations to secure proper representation in all law-making
bodies by means of the ballot, and to use all honorable measures by
which this result can be accomplished." Although closely related to the
present American Federation of Labor in point of time and personnel of
leadership, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the
United States and Canada was in reality the precursor of the present
state federations of labor, which as specialized parts of the national
federation now look after labor legislation.

Two or three years later it became evident that the Federation as a
legislative organization proved a failure.[23] Manifestly the trade
unions felt no great interest in national legislation. The indifference
can be measured by the fact that the annual income of the Federation
never exceeded $700 and that, excepting in 1881, none of its conventions
represented more than one-fourth of the trade union membership of the
country. Under such conditions the legislative influence of the
Federation naturally was infinitesimal. The legislative committee
carried out the instructions of the 1883 convention and communicated to
the national committees of the Republican and Democratic parties the
request that they should define their position upon the enforcement of
the eight-hour law and other measures. The letters were not even
answered. A subcommittee of the legislative committee appeared before
the two political conventions, but received no greater attention.

It was not until the majority of the national trade unions came under
the menace of becoming forcibly absorbed by the Order of the Knights of
Labor that a basis appeared for a vigorous federation.

The Knights of Labor were built on an opposite principle from the
national trade unions. Whereas the latter started with independent
crafts and then with hesitating hands tried, as we saw, to erect some
sort of a common superstructure that should express a higher solidarity
of labor, the former was built from the beginning upon a denial of craft
lines and upon an absolute unity of all classes of labor under one
guiding head. The subdivision was territorial instead of occupational
and the government centralized.

The constitution of the Knights of Labor was drawn in 1878 when the
Order laid aside the veil of secrecy to which it had clung since its
foundation in 1869. The lowest unit of organization was the local
assembly of ten or more, at least three-fourths of whom had to be wage
earners at any trade. Above the local assembly was the "district
assembly" and above it the "General Assembly." The district assembly had
absolute power over its local assemblies and the General Assembly was
given "full and final jurisdiction" as "the highest tribunal" of the
Order.[24] Between sessions of the General Assembly the power was vested
in a General Executive Board, presided over by a Grand Master Workman.

The Order of the Knights of Labor in practice carried out the idea which
is now advocated so fervently by revolutionary unionists, namely the
"One Big Union," since it avowedly aimed to bring into one organization
"all productive labor." This idea in organization was aided by the
weakness of the trade unions during the long depression of the
seventies, which led many to hope for better things from a general
pooling of labor strength. But its main appeal rested on a view that
machine technique tends to do away with all distinctions of trades by
reducing all workers to the level of unskilled machine tenders. To its
protagonists therefore the "one big union" stood for an adjustment to
the new technique.

First to face the problem of adjustment to the machine technique of the
factory system were the shoemakers. They organized in 1867 the Order of
the Knights of St. Crispin, mainly for the purpose of suppressing the
competitive menace of "green hands," that is unskilled workers put to
work on shoe machines. At its height in 1872, the Crispins numbered
about 50,000, perhaps the largest union in the whole world at that time.
The coopers began to be menaced by machinery about the middle of the
sixties, and about the same time the machinists and blacksmiths, too,
saw their trade broken up by the introduction of the principle of
standardized parts and quantity production in the making of machinery.
From these trades came the national leaders of the Knights of Labor and
the strongest advocates of the new principle in labor organization and
of the interests of the unskilled workers in general. The conflict
between the trade unions and the Knights of Labor turned on the question
of the unskilled workers.

The conflict was held in abeyance during the early eighties. The trade
unions were by far the strongest organizations in the field and scented
no particular danger when here or there the Knights formed an assembly
either contiguous to the sphere of a trade union or even at times
encroaching upon it.

With the Great Upheaval, which began in 1884, and the inrushing of
hundreds of thousands of semi-skilled and unskilled workers into the
Order, a new situation was created. The leaders of the Knights realized
that mere numbers were not sufficient to defeat the employers and that
control over the skilled, and consequently the more strategic
occupations, was required before the unskilled and semi-skilled could
expect to march to victory. Hence, parallel to the tremendous growth of
the Knights in 1886, there was a constantly growing effort to absorb the
existing trade unions for the purpose of making them subservient to the
interests of the less skilled elements. It was mainly that which
produced the bitter conflict between the Knights and the trade unions
during 1886 and 1887. Neither the jealousy aroused by the success of the
unions nor the opposite aims of labor solidarity and trade separatism
gives an adequate explanation of this conflict. The one, of course,
aggravated the situation by introducing a feeling of personal
bitterness, and the other furnished an appealing argument to each side.
But the struggle was one between groups within the working class, in
which the small but more skilled group fought for independence of the
larger but weaker group of the unskilled and semi-skilled. The skilled
men stood for the right to use their advantage of skill and efficient
organization in order to wrest the maximum amount of concessions for
themselves. The Knights of Labor endeavored to annex the skilled men in
order that the advantage from their exceptional fighting strength might
lift up the unskilled and semi-skilled. From the point of view of a
struggle between principles, this was indeed a clash between the
principle of solidarity of labor and that of trade separatism, but, in
reality, each of the principles reflected only the special interest of a
certain portion of the working class. Just as the trade unions, when
they fought for trade autonomy, really refused to consider the unskilled
men, so the Knights of Labor overlooked the fact that their scheme would
retard the progress of the skilled trades.

The Knights were in nearly every case the aggressors, and it is
significant that among the local organizations of the Knights inimical
to trade unions, District Assembly 49, of New York, should prove the
most relentless. It was this assembly which conducted the longshoremen's
and coal miners' strike in New York in 1887 and which, as we saw,[25]
did not hesitate to tie up the industries of the entire city for the
sake of securing the demands of several hundred unskilled workingmen.
Though District Assembly 49, New York, came into conflict with not a few
of the trade unions in that city, its battle royal was fought with the
cigar makers' unions. There were at the time two factions among the
cigar makers, one upholding the International Cigar Makers' Union with
Adolph Strasser and Samuel Gompers as leaders, the other calling itself
the Progressive Union, which was more socialistic in nature and composed
of more recent immigrants and less skilled workers. District Assembly 49
of the Knights of Labor took a hand in the struggle to support the
Progressive Union and by skillful management brought the situation to
the point where the latter had to allow itself to be absorbed into the
Knights of Labor.

The events in the cigar making trade in New York brought to a climax the
sporadic struggles that had been going on between the Order and the
trade unions. The trade unions demanded that the Knights of Labor
respect their "jurisdiction" and proposed a "treaty of peace" with such
drastic terms that had they been accepted the trade unions would have
been left in the sole possession of the field. The Order was at first
more conciliatory. It would not of course cease to take part in
industrial disputes and industrial matters, but it proposed a _modus
vivendi_ on a basis of an interchange of "working cards" and common
action against employers. At the same time it addressed separately to
each national trade union a gentle admonition to think of the unskilled
workers as well as of themselves. The address said: "In the use of the
wonderful inventions, your organization plays a most important part.
Naturally it embraces within its ranks a very large proportion of
laborers of a high grade of skill and intelligence. With this skill of
hand, guided by intelligent thought, comes the right to demand that
excess of compensation paid to skilled above the unskilled labor. But
the unskilled labor must receive attention, or in the hour of difficulty
the employer will not hesitate to use it to depress the compensation you
now receive. That skilled or unskilled labor may no longer be found
unorganized, we ask of you to annex your grand and powerful corps to the
main army that we may fight the battle under one flag."

But the trade unions, who had formerly declared that their purpose was
"to protect the skilled trades of America from being reduced to
beggary," evinced no desire to be pressed into the service of lifting up
the unskilled and voted down with practical unanimity the proposal.
Thereupon the Order declared open war by commanding all its members who
were also members of the cigar makers' union to withdraw from the latter
on the penalty of expulsion.

Later events proved that the assumption of the aggressive was the
beginning of the undoing of the Order. It was, moreover, an event of
first significance in the labor movement since it forced the trade
unions to draw closer together and led to the founding in the same year,
1886, of the American Federation of Labor.

Another highly important effect of this conflict was the ascendency in
the trade union movement of Samuel Gompers as the foremost leader.
Gompers had first achieved prominence in 1881 at the time of the
organization of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions. But
not until the situation created by the conflict with the Knights of
Labor did he get his first real opportunity, both to demonstrate his
inborn capacity for leadership and to train and develop that capacity by
overcoming what was perhaps the most serious problem that ever
confronted American organized labor.

The new Federation avoided its predecessor's mistake of emphasizing
labor legislation above all. Its prime purpose was economic. The
legislative interests of labor were for the most part given into the
care of subordinate state federations of labor. Consequently, the
several state federations, not the American Federation of Labor,
correspond in America to the British Trades Union Congress. But in the
conventions of the American Federation of Labor the state federations
are represented only nominally. The Federation is primarily a federation
of national and international (including Canada and Mexico) trade

Each national and international union in the new Federation was
acknowledged a sovereignty unto itself, with full powers of discipline
over its members and with the power of free action toward the employers
without any interference from the Federation; in other words, its full
autonomy was confirmed. Like the British Empire, the Federation of Labor
was cemented together by ties which were to a much greater extent
spiritual than they were material. Nevertheless, the Federation's
authority was far from being a shadowy one. If it could not order about
the officers of the constituent unions, it could so mobilize the general
labor sentiment in the country on behalf of any of its constituent
bodies that its good will would be sought even by the most powerful
ones. The Federation guaranteed to each union a certain jurisdiction,
generally coextensive with a craft, and protected it against
encroachments by adjoining unions and more especially by rival unions.
The guarantee worked absolutely in the case of the latter, for the
Federation knew no mercy when a rival union attempted to undermine the
strength of an organized union of a craft. The trade unions have learned
from experience with the Knights of Labor that their deadliest enemy
was, after all, not the employers' association but the enemy from within
who introduced confusion in the ranks. They have accordingly developed
such a passion for "regularity," such an intense conviction that there
must be but one union in a given trade that, on occasions, scheming
labor officials have known how to checkmate a justifiable insurgent
movement by a skillful play upon this curious hypertrophy of the feeling
of solidarity. Not only will a rival union never be admitted into the
Federation, but no subordinate body, state or city, may dare to extend
any aid or comfort to a rival union.

The Federation exacted but little from the national and international
unions in exchange for the guarantee of their jurisdiction: A small
annual per capita tax; a willing though a not obligatory support in the
special legislative and industrial campaigns it may undertake; an
adherence to its decisions on general labor policy; an undertaking to
submit to its decision in the case of disputes with other unions, which
however need not in every case be fulfilled; and lastly, an unqualified
acceptance of the principle of "regularity" relative to labor
organization. Obviously, judging from constitutional powers alone, the
Federation was but a weak sort of a government. Yet the weakness was not
the forced weakness of a government which was willing to start with
limited powers hoping to increase its authority as it learned to stand
more firmly on its own feet; it was a self-imposed weakness suggested by
the lessons of labor history.

By contrast the Order of the Knights of Labor, as seen already, was
governed by an all-powerful General Assembly and General Executive
Board. At a first glance a highly centralized form of government would
appear a promise of assured strength and a guarantee of coherence
amongst the several parts of the organization. Perhaps, if America's
wage earners were cemented together by as strong a class consciousness
as the laboring classes of Europe, such might have been the case.

But America's labor movement lacked the unintended aid which the sister
movements in Europe derived from a caste system of society and political
oppression. Where the class lines were not tightly drawn, the
centrifugal forces in the labor movement were bound to assert
themselves. The leaders of the American Federation of Labor, in their
struggle against the Knights of Labor, played precisely upon this
centrifugal tendency and gained a victory by making an appeal to the
natural desire for autonomy and self-determination of any distinctive
group. But originally perhaps intended as a mere "strategic" move, this
policy succeeded in creating a labor movement which was, on
fundamentals, far more coherent than the Knights of Labor even in the
heyday of their glory. The officers and leaders of the Federation,
knowing that they could not command, set themselves to developing a
unified labor will and purpose by means of moral suasion and propaganda.
Where a bare order would breed resentment and backbiting, an appeal,
which is reinforced by a carefully nurtured universal labor sentiment,
will eventually bring about common consent and a willing acquiescence in
the policy supported by the majority. So each craft was made a
self-determining unit and "craft autonomy" became a sacred shibboleth in
the labor movement without interfering with unity on essentials.

The principle of craft autonomy triumphed chiefly because it recognized
the existence of a considerable amount of group selfishness. The Knights
of Labor held, as was seen, that the strategic or bargaining strength of
the skilled craftsman should be used as a lever to raise the status of
the semi-skilled and unskilled worker. It consequently grouped them
promiscuously in "mixed assemblies" and opposed as long as it could the
demand for "national trade assemblies." The craftsman, on the other
hand, wished to use his superior bargaining strength for his own
purposes and evinced little desire to dissipate it in the service of his
humbler fellow worker. To give effect to that, he felt obliged to
struggle against becoming entangled with undesirable allies in the
semi-skilled and unskilled workers for whom the Order spoke. Needless to
say, the individual self-interest of the craft leaders worked hand in
hand with the self-interest of the craft as a whole, for had they been
annexed by the Order they would have become subject to orders from the
General Master Workman or the General Assembly of the Order.

In addition to platonic stirrings for "self-determination" and to narrow
group interest, there was a motive for craft autonomy which could pass
muster both as strictly social and realistic. The fact was that the
autonomous craft union could win strikes where the centralized
promiscuous Order merely floundered and suffered defeat after defeat.
The craft union had the advantage, on the one hand, of a leadership
which was thoroughly familiar with the bit of ground upon which it
operated, and, on the other hand, of handling a group of people of equal
financial endurance and of identical interest. It has already been seen
how dreadfully mismanaged were the great Knights of Labor strikes of
1886 and 1887. The ease with which the leaders were able to call out
trade after trade on a strike of sympathy proved more a liability than
an asset. Often the choice of trades to strike bore no particular
relation to their strategic value in the given situation; altogether one
gathers the impression that these great strikes were conducted by
blundering amateurs who possessed more authority than was good for them
or for the cause. It is therefore not to be wondered at if the compact
craft unions led by specialists scored successes where the heterogeneous
mobs of the Knights of Labor had been doomed from the first. Clearly
then the survival of the craft union was a survival of the fittest; and
the Federation's attachment to the principle of craft autonomy was, to
say the least, a product of an evolutionary past, whatever one may hold
with reference to its fitness in our own time.

Whatever reasons moved the trade unions of the skilled to battle with
the Order for their separate and autonomous existence were bound sooner
or later to induce those craftsmen who were in the Order to seek a
similar autonomy. From the very beginning the more skilled and better
organized trades in the Knights sought to separate from the mixed
"district assemblies" and to create within the framework of the Order
"national trade assemblies."[26] However, the national officers, who
looked upon such a move as a betrayal of the great principle of the
solidarity of all labor, were able to stem the tide excepting in the
case of the window glass blowers, who were granted their autonomy in

The obvious superiority of the trade union form of organization over the
mixed organization, as revealed by events in 1886 and 1887, strengthened
the separatist tendency. Just as the struggle between the Knights of
Labor and the trade unions on the outside had been fundamentally a
struggle between the unskilled and the skilled portions of the
wage-earning class, so the aspiration toward the national trade assembly
within the Order represented the effort of the more or less skilled men
for emancipation from the dominance of the unskilled. But the Order
successfully fought off such attempts until after the defeat of the
mixed district assemblies, or in other words of the unskilled class, in
the struggle with the employers. With the withdrawal of a very large
portion of this class, as shown in 1887,[27] the demand for the national
trade assembly revived and there soon began a veritable rush to organize
by trades. The stampede was strongest in the city of New York where the
incompetence of the mixed District Assembly 49 had become patent. At the
General Assembly in 1887 at Minneapolis all obstacles were removed from
forming national trade assemblies, but this came too late to stem the
exodus of the skilled element from the order into the American
Federation of Labor.

The victory of craft autonomy over the "one big union" was decisive and

The strike activities of the Knights were confessedly a deviation from
"First Principles." Yet the First Principles with their emphasis on
producers' cooperation were far from forgotten even when the enthusiasm
for strikes was at its highest. Whatever the actual feelings of the
membership as a whole, the leaders neglected no opportunity to promote
cooperation. T.V. Powderly, the head of the Order since 1878, in his
reports to the annual General Assembly or convention, consistently urged
that practical steps be taken toward cooperation. In 1881, while the
general opinion in the Order was still undecided, the leaders did not
scruple to smuggle into the constitution a clause which made cooperation

Notwithstanding Powderly's exhortations, the Order was at first slow in
taking it up. In 1882 a general cooperative board was elected to work
out a plan of action, but it never reported, and a new board was chosen
in its place at the Assembly of 1883. In that year, the first practical
step was taken in the purchase by the Order of a coal mine at
Cannelburg, Indiana, with the idea of selling the coal at reduced prices
to the members. Soon thereafter a thorough change of sentiment with
regard to the whole matter of cooperation took place, contemporaneously
with the industrial depression and unsuccessful strikes. The rank and
file, who had hitherto been indifferent, now seized upon the idea with
avidity. The enthusiasm ran so high in Lynn, Massachusetts, that it was
found necessary to raise the shares of the Knights of Labor Cooperative
Shoe Company to $100 in order to prevent a large influx of "unsuitable
members." In 1885 Powderly complained that "many of our members grow
impatient and unreasonable because every avenue of the Order does not
lead to cooperation."

The impatience for immediate cooperation, which seized the rank and file
in practically every section of the country, caused an important
modification in the official doctrine of the Order. Originally it had
contemplated centralized control under which it would have taken years
before a considerable portion of the membership could realize any
benefit. This was now dropped and a decentralized plan was adopted.
Local organizations and, more frequently, groups of members with the
financial aid of their local organizations now began to establish shops.
Most of the enterprises were managed by the stockholders, although, in
some cases, the local organization of the Knights of Labor managed the

Most of the cooperative enterprises were conducted on a small scale.
Incomplete statistics warrant the conclusion that the average amount
invested per establishment was about $10,000. From the data gathered it
seems that cooperation reached its highest point in 1886, although it
had not completely spent itself by the end of 1887. The total number of
ventures probably reached two hundred. The largest numbers were in
mining, cooperage, and shoes. These industries paid the poorest wages
and treated their employes most harshly. A small amount of capital was
required to organize such establishments.

With the abandonment of centralized cooperation in 1884, the role of the
central cooperative board changed correspondingly. The leading member of
the board was now John Samuel, one of those to whom cooperation meant
nothing short of a religion. The duty of the board was to educate the
members of the Order in the principles of cooperation; to aid by
information and otherwise prospective and actual cooperators; in brief,
to coordinate the cooperative movement within the Order. It issued forms
of a constitution and by-laws which, with a few modifications, could be
adopted by any locality. It also published articles on the dangers and
pitfalls in cooperative ventures, such as granting credit, poor
management, etc., as well as numerous articles on specific kinds of
cooperation. The Knights of Labor label was granted for the use of
cooperative goods and a persistent agitation was steadily conducted to
induce purchasers to give a preference to cooperative products.

As a scheme of industrial regeneration, cooperation never materialized.
The few successful shops sooner or later fell into the hands of an
"inner group," who "froze out" the others and set up capitalistic
partnerships. The great majority went on the rocks even before getting
started. The causes of failure were many: Hasty action, inexperience,
lax shop discipline, internal dissensions, high rates of interest upon
the mortgage of the plant, and finally discriminations instigated by
competitors. Railways were heavy offenders, by delaying side tracks and,
on some pretext or other, refusing to furnish cars or refusing to haul

The Union Mining Company of Cannelburg, Indiana, owned and operated by
the Order as its sole experiment of the centralized kind of cooperation,
met this fate. After expending $20,000 in equipping the mine, purchasing
land, laying tracks, cutting and sawing timber on the land and mining
$1000 worth of coal, they were compelled to lie idle for nine months
before the railway company saw fit to connect their switch with the main
track. When they were ready to ship their product, it was learned that
their coal could be utilized for the manufacture of gas only, and that
contracts for supply of such coal were let in July, that is nine months
from the time of connecting the switch with the main track. In addition,
the company was informed that it must supply itself with a switch engine
to do the switching of the cars from its mine to the main track, at an
additional cost of $4000. When this was accomplished they had to enter
the market in competition with a bitter opponent who had been fighting
them since the opening of the mine. Having exhausted their funds and not
seeing their way clear to securing additional funds for the purchase of
a locomotive and to tide over the nine months ere any contracts for coal
could be entered into, they sold out to their competitor.

But a cause more fundamental perhaps than all other causes of the
failure of cooperation in the United States is to be found in the
difficulties of successful entrepreneurship. In the labor movement in
the United States there has been a failure, generally speaking, to
appreciate the significance of management and the importance which must
be imputed to it. Glib talk often commands an undeserved confidence and
misleads the wage earner. Thus by 1888, three or four years after it had
begun, the cooperative movement had passed the full cycle of life and
succumbed. The failure, as said, was hastened by external causes and
discrimination. But the experiments had been foredoomed anyway,--through
the incompatibility of producers' cooperation with trade unionism. The
cooperators, in their eagerness to get a market, frequently undersold
the private employer expecting to recoup their present losses in future
profits. In consequence, the privately employed wage earners had to bear
reductions in their wages. A labor movement which endeavors to practice
producers' cooperation and trade unionism at the same time is actually
driving in opposite directions.


[20] See Chapter 1.

[21] In the thirties the term "union" was reserved for the city
federations of trades. What is now designated as a trade union was
called trade society. In the sixties the "Union" became the "trades'

[22] See below, 152-154.

[23] See below, 285-290, for a discussion why American labor looks away
from legislation.

[24] The Constitution read as follows: "It alone possesses the power and
authority to make, amend, or repeal the fundamental and general laws and
regulations of the Order; to finally decide all controversies arising in
the Order; to issue all charters.... It can also tax the members of the
Order for its maintenance."

[25] See above, 98-100.

[26] The "local assemblies" generally followed in practice trade lines,
but the district assemblies were "mixed."

[27] See above, 100-101.



The Great Upheaval of 1886 had, as we saw, suddenly swelled the
membership of trade unions; consequently, during several years
following, notwithstanding the prosperity in industry, further growth
was bound to proceed at a slower rate.

The statistics of strikes during the later eighties, like the figures of
membership, show that after the strenuous years from 1885 to 1887 the
labor movement had entered a more or less quiet stage. Most prominent
among the strikes was the one of 60,000 iron and steel workers in
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the West, which was carried to a successful
conclusion against a strong combination of employers. The Amalgamated
Association of Iron and Steel Workers stood at the zenith of its power
about this time and was able in 1889, by the mere threat of a strike, to
dictate terms to the Carnegie Steel Company. The most noted and last
great strike of a railway brotherhood was the one of the locomotive
engineers on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company. The
strike was begun jointly on February 27, 1888, by the brotherhoods of
locomotive engineers and locomotive firemen. The main demands were made
by the engineers, who asked for the abandonment of the system of
classification and for a new wage scale. Two months previously, the
Knights of Labor had declared a miners' strike against the Philadelphia
& Reading Railroad Company, employing 80,000 anthracite miners, and the
strike had been accompanied by a sympathetic strike of engineers and
firemen belonging to the Order. The members of the brotherhoods had
filled their places and, in retaliation, the former Reading engineers
and firemen now took the places of the Burlington strikers, so that on
March 15 the company claimed to have a full contingent of employes. The
brotherhoods ordered a boycott upon the Burlington cars, which was
partly enforced, but they were finally compelled to submit. The strike
was not officially called off until January 3, 1889. Notwithstanding the
defeat of the strikers, the damage to the railway was enormous, and
neither the railways of the country nor the brotherhoods since that date
have permitted a serious strike of their members to occur.

The lull in the trade union movement was broken by a new concerted
eight-hour movement managed by the Federation, which culminated in 1890.

Although on the whole the eight-hour movement in 1886 was a failure, it
was by no means a disheartening failure. It was evident that the
eight-hour day was a popular demand, and that an organization desirous
of expansion might well hitch its wagon to this star. Accordingly, the
convention of the American Federation of Labor in 1888 declared that a
general demand should be made for the eight-hour day on May 1, 1890. The
chief advocates of the resolution were the delegates of the carpenters,
who announced a readiness to lead the way for a general eight-hour day
in 1890.

The Federation at once inaugurated an aggressive campaign. For the first
time in its history it employed special salaried organizers. Pamphlets
were issued and widely distributed. On every important holiday mass
meetings were held in the larger cities. On Labor Day 1889, no less
than 420 such mass meetings were held throughout the country. Again the
Knights of Labor came out against the plan.

The next year the plan of campaign was modified. The idea of a general
strike for the eight-hour day in May 1890, was abandoned in favor of a
strike trade by trade. In March 1890, the carpenters were chosen to make
the demand on May 1 of the same year, to be followed by the miners at a
later date.

The choice of the carpenters was indeed fortunate. Beginning with 1886,
that union had a rapid growth and was now the largest union affiliated
with the Federation. For several years it had been accumulating funds
for the eight-hour day, and, when the movement was inaugurated in May
1890, it achieved a large measure of success. The union officers claimed
to have won the eight-hour day in 137 cities and a nine-hour day in most
other places.

However, the selection of the miners to follow on May 1, 1891, was a
grave mistake. Less than one-tenth of the coal miners of the country
were then organized. For years the miners' union had been losing ground,
with the constant decline of coal prices. Some months before May 1,
1891, the United Mine Workers had become involved in a disastrous strike
in the Connelsville coke region, and the plan for an eight-hour strike
was abandoned. In this manner the eight-hour movement inaugurated by the
convention of the Federation in 1888 came to an end. Apart from the
strike of the carpenters in 1890, it had not led to any general movement
to gain the eight-hour work day. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of
workingmen had won reduced hours of labor, especially in the building
trades. By 1891 the eight-hour day had been secured for all building
trades in Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Indianapolis, and San Francisco.
In New York and Brooklyn the carpenters, stone-cutters, painters, and
plasterers worked eight hours, while the bricklayers, masons, and
plumbers worked nine. In St. Paul the bricklayers alone worked nine
hours, the remaining trades eight.

In 1892 the labor movement faced for the first time a really modern
manufacturing corporation with its practically boundless resources of
war, namely the Carnegie Steel Company, in the strike which has become
famous under the name of the Homestead Strike. The Amalgamated
Association of Iron and Steel Workers, with a membership of 24,068 in
1891, was probably the strongest trade union in the entire history of
the American labor movement. Prior to 1889 the relations between the
union and the Carnegie firm had been invariably friendly. In January
1889, H.C. Frick, who, as owner of the largest coke manufacturing plant,
had acquired a reputation of a bitter opponent of organized labor,
became chairman of Carnegie Brothers and Company. In the same year,
owing to his assumption of management, as the union men believed, the
first dispute occurred between them and the company. Although the
agreement was finally renewed for three years on terms dictated by the
Association, the controversy left a disturbing impression upon the minds
of the men, since during the course of the negotiations Frick had
demanded the dissolution of the union.

Negotiations for the new scale presented to the company began in
February 1892. A few weeks later the company presented a scale to the
men providing for a reduction and besides demanded that the date of the
termination of the scale be changed from July 1 to January 1. A number
of conferences were held without result; and on May 30 the company
submitted an ultimatum to the effect that, if the scale were not signed
by June 29, they would treat with the men as individuals. At a final
conference which was held on June 23, the company raised its offer from
$22 per ton to $23 as the minimum base of the scale, and the union
lowered its demand from $25, the rate formerly paid, to $24. But no
agreement could be reached on this point nor on others and the strike
began June 29 upon the definite issue of the preservation of the union.

Even before the negotiations were broken up, Frick had arranged with the
Pinkerton detective agency for 300 men to serve as guards. These men
arrived at a station on the Ohio River below Pittsburgh near midnight of
July 5. Here they embarked on barges and were towed up the river to
Pittsburgh and taken up the Monangahela River to Homestead, which they
approached about four o'clock on the morning of July 6. The workmen had
been warned of their coming and, when the boat reached the landing back
of the steel works, nearly the whole town was there to meet them and to
prevent their landing. Passion ran high. The men armed themselves with
guns and gave the Pinkertons a pitched battle. When the day was over, at
least half a dozen men on both sides had been killed and a number were
seriously wounded. The Pinkertons were defeated and driven away and,
although there was no more disorder of any sort, the State militia
appeared in Homestead on July 12 and remained for several months.

The strike which began in Homestead soon spread to other mills. The
Carnegie mills at 29th and 33d Streets, Pittsburgh, went on strike. The
strike at Homestead was finally declared off on November 20, and most
of the men went back to their old positions as non-union men. The
treasury of the union was depleted, winter was coming, and it was
finally decided to consider the battle lost.

The defeat meant not only the loss by the union of the Homestead plant
but the elimination of unionism in most of the mills in the Pittsburgh
region. Where the great Carnegie Company led, the others had to follow.
The power of the union was henceforth broken and the labor movement
learned the lesson that even its strongest organization was unable to
withstand an onslaught by the modern corporation. The Homestead strike
stirred the labor movement as few other single events. It had its
political reverberation, since it drove home to the workers that an
industry protected by high tariff will not necessarily be a haven to
organized labor, notwithstanding that the union had actively assisted
the iron and steel manufacturers in securing the high protection granted
by the McKinley tariff bill of 1890. Many of the votes which would
otherwise have gone to the Republican candidate for President went in
1892 to Grover Cleveland, who ran on an anti-protective tariff issue. It
is not unlikely that the latter's victory was materially advanced by the
disillusionment brought on by the Homestead defeat.

In the summer of 1893 occurred the financial panic. The panic and the
ensuing crisis furnished a conclusive test of the strength and stability
of the American labor movement. Gompers in his presidential report at
the convention of 1899, following the long depression, said: "It is
noteworthy, that while in every previous industrial crisis the trade
unions were literally mowed down and swept out of existence, the unions
now in existence have manifested, not only the power of resistance, but
of stability and permanency," and he assigned as the most prominent
cause the system of high dues and benefits which had come into vogue in
a large number of trade unions. He said: "Beyond doubt the superficial
motive of continued membership in unions organized upon this basis was
the monetary benefits the members were entitled to; but be that as it
may, the results are the same, that is, _membership is maintained, the
organization remains intact during dull periods of industry, and is
prepared to take advantage of the first sign of an industrial revival_."
Gompers may have overstated the power of resistance of the unions, but
their holding power upon the membership cannot be disputed. The
aggregate membership of all unions affiliated with the Federation
remained near the mark of 275,000 throughout the period of depression
from 1893 to 1897. At last the labor movement had become stabilized.

The year 1894 was exceptional for labor disturbances. The number of
employes involved reached nearly 750,000, surpassing even the mark set
in 1886. However, in contradistinction to 1886, the movement was
defensive. It also resulted in greater failure. The strike of the coal
miners and the Pullman strike were the most important ones. The United
Mine Workers began their strike in Ohio on April 21. The membership did
not exceed 20,000, but about 125,000 struck. At first the demand was
made that wages should be restored to the level at which they were in
May 1893. But within a month the union in most regions was struggling to
prevent a further reduction in wages. By the end of July the strike was

The Pullman strike marks an era in the American labor movement because
it was the only attempt ever made in America of a revolutionary strike
on the Continental European model. The strikers tried to throw against
the associated railways and indeed against the entire existing social
order the full force of a revolutionary labor solidarity embracing the
entire American wage-earning class brought to the point of exasperation
by unemployment, wage reductions, and misery. That in spite of the
remarkable favorable conjuncture the dramatic appeal failed to shake the
general labor movement out of its chosen groove is proof positive of the
completion of the stabilization process which had been going on since
the early eighties.

The Pullman strike began May 11, 1894, and grew out of a demand of
certain employes in the shops of the Pullman Palace Car Company,
situated at Pullman, Illinois, for a restoration of the wages paid
during the previous year. In March 1894, the Pullman employes had voted
to join the American Railway Union. The American Railway Union was an
organization based on industrial lines, organized in June 1893, by
Eugene V. Debs. Debs, as secretary-treasurer of the Brotherhood of
Locomotive Firemen, had watched the failure of many a strike by only one
trade and resigned this office to organize all railway workers in one
organization. The American Railway Union was the result. Between June 9
and June 26 the latter held a convention in Chicago. The Pullman matter
was publicly discussed before and after its committee reported their
interviews with the Pullman Company. On June 21, the delegates under
instructions from their local unions, feeling confident after a victory
over the Great Northern in April, unanimously voted that the members
should stop handling Pullman cars on June 26 unless the Pullman Company
would consent to arbitration.

On June 26 the railway strike began. It was a purely sympathetic strike
as no demands were made. The union found itself pitted against the
General Managers' Association, representing twenty-four roads centering
or terminating in Chicago, which were bound by contracts with the
Pullman Company. The association had been organized in 1886, its main
business being to determine a common policy as to traffic and freight
rates, but incidentally it dealt also with wages. The strike soon spread
over an enormous territory. Many of the members of the brotherhoods
joined in, although their organizations were opposed to the strike. The
lawless element in Chicago took advantage of the opportunity to rob,
burn, and plunder, so that the scenes of the great railway strike of
1877 were now repeated. The damages in losses of property and business
to the country have been estimated at $80,000,000. On July 7, E.V. Debs,
president, and other principal officers of the American Railway Union
were indicted, arrested, and held under $10,000 bail. On July 13 they
were charged with contempt of the United States Court in disobeying an
injunction which enjoined them, among other things, from compelling or
inducing by threats railway employes to strike. The strike had already
been weakening for some days. On July 12, at the request of the American
Railway Union, about twenty-five of the executive officers of national
and international labor unions affiliated with the American Federation
of Labor met in conference in Chicago to discuss the situation. Debs
appeared and urged a general strike by all labor organizations. But the
conference decided that "it would be unwise and disastrous to the
interests of labor to extend the strike any further than it had already
gone," and advised the strikers to return to work. On July 13, the
American Railway Union, through the Mayor of Chicago, offered the
General Managers' Association to declare the strike off, provided the
men should be restored to their former positions without prejudice,
except in cases where they had been convicted of crime. But the
Association refused to deal with the union. The strike was already
virtually beaten by the combined moral effect of the indictment of the
leaders and of the arrival in Chicago of United States troops, which
President Cleveland sent in spite of the protest of Governor Altgeld of

The labor organizations were taught two important lessons. First, that
nothing can be gained through revolutionary striking, for the government
was sufficiently strong to cope with it; and second, that the employers
had obtained a formidable ally in the courts.[28]

Defeats in strikes, depression in trade, a rapidly falling labor market
and court prosecutions were powerful allies of those socialistic and
radical leaders inside the Federation who aspired to convert it from a
mere economic organization into an economic-political one and make it
embark upon the sea of independent politics.

The convention of 1893 is memorable in that it submitted to the
consideration of affiliated unions a "political programme." The preamble
to the "programme" recited that the English trade unions had recently
launched upon independent politics "as auxiliary to their economic
action." The eleven planks of the program demanded: compulsory
education; the right of popular initiative in legislation; a legal
eight-hour work-day; governmental inspection of mines and workshops;
abolition of the sweating system; employers' liability laws; abolition
of the contract system upon public work; municipal ownership of electric
light, gas, street railway, and water systems; the nationalization of
telegraphs, telephones, railroads, and mines; "the collective ownership
by the people of all means of production and distribution"; and the
referendum upon all legislation.

Immediately after the convention of 1893 affiliated unions began to give
their endorsement to the political program. Not until comparatively late
did any opposition make itself manifest. Then it took the form of a
demand by such conservative leaders as Gompers, McGuire, and Strasser,
that plank 10, with its pledge in favor of "the collective ownership by
the people of all means of production and distribution," be stricken
out. Notwithstanding this, the majority of national trade unions
endorsed the program.

During 1894 the trade unions were active participants in politics. In
November, 1894, the _Federationist_ gave a list of more than 300 union
members candidates for some elective office. Only a half dozen of these,
however, were elected. It was mainly to these local failures that
Gompers pointed in his presidential address at the convention of 1894 as
an argument against the adoption of the political program by the
Federation. His attitude clearly foreshadowed the destiny of the program
at the convention. The first attack was made upon the preamble, on the
ground that the statement therein that the English trade unions had
declared for independent political action was false. By a vote of 1345
to 861 the convention struck out the preamble. Upon motion of the
typographical union, a substitute was adopted calling for the
"abolition of the monopoly system of land holding and the substitution
therefor of a title of occupancy and use only." Some of the delegates
seem to have interpreted this substitute as a declaration for the single
tax; but the majority of those who voted in its favor probably acted
upon the principle "anything to beat socialism." Later the entire
program was voted down. That sealed the fate of the move for an
independent labor party.

The American Federation of Labor was almost drawn into the whirlpool of
partisan politics during the Presidential campaign of 1896. Three
successive conventions had declared in favor of the free coinage of
silver; and now the Democratic party had come out for free coinage. In
this situation very many prominent trade union leaders declared publicly
for Bryan. President Gompers, however, issued a warning to all
affiliated unions to keep out of partisan politics. Notwithstanding this
Secretary McGraith, at the next convention of the Federation, charged
President Gompers with acting in collusion with the Democratic
headquarters throughout the campaign in aid of Bryan's candidacy. After
a lengthy secret session the convention approved the conduct of Gompers.
Free silver continued to be endorsed annually down to the convention of
1898, when the return of industrial prosperity and rising prices put an
end to it as a demand advocated by labor.

The depressed nineties demonstrated conclusively that a new era had
arrived. No longer was the labor movement a mere plaything of the
alternating waves of prosperity and depression. Formerly, as we saw, it
had centered on economic or trade-union action during prosperity only to
change abruptly to "panaceas" and politics with the descent of
depression. Now the movement, notwithstanding possible changes in
membership, and persistent political leanings in some portions of it, as
a whole for the first time became stable in purpose and action. Trade
unionism has won over politics.

This victory was synchronous with the first successful working out of a
national trade agreement and the institutionalization of trade unionism
in a leading industry, namely stove molding. While one of the earliest
stable trade agreements in a conspicuous trade covering a local field
was a bricklayers' agreement in Chicago in 1887, the era of trade
agreements really dates from the national system established in the
stove foundry industry in 1891. It is true also that the iron and steel
workers had worked under a national trade agreement since 1866. However,
that trade was too exceptionally strong to be typical.

The stove industry had early reached a high degree of development and
organization. There had existed since 1872 the National Association of
Stove Manufacturers, an organization dealing with prices and embracing
in its membership the largest stove manufacturers of the country. The
stove foundrymen, therefore, unlike the manufacturers in practically all
other industries at that time, controlled in a large measure their own
market. Furthermore, the product had been completely standardized and
reduced to a piecework basis, and machinery had not taken the place of
the molders' skill. It consequently was no mere accident that the stove
industry was the first to develop a system of permanent industrial
peace. But, on the other hand, this was not automatically established as
soon as the favorable external conditions were provided. In reality,
only after years of struggle, of strikes and lockouts, and after the
two sides had fought each other "to a standstill," was the system
finally installed.

The eighties abounded in stove molders' strikes, and in 1886 the
national union began to render effective aid. The Stove Founders'
National Defense Association was formed in 1886 as an employers'
association of stove manufacturers. The Defense Association aimed at a
national labor policy; it was organized for "resistance against any
unjust demands of their workmen, and such other purposes as may from
time to time prove or appear to be necessary for the benefit of the
members thereof as employers of labor." Thus, after 1886, the alignment
was made national on both sides. The great battle was fought the next

March 8, 1887, the employes of the Bridge and Beach Manufacturing
Company in St. Louis struck for an advance in wages and the struggle at
once became one between the International Union and the National Defense
Association. The St. Louis company sent its patterns to foundries in
other districts, but the union successfully prevented their use. This
occasioned a series of strikes in the West and of lockouts in the East,
affecting altogether about 5000 molders. It continued thus until June,
when the St. Louis patterns were recalled, the Defense Association
having provided the company with a sufficient number of strike-breakers.
Each side was in a position to claim the victory for itself; so evenly
matched were the opposing forces.

During the next four years disputes in Association plants were rare. In
August 1890, a strike took place in Pittsburgh and, for the first time
in the history of the industry, it was settled by a written trade
agreement with the local union. This supported the idea of a national
trade agreement between the two organizations. Since the dispute of
1887, negotiations with this object were from time to time conducted,
the Defense Association invariably taking the initiative. Finally, the
national convention of the union in 1890 appointed a committee to meet a
like committee of the Defense Association. The conference took place
March 25, 1891, and worked out a complete plan of organization for the
stove molding industry. Every year two committees of three members each,
chosen respectively by the union and the association, were to meet in
conference and to draw up general laws for the year. In case of a
dispute arising in a locality, if the parties immediately concerned were
unable to arrive at common terms, the chief executives of both
organizations, the president of the union and the president of the
association, were to step in and try to effect an adjustment. If,
however, they, too, failed, a conference committee composed of an equal
number of members from each side was to be called in and its findings
were to be final. Meanwhile the parties were enjoined from engaging in
hostilities while the matter at dispute was being dealt with by the duly
appointed authorities. Each organization obligated itself to exercise
"police authority" over its constituents, enforcing obedience to the
agreement. The endorsement of the plan by both organizations was
practically unanimous, and has continued in operation without
interruption for thirty years until the present day.

Since the end of the nineties the trade agreement has become one of the
most generally accepted principles and aspirations of the American labor
movement. However, it is not to be understood that by accepting the
principle of the trade agreement the labor movement has committed
itself to unlimited arbitration of industrial disputes. The basic idea
of the trade agreement is that of collective bargaining rather than
arbitration. The two terms are not always distinguished, but the
essential difference is that in the trade agreement proper no outside
party intervenes to settle the dispute and make an award. The agreement
is made by direct negotiation between the two organized groups and the
sanction which each holds over the head of the other is the strike or
lockout. If no agreement can be reached, the labor organization as well
as the employers' association, insists on its right to refuse
arbitration, whether it be "voluntary" or so-called "compulsory."

The clarification of the conception of the trade agreement was perhaps
the main achievement of the nineties. Without the trade agreement the
labor movement could hardly come to eschew "panaceas" and to
reconstitute itself upon the basis of opportunism. The coming in of the
trade agreement, whether national, sectional, or local, was also the
chief factor in stabilizing the movement against industrial depressions.


[28] See below, 159-160.



While it was in the nineties that trade unionists first tasted the
sweets of institutionalization in industry through "recognition" by
employers, it was also during the later eighties and during the nineties
that they experienced a revival of suspicion and hostility on the part
of the courts and a renewal of legal restraints upon their activities,
which were all the more discouraging since for a generation or more they
had practically enjoyed non-interference from that quarter. It was at
this period that the main legal weapons against trade unionism were
forged and brought to a fine point in practical application. The history
of the courts' attitude to trade unionism may therefore best be treated
from the standpoint of the nineties.

The subject of court interference was not altogether new in the
eighties. We took occasion to point out the effect of court interference
in labor disputes in the first and second decades of the nineteenth
century and again in the thirties. Mention was made also of the court's
decision in the Theiss boycott case in New York in 1886, which proved a
prime moving factor in launching the famous Henry George campaign for
Mayor. And we gave due note to the role of court injunctions in the Debs
strike of 1894 and in other strikes. Our present interest is, however,
more in the court doctrines than in their effects: more concerned with
the development of the legal thought underlying the policies of the
courts than with the reactions of the labor movement to the policies

The earliest case on record, namely the Philadelphia shoemakers' strike
case in 1806,[29] charged two offences; one was a combination to raise
wages, the other a combination to injure others; both offences were
declared by the judge to be forbidden by the common law. To the public
at large the prosecution seemed to rest solely upon the charge that the
journeymen combined to raise wages. The defense took advantage of this
and tried to make use of it for its own purposes. The condemnation of
the journeymen on this ground gave rise to a vehement protest on the
part of the journeymen themselves and their friends. It was pointed out
that the journeymen were convicted for acts which are considered lawful
when done by masters or merchants. Therefore when the next conspiracy
case in New York in 1809 was decided, the court's charge to the jury was
very different. Nothing was said about the illegality of the
combinations to raise wages; on the contrary, the jury was instructed
that this was not the question at issue. The issue was stated to be
whether the defendants had combined to secure an increase in their wages
by unlawful means. To the question what means were unlawful, in this
case the answer was given in general terms, namely that "coercive and
arbitrary" means are unlawful. The fines imposed upon the defendants
were only nominal.

A third notable case of the group, namely the Pittsburgh case in 1815,
grew out of a strike for higher wages, as did the preceding cases. The
charges were the same as in those and the judge took the identical view
that was taken by the court in the New York case. However, he explained
more fully the meaning of "coercive and arbitrary" action. "Where
diverse persons," he said, "confederate together by direct means to
impoverish or prejudice a third person, or to do acts prejudicial to the
community," they are engaged in an unlawful conspiracy. Concretely, it
is unlawful to "conspire to compel an employer to hire a certain
description of persons," or to "conspire to prevent a man from freely
exercising his trade in a particular place," or to "conspire to compel
men to become members of a particular society, or to contribute toward
it," or when persons "conspire to compel men to work at certain prices."
Thus it was the effort of the shoemakers' society to secure a closed
shop which fell chiefly under the condemnation of the court.

The counsel for the defense argued in this case that whatever is lawful
for one individual is lawful also for a combination of individuals. The
court, however, rejected the arguments on the ground that there was a
basic difference between an individual doing a thing and a combination
of individuals doing the same thing. The doctrine of conspiracy was thus
given a clear and unequivocal definition.

Another noteworthy feature of the Pittsburgh case was the emphasis given
to the idea that the defendants' conduct was harmful to the public. The
judge condemned the defendants because they tended "to create a monopoly
or to restrain the entire freedom of the trade." What a municipality is
not allowed to do, he argued, a private association of individuals must
not be allowed to do.

Of the group of cases which grew out of the revival of trade union
activity in the twenties, the first, a case against Philadelphia master
shoemakers, was decided in 1821, and the judge held that it was lawful
for the masters, who had recently been forced by employes to a wage
increase, to combine in order to restore wages to their "natural level."
But he also held that had the employers combined to depress wages of
journeymen below the level fixed by free competition, it would have been

Another Pennsylvania case resulted from a strike by Philadelphia tailors
in 1827 to secure the reinstatement of six discharged members. As in
previous cases the court rejected the plea that a combination to raise
wages was illegal, and directed the attention of the jury to the
question of intimidation and coercion, especially as it affected third
parties. The defendants were found guilty.

In a third, a New York hatters' case of 1823, the charge of combining to
raise wages was entirely absent from the indictment. The issue turned
squarely on the question of conspiring to injure others by coercion and
intimidation. The hatters were adjudged guilty of combining to deprive a
non-union workman of his livelihood.

The revival of trade unionism in the middle of the thirties brought in,
as we saw, another crop of court cases.

In 1829 New York State had made "conspiracy to commit any act injurious
to public morals or to trade or commerce" a statutory offence, thus
reenforcing the existing common law. In 1835 the shoemakers of Geneva
struck to enforce the closed shop against a workman who persisted in
working below the union rate. The indictment went no further than
charging this offence. The journeymen were convicted in a lower court
and appealed to the Supreme Court of the State. Chief Justice Savage, in
his decision condemning the journeymen, broadened the charge to include
a conspiracy to raise wages and condemned both as "injurious to trade or
commerce" and thus expressly covered by statute.

The far-reaching effects of this decision came clearly to light in a
tailor's case the next year. The journeymen were charged with practising
intimidation and violence, while picketing their employers' shops during
a prolonged strike against a reduction in wages. Judge Edwards, the
trial judge, in his charge to the jury, stigmatized the tailors' society
as an illegal combination, largely basing himself upon Judge Savage's
decision. The jury handed in a verdict of guilty, but recommended mercy.
The judge fined the president of the society $150, one journeyman $100,
and the others $50 each. The fines were immediately paid with the aid of
a collection taken up in court.

The decisions produced a violent reaction among the workingmen. They
held a mass-meeting in City Hall Park, with an estimated attendance of
27,000, burned Judge Savage and Judge Edwards in effigy, and resolved to
call a state convention to form a workingmen's party.

So loud, indeed, was the cry that justice had been thwarted that juries
were doubtless influenced by it. Two cases came up soon after the
tailors' case, the Hudson, New York, shoemakers' in June and the
Philadelphia plasterers' in July 1836. In both the juries found a
verdict of not guilty. Of all journeymen indicted during this period the
Hudson shoemakers had been the most audacious ones in enforcing the
closed shop. They not only refused to work for employers who hired
non-society men, but fined them as well; yet they were acquitted.

Finally six years later, in 1842, long after the offending trade
societies had gone out of existence under the stress of unemployment
and depression, came the famous decision in the Massachusetts case of
Commonwealth _v._ Hunt.

This was a shoemakers' case and arose out of a strike. The decision in
the lower court was adverse to the defendants. However, it was reversed
by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. The decision, written by
Chief Justice Shaw, is notable in that it holds trade unions to be legal
organizations. In the earlier cases it was never in so many words held
that trade unions were unlawful, but in all of them there were
suggestions to this effect. Now it was recognized that trade unions are
_per se_ lawful organizations and, though men may band themselves
together to effect a criminal object under the disguise of a trade
union, such a purpose is not to be assumed without positive evidence. On
the contrary, the court said that "when an association is formed for
purposes actually innocent, and afterwards its powers are abused by
those who have the control and management of it to purposes of
oppression and injustice, it will be criminal in those who misuse it, or
give consent thereto, but not in other members of the association." This
doctrine that workingmen may lawfully organize trade unions has since
Commonwealth _v._ Hunt been adopted in nearly every case.

The other doctrine which Justice Shaw advanced in this case has been
less generally accepted. It was that the members of a union may procure
the discharge of non-members through strikes for this purpose against
their employers. This is the essence of the question of the closed shop;
and Commonwealth _v._ Hunt goes the full length of regarding strikes for
the closed shop as legal. Justice Shaw said that there is nothing
unlawful about such strikes, if they are conducted in a peaceable
manner. This was much in advance of the position which is taken by many
courts upon this question even at the present day.

After Commonwealth _v._ Hunt came a forty years' lull in the courts'
application of the doctrine of conspiracy to trade unions. In fact so
secure did trade unionists feel from court attacks that in the seventies
and early eighties their leaders advocated the legal incorporation of
trade unions. The desire expressed for incorporation is of extreme
interest compared with the opposite attitude of the present day. The
motive behind it then was more than the usual one of securing protection
for trade union funds against embezzlement by officers. A full
enumeration of other motives can be obtained from the testimony of the
labor leaders before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor in
1883. McGuire, the national secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters
and Joiners, argued before the committee for a national incorporation
law mainly for the reason that such a law passed by Congress would
remove trade unions from the operation of the conspiracy laws that still
existed though in a dormant state on the statute books of a number of
Slates, notably New York and Pennsylvania. He pleaded that "if it
(Congress) had not the power, it shall assume the power; and, if
necessary, amend the constitution to do it." Adolph Strasser of the
cigar makers raised the point of protection for union funds and gave as
a second reason that it "will give our organization more stability, and
in that manner we shall be able to avoid strikes by perhaps settling
with our employers, when otherwise we should be unable to do so, because
when our employers know that we are to be legally recognized that will
exercise such moral force upon them that they cannot avoid recognizing
us themselves." W.H. Foster, the secretary of the Legislative Committee
of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, stated that in
Ohio the law provided for incorporation at a slight cost, but he wanted
a national law to "legalize arbitration," by which he meant that "when a
question of dispute arose between the employers and the employed,
instead of having it as now, when the one often refuses to even
acknowledge or discuss the question with the other, if they were
required to submit the question to arbitration, or to meet on the same
level before an impartial tribunal, there is no doubt but what the
result would be more in our favor than it is now, when very often public
opinion cannot hear our cause." He, however, did not desire to have
compulsory arbitration, but merely compulsory dealing with the union, or
compulsory investigation by an impartial body, both parties to remain
free to accept the award, provided, however, "that once they do agree
the agreement shall remain in force for a fixed period." Like Foster,
John Jarrett, the President of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and
Steel Workers, argued for an incorporation law before the committee
solely for its effect upon conciliation and arbitration. He, too, was
opposed to compulsory arbitration, but he showed that he had thought out
the point less clearly than Foster.

The young and struggling trade unions of the early eighties saw only the
good side of incorporation without its pitfalls; their subsequent
experience with courts converted them from exponents into ardent
opponents of incorporation and of what Foster termed "legalized

During the eighties there was much legislation applicable to labor
disputes. The first laws against boycotting and blacklisting and the
first laws which prohibited discrimination against members who belonged
to a union were passed during this decade. At this time also were passed
the first laws to promote voluntary arbitration and most of the laws
which allowed unions to incorporate. Only in New York and Maryland were
the conspiracy laws repealed. Four States enacted such laws and many
States passed laws against intimidation. Statutes, however, played at
that time, as they do now, but a secondary role. The only statute which
proved of much importance was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. When Congress
passed this act in 1890, few people thought it had application to labor
unions. In 1893-1894, as we shall see, however, this act was
successfully invoked in several labor controversies, notably in the Debs

The bitterness of the industrial struggle during the eighties made it
inevitable that the labor movement should acquire an extensive police
and court record. It was during that decade that charges like "inciting
to riot," "obstructing the streets," "intimidation," and "trespass" were
first extensively used in connection with labor disputes. Convictions
were frequent and penalties often severe. What attitude the courts at
that time took toward labor violence was shown most strikingly, even if
in too extreme a form to be entirely typical, in the case of the Chicago

But the significance of the eighties in the development of relations of
the courts to organized labor came not from these cases which were,
after all, nothing but ordinary police cases magnified to an unusual
degree by the intensity of the industrial struggle and by the excited
state of public opinion, but in the new lease of life to the doctrine of
conspiracy as affecting labor disputes. During the eighties and nineties
there seemed to have been more conspiracy cases than during all the rest
of the century. It was especially in 1886 and 1887 that organized labor
found court interference a factor. At this time, as we saw, there was
also passed voluminous state legislation strengthening the application
of the common law doctrine of conspiracy to labor disputes. The
conviction of the New York boycotters in 1886 and many similar
convictions, though less widely known, of participants in strikes and
boycotts were obtained upon this ground.

Where the eighties witnessed a revolution was in a totally new use made
of the doctrine of conspiracy by the courts when they began to issue
injunctions in labor cases. Injunctions were an old remedy, but not
until the eighties did they figure in the struggles between labor and
capital. In England an injunction was issued in a labor dispute as early
as 1868;[31] but this case was not noticed in the United States and had
nothing whatever to do with the use of injunctions in this country. When
and where the first labor injunction was issued in the United States is
not known. An injunction was applied for in a New York case as early as
1880 but was denied.[32] An injunction was granted in Iowa in 1884, but
not until the Southwest railway strike in 1886 were injunctions used
extensively. By 1890 the public had yet heard little of injunctions in
connection with labor disputes, but such use was already fortified by
numerous precedents.

The first injunctions that attained wide publicity were those issued by
Federal courts during the strike of engineers against the Chicago,
Burlington, & Quincy Railroad[33] in 1888 and during the railway strikes
of the early nineties. Justification for these injunctions was found in
the provisions of the Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Anti-Trust
Act. Often the State courts used these Federal cases as precedents, in
disregard of the fact that there the issuance of injunctions was based
upon special statutes. In other cases the more logical course was
followed of justifying the issuance of injunctions upon grounds of
equity. But most of the acts which the courts enjoined strikers from
doing were already prohibited by the criminal laws. Hence organized
labor objected that these injunctions violated the old principle that
equity will not interfere to prevent crime. No such difficulties arose
when the issuance of injunctions was justified as a measure for the
protection of property. In the Debs case,[34] when the Supreme Court of
the United States passed upon the issuance of injunctions in labor
disputes, it had recourse to this theory.

But the theory of protection to property also presented some
difficulties. The problem was to establish the principle of irreparable
injury to the complainant's property. This was a simple matter when the
strikers were guilty of trespass, arson, or sabotage. Then they damaged
the complainant's physical property and, since they were usually men
against whom judgments are worthless, any injury they might do was
irreparable. But these were exceptional cases. Usually injunctions were
sought to prevent not violence, but strikes, picketing, or boycotting.
What is threatened by strikes and picketing is not the employer's
physical property, but the relations he has established as an employer
of labor, summed up in his expectancy of retaining the services of old
employes and of obtaining new ones. Boycotting, obviously, has no
connection with acts of violence against physical property, but is
designed merely to undermine the profitable relations which the employer
had developed with his customers. These expectancies are advantages
enjoyed by established businesses over new competitors and are usually
transferable and have market value. For these reasons they are now
recognized as property in the law of good-will and unfair competition
for customers, having been first formulated about the middle of the
nineteenth century.

The first case which recognized these expectancies of a labor market was
Walker _v._ Cronin,[35] decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial
Court in 1871. It held that the plaintiff was entitled to recover
damages from the defendants, certain union officials, because they had
induced his employes, who were free to quit at will, to leave his employ
and had also been instrumental in preventing him from getting new
employes. But as yet these expectancies were not considered property in
the full sense of the word. A transitional case is that of Brace Bros.
_v._ Evans in 1888.[36] In that case an injunction against a boycott was
justified on the ground that the value of the complainant's physical
property was being destroyed when the market was cut off. Here the
expectancies based upon relations which customers and employes were
thought of as giving value to the physical property, but they were not
yet recognized as a distinct asset which in itself justifies the
issuance of injunctions.

This next step was taken in the Barr[37] case in New Jersey in 1893.
Since then there have been frequent statements in labor injunction cases
to the effect that both the expectancies based upon the
merchant-function and the expectancies based upon the employer-function
are property.

But the recognition of "probable expectancies" as property was not in
itself sufficient to complete the chain of reasoning that justifies
injunctions in labor disputes. It is well established that no recovery
can be had for losses due to the exercise by others of that which they
have a lawful right to do. Hence the employers were obliged to charge
that the strikes and boycotts were undertaken in pursuance of an
unlawful conspiracy. Thus the old conspiracy doctrine was combined with
the new theory, and "malicious" interference with "probable
expectancies" was held unlawful. Earlier conspiracy had been thought of
as a criminal offence, now it was primarily a civil wrong. The emphasis
had been upon the danger to the public, now it was the destruction of
the employer's business. Occasionally the court went so far as to say
that all interference with the business of employers is unlawful. The
better view developed was that interference is _prima facie_ unlawful
but may be justified. But even this view placed the burden of proof upon
the workingmen. It actually meant that the court opened for itself the
way for holding the conduct of the workingmen to be lawful only when it
sympathized with their demands.

During the eighties, despite the far-reaching development of legal
theories on labor disputes, the issuance of injunctions was merely
sporadic, but a veritable crop came up during 1893-1894. Only the
best-known injunctions can be here noted. The injunctions issued in the
course of the Southwest railway strike in 1886 and the Burlington strike
in 1888 have already received mention. An injunction was also issued by
a Federal court during a miners' strike at Coeur d'Alène, Idaho, in
1892.[38] A famous injunction was the one of Judges Taft and Rickes in
1893, which directed the engineers, who were employed by connecting
railways, to handle the cars of the Ann Arbor and Michigan railway,
whose engineers were on strike.[39] This order elicited much criticism
because it came close to requiring men to work against their will. This
was followed by the injunction of Judge Jenkins in the Northern Pacific
case, which directly prohibited the quitting of work.[40] From this
injunction the defendants took an appeal, with the result that in Arthur
_v._ Oakes[41] it was once for all established that the quitting of work
may not be enjoined.

During the Pullman strike numerous injunctions, most sweeping in
character, were issued by the Federal courts upon the initiative of the
Department of Justice. Under the injunction which was issued in Chicago
arose the famous contempt case against Eugene V. Debs,[42] which was
carried to the Supreme Court of the United States. The decision of the
court in this case is notable, because it covered the main points of
doubt above mentioned and placed the use of injunctions in labor
disputes upon a firm legal basis.

Another famous decision of the Supreme Court growing out of the railway
strikes of the early nineties was in the Lennon case[43] in 1897.
Therein the court held that all persons who have actual notice of the
issuance of an injunction are bound to obey its terms, whether they were
mentioned by name or not; in other words, the courts had evolved the
"blanket injunction."

At the end of the nineties, the labor movement, enriched on the one side
by the lessons of the past and by the possession of a concrete goal in
the trade agreement, but pressed on the other side by a new form of
legal attack and by the growing consolidation of industry, started upon
a career of new power but faced at the same time new difficulties.


[29] See above, 6.

[30] See above, 91-93.

[31] Springhead Spinning Co. _v._ Riley, L.R. 6 E. 551 (1868).

[32] Johnson Harvester Co. _v._ Meinhardt, 60 How. Pr. 171.

[33] Chicago, Burlington, etc., R.R. Co. _v._ Union Pacific R.R. Co.,
U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Neb. (1888).

[34] In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564 (1895).

[35] 107 Mass. 555 (1871).

[36] 5 Pa. Co. Ct. 163 (1888).

[37] Barr _v._ Trades' Council, 53 N.J.E. 101 (1894).

[38] Coeur d'Alène Mining Co. _v._ Miners' Union, 51 Fed. 260 (1892).

[39] Toledo, etc. Co. _v._ Penn. Co., 54 Fed. 730 (1893).

[40] Farmers' Loan and Trust Co. _v._ N.P.R. Co., 60 Fed. 803 (1895).

[41] 64 Fed. 310 (1894).

[42] In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564 (1894).

[43] In re Lennon, 166 U.S. 548 (1897).





When, in 1898, industrial prosperity returned, there came with it a
rapid expansion of labor organization. At no time in its history, prior
to the World War, not excepting the Great Upheaval in the eighties, did
labor organizations make such important gains as during the following
five years. True, in none of these years did the labor movement add over
half a million members as in the memorable year of 1886; nevertheless,
from the standpoint of permanence, the upheaval during the eighties can
scarcely be classed with the one which began in the late nineties.

During 1898 the membership of the American Federation of Labor remained
practically stationary, but during 1899 it increased by about 70,000 (to
about 350,000); in 1900, it increased by 200,000; in 1901, by 240,000;
in 1902, by 237,000; in 1903, by 441,000; in 1904, by 210,000, bringing
the total to 1,676,000. In 1905 a backward tide set in; and the
membership decreased by nearly 200,000 during that year. It remained
practically stationary until 1910, when the upward movement was resumed,
finally bringing the membership to near the two million mark, to
1,996,000, in 1913. If we include organizations unaffiliated with the
Federation, among them the bricklayers[44] and the four railway
brotherhoods, with about 700,000 members, the union membership for 1913
will be brought near a total of 2,700,000.

A better index of progress is the proportion of organized workers to
organizable workers. Two such estimates have been made. Professor George
E. Barnett figures the organizable workers in 1900 at 21,837,000; in
1910 at 30,267,000. On this basis wage earners were 3.5 percent
organized in 1900 and 7 percent in 1910.[45] Leo Wolman submits more
detailed figures for 1910. Excluding employers, the salaried group,
agricultural and clerical workers, persons engaged in personal or
domestic service, and those below twenty years of age (unorganizable
workers), the organizable total was 11,490,944. With an estimated trade
union strength of 2,116,317 for 1910 the percentage of the organized was
18.4.[46] Excluding only employers and salaried persons, his percentage
was 7.7, which compares closely with Professor Barnett's.

Of greater significance are Wolman's figures for organization by
industries. These computations show that in 1910 the breweries had 88.8
percent, organized, printing and book binding 34.3 percent, mining 30.5
percent, transportation 17.3 percent, clothing 16.9 percent, building
trades 16.2 percent, iron and steel 9.9 percent, metal 4.7 percent, and
textile 3.7 percent.[47] By separate occupations, railway conductors,
brakemen, and locomotive engineers were from 50-100 percent organized;
printers, locomotive firemen, molders and plasterers, from 30-50
percent; bakers, carpenters, plumbers, from 15-30 percent organized.[48]

Accompanying the numerical growth of labor organizations was an
extension of organization into heretofore untouched trades as well as a
branching out into new geographical regions, the South and the West. On
the whole, however, though the Federation was not unmindful of the
unskilled, still, during the fifteen years after 1898 it brought into
its fold principally the upper strata of semi-skilled labor. Down to the
"boom" period brought on by the World War, the Federation did not
comprise to any great extent either the totally unskilled, or the
partially skilled foreign-speaking workmen, with the exception of the
miners and the clothing workers. In other words, those below the level
of the skilled trades, which did gain admittance, were principally the
same elements which had asserted their claim to organization during the
stormy period of the Knights of Labor.[49] The new accretions to the
American wage-earning class since the eighties, the East and South
Europeans, on the one hand, and the ever-growing contingent of
"floaters" of native and North and West European stock, on the other
hand, were still largely outside the organization.

The years of prosperity brought an intensified activity of the trade
unions on a scale hitherto unknown. Wages were raised and hours reduced
all along the line. The new strength of the trade unions received a
brilliant test during the hard times following the financial panic of
October 1907, when they successfully fought wage reductions. As good a
test is found in the conquest of the shorter day. By 1900 the eight-hour
day was the rule in the building trades, in granite cutting and in
bituminous coal mining. The most spectacular and costly eight-hour fight
was waged by the printers. In the later eighties and early nineties, the
Typographical Union had endeavored to establish a nine-hour day in the
printing offices. This was given a setback by the introduction of the
linotype machine during the period of depression, 1893-1897. In spite of
this obstacle, however, the Typographical Union held its ground.
Adopting the policy that only journeymen printers must operate the
linotype machines, the union was able to meet the situation. And,
furthermore, in 1898, through agreement with the United Typothetæ of
America, the national association of employers in book and job printing,
the union was able to gain the nine-hour day in substantially all book
and job offices. In 1903 the union demanded the eight-hour day in all
printing offices to become effective January 1, 1906. To gain an
advantage over the union, the United Typothetæ, late in the summer of
1905, locked out all its union men. This at once precipitated a strike
for the eight-hour day. The American Federation of Labor levied a
special assessment on all its members in aid of the strikers. By 1907
the Typographical Union won its demand all along the line, although at a
tremendous cost of money running into several million dollars, and in
1909 the United Typothetæ formally conceded the eight-hour day.

Another proof of trade union progress is found in the spread of trade
agreements. The idea of a joint partnership of organized labor and
organized capital in the management of industry, which, ever since the
fifties, had been struggling for acceptance, finally showed definite
signs of coming to be materialized.

(1) _The Miners_

In no other industry has a union's struggle for "recognition" offered a
richer and more instructive picture of the birth of the new order with
its difficulties as well as its promises than in coal mining. Faced in
the anthracite field[50] by a small and well knitted group of employers,
generally considered a "trust," and by a no less difficult situation in
bituminous mining due to cut-throat competition among the mine
operators, the United Mine Workers have succeeded in a space of fifteen
years in unionizing the one as well as the other; while at the same time
successfully and progressively solving the gigantic internal problem of
welding a polyglot mass of workers into a well disciplined and obedient

The miners' union attained its first successes in the so-called central
bituminous competitive field, including Western Pennsylvania, West
Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. In this field a
beginning had been made in 1886 when the coal operators and the union
entered into a collective agreement. However, its scope was practically
confined to Ohio and even that limited agreement went under in 1890.[51]
With the breakdown of this agreement, the membership dwindled so that
by the time of a general strike in 1894, the total paid-up membership
was barely 13,000. This strike was undertaken to restore the wage-scale
of 1893, but during the ensuing years of depression wages were cut still

The turn came as suddenly as it was spectacular. In 1897, with a
membership which had dropped to 10,000 and of which 7000 were in Ohio
and with an empty treasury, the United Mine Workers called a general
strike trusting to a rising market and to an awakened spirit of
solidarity in the majority of the unorganized after four years of
unemployment and distress. In fact the leaders had not miscalculated.
One hundred thousand or more coal miners obeyed the order to go on a
strike. In Illinois the union had but a handful of members when the
strike started, but the miners struck to a man. The tie-up was
practically complete except in West Virginia. That State had early
become recognized as the weakest spot in the miners' union's armor.
Notwithstanding the American Federation of Labor threw almost its entire
force of organizers into that limited area, which was then only
beginning to assume its present day importance in the coal mining
industry, barely one-third of the miners were induced to strike. A
contributing factor was a more energetic interference from the courts
than in other States. All marching upon the highways and all assemblages
of the strikers in large gatherings were forbidden by injunctions. On
one occasion more than a score of men were sentenced to jail for
contempt of court by Federal Judge Goff. The handicap in West Virginia
was offset by sympathy and aid from other quarters. Many unions
throughout the country and even the general public sent the striking
miners financial aid. In Illinois Governor John R. Tanner refused the
requests for militia made by several sheriffs.

The general strike of 1897 ended in the central competitive field after
a twelve-weeks' struggle. The settlement was an unqualified victory for
the union. It conceded the miners a 20 percent increase in wages, the
establishment of the eight-hour day, the abolition of company stores,
semi-monthly payments, and a restoration of the system of fixing
Interstate wage rates in annual joint conferences with the operators,
which meant official recognition of the United Mine Workers. The
operators in West Virginia, however, refused to come in.

The first of these Interstate conferences was held in January, 1898, at
which the miners were conceded a further increase in wages. In addition,
the agreement, which was to run for two years, established for Illinois
the run-of-mine[53] system of payment, while the size of the screens of
other states was regulated; and it also conceded the miners the
check-off system[54] in every district, save that of Western
Pennsylvania.[55] Such a comprehensive victory would not have been
possible had it not been for the upward trend which coal prices had

But great as was the union's newly discovered power, it was spread most
unevenly over the central competitive field. Its firmest grip was in
Illinois. The well-filled treasury of the Illinois district has many
times been called upon for large contributions or loans, to enable the
union to establish itself in some other field. The weakest hold of the
United Mine Workers has been in West Virginia. At the end of the general
strike of 1897, the West Virginia membership was only about 4000.
Moreover, a further spread of the organization met with unusual
obstacles. A large percentage of the miners of West Virginia are Negroes
or white mountaineers. These have proven more difficult to organize than
recent Southern and Eastern European immigrants, who formed the majority
in the other districts. And yet West Virginia as a growing mining state
soon assumed a high strategic importance. A lower wage scale, the better
quality of its coal, and a comparative freedom from strikes have made
West Virginia a formidable competitor of the other districts in the
central competitive field. Consequently West Virginia operators have
been able to operate their mines more days during the year than
elsewhere; and despite the lower rates per ton, the West Virginia miners
have earned but little less annually than union miners in other States.
But above all the United Mine Workers have been handicapped in West
Virginia as nowhere else by court interference in strikes and in
campaigns of organization. In 1907 a temporary injunction was granted at
the behest of the Hitchman Coal and Coke Company, a West Virginia
concern, restraining union organizers from attempting to organize
employes who signed agreements not to join the United Mine Workers while
in the employ of the company. The injunction was made permanent in 1913.
The decree of the District Court was reversed by the Circuit Court of
Appeals in 1914, but was sustained by the United States Supreme Court in
March 1917.[56] Recently the United States Steel Corporation became a
dominant factor in West Virginia through its ownership of mines and lent
additional strength to the already strong anti-union determination of
the employers.

Very early the United Mine Workers established a reputation for strict
adherence to agreements made. This faithfulness to a pledged word, which
justified itself even from the standpoint of selfish motive, in as much
as it gained for the union public sympathy, was urged upon all occasions
by John Mitchell, the national President of the Union. The first test
came in 1899, when coal prices soared up rapidly after the joint
conference had adjourned. Although they might have won higher wages had
they struck, the miners observed their contracts. A more severe test
came in 1902 during the great anthracite strike.[57] A special union
convention was then held to consider whether the bituminous miners
should be called out in sympathy with the hard pressed striking miners
in the anthracite field. By a large majority, however, the convention
voted not to strike in violation of the agreements made with the
operators. The union again gave proof of statesmanly self-control when,
in 1904, taking into account the depressed condition of industry, it
accepted without a strike a reduction in wages in the central
competitive field. However, as against the miners' conduct in these
situations must be reckoned the many local strikes or "stoppages" in
violation of agreements. The difficulty was that the machinery for the
adjustment of local grievances was too cumbersome.

In 1906 the trade agreement system encountered a new difficulty in the
friction which developed between the operators of the several
competitive districts. On the surface, the source of the friction was
the attempt made by the Ohio and Illinois operators to organize a
national coal operators' association to take the place of the several
autonomous district organizations. The Pittsburgh operators, however,
objected. They preferred the existing system of agreements under which
each district organization possessed a veto power, since then they could
keep the advantage over their competitors in Ohio and Indiana with which
they had started under the original agreement of 1898. The miners in
this emergency threw their power against the national operators'
association. A suspension throughout most districts of the central
competitive field followed. In the end, the miners won an increase in
wages, but the Interstate agreement system was suspended, giving place
to separate agreements for each district.

In 1908 the situation of 1906 was repeated. This time the Illinois
operators refused to attend the Interstate conference on the ground that
the Interstate agreement severely handicapped Illinois. As said before,
ever since 1897 payment in Illinois has been upon the run-of-mine basis;
whereas in all other States of the central competitive field the miners
were paid for screened coal only. With the operators of each State
having one vote in the joint conference, it can be understood why the
handicap against Illinois continued. Theoretically, of course, the
Illinois operators might have voted against the acceptance of any
agreement which gave an advantage to other States; however, against this
weighed the fact that the union was strongest in Illinois. The Illinois
operators, hence, preferred to deal separately with the United Mine
Workers. Accordingly, an Interstate agreement was drawn up, applying
only to Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

In 1910, the Illinois operators again refused to enter the Interstate
conference, but this time the United Mine Workers insisted upon a return
to the Interstate agreement system of 1898. On April 1, 1910, operations
were suspended throughout the central competitive field. By July
agreements had been secured in every State save Illinois, the latter
State holding out until September. This long struggle in Illinois was
the first real test of strength between the operators and the miners
since 1897. The miners' victory made it inevitable that the Illinois
operators should eventually reenter the Interstate conference.

In 1912, after repeated conferences, the net result was the restoration
of the Interstate agreement as it existed before 1906. The special
burden of which the Illinois operators had been complaining was not
removed; yet they were compelled by the union to remain a party to the
Interstate agreement. The union justified its special treatment of the
operators in Illinois on the ground that the run-of-mine rates were 40
percent below the screened coal rates, thus compensating them amply for
the "slack" for which they had to pay under this system. The Federal
report on "Restriction of Output" of 1904 substantiated the union's
contention. Ultimately, the United Mine Workers unquestionably hoped to
establish the run-of-mine system throughout the central competitive

The union, incidentally to its policy of protecting the miners, has
considerably affected the market or business structure of the industry.
An outstanding policy of the union has been to equalize competitive
costs over the entire area of a market by means of a system of grading
tonnage rates paid to the miner, whereby competitive advantages of
location, thickness of vein, and the like were absorbed in higher labor
costs. This doubtless tended to eliminate cut-throat competition and
thus stabilize the industry. On the other hand, it may have hindered the
process of elimination of unprofitable mines, and therefore may be in
some measure responsible for the present-day overdevelopment in the
bituminous mining industry, which results in periodic unemployment and
in idle mines.

In the anthracite coal field in Eastern Pennsylvania the difficulties
met by the United Mine Workers were at first far greater than in the
bituminous branch of the industry. First, the working population was
nearly all foreign-speaking, and the union thus lacked the fulcrum which
it found in Illinois with its large proportion of English-speaking
miners accustomed to organization and to carrying on a common purpose.
Secondly, the employers, instead of being numerous and united only for
joint dealing with labor, as in bituminous mining, were few in number
besides being cemented together by a common selling policy on top of a
common labor policy. In consequence, the union encountered a stone wall
of opposition, which its loose ranks found for many years well-nigh
impossible to overcome.

During the general strike of 1897 the United Mine Workers made a
beginning in organizing the anthracite miners. In September 1900, they
called a general strike. Although at that time the union had only 8000
members in this region, the strike order was obeyed by over 100,000
miners; and within a few weeks the strike became truly general. Probably
the union could not have won if it had to rely solely on economic
strength. However, the impending Presidential election led to an
interference by Senator Mark Hanna, President McKinley's campaign
manager. Through him President John Mitchell of the United Mine Workers
was informed that the operators would abolish the objectionable sliding
scale system of wage payments, increase rates 10 percent and agree to
meet committees of their employes for the adjustment of grievances.
This, however, did not carry a formal recognition of the union; it was
not a trade agreement but merely an unwritten understanding. A part of
the same understanding was that the terms which had been agreed upon
should remain in force until April, 1901. At its expiration the
identical terms were renewed for another year, while the negotiations
bore the same informal character.

During 1902 the essential instability of the arrangement led to sharp
friction. The miners claimed that many operators violated the unwritten
agreement. The operators, on their part, charged that the union was
using every means for practically enforcing the closed shop, which was
not granted in the understanding. In the early months of 1902 the miners
presented demands for a reduction of the hours of labor from 10 to 9,
for a twenty percent increase in wages, for payment according to the
weight of coal mined, and for the recognition of the union. The
operators refused to negotiate, and on May 9 the famous anthracite
strike of 1902 began.

It is unnecessary to detail the events of the anthracite strike. No
other strike is better known and remembered. More than 150,000 miners
stood out for approximately five months. The strike was financed by a
levy of one dollar per week upon all employed miners in the country,
which yielded over $2,000,000. In addition several hundred thousand
dollars came in from other trade unions and from the public generally.
In October, when the country was facing a most serious coal famine,
President Roosevelt took a hand. He called in the presidents of the
anthracite railroads and the leading union officials for a conference in
the White House and urged arbitration. At first he met with rebuff from
the operators, but shortly afterward, with the aid of friendly pressure
from New York financiers, the operators consented to accept the award of
a commission to be appointed by himself. This was the well-known
Anthracite Coal Strike Commission. Its appointment terminated the
strike. Not until more than a half year later, however, was the award of
the Commission made. It conceded the miners a 10 percent increase in
wages, the eight and nine-hour day, and the privilege of having a union
check-weighman at the scale where the coal sent up in cars by the miners
is weighed. Recognition was not accorded the union, except that it was
required to bear one-half of the expense connected with the maintenance
of a joint arbitration board created by the Commission. When this award
was announced there was much dissatisfaction with it among the miners.
President Mitchell, however, put forth every effort to have the union
accept the award. Upon a referendum vote the miners accepted his view.

The anthracite coal strike of 1902 was doubtless the most important
single event in the history of American trade unionism until that time
and has since scarcely been surpassed. To be sure, events like the great
railway strike of 1877 and the Chicago Anarchist bomb and trial in
1886-1887 had equally forced the labor question into public attention.
What distinguished the anthracite coal strike, however, was that for the
first time a labor organization tied up for months a strategic industry
and caused wide suffering and discomfort to the public without being
condemned as a revolutionary menace to the existing social order calling
for suppression by the government; it was, on the contrary, adjudged a
force within the preserves of orderly society and entitled to public
sympathy. The public identified the anthracite employers with the trust
movement, which was then new and seemingly bent upon uprooting the
traditional free American social order; by contrast, the striking miners
appeared almost as champions of Old America. A strong contributory
factor was the clumsy tactics of the employers who played into the hands
of the leaders of the miners. The latter, especially John Mitchell,
conducted their case with great skill.

Yet the award of the Commission fell considerably short of what the
union and its sympathizers outside the ranks of labor hoped for. For by
refusing to grant formal recognition, the Commission failed to
constitute unionism into a publicly recognized agency in the management
of industry and declared by implication that the role of unionism ended
with a presentation of grievances and complaints.

For ten years after the strike of 1902 the union failed to develop the
strength in the anthracite field which many believed would follow.
Certain proof of the weakness of the union is furnished by the fact that
the wage-scale in that field remained stationary until 1912 despite a
rising cost of living. The wages of the anthracite miners in 1912 were
slightly higher than in 1902, because coal prices had increased and the
Anthracite Coal Strike Commission had reestablished a sliding scale
system of tonnage rates.

A great weakness, while the union still struggled for existence, was the
lack of the "check-off." Membership would swell immediately before the
expiration of the agreement but diminish with restoration of quiet. With
no immediate outlook for a strike the Slav and Italian miners refused to
pay union dues. The original award was to be in force until April 1,
1906. In June, 1905, the union membership was less than 39,000. But by
April 1, 1906, one-half of the miners were in the union. A month's
suspension of operations followed. Early in May the union and the
operators reached an agreement to leave the award of the Anthracite Coal
Strike Commission in force for another three years.

The following three years brought a duplication of the developments of
1903-1906. Again membership fell off only to return in the spring of
1909. Again the union demanded formal recognition, and again it was
refused. Again the original award was extended for three more years.

In the winter of 1912, when the time for renewing the agreement again
drew near, the entire membership in the three anthracite districts was
slightly above 29,000. Nevertheless, the union demanded a twenty percent
raise, a complete recognition of the union, the check-off, and yearly
agreements, in addition to a more expeditious system of settling local
grievances to replace the slow and cumbersome joint arbitration boards
provided by the award of the Commission. A strike of 180,000 anthracite
miners followed on April 1, 1912, during which the operators made no
attempt to run their mines. The strike ended within a month on the basis
of the abolition of the sliding scale, a wage increase of approximately
10 percent, and a revision of the arbitration machinery in local
disputes. This was coupled with a somewhat larger degree of recognition,
but by no means a complete recognition. Nor was the check-off system
granted. Strangest of all, the agreement called for a four-year
contract, as against a one-year contract originally demanded by the
union. In spite of the opposition of local leaders, the miners accepted
the agreement. President White's chief plea for acceptance was the need
to rebuild the union before anything ambitious could be attempted.

After 1912 the union entered upon the work of organization in earnest.
In the following two years the membership was more than quadrupled. With
the stopping of immigration due to the European War, the power of the
union was greatly increased. Consequently, in 1916, when the agreement
was renewed, the miners were accorded not only a substantial wage
increase and the eight-hour day but also full recognition. The United
Mine Workers have thus at last succeeded in wresting a share of
industrial control from one of the strongest capitalistic powers of the
country; while demonstrating beyond doubt that, with intelligent
preparation and with sympathetic treatment, the polyglot immigrant
masses from Southern and Eastern Europe, long thought to be impervious
to the idea of labor organization, can be changed into reliable material
for unionism.

The growth of the union in general is shown by the following figures.
In 1898 it was 33,000; in 1900, 116,000; in 1903, 247,000; in 1908,
252,000; and in 1913, 378,000.[58]

(2) _The Railway Men_

The railway men are divided into three groups. One group comprises the
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Order of Railroad Conductors,
the Brotherhood of Firemen and Enginemen, and the Brotherhood of
Railroad Trainmen. These are the oldest and strongest railway men's
organizations and do not belong to the American Federation of Labor. A
second group are the shopmen, comprising the International Association
of Machinists; the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, Drop
Forgers, and Helpers; the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen of America; the
Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers' International Alliance; the Brotherhood
of Boilermakers and Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America; the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the International
Brotherhood of Stationary Firemen and Oilers. A third and more
miscellaneous group are the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, the Order of
Railway Telegraphers, the Switchmen's Union of North America, the
International Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and Railroad
Shop Laborers, and the Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen. The
organizations comprised in the latter two groups belong to the American
Federation of Labor. For the period from 1898 to the outbreak of the
War, the organizations, popularly known as the "brotherhoods," namely,
those of the engineers, conductors, firemen, and trainmen, are of
outstanding importance.

The brotherhoods were unique among American labor organizations in that
for many years they practically reproduced in most of their features the
sort of unionism typified by the great "Amalgamated" unions of the
fifties and sixties in England.[59] Like these unions the brotherhoods
stressed mutual insurance and benefits and discouraged when they did not
actually prohibit striking. It should, however, be added that the
emphasis on insurance was due not to "philosophy," but to the practical
consideration that, owing to the extra hazardous nature of their
occupations, the men could get no insurance protection from ordinary
commercial insurance companies.

By the end of the eighties the brotherhoods began to press energetically
for improvements in employment conditions and found the railways not
disinclined to grant their demands in a measure. This was due in great
measure to the strategic position of these trades, which have it in
their power completely to tie up the industry when on strike, causing
enormous losses to the carriers.[60] Accordingly, they were granted
wages which fairly placed them among the lower professional groups in
society as well as other privileges, notably "seniority" in promotion,
that is promotion based on length of service and not on a free selection
by the officials. Seniority was all the more important since the train
personnel service is so organized that each employe will pass several
times in the regular course of his career from a lower to a higher rung
on the industrial ladder.[61] For instance, a typical passenger train
engineer starts as fireman on a freight train, advances to a fireman on
a passenger train, then to engineer on a freight train, and finally to
engineer on a passenger train. A similar sequence is arranged in
advancing from brakeman to conductor. Along with seniority the
brotherhoods received the right of appeal in cases of discharge, which
has done much to eliminate discrimination. Since they were enjoying such
exceptional advantages relative to income, to the security of the job,
and to the stability of their organization, it is not surprising, in
view of the limited class solidarity among American laboring men in
general, that these groups of workers should have chosen to stand alone
in their wage bargaining and that their refusal to enter "entangling
alliances" with other less favored groups should have gone even to the
length of staying out of the American Federation of Labor.

This condition of relative harmony between employer and employe,
notwithstanding the energetic bargaining, continued for about fifteen
years until it was disturbed by factors beyond the control of either
railway companies or brotherhoods. The steady rise in the cost of living
forced the brotherhoods to intensify their demands for increased wages.
At the same time an ever tightening regulation of railway rates by the
Federal government since 1906 practically prevented a shift of increased
costs to the shipper. "Class struggles" on the railways began in

The new situation was brought home to the brotherhoods in the course of
several wage arbitration cases in which they figured.[62] The outcome
taught them that the public will give them only limited support in their
efforts to maintain their real income at the old high level compared
with other classes of workers.

A most important case arose from a "concerted movement" in 1912[63] of
the engineers and firemen on the 52 Eastern roads for higher wages. Two
separate arbitration boards were appointed. The engineers' board
consisted of seven members, one each for the interests involved and five
representing the public. The award was unsatisfactory to the engineers,
first, because of the meager raise in wages and, second, because it
contained a strong plea to Congress and the country to have all wages of
all railway employes fixed by a government commission, which implied a
restriction of the right to strike. The award in the firemen's case,
which was decided practically simultaneously with the engineers', failed
to satisfy either side.

The conductors and trainmen on the Eastern roads were next to move "in
concert" for increased wages. The roads refused and the brotherhoods
decided by a good majority to quit work. This threatened strike
occasioned the passage of the so-called Newlands bill as an amendment to
the Erdman Act, with increased powers to the government in mediation and
with more specified conditions relative to the work of the arbitration
boards chosen for each occasion. Whereupon both sides agreed to submit
to arbitration.

The award allowed an increase in wages of seven percent, or less than
one-half of that demanded, but disallowed a plea made by the men for
uniformity of the wage scales East and West, and denied the demanded
time and a half for overtime. The men accepted but the decision added to
their growing opposition to the principle of arbitration.

Another arbitration case, in 1914, involving the engineers and firemen
on the Western roads led the brotherhoods to come out openly against
arbitration. The award was signed only by the representatives on the
board of the employers and the public. A characteristic aftermath of
this case was an attack made by the unions upon one of the "neutrals" on
the board. His impartiality was questioned because of his relations with
several concerns which owned large amounts of railroad securities.
Therefore, when in 1916 the four brotherhoods together demanded the
eight-hour day, they categorically refused to consider arbitration.[64]
The evolution to a fighting unionism had become complete.

While the brotherhoods of the train service personnel were thus shifting
their tactics, they kept drawing nearer to the position held by the
other unions in the railway service. These had rarely had the good
fortune to bask in the sunshine of their employers' approval and
"recognition." Some railways, of the more liberal sort, made agreements
with the machinists and with the other shop unions. On the whole,
however, the hold of these organizations upon their industry was of a
precarious sort.

To meet their strong opponents on a basis nearer to equality, they
started about 1904 a movement for "system federations,"[65] that is,
federations of all organized trades through the length of a given
railway system as, for instance, the Pennsylvania Railroad or the
Illinois Central Railroad. In turn the creation of system federations
sharpened the employers' antagonism. Some railway systems, like the
Illinois Central, might be willing to enter into agreements with the
separate crafts, but refused to deal with a federation of crafts. In
1912, stimulated by a dispute on the Illinois Central Railroad and on
the Harriman lines in general, involving the issue of system
federations, a Federation of System Federations was formed by forty
systems upon an aggressive program. In 1908 a weak and rather tentative
Railway Employes' Department had been launched by the American
Federation of Labor. The Federation of Federations was thus a rival
organization and "illegal" or, at best, "extra-legal" from the
standpoint of the American Federation of Labor. The situation, however,
was too acute to permit the consideration of "legality" to enter. An
adjustment was made and the Federation of System Federations was
"legitimatized" through fusion with the "Department," to which it gave
its constitution, officers, and fighting purpose, and from which it took
only its name. This is the now well-known Railway Employes' Department
of the American Federation of Labor (embracing all important national
unions of the railway workers excepting the four brotherhoods), and
which, as we shall see, came into its own when the government took over
the railways from their private owners eight months after America's
entry into the World War.

(3) _The Machinery and Metal Trades_

Unlike the miners and the railway brotherhoods, the unions in the
machinery and metal trades met with small success in their efforts for
"recognition" and trade agreements. The outstanding unions in the
industry are the International Association of Machinists and the
International Molders' Union, with a half dozen smaller and very small
unions.[66] The molders' International united in the same union the
stove molders, who as was seen had been "recognized" in 1891, and the
molders of parts of machinery and other foundry products. The latter
found the National Founders' Association as their antagonist or
potential "co-partner" in the industry.

The upward swing in business since 1898, combined with the growth of
trade unionism and with the successful negotiation of the Interstate
agreement in the soft coal mining industry, created an atmosphere
favorable to trade agreements. For a time "recognition" and its
implications seemed to all concerned, the employer, the unions, and the
public, a sort of cure-all for industrial disputes. Accordingly, in
March 1899, the National Founders' Association (organized in the
previous year and comprising foundrymen engaged principally in machinery
manufacturing and jobbing) and the International Molders' Union of North
America met and drew up the following tersely worded agreement which
became known as the New York Agreement:

     "That in event of a dispute arising between members of the
     respective organizations, a reasonable effort shall be made by the
     parties directly at interest to effect a satisfactory adjustment of
     the difficulty; failing to do which, either party shall have the
     right to ask its reference to a Committee of Arbitration which
     shall consist of the President of the National Founders'
     Association and the President of the Iron Molders' Union or their
     representatives, and two other representatives from each
     organization appointed by the respective Presidents.

     "The finding of this Committee of Arbitration by majority vote
     shall be considered final in so far as the future action of the
     respective organizations is concerned.

     "Pending settlement by the Committee, there shall be no cessation
     of work at the instance of either party to the dispute. The
     Committee of Arbitration shall meet within two weeks after
     reference of dispute to them."

The agreement was a triumph for the principle of pure conciliation as
distinct from arbitration by a third party. Both sides preferred to run
the risk of a possible deadlock in the conciliation machinery to
throwing decisions into the hands of an umpire, who would be an
uncertain quantity both as regards special bias and understanding of the

The initial meeting of the arbitration committee was held in Cleveland,
in May 1899, to consider the demand by the unions at Worcester,
Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, for a minimum wage which
the employers had refused. In each city one member of the National
Founders' Association was involved and the men in these firms went to
work pending the arbitration decision, while the others stayed out on

The meeting ended inauspiciously. The founders and molders seemed not
to be able to settle their difficulties. Each side stood fast on its own
principles and the arbitration committees regularly became deadlocked.
The question of a minimum wage was the most important issue. From 1899
to 1902 several joint conventions were held to discuss the wage
question. In 1899 a settlement was made, which, however, proved of short
duration. In November 1902, the two organizations met, differed, and
arranged for a sub-committee to meet in March 1903. The sub-committee
met but could reach no agreement.

The two organizations clashed also on the question of apprentices. The
founders contended that, because there were not enough molders to fill
the present demand, the union restrictions as to the employment of
apprentices should be removed. The union argued that a removal of the
restriction would cause unlimited competition among molders and
eventually the founders could employ them at their own price. They
likewise failed to agree on the matter of classifying molders.

Owing to the stalling of the conciliation machinery many strikes
occurred in violation at least of the spirit of the agreement. July 1,
1901, the molders struck in Cleveland for an increase in wages;
arbitration committees were appointed but failed to make a settlement.
In Chicago and San Francisco strikes occurred for the same reason.

It was at last becoming evident that the New York agreement was not
working well. In the autumn of 1903 business prosperity reached its high
watermark and then came a sharp depression which lessened the demand for
molders. Early in 1904 the National Founders' Association took advantage
of this situation to reduce wages and finally practically abrogated the
New York agreement. In April, 1904, the founders and molders tried to
reach a decision as to how the agreement could be made effective, but
gave it up after four days and nights of constant consideration. The
founders claimed that the molders violated the agreement in 54 out of
the 96 cases that came up during the five years of its life; and further
justified their action on the ground that the union persistently refused
to submit to arbitration by an impartial outsider the issues upon which
the agreement was finally wrecked.

An agreement similar to the New York one was concluded in 1900 between
the National Metal Trades' Association and the International Association
of Machinists. The National Metal Trades' Association had been organized
in 1899 by members of the National Founders' Association, whose
foundries formed only a part of their manufacturing plants. The spur to
action was given by a strike called by the machinists in Chicago and
other cities for the nine-hour day. After eight weeks of intense
struggle the Association made a settlement granting a promise of the
shorter day. Although hailed as one of the big agreements in labor
history, it lasted only one year, and broke up on the issue of making
the nine-hour day general in the Association shops. The machinists
continued to make numerous agreements with individual firms, especially
the smaller ones, but the general agreement was never renewed.
Thereafter the National Metal Trades' Association became an
uncompromising enemy of organized labor.

In the following ten years both molders and machinists went on fighting
for control and engaged in strikes with more or less success. But the
industry as a whole never again came so near to embracing the idea of a
joint co-partnership between organized capital and labor as in 1900.

(4) _The Employers' Reaction_

With the disruption of the agreement systems in the machinery producing
and foundry industries, the idea of collective bargaining and union
recognition suffered a setback; and the employers' uneasiness, which had
already steadily been feeding on the unions' mounting pressure for
control, now increased materially. As long, however, as business
remained prosperous and a rising demand for labor favored the unions,
most of the agreements were permitted to continue. Therefore, it was not
until the industrial depression of 1907-1908 had freed the employers'
hands that agreements were disrupted wholesale. In 1905 the Structural
Erectors' Association discontinued its agreements with the Structural
Iron Workers' Union, causing a dispute which continued over many years.
In the course of this dispute the union replied to the victorious
assaults of the employers by tactics of violence and murder, which
culminated in the fatal explosion in the _Los Angeles Times_ Building in
1911. In 1906 the employing lithographers discontinued their national
agreement with the lithographers' union. In 1907 the United Typothetæ
broke with the pressmen, and the stove founders with the stove mounters
and stove polishers. In 1908 the agreements between the Lake Carriers
and Lumber Carriers (both operating on the Great Lakes) and the
seafaring and water front unions were terminated.

In the operation of these unsuccessful agreements the most serious
stumbling blocks were the union "working rules," that is to say, the
restrictive rules which unions strove to impose on employers in the
exercise of their managerial powers in the shop, and for which the
latter adopted the sinister collective designation of "restriction of

Successful trade unionism has always pressed "working rules" on the
employer. As early as the first decade of the nineteenth century, the
trade societies then existing tried to impose on the masters the closed
shop and restrictions on apprenticeship along with higher wages and
shorter hours. As a union advances from an ephemeral association to a
stable organization more and more the emphasis is shifted from wages to
working rules. Unionists have discovered that on the whole wages are the
unstable factor, going up or down, depending on fluctuating business
conditions and cost of living; but that once they have established their
power by making the employer accept their working rules, high wages will
ultimately follow.

These working rules are seldom improvisations of the moment, but, crude
and one-sided as they often are, they are the product of a long labor
experience and have taken many years to be shaped and hammered out.
Since their purpose is protective, they can best be classified with
reference to the particular thing in the workingman's life which they
are designed to protect: the standard of living of the trade group,
health, the security of the worker's job, equal treatment in the shop
and an equal chance with other workmen in promotion, the bargaining
power of the trade group, as a whole, and the safety of the union from
the employer's attempts to undermine it. We shall mention only a few of
these rules by way of illustration. Thus all rules relating to methods
of wage payment, like the prohibition of piece work and of bonus
systems (including those associated with scientific management
systems), are primarily devices to protect the wage earner's rate of pay
against being "nibbled away" by the employer; and in part also to
protect his health against undue exertion. Other rules like the normal
(usually the eight-hour) day with a higher rate for overtime; the rule
demanding a guarantee of continuous employment for a stated time or a
guarantee of minimum earnings, regardless of the quantity of work
available in the shop; again the demand for the sharing of work in slack
times among all employes; and further, when layoffs become necessary,
the demand of recognition by the employer of a right to continuous
employment based on "seniority" in the shop;--all these have for their
common aim chiefly the protection of the job. Another sort of rules,
like the obstruction to the splitting up of trades and the restrictions
on apprenticeship, have in view the protection of the bargaining power
of the craft group--through artificially maintaining an undiminished
demand for skilled labor, as well as through a reduction of the number
of competitors, present and future, for jobs. The protection of the
union against the employer's designs, actual or potential, is sought by
an insistence on the closed union shop, by the recognition of the right
of appeal to grievance boards in cases of discharge to prevent
anti-union discrimination, and through establishing a seniority right in
promotion which binds the worker's allegiance to his union rather than
to the employer.

With these rigid rules, partly already enforced on the employer by
strikes or threats to strike and partly as yet unrealized but
energetically pushed, trade unionism enters the stage of the trade
agreement. The problem of industrial government then becomes one of
steady adjustment of the conflicting claims of employer and union for
the province of shop control staked out by these working rules. When the
two sides are approximately equal in bargaining strength (and lasting
agreements are possible only when this condition obtains), a promising
line of compromise, as recent experience has shown, has been to extend
to the unions and their members in some form that will least obstruct
shop efficiency the very same kind of guarantees which they strive to
obtain through rules of their own making. For instance, an employer
might induce a union to give up or agree to mitigate its working rules
designed to protect the job by offering a _quid pro quo_ in a guarantee
of employment for a stated number of weeks during the year; and
likewise, a union might hope to counteract the employer's natural
hankering for being "boss in his own business," free of any union
working rules, only provided it guaranteed him a sufficient output per
unit of labor time and wage investment.

However, compromises of this sort are pure experiments even at
present--fifteen to twenty years after the dissolution of those
agreements; and they certainly require more faith in government by
agreement and more patience than one could expect in the participants in
these earlier agreements. It is not surprising, therefore, that the
short period of agreements after 1898 should in many industries have
formed but a prelude to an "open-shop" movement.[67]

After their breach with the union, the National Founders' Association
and the National Metal Trades' Association have gone about the business
of union wrecking in a systematic way. They have maintained a so-called
"labor bureau," furnishing men to their members whenever additional help
was needed, and keeping a complete card system record of every man in
the employ of members. By this system occasion was removed for employers
communicating with the business agents of the various unions when new
men were wanted. The associations have had in their regular pay a large
number of non-union men, or "strike-breakers," who were sent to the shop
of any member whose employes were on strike.

In addition to these and other national organizations, the trade unions
were attacked by a large and important class of local employers'
associations. The most influential association of this class was the
Employers' Association of Dayton, Ohio. This association had a standing
strike committee which, in trying to break a strike, was authorized to
offer rewards to the men who continued at work, and even to compensate
the employer for loss of production to the limit of one dollar per day
for each man on strike. Also a system was adopted of issuing cards to
all employes, which the latter, in case of changing employment, were
obliged to present to the new employer and upon which the old employer
inscribed his recommendation. The extreme anti-unionism of the Dayton
Association is best attested by its policy of taking into membership
employers who were threatened with strikes, notwithstanding the heavy
financial obligations involved.

Another class of local associations were the "Citizens' Alliances,"
which did not restrict membership to employers but admitted all
citizens, the only qualification being that the applicant be not a
member of any labor organization. These organizations were frequently
started by employers and secured cooperation of citizens generally. In
some places there were two associations, an employers' and a Citizens'
Alliance. A good example of this was the Citizens' Alliances of Denver,
Colorado, organized in 1903. These "Citizens' Alliances," being by
virtue of mixed membership more than a mere employers' organization,
claimed in time of strikes to voice the sentiment of the community in

So much for the employers' counter attacks on trade unions on the
strictly industrial front. But there were also a legal front and a
political front. In 1902 was organized the American Anti-Boycott
Association, a secret body composed mainly of manufacturers. The purpose
of the organization was to oppose by legal proceedings the boycotts of
trade unions, and to secure statutory enactments against the boycott.
The energies of the association have been devoted mainly to taking
certain typical cases to the courts in order thereby to create legal
precedents. The famous Danbury Hatters' Case, in which the Sherman
Anti-Trust law was invoked against the hatters' union, was fought in the
courts by this Association.

The employers' fight on the political front was in charge of the
National Association of Manufacturers. This association was originally
organized in 1895 for the pursuit of purely trade interests, but about
1903, under the influence of the Dayton, Ohio, group of employers,
turned to combating trade unions. It closely cooperated with other
employers' associations in the industrial and legal field, but its chief
efforts lay in the political or legislative field, where it has
succeeded through clever lobbying and manipulations in nullifying
labor's political influence, especially in Congress. The National
Association of Manufacturers saw to it that Congress and State
Legislatures might not weaken the effect of court orders, injunctions
and decisions on boycotts, closed shop, and related matters.

The "open-shop movement" in its several aspects, industrial, legal, and
political, continued strong from 1903 to 1909. Nevertheless, despite
most persistent effort and despite the opportunity offered by the
business depression which followed the financial panic of 1907, the
results were not remarkable. True, it was a factor in checking the rapid
rate of expansion of unionism, but it scarcely compelled a retrogression
from ground already conquered. It is enough to point out that the unions
managed to prevent wage reductions in the organized trades
notwithstanding the unemployment and distress of 1907-1908. On the whole
trade unionism held its own against employers in strictly competitive
industry. Different, however, was the outcome in industries in which the
number of employers had been reduced by monopolistic or
semi-monopolistic mergers.

The steel industry is the outstanding instance.[68] The disastrous
Homestead strike of 1892[69] had eliminated unionism from the steel
plants of Pittsburgh. However, the Carnegie Steel Company was only a
highly efficient and powerful corporation, not yet a "trust." The panic
of 1893 dealt another blow to the Amalgamated Association of Iron &
Steel Workers. The steel mills of Alleghany County, outside Pittsburgh,
were all put upon a non-union basis before 1900. In Pittsburgh, the iron
mills, too, became non-union between 1890 and 1900. There remained to
the organization only the iron mills west of Pittsburgh, the large steel
mills of Illinois, and a large proportion of the sheet, tin, and iron
hoop mills of the country. In 1900 there began to be whisperings of a
gigantic consolidation in the steel industry. The Amalgamated officials
were alarmed. In any such combination the Carnegie Steel Company, an old
enemy of unionism, would easily be first and would, they feared, insist
on driving the union out of every mill in the combination. Then it
occurred to President Shaffer and his associates that it might be a
propitious time to press for recognition while the new corporation was
forming. Anxious for public confidence and to float their securities,
the companies could not afford a labor controversy.

Accordingly, when the new scales were to be signed in July 1901, the
Amalgamated Association demanded of the American Tin Plate Company that
it sign a scale not only for those mills that had been regarded as union
but for all of its mills. This was agreed, provided the American Sheet
Steel Company would agree to the same. The latter company refused, and a
strike was started against the American Tin Plate Company, the American
Sheet Steel Company, and the American Steel Hoop Company. In conferences
held on July 11, 12, and 13 these companies offered to sign for all tin
mills but one, for all the sheet mills that had been signed for in the
preceding year and for four other mills that had been non-union, and for
all the hoop mills that had been signed for in the preceding year. This
highly advantageous offer was foolishly rejected by the representatives
of the union; they demanded all the mills or none. The strike then went
on in earnest. In August, President Shaffer called on all the men
working in mills of the United States Steel Corporation to come out on

By the middle of August it was evident that the Association had made a
mistake. Instead of finding their task easier because the United States
Steel Corporation had just been formed, they found that corporation
ready to bring all its tremendous power to bear against the
organization. President Shaffer offered to arbitrate the whole matter,
but the proposal was rejected; and at the end of August the strike was
declared at an end.

The steel industry was apparently closed to unionism.[70]

(5) _Legislation, Courts, and Politics_

While trade unionism was thus on the whole holding its ground against
the employers and even winning victories and recognition, its influence
on National and State legislation failed for many years to reflect its
growing economic strength. The scant success with legislation resulted,
on the one hand, from the very expansion of the Federation into new
fields, which absorbed nearly all its means and energy; but was due in a
still greater measure to a solidification of capitalist control in the
Republican party and in Congress, against which President Roosevelt
directed his spectacular campaign. A good illustration is furnished by
the attempt to get a workable eight-hour law on government work.

In the main the leaders of the Federation placed slight reliance upon
efforts to shorten the working day through legislation. The movement for
shorter hours by law for women, which first attained importance in the
nineties, was not the work of organized labor but of humanitarians and
social workers. To be sure, the Federation has supported such laws for
women and children workers, but so far as adult male labor was
concerned, it has always preferred to leave the field clear for the
trade unions. The exception to the rule was the working day on public

The Federal eight-hour day law began to receive attention from the
Federation towards the end of the eighties. By that time the status of
the law of 1868 which decreed the eight-hour day on Federal government
work[71] had been greatly altered. In a decision rendered in 1887 the
Supreme Court held that the eight-hour day law of 1868 was merely
directory to the officials of the Federal government, but did not
invalidate contracts made by them not containing an eight-hour clause.
To counteract this decision a special law was passed in 1888, with the
support of the Federation, establishing the eight-hour day in the United
States Printing Office and for letter carriers. In 1892 a new general
eight-hour law was passed, which provided that eight-hours should be the
length of the working day on all public works of the United States,
whether directed by the government or under contract or sub-contract.
Within the next few years interpretations rendered by attorney generals
of the United States practically rendered the law useless.

In 1895 the Federation began to press in earnest for a satisfactory
eight-hour law. In 1896 its eight-hour bill passed the House of
Representatives unanimously. In the Senate it was introduced by Senator
Kyle, the chairman of the committee on Education and Labor. After its
introduction, however, hearings upon the bill were delayed so long that
action was prevented during the long session. In the short session of
1898-1899 the bill met the cruel fate of having its introducer, Senator
Kyle, submit a minority report against it. Under the circumstances no
vote upon the bill could be had in the Senate. In the next Congress,
1899-1901, the eight-hour bill once more passed the House of
Representatives only to be lost in the Senate by failure to come to a
vote. In 1902, the bill again unanimously passed the House, but was not
even reported upon by the Senate committee. In the hearings upon the
eight-hour bill in that year the opposition of the National
Manufacturers' Association was first manifested. In 1904 the House Labor
Committee sidetracked a similar bill by recommending that the Department
of Commerce and Labor should investigate its merits. Secretary Metcalf,
however, declared that the questions submitted to his Department with
reference to the eight-hour bill were "well-nigh unintelligible." In
1906 the House Labor Committee, at a very late stage in the session,
reported "favorably" upon the eight-hour bill. At the same time it
eliminated all chances of passage of the bill through the failure of a
majority of the members of the committee to sign the "favorable" report
made. This session of Congress, also, allowed a "rider" to be added to
the Panama Canal bill, exempting the canal construction from the
provisions of the eight-hour law. In the next two Congresses no report
could be obtained from the labor committees of either House upon the
general eight-hour day bill, despite the fact that President Roosevelt
and later President Taft recommended such legislation. In the sessions
of the Congress of 1911-1913 the American Federation of Labor hit upon a
new plan. This was the attachment of "riders" to departmental
appropriation bills requiring that all work contracted for by these
departments must be done under the eight-hour system. The most important
"rider" of this character was that attached to the naval appropriation
bill. Under its provisions the Attorney-General held that in all work
done in shipyards upon vessels built for the Federal government the
eight-hour rule must be applied. Finally, in June 1912, a Democratic
House and a Republican Senate passed the eight-hour bill supported by
the American Federation of Labor with some amendments, which the
Federation did not find seriously objectionable; and President Taft
signed it.

Still better proof of the slight influence of the Federation upon
government is furnished by the vicissitudes of its anti-injunction bills
in Congress. The Federation had been awakened to the seriousness of the
matter of the injunction by the Debs case. A bill of its sponsoring
providing for jury trials in "indirect" contempt cases passed the Senate
in 1896 only to be killed in the House. In 1900 only eight votes were
recorded in the House against a bill exempting labor unions from the
Sherman Anti-Trust Act; it failed, however, of passage in the Senate. In
1902 an anti-injunction bill championed by the American Federation of
Labor passed the House of Representatives. That was the last time,
however, for many years to come when such a bill was even reported out
of committee. Thereafter, for a decade, the controlling powers in
Congress had their faces set against removal by law of the judicial
interference in labor's use of its economic strength against employers.

In the meantime, however, new court decisions made the situation more
and more critical. A climax was reached in 1908-1909. In February 1908,
came the Supreme Court decision in the Danbury Hatters' case, which held
that members of a labor union could be held financially responsible to
the full amount of their individual property under the Sherman
Anti-Trust Act for losses to business occasioned by an interstate
boycott.[72] By way of contrast, the Supreme Court within the same week
held unconstitutional the portion of the Erdman Act which prohibited
discrimination by railways against workmen on account of their
membership in a union.[73] One year later, in the Buck's Stove and Range
Company boycott case, Gompers, Mitchell, and Morrison, the three most
prominent officials of the American Federation of Labor, were sentenced
by a lower court in the District of Columbia to long terms in prison for
violating an injunction which prohibited all mention of the fact that
the plaintiff firm had ever been boycotted.[74] Even though neither
these nor subsequent court decisions had the paralyzing effect upon
American trade unionism which its enemies hoped for and its friends
feared, the situation called for a change in tactics. It thus came about
that the Federation, which, as was seen, by the very principles of its
program wished to let government alone,--as it indeed expected little
good of government,--was obliged to enter into competition with the
employers for controlling government; this was because one branch of the
government, namely the judicial one, would not let it alone.

A growing impatience with Congress was manifested in resolutions adopted
by successive conventions. In 1902 the convention authorized the
Executive Council to take "such further steps as will secure the
nomination--and the election--of only such men as are fully and
satisfactorily pledged to the support of the bills" championed by the
Federation. Accordingly, the Executive Council prepared a series of
questions to be submitted to all candidates for Congress in 1904 by the
local unions of each district.

The Federation was more active in the Congressional election of 1906.
Early in the year the Executive Council urged affiliated unions to use
their influence to prevent the nomination in party primaries or
conventions of candidates for Congress who refused to endorse labor's
demands, and where both parties nominated refractory candidates to run
independent labor candidates. The labor campaign was placed in the hands
of a Labor Representation Committee, which made use of press publicity
and other standard means. Trade union speakers were sent into the
districts of the most conspicuous enemies of labor's demands to urge
their defeat. The battle royal was waged against Congressman Littlefield
of Maine. A dozen union officials, headed by President Gompers, invaded
his district to tell the electorate of his insults to organized labor.
However, he was reelected, although with a reduced plurality over the
preceding election. The only positive success was the election of
McDermott of the commercial telegraphers' union in Chicago. President
Gompers, however, insisted that the cutting down of the majorities of
the conspicuous enemies of labor's demands gave "more than a hint" of
what organized labor "can and may do when thoroughly prepared to
exercise its political strength." Nevertheless the next Congress was
even more hostile than the preceding one. The convention of the
Federation following the election approved the new tactics, but was
careful at the same time to declare that the Federation was neither
allied with any political party nor had any intention of forming an
independent labor party.

In the Presidential election of 1908, however, the Federation virtually
entered into an alliance with the Democrats. At a "Protest Conference"
in March, 1908, attended by the executive officers of most of the
affiliated national unions as well as by the representatives of several
farmers' organizations, the threat was uttered that organized labor
would make a determined effort in the coming campaign to defeat its
enemies, whether "candidates for President, for Congress, or other
offices." The next step was the presentation of the demands of the
Federation to the platform committees of the conventions of both
parties. The wording of the proposed anti-injunction plank suggests that
it had been framed after consultation with the Democratic leaders, since
it omitted to demand the sweeping away of the doctrine of malicious
conspiracy or the prohibition of the issuance of injunctions to protect
business rights, which had regularly been asked by the American
Federation of Labor since 1904. In its place was substituted an
indefinite statement against the issuance of injunctions in labor
disputes where none would be allowed if no labor dispute existed and a
declaration in favor of jury trial on the charge of contempt of court.

The Republicans paid scant attention to the planks of the Federation.
Their platform merely reiterated the recognized law upon the allowance
of equity relief; and as if to leave no further doubt in the minds of
the labor leaders, proceeded to nominate for President, William H. Taft,
who as a Federal judge in the early nineties was responsible for some of
the most sweeping injunctions ever issued in labor disputes. A year
earlier Gompers had characterized Taft as "the injunction
standard-bearer" and as an impossible candidate. The Democratic
platform, on the other hand, _verbatim_ repeated the Federation plank on
the injunction question and nominated Bryan.

After the party conventions had adjourned the _American Federationist_
entered on a vigorous attack upon the Republican platform and candidate.
President Gompers recognized that this was equivalent to an endorsement
of Bryan, but pleaded that "in performing a solemn duty at this time in
support of a political party, labor does not become partisan to a
political party, but partisan to a principle." Substantially, all
prominent non-Socialist trade-union officials followed Gompers' lead.
That the trade unionists did not vote solidly for Bryan, however, is
apparent from the distribution of the vote. On the other hand, it is
true that the Socialist vote in 1908 in almost all trade-union centers
was not materially above that of 1904, which would seem to warrant the
conclusion that Gompers may have "delivered to Bryan" not a few labor
votes which would otherwise have gone to Debs.

In the Congressional election of 1910 the Federation repeated the policy
of "reward your friends, and punish your enemies." However, it avoided
more successfully the appearance of partisanship. Many progressive
Republicans received as strong support as did Democratic candidates.
Nevertheless the Democratic majority in the new House meant that the
Federation was at last "on the inside" of one branch of the government.
In addition, fifteen men holding cards of membership in unions, were
elected to Congress, which was the largest number on record. Furthermore
William B. Wilson, Ex-Secretary of the United Mine Workers, was
appointed chairman of the important House Committee on Labor.

The Congress of 1911-1913 with its Democratic House of Representatives
passed a large portion of the legislation which the Federation had been
urging for fifteen years. It passed an eight-hour law on government
contract work, as already noted, and a seaman's bill, which went far to
grant to the sailors the freedom of contract enjoyed by other wage
earners. It created a Department of Labor with a seat in the Cabinet. It
also attached a "rider" to the appropriation bill for the Department of
Justice enjoining the use of any of the funds for purposes of
prosecuting labor organizations under the Sherman Anti-Trust Law and
other Federal laws. In the presidential campaign of 1912 Gompers pointed
to the legislation favorable to labor initiated by the Democratic House
of Representatives and let the workers draw their own conclusions. The
corner stone of the Federation's legislative program, the legal
exemption of trade unions from the operation of anti-trust legislation
and from court interference in disputes by means of injunctions, was yet
to be laid. By inference, therefore, the election of a Democratic
administration was the logical means to that end.

At last, with the election of Woodrow Wilson as President and of a
Democratic Congress in 1912, the political friends of the Federation
controlled all branches of government. William B. Wilson was given the
place of Secretary of Labor. Hereafter, for at least seven years, the
Federation was an "insider" in the national government. The road now
seemed clear to the attainment by trade unions of freedom from court
interference in struggles against employers--a judicial _laissez-faire_.
The political program initiated in 1906 seemed to be bearing fruit.

The drift into politics, since 1906, has differed essentially from that
of earlier periods. It has been a movement coming from "on top," not
from the masses of the laborers themselves. Hard times and defeats in
strikes have not very prominently figured. Instead of a movement led by
local unions and by city centrals as had been the case practically in
all preceding political attempts, the Executive Council of the American
Federation of Labor now became the directing force. The rank and file
seem to have been much less stirred than the leaders; for the member who
held no union office felt less intensely the menace from injunctions
than the officials who might face a prison sentence for contempt of
court. Probably for this reason the "delivery" of the labor vote by the
Federation has ever been so largely problematical. That the Federation
leaders were able to force the desired concessions from one of the
political parties by holding out a _quid pro quo_ of such an uncertain
value is at once a tribute to their political sagacity as well as a mark
of the instability of the general political alignment in the country.


[44] The bricklayers became affiliated in 1917.

[45] "The Growth of Labor Organizations in the United States,
1897-1914," in _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, Aug., 1916, p. 780.

[46] "The Extent of Trade Unionism," in _Annals of American Academy of
Political Science_, Vol. 69, p. 118.

[47] _Ibid._

[48] "The Extent of Trade Unionism," in _Annals of American Academy of
Political Science_, Vol. 69, p. 118.

[49] The "federal labor unions" (mixed unions) and the directly
affiliated local trade unions (in trades in which a national union does
not yet exist) are forms of organization which the Federation designed
for bringing in the more miscellaneous classes of labor. The membership
in these has seldom reached over 100,000.

[50] A small but immensely rich area in Eastern Pennsylvania where the
only anthracite coal deposits in the United States are found.

[51] At a conference at Columbus, Ohio, in January, 1886, coal operators
from Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois met the organized
miners and drew up an agreement covering the wages which were to prevail
throughout the central competitive field from May 1, 1886, to April 30,
1887. The scale established would seem to have been dictated by the wish
to give the markets of the central competitive field to the Ohio
operators. Ohio was favored in the scale established by this first
Interstate conference probably because more than half of the operators
present came from that State, and because the chief strength of the
miners' union also lay in that State. To prevent friction over the
interpretation of the Interstate agreement, a board of arbitration and
conciliation was established. This board consisted of five miners and
five operators chosen at large, and one miner and operator more from
each of the States of this field. Such a board of arbitration and
conciliation was provided for in all of the Interstate agreements of the
period of the eighties. This system of Interstate agreement, in spite of
the cut-throat competition raging between operators, was maintained for
Pennsylvania and Ohio practically until 1890, Illinois having been lost
in 1887, and Indiana in 1888. It formed the real predecessor of the
system established in 1898 and in vogue thereafter.

[52] See above, 136.

[53] The run-of-mine system means payment by weight of the coal as
brought out of the mine including minute pieces and impurities.

[54] The check-off system refers to collection of union dues. It means
that the employer agrees to deduct from the wage of each miner the
amount of his union dues, thus constituting himself the union's
financial agent.

[55] In that district the check-off was granted in 1902.

[56] Hitchman Coal and Coke Company _v._ Mitchell, 245 U.S. 232.

[57] See below, 175-177.

[58] The actual membership of the union is considerably above these
figures, since they are based upon the dues-paying membership, and
miners out on strike are exempted from the payment of all dues. The
number of miners who always act with the union is much larger still.
Even in non-union fields the United Mine Workers have always been
successful in getting thousands of miners to obey their order to strike.

[59] See Webb, _History of Trade Unionism_, p. 205 ff.

[60] This was demonstrated in the bitterly fought strike on the Chicago,
Burlington and Quincy Railroad in 1888. (See above, 130-131.)

[61] Seniority also decides the assignment to "runs," which differ
greatly in desirability, and it gives preference over junior employes in
keeping the job when it is necessary to lay men off.

[62] The first arbitration act was passed by Congress in 1888. In 1898
it was superseded by the well known Erdman Act, which prescribed rules
for mediation and voluntary arbitration.

[63] Concerted movements began in 1907 as joint demands upon all
railways in a single section of the country, like the East or the West,
by a single group of employes; after 1912 two or more brotherhoods
initiated common concerted movements, first in one section only, and at
last covering all the railways of the country.

[64] See below, 230-233.

[65] Long before this, about the middle of the nineties, the first
system federations were initiated by the brotherhoods and were confined
to them only; they took up adjustment of grievances and related matters.

[66] The International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, the Brotherhood of
Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders, the Pattern Makers' League, the
International Union of Stove Mounters, the International Union of Metal
Polishers, Platers, Brass and Silver Workers, the International
Federation of Draftsmen's Unions, and the International Brotherhood of
Foundry Employes.

[67] Professor Barnett attributes the failure of these agreements
chiefly to faulty agreement machinery. The working rules, he points out,
are rules made by the national union and therefore can be changed by the
national union only. At the same time the agreements were national only
in so far as they provided for national conciliation machinery; the
fixing of wages was left to local bodies. Consequently, the national
employers' associations lacked the power to offer the unions an
indispensable _quid pro quo_ in higher wages for a compromise on working
rules. ("National and District Systems of Collective Bargaining in the
United States," in _Quarterly Journal of Economics_, May, 1912, pp. 425

[68] The following account is taken from Chapter X of the _Steel
Workers_ by John A. Fitch, published by the Russell Sage Foundation.

[69] See above, 133-135.

[70] The opposition of the Steel Corporation to unionism was an
important factor in the disruption of the agreement systems in the
structural iron-erecting industry in 1905 and in the carrying industry
on the Great Lakes in 1908; in each of these industries the Corporation
holds a place of considerable control.

[71] See above, 47-49.

[72] Loewe _v._ Lawlor, 208 U.S. 274 (1908).

[73] Adair _v._ U.S., 208 U.S. 161 (1908).

[74] 36 Wash. Law Rep. 436 (1909). Gompers was finally sentenced to
imprisonment for thirty days and the other two defendants were fined
$500 each. These penalties were later lifted by the Supreme Court on a
technicality, 233 U.S. 604 (1914).



For ten years after 1904, when it reached its high point, the American
Federation of Labor was obliged to stay on the defensive--on the
defensive against the "open-shop" employers and against the courts. Even
the periodic excursions into politics were in substance defensive moves.
This turn of events naturally tended to detract from the prestige of the
type of unionism for which Gompers was spokesman; and by contrast raised
the stock of the radical opposition.

The opposition developed both in and outside the Federation. Inside it
was the socialist "industrialist" who advocated a political labor party
on a socialist platform, such as the Federation had rejected when it
defeated the "program" of 1893,[75] together with a plan of organization
by industry instead of by craft. Outside the Federation the opposition
marched under the flag of the Industrial Workers of the World, which was
launched by socialists but soon after birth fell into the hands of

However, fully to understand the issue between conservatives and
radicals in the Federation after 1905, one needs to go back much earlier
for the "background."

The socialist movement, after it had unwittingly assisted in the birth
of the opportunistic trade unionism of Strasser and Gompers,[76] did
not disappear, but remained throughout the eighties a handful of
"intellectuals" and "intellectualized" wage earners, mainly Germans.
These never abandoned the hope of better things for socialism in the
labor movement. With this end in view, they adopted an attitude of
enthusiastic cooperation with the Knights of Labor and the Federation in
their wage struggle, which they accompanied, to be sure, by a persistent
though friendly "nudging" in the direction of socialism. During the
greater part of the eighties the socialists were closer to the trade
unionists than to the Knights, because of the larger proportion of
foreign born, principally Germans, among them. The unions in the cigar
making, cabinet making, brewing, and other German trades counted many
socialists, and socialists were also in the lead in the city federations
of unions in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and
other cities. In the campaign of Henry George for Mayor of New York in
1886, the socialists cooperated with him and the labor organizations.
When, however, the campaign being over, they fell out with George on the
issue of the single tax, they received more sympathy from the trade
unionists than George; though one should add that the internal strife
caused the majority of the trade unionists to lose interest in either
faction and in the whole political movement. The socialist organization
went by the name of the Socialist Labor party, which it had kept since
1877. Its enrolled membership was under 10,000, and its activities were
non-political (since it refrained from nominating its own tickets) but
entirely agitational and propagandist. The socialist press was chiefly
in German and was led by a daily in New York. So it continued until
there appeared on the scene an imperious figure, one of those men who,
had he lived in a country with conditions more favorable to socialism
than the United States, would doubtless have become one of the world's
outstanding revolutionary leaders. This man was Daniel DeLeon.

DeLeon was of South American ancestry, who early immigrated to New York.
For a time he was teacher of languages at Columbia College; later he
devoted himself thoroughly to socialist propaganda. He established his
first connection with the labor movement in the George campaign in 1886
and by 1890 we find him in control of the socialist organization. DeLeon
was impatient with the policy of slow permeation carried on by the
socialists. A convinced if not fanatical Marxian, his philosophy taught
him that the American labor movement, like all national labor movements,
had, in the nature of things, to be socialist. He formed the plan of a
supreme and last effort to carry socialism into the hosts of the Knights
and the Federation, failing which, other and more drastic means would be

By 1895 he learned that he was beaten in both organizations; not,
however, without temporarily upsetting the groups in control. For, the
only time when Samuel Gompers was defeated for President of the
Federation was in 1894, when the socialists, angered by his part in the
rejection of the socialist program at the convention,[77] joined with
his enemies and voted another man into office. Gompers was reelected the
next year and the Federation seemed definitely shut to socialism. DeLeon
was now ready to go to the limit with the Federation. If the established
unions refused to assume the part of the gravediggers of capitalism,
designed for them, as he believed, by the very logic of history, so much
the worse for the established trade unions.

Out of this grew the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance as a life and
death rival to the Federation. From the standpoint of socialism no more
unfortunate step could have been taken. It immediately stamped the
socialists as wilful destroyers of the unity of labor. To the trade
unionists, yet fresh from the ordeal of the struggle against the Knights
of Labor, the action of the socialists was an unforgivable crime. All
the bitterness which has characterized the fight between socialist and
anti-socialist in the Federation verily goes back to this gross
miscalculation by DeLeon of the psychology of the trade union movement.
DeLeon, on his part, attributed the action of the Federation to a
hopelessly corrupt leadership and, since he failed to unseat it by
working from within, he now felt justified in striking at the entire

The Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance was a failure from the outset.
Only a small portion of even the socialist-minded trade unionists were
willing to join in the venture. Many trade union leaders who had been
allied with the socialists now openly sided with Gompers. In brief, the
socialist "revolution" in the American labor world suffered the fate of
all unsuccessful revolutions: it alienated the moderate sympathizers and
forced the victorious majority into taking up a more uncompromising
position than heretofore.

Finally, the hopelessness of DeLeon's tactics became obvious. One
faction in the Socialist Labor party, which had been in opposition ever
since he assumed command, came out in revolt in 1898. A fusion took
place between it and another socialist group, the so-called Debs-Berger
Social Democracy,[78] which took the name of the Social Democratic
Party. Later, at a "Unity Congress" in 1901, it became the Socialist
Party of America. What distinguished this party from the Socialist Labor
party (which, although it had lost its primacy in the socialist
movement, has continued side by side with the Socialist party of
America), was well expressed in a resolution adopted at the same "Unity"
convention: "We recognize that trade unions are by historical necessity
organized on neutral grounds as far as political affiliation is
concerned." With this program, the socialists have been fairly
successful in extending their influence in the American Federation of
Labor so that at times they have controlled about one-third of the votes
in the conventions. Nevertheless the conservatives have never forgiven
the socialists their "original sin." In the country at large socialism
made steady progress until 1912, when nearly one million votes were cast
for Eugene V. Debs, or about 1/16 of the total. After 1912, particularly
since 1916, the socialist party became involved in the War and the
difficulties created by the War and retrogressed.

For a number of years DeLeon's failure kept possible imitators in check.
However, in 1905, came another attempt in the shape of the Industrial
Workers of the World. As with its predecessor, impatient socialists
helped to set it afoot, but unlike the Alliance, it was at the same
time an outgrowth of a particular situation in the actual labor
movement, namely, of the bitter fight which was being waged by the
Western Federation of Miners since the middle nineties.

Beginning with a violent clash between miners and mine owners in the
silver region of Coeur d'Alène, Idaho, in the early nineties, the mining
States of the West became the scene of many labor struggles which were
more like civil wars than like ordinary labor strikes.

A most important contributing cause was a struggle, bolder than has been
encountered elsewhere in the United States, for control of government in
the interest of economic class. This was partly due to the absence of a
neutral middle class, farmers or others, who might have been able to
keep matters within bounds.

The Western Federation of Miners was an organization of workers in and
around the metaliferous mines. It also included workers in smelters. It
held its first convention in 1893 in Butte, Montana. In 1894 the men
employed in the Cripple Creek, Colorado, gold fields demanded a minimum
wage of three dollars for an eight-hour day. After four months the
strike resulted in a victory for the union. Other strikes occurred in
1896 and 1897 at Leadville, in 1899 in the Coeur d'Alène mining
district, and in 1901 at Rossland and Fernie, British Columbia, and also
in the San Juan district in California.

The most important strike of the Western Federation of Miners, however,
began in 1903 at Colorado City, where the mill and smeltermen's union
quit work in order to compel better working conditions. As the
sympathetic strike was a recognized part of the policy of the Western
Federation of Miners, all the miners in the Cripple Creek region were
called out. The eight-hour day in the smelters was the chief issue. In
1899 the Colorado legislature had passed an eight-hour law which was
declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the State. To overcome
this difficulty, an amendment to the State constitution was passed in
1902 by a large majority, but the legislature, after having thus
received a direct command to establish the eight-hour law, adjourned
without taking action. Much of the subsequent disorder and bloodshed in
the Cripple Creek region during 1903-1904 is traceable to this failure
on the part of the legislature to enact the eight-hour law. The struggle
in Colorado helped to convince the Western miners that agreements with
their employers were futile, that constitutional amendments and politics
were futile, and from this they drew the conclusion that the
revolutionary way was the only way. William D. Haywood, who became the
central figure in the revolutionary movement of the Industrial Workers
of the World since its launching in 1905, was a former national officer
of the Western Federation of Miners and a graduate of the Colorado
school of industrial experience.[79]

Even before 1905 the Western Federation of Miners, which was out of
touch with the American Federation of Labor for reasons of geography and
of difference in policy and program, attempted to set up a national
labor federation which would reflect its spirit. An American Labor Union
was created in 1902, which by 1905 had a membership of about 16,000
besides the 27,000 of the miners' federation. It was thus the precursor
of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. In the latter the
revolutionary miners from the West joined hands with radical socialists
from the East and Middle West of both socialist parties, the Socialist
party of America and DeLeon's Socialist Labor party.

We shall forbear tracing here the complicated internal history of the
I.W.W., that is the friction which immediately arose between the
DeLeonites and the other socialists and later on the struggle between
the socialists and the syndicalist-minded labor rebels from the West.
Suffice it to say that the Western Federation of Miners, which was its
very heart and body, convinced of the futility of it all, seceded in
1907. In 1911 it joined the American Federation of Labor and after
several hard-fought strikes, notably in Michigan in 1913, it practically
became assimilated to the other unions in the American Federation of

The remnant of the I.W.W. split in 1908 into two rival Industrial
Workers of the World, with headquarters in Detroit and Chicago,
respectively, on the issue of revolutionary political versus
non-political or "direct" action. As a rival to the Federation of Labor
the I.W.W. never materialized, but on the one hand, as an instrument of
resistance by the migratory laborers of the West and, on the other hand,
as a prod to the Federation to do its duty to the unorganized and
unskilled foreign-speaking workers of the East, the I.W.W. will for long
have a part to play.

In fact, about 1912, it seemed as though the I.W.W. were about to repeat
the performance of the Knights of Labor in the Great Upheaval of
1885-1887. Its clamorous appearance in the industrial East, showing in
the strikes by the non-English-speaking workers in the textile mills of
Lawrence, Massachusetts, Paterson, New Jersey, and Little Falls, New
York, on the one hand, and on the other, the less tangible but no less
desperate strikes of casual laborers which occurred from time to time in
the West, bore for the observer a marked resemblance to the Great
Upheaval. Furthermore, the trained eyes of the leaders of the Federation
espied in the Industrial Workers of the World a new rival which would
best be met on its own ground by organizing within the Federation the
very same elements to which the I.W.W. especially addressed itself.
Accordingly, at the convention of 1912, held in Rochester, the problem
of organizing the unskilled occupied a place near the head of the list.
But after the unsuccessful Paterson textile strikes in 1912 and 1913,
the star of the Industrial Workers of the World set as rapidly as it had
risen and the organization rapidly retrogressed. At no time did it roll
up a membership of more than 60,000 as compared with the maximum
membership of 750,000 of the Knights of Labor.

The charge made by the I.W.W. against the Federation of Labor (and it is
in relation to the latter that the I.W.W. has any importance at all) is
mainly two-fold: on aim and on method. "Instead of the conservative
motto, 'A fair day's wage for a fair day's work,'" reads the Preamble,
"We must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, 'Abolition
of the wage system.' It is the historic mission of the working class to
do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not
only for the every-day struggle with capitalists, but to carry on
production when capitalism shall have been overthrown." Then on method:
"We find that the centering of management in industries into fewer and
fewer hands makes the trade union unable to cope with the ever-growing
power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs
which allows one set of the workers to be pitted against another set of
workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in
wage wars.... These conditions must be changed and the interest of the
working class upheld only by an organization founded in such a way that
all its members in any one industry, or in all industries, if necessary,
cease work whenever a strike or a lockout is in any department thereof,
thus making an injury to one an injury to all." Lastly, "By organizing
industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the
shell of the old."

This meant "industrialism" versus the craft autonomy of the Federation.
"Industrialism" was a product of the intense labor struggles of the
nineties, of the Pullman railway strike in 1894, of the general strike
of the bituminous miners of 1898, and of a decade long struggle and
boycott in the beer-brewing industry. Industrialism meant a united front
against the employers in an industry regardless of craft; it meant doing
away with the paralyzing disputes over jurisdiction amongst the several
craft unions; it meant also stretching out the hand of fellowship to the
unskilled worker who knowing no craft fitted into no craft union. But
over and above these changes in structure there hovered a new spirit, a
spirit of class struggle and of revolutionary solidarity in contrast
with the spirit of "business unionism" of the typical craft union.
Industrialism signified a challenge to the old leadership, to the
leadership of Gompers and his associates, by a younger generation of
leaders who were more in tune with the social ideas of the radical
intellectuals and the labor movements of Europe than with the
traditional policies of the Federation.

But there is industrialism and industrialism, each answering the demands
of a _particular stratum_ of the wage-earning class. The class lowest in
the scale, the unskilled and "floaters," for which the I.W.W. speaks,
conceives industrialism as "one big union," where not only trade but
even industrial distinctions are virtually ignored with reference to
action against employers, if not also with reference to the principle of
organization. The native floater in the West and the unskilled foreigner
in the East are equally responsive to the appeal to storm capitalism in
a successive series of revolts under the banner of the "one big union."
Uniting in its ranks the workers with the least experience in
organization and with none in political action, the "one big union" pins
its faith upon assault rather than "armed peace," upon the strike
without the trade agreement, and has no faith whatsoever in political or
legislative action.

Another form of industrialism is that of the middle stratum of the
wage-earning group, embracing trades which are moderately skilled and
have had considerable experience in organization, such as brewing,
clothing, and mining. They realize that, in order to attain an equal
footing with the employers, they must present a front coextensive with
the employers' association, which means that all trades in an industry
must act under one direction. Hence they strive to assimilate the
engineers and machinists, whose labor is essential to the continuance of
the operation of the plant. They thus reproduce on a minor scale the
attempt of the Knights of Labor during the eighties to engulf the more
skilled trade unions.

At the same time the relatively unprivileged position of these trades
makes them keenly alive to the danger from below, from the unskilled
whom the employer may break into their jobs in case of strikes. They
therefore favor taking the unskilled into the organization. Their
industrialism is consequently caused perhaps more by their own trade
consideration than by an altruistic desire to uplift the unskilled,
although they realize that the organization of the unskilled is required
by the broader interests of the wage-earning class. However, their long
experience in matters of organization teaches them that the "one big
union" would be a poor medium. Their accumulated experience likewise has
a moderating influence on their economic activity, and they are
consequently among the strongest supporters inside the American
Federation of Labor of the trade agreement. Nevertheless, opportunistic
though they are in the industrial field, their position is not
sufficiently raised above the unskilled to make them satisfied with the
wage system. Hence, they are mostly controlled by socialists and are
strongly in favor of political action through the Socialist party. This
form of industrialism may consequently be called "socialist
industrialism." In the annual conventions of the Federation,
industrialists are practically synonymous with socialists.

The best examples of the "middle stratum" industrialism are the unions
in the garment industries. Enthusiastic admirers have proclaimed them
the harbingers of a "new unionism" in America. One would indeed be
narrow to withhold praise from organizations and leaders who in spite of
a most chaotic situation in their industry have succeeded so brilliantly
where many looked only for failure. Looking at the matter, however, from
the wider standpoint of labor history, the contribution of this
so-called "new unionism" resides chiefly, first, in that it has
rationalized and developed industrial government by collective
bargaining and trade agreements as no other unionism, and second, in
that it has applied a spirit of broadminded all-inclusiveness to all
workers in the industry. To put it in another way, its merit is in that
it has made supreme use of the highest practical acquisition of the
American Federation of Labor--namely, the trade agreement--while
reinterpreting and applying the latter in a spirit of a broader labor
solidarity than the "old unionism" of the Federation. As such the
clothing workers point the way to the rest of the labor movement.

The first successful application of the "new unionism" in the clothing
trades was in 1910 by the workers on cloaks and suits in the
International Ladies' Garment Workers Union of America, a constituent
union of the American Federation of Labor. They established machinery of
conciliation from the shop to the industry, which in spite of many
tempests and serious crises, will probably live on indefinitely. Perhaps
the greatest achievement to their credit is that they have jointly with
the employers, through a Joint Board of Sanitary Control, wrought a
revolution in the hygienic conditions in the shops.

The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America have won great power in the
men's clothing industry, through aggressive but constructive leadership.
The nucleus of the union seceded from the United Garment Workers, an
A.F. of L. organization, in 1914. The socialistic element within the
organization was and still is numerically dominating. But in the
practical process of collective bargaining, this union's revolutionary
principles have served more as a bond to hold the membership together
than as a severe guide in its relations with the employers.[80] As a
result, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers attained trade agreements in
all the large men's clothing centers. The American Federation of Labor,
however, in spite of this union's success, has persistently refused to
admit it to affiliation, on account of its original secessionist origin
from a chartered international union.

The unions of the clothing workers have demonstrated how immigrants (the
majority in the industry are Russian and Polish Jews and Italians) may
be successfully organized on the basis of a broad minded industrialism.
On the issue of industrialism in the American Federation of Labor the
last word has not yet been said. It appears, though, that the matter is
being solved slowly but surely by a silent "counter-reformation" by the
old leaders. For industrialism, or the adjustment of union structure to
meet the employer with ranks closed on the front of an entire industry,
is not altogether new even in the most conservative portion of the
Federation, although it has never been called by that name.

Long before industrialism entered the national arena as the economic
creed of socialists, the unions of the skilled had begun to evolve an
industrialism of their own. This species may properly be termed craft
industrialism, as it sought merely to unite on an efficient basis the
fighting strength of the unions of the skilled trades by devising a
method for speedy solution of jurisdictional disputes between
overlapping unions and by reducing the sympathetic strike to a science.
The movement first manifested itself in the early eighties in the form
of local building trades' councils, which especially devoted themselves
to sympathetic strikes. This local industrialism grew, after a fashion,
to national dimensions in the form of the International Building Trades'
Council organized in St. Louis in 1897. The latter proved, however,
ineffective, since, having for its basic unit the local building trades'
council, it inevitably came into conflict with the national unions in
the building trades. For the same reason it was barred from recognition
of the American Federation of Labor. The date of the real birth of craft
industrialism on a national scale, was therefore deferred to 1903, when
a Structural Building Trades' Alliance was founded. The formation of the
Alliance marks an event of supreme importance, not only because it
united for the first time for common action all the important national
unions in the building industry, but especially because it promulgated a
new principle which, if generally adopted, was apparently destined to
revolutionize the structure of American labor organizations. The
Alliance purported to be a federation of the "basic" trades in the
industry, and in reality it did represent an _entente_ of the big and
aggressive unions. The latter were moved to federate not only for the
purpose of forcing the struggle against the employers, but also of
expanding at the expense of the "non-basic" or weak unions, besides
seeking to annihilate the last vestiges of the International Building
Trades' Council. The Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, probably the
most aggressive union in the American Federation of Labor, was the
leader in this movement. From the standpoint of the Federation, the
Structural Alliance was at best an extra-legal organization, as it did
not receive the latter's formal sanction, but the Federation could
scarcely afford to ignore it as it had ignored the International
Building Trades' Council. Thus in 1908 the Alliance was "legitimatized"
and made a "Department" of the American Federation of Labor, under the
name of the Building Trades' Department, with the settlement of
jurisdictional disputes as its main function. It was accompanied by
departments of metal trades, of railway employes, of miners, and by a
"label" department.

It is not, however, open to much doubt that the Department was not a
very successful custodian of the trade autonomy principle.
Jurisdictional disputes are caused either by technical changes, which
play havoc with official "jurisdiction," or else by a plain desire on
the part of the stronger union to encroach upon the province of the
weaker one. When the former was the case and the struggle happened to be
between unions of equal strength and influence, it generally terminated
in a compromise. When, however, the combatants were two unions of
unequal strength, the doctrine of the supremacy of the "basic" unions
was generally made to prevail in the end. Such was the outcome of the
struggle between the carpenters and joiners on the one side and the wood
workers on the other and also between the plumbers and steam fitters. In
each case it ended in the forced amalgamation of the weaker union with
the stronger one, upon the principle that there must be only one union
in each "basic" trade. In the case of the steam fitters, which was
settled at the convention at Rochester in 1912, the Federation gave what
might be interpreted as an official sanction of the new doctrine of one
union in a "basic" trade.

Notwithstanding these official lapses from the principle of craft
autonomy, the socialist industrialists[81] are still compelled to abide
by the letter and the spirit of craft autonomy. The effect of such a
policy on the coming American industrialism may be as follows: The
future development of the "department" may enable the strong "basic"
unions to undertake concerted action against employers, while each
retains its own autonomy. Such indeed is the notable "concerted
movement" of the railway brotherhoods, which since 1907 has begun to set
a type for craft industrialism. It is also probable that the majority of
the craft unions will sufficiently depart from a rigid craft standard
for membership to include helpers and unskilled workers working
alongside the craftsmen.

The clearest outcome of this silent "counter-reformation" in reply to
the socialist industrialists is the Railway Employes' Department as it
developed during and after the war-time period.[82] It is composed of
all the railway men's organizations except the brotherhoods of
engineers, firemen, conductors, trainmen, telegraphers, and several
minor organizations, which on the whole cooperate with the Department.
It also has a place for the unskilled laborers organized in the United
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and Railroad Shop Laborers.
The Railway Employes' Department therefore demonstrates that under craft
unionism the unskilled need not be left out in the cold. It also meets
the charge that craft unionism renders it easy for the employers to
defeat the unions one by one, since this Department has consolidated the
constituent crafts into one bargaining and striking union[83]
practically as well as could be done by an industrial union. Finally,
the Railway Employes' Department has an advantage over an industrial
union in that many of its constituent unions, like the machinists',
blacksmiths', boiler-makers', sheet metal workers', and electrical
workers', have large memberships outside the railway industry, which
might by their dues and assessments come to the aid of the railway
workers on strike. To be sure, the solidarity of the unions in the
Department might be weakened through jurisdictional disputes, which is
something to be considered. However, when unions have gone so far as to
confederate for joint collective bargaining, that danger will probably
never be allowed to become too serious.


[75] See above, 139-141.

[76] See above, 76-79.

[77] See above, 139-141.

[78] Eugene V. Debs, after serving his sentence in prison for disobeying
a court injunction during the Pullman strike of 1894, became a convert
to socialism. It is said that his conversion was due to Victor Berger of
Milwaukee. Berger had succeeded in building up a strong socialist party
in that city and in the State of Wisconsin upon the basis of a thorough
understanding with the trade unions and was materially helped by the
predominance of the German-speaking element in the population. In 1910
the Milwaukee socialists elected a municipal ticket, the first large
city to vote the socialists into office.

[79] In 1907 Haywood was tried and acquitted with two other officers of
the Western Federation of Miners at Boisé, Idaho, on a murder charge
which grew out of the same labor struggle. This was one of the several
sensational trials in American labor history, on a par with the Molly
Maguires' case in the seventies, the Chicago Anarchists' in 1887, and
the McNamaras' case in 1912.

[80] The same applies to the International Ladies' Garment Workers'

[81] Except the miners, brewers, and garment workers.

[82] See above, 185-186.

[83] This refers particularly to the six shopmen's unions.



The outbreak of the War in Europe in August 1914 found American labor
passing through a period of depression. The preceding winter had seen
much unemployment and considerable distress and in the summer industrial
conditions became scarcely improved. In the large cities demonstrations
by the unemployed were daily occurrences. A long and bloody labor
struggle in the coal fields of Colorado, which was slowly drawing to an
unsuccessful end in spite of sacrifices of the heaviest kind, seemed
only to set into bold relief the generally inauspicious outlook. Yet the
labor movement could doubtless find solace in the political situation.
Owing to the support it had given the Democratic party in the
Presidential campaign of 1912, the Federation could claim return favors.
The demand which it was now urging upon its friends in office was the
long standing one for the exemption of labor unions from the operation
of the anti-trust legislation and for the reduction to a minimum of
interference by Federal Courts in labor disputes through injunction

During 1914 the anti-trust bill introduced in the House by Clayton of
Alabama was going through the regular stages preliminary to enactment
and, although it finally failed to embody all the sweeping changes
demanded by the Federation's lobbyists, it was pronounced at the time
satisfactory to labor. The Clayton Act starts with the declaration that
"The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce"
and specifies that labor organizations shall not be construed as illegal
combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade under Federal
anti-trust laws. It further proceeds to prescribe the procedure in
connection with the issuance of injunctions in labor disputes as, for
instance, limiting the time of effectiveness of temporary injunctions,
making notice obligatory to persons about to be permanently enjoined,
and somewhat limiting the power of the courts in contempt proceedings.
The most vital section of the Act relating to labor disputes is Section
20, which says "that no such restraining order or injunction shall
prohibit any person or persons, whether singly or in concert, from
terminating any relation of employment, or from ceasing to perform any
work or labor or from recommending, advising, or persuading others by
peaceful means so to do; or from attending at any place where any such
person or persons may lawfully be, for the purpose of peacefully
persuading any person to work or to abstain from working, or from
recommending, advising, or persuading others by peaceful and lawful
means so to do; or from paying or giving to, or withholding from, any
person employed in such dispute, any strike benefits or other moneys or
things of value; or from peacefully assembling in a lawful manner, or
for lawful purposes, or from doing any act or things which might
lawfully be done in the absence of such dispute by any party thereto;
nor shall any of the acts specified in this paragraph be considered or
held to be violations of any law of the United States."

The government was also rendering aid to organized labor in another,
though probably little intended, form, namely through the public
hearings conducted by the United States Commission on Industrial
Relations. This Commission had been authorized by Congress in 1912 to
investigate labor unrest after a bomb explosion in the _Los Angeles
Times_ Building, which was set off at the order of some of the national
officers of the structural iron workers' union, incidental to a strike.
The hearings which were conducted by the able and versatile chairman,
Frank P. Walsh, with a particular eye for publicity, centering as they
did around the Colorado outrages, served to popularize the trade union
cause from one end of the country to the other. The report of the
Commission or rather the minority report, which was signed by the
chairman and the three labor members, and was known as the "staff"
report, named _trade unionism_ as the paramount remedy--not compulsory
arbitration which was advocated by the employer members, nor labor
legislation and a permanent governmental industrial commission proposed
by the economist on the commission. The immediate practical effects of
the commission were _nil_, but its agitational value proved of great
importance to labor. For the first time in the history of the United
States the employing class seemed to be arrayed as a defendant before
the bar of public opinion. Also, it was for the first time that a
commission representing the government not only unhesitatingly
pronounced the trade union movement harmless to the country's best
interests but went to the length of raising it to the dignity of a
fundamental and indispensable institution.

The Commission on Industrial Relations on the whole reflected the
favorable attitude of the Administration which came to power in 1912.
The American Federation of Labor was given full sway over the Department
of Labor and a decisive influence in all other government departments
on matters relating to labor. Without a political party of its own, by
virtue only of its "bargaining power" over the old parties, the American
Federation of Labor seemed to have attained a position not far behind
that of British labor after more than a decade of independent political
action. Furthermore, fortunately for itself, labor in America had come
into a political patrimony at a time when the country was standing on
the threshold of a new era, during which government was destined to
become the arbiter of industry.

The War in Europe did not immediately improve industrial conditions in
America. The first to feel its effects were the industries directly
engaged in the making of munitions. The International Association of
Machinists, the organization of the now all-important munition workers,
actually had its membership somewhat decreased during 1915, but in the
following year made a 50 percent increase. The greater part of the new
membership came from the "munitions towns," such as Bridgeport,
Connecticut, where, in response to the insatiable demand from the Allied
nations, new enormous plants were erected during 1915 and shipment of
munitions in mass began early the next year. Bridgeport and surrounding
towns became a center of a successful eight-hour movement, in which the
women workers newly brought into the industry took the initiative. The
Federation as a whole lost three percent of its membership in 1915 and
gained seven percent during 1916.

On its War policy the Federation took its cue completely from the
national government. During the greater part of the period of American
neutrality its attitude was that of a shocked lover of peace who is
desirous to maintain the strictest neutrality if the belligerents will
persist in refusing to lend an ear to reason. To prevent a repetition
of a similar catastrophe, the Federation did the obvious thing,
pronouncing for open and democratized diplomacy; and proposed to the
several national trade union federations that an international labor
congress meet at the close of the war to determine the conditions of
peace. However, both the British and Germans declined. The convention in
1915 condemned the German-inspired propaganda for an embargo on
shipments to all belligerents and the fomenting of strikes in
munitions-making plants by German agents. The Federation refused to
interpret neutrality to mean that the American wage earner was to be
thrown back into the dumps of depression and unemployment, from which he
was just delivered by the extensive war orders from the Allied

By the second half of 1916 the war prosperity was in full swing. Cost of
living was rising rapidly and movements for higher wages became general.
The practical stoppage of immigration enabled common labor to get a
larger share than usual of the prosperity. Many employers granted
increases voluntarily. Simultaneously, a movement for the eight-hour day
was spreading from strictly munitions-making trades into others and was
meeting with remarkable success. But 1916 witnessed what was doubtless
the most spectacular move for the eight-hour day in American
history--the joint eight-hour demand by the four railway brotherhoods,
the engineers, firemen, conductors, and trainmen. The effectiveness
acquired by trade unionism needs no better proof than the remarkable
success with which these four organizations, with the full support of
the whole labor movement at their back and aided by a not unfriendly
attitude on the part of the national Administration, brought to bay the
greatest single industry of the country and overcame the opposition of
the entire business class.

The four brotherhoods made a joint demand for an eight-hour day early in
1916.[84] The railway officials claimed that the demand for the
reduction of the work-day from ten to eight hours with ten hours' pay
and a time and a half rate for overtime was not made in good faith.
Since, they said, the employes ought to have known that the railways
could not be run on an eight-hour day, the demand was but a covert
attempt to gain a substantial increase in their wages, which were
already in advance of any of the other skilled workers. On the other
hand, the brotherhoods stoutly maintained during their direct
negotiations with the railway companies and in the public press that
their demand was a _bona fide_ demand and that they believed that the
railway business did admit of a reorganization substantially on an
eight-hour basis. The railway officials offered to submit to arbitration
the demand of the men together with counter demands of their own. The
brotherhoods, however, fearing prejudice and recalling to mind past
disappointments, declined the proposal and threatened to tie up the
whole transportation system of the country by a strike on Labor Day.

When the efforts at mediation by the United States Board of Mediation
and Conciliation came to naught, President Wilson invited to Washington
the executives of the several railway systems and a convention of the
several hundred division chairmen of the brotherhoods and attempted
personal mediation. He urged the railway executives to accept the
eight-hour day and proposed that a commission appointed by himself
should investigate the demand for time and a half overtime. This the
employes accepted, but the executives objected to giving the eight-hour
day before an investigation was made. Meantime the brotherhoods had
issued their strike order effective on Labor Day and the crisis became
imminent. To obviate the calamity of a general strike, at a time when
the country was threatened with troubles on the Mexican frontier and
with the unsettled submarine controversy with Germany ready to flare up
any moment, the President went before Congress and asked for a speedy
enactment of an eight-hour law for train operatives without a reduction
in wages but with no punitive overtime. He coupled it with a request for
an authorisation of a special commission to report on the operation of
such a law for a period of six months, after which the subject might be
reopened. Lastly, he urged an amendment to the Newlands Act making it
illegal to call a strike or a lockout pending an investigation of a
controversy by a government commission. Spurred on by the danger of the
impending strike, Congress quickly acceded to the first two requests by
the President and passed the so-called Adamson law.[85] The strike was
averted, but in the immediately following Presidential campaign labor's
"hold-up" of the national government became one of the trump issues of
the Republican candidate.

This episode of the summer of 1916 had two sequels, one in the courts
and the other one in a negotiated agreement between the railways and the
brotherhoods. The former brought many suits in courts against the
government and obtained from a lower court a decision that the Adamson
law was unconstitutional. The case was then taken to the United States
Supreme Court, but the decision was not ready until the spring of 1917.
Meantime the danger of a strike had been renewed. However, on the same
day when the Supreme Court gave out its decision, the railways and
brotherhoods had signed, at the urging of the National Council of
Defense, an agreement accepting the conditions of the Adamson law
regardless of the outcome in court. When the decision became known it
was found to be in favor of the Adamson law. The declaration of war
against Germany came a few days later and opened a new era in the
American labor situation.

Previous to that, on March 12, 1917, when war seemed inevitable, the
national officers of all important unions in the Federation met in
Washington and issued a statement on "American Labor's Position in Peace
or in War." They pledged the labor movement and the influence of the
labor organizations unreservedly in support of the government in case of
war. Whereas, they said, in all previous wars "under the guise of
national necessity, labor was stripped of its means of defense against
enemies at home and was robbed of the advantages, the protections, and
guarantees of justice that had been achieved after ages of struggle";
and "labor had no representatives in the councils authorized to deal
with the conduct of the war"; and therefore "the rights, interests and
welfare of workers were autocratically sacrificed for the slogan of
national safety"; in this war "the government must recognize the
organized labor movement as the agency through which it must cooperate
with wage earners." Such recognition will imply first "representation on
all agencies determining and administering policies of national
defense" and "on all boards authorized to control publicity during war
time." Second, that "service in government factories and private
establishments, in transportation agencies, all should conform to trade
union standards"; and that "whatever changes in the organization of
industry are necessary upon a war basis, they should be made in accord
with plans agreed upon by representatives of the government and those
engaged and employed in the industry." Third, that the government's
demand of sacrifice of their "labor power, their bodies or their lives"
be accompanied by "increased guarantees and safe-guards," the imposing
of a similar burden on property and the limitation of profits. Fourth,
that "organization for industrial and commercial service" be "upon a
different basis from military service" and "that military service should
be carefully distinguished from service in industrial disputes," since
"the same voluntary institutions that organized industrial, commercial
and transportation workers in times of peace will best take care of the
same problems in time of war." For, "wrapped up with the safety of this
Republic are ideals of democracy, a heritage which the masses of the
people received from our forefathers, who fought that liberty might live
in this country--a heritage that is to be maintained and handed down to
each generation with undiminished power and usefulness."

We quote at such length because this document gives the quintessence of
the wise labor statesmanship which this crisis brought so clearly to
light. Turning away from the pacifism of the Socialist party, Samuel
Gompers and his associates believed that victory over world militarism
as well as over the forces of reaction at home depended on labor's
unequivocal support of the government. And in reality, by placing the
labor movement in the service of the war-making power of the nation they
assured for it, for the time being at least, a degree of national
prestige and a freedom to expand which could not have been conquered by
many years of the most persistent agitation and strikes.

The War, thus, far from being a trial for organized labor, proved
instead a great opportunity. For the War released organized labor from a
blind alley, as it were. The American Federation of Labor, as we saw,
had made but slow progress in organization after 1905. At that time it
had succeeded in organizing the skilled and some of the semi-skilled
workers. Further progress was impeded by the anti-union employers
especially in industries commonly understood to be dominated by
"trusts." In none of the "trustified" industries, save anthracite coal,
was labor organization able to make any headway. And yet the American
Federation of Labor, situated as it is, is obliged to stake everything
upon the power to organize.[86] The war gave it that all-important
power. Soon after the Federal government became the arbiter of
industry--by virtue of being the greatest consumer, and by virtue of a
public opinion clearly outspoken on the subject--we see the Taft-Walsh
War Labor Board[87] embody "the right to organize" into a code of rules
for the guidance of the relations of labor and capital during War-time,
along with the basic eight-hour day and the right to a living wage. In
return for these gifts American labor gave up nothing so vital as
British labor had done in the identical situation. The right to strike
was left unmolested and remained a permanent threat hanging over slow
moving officialdom and recalcitrant employers. And the only restraint
accepted by labor was a promise of self-restraint. The Federation was
not to strike until all other means for settlement had been tried, nor
was it to press for the closed shop where such had not existed prior to
the War declaration. But at the same time no employer was to interpose a
check to its expansion into industries and districts heretofore
unorganized. Nor could an employer discipline an employe for joining a
union or inducing others to join.

In 1916, when the President established the National Council of Defense,
he appointed Samuel Gompers one of the seven members composing the
Advisory Commission in charge of all policies dealing with labor and
chairman of a committee on labor of his own appointment. Among the first
acts of the Council of Defense was an emphatic declaration for the
preservation of the standards of legal protection of labor against the
ill-advised efforts for their suspension during War-time. The Federation
was given representation on the Emergency Construction Board, the Fuel
Administration Board, on the Woman's Board, on the Food Administration
Board, and finally on the War Industries Board. The last named board was
during the war the recognized arbiter of the country's industries, all
labor matters being handled by its labor representative. The Department
of Labor, which in the War emergency could rightly be considered the
Federation's arm in the Administration, was placed in supreme charge of
general labor administration. Also, in connection with the
administration of the military conscription law, organized labor was
given representation on each District Exemption Board. But perhaps the
strongest expression of the official recognition of the labor movement
was offered by President Wilson when he took time from the pressing
business in Washington to journey to Buffalo in November 1917, to
deliver an address before the convention of the American Federation of

In addition to representation on boards and commissions dealing with
general policies, the government entered with the Federation into a
number of agreements relative to the conditions of direct and indirect
employment by the government. In each agreement the prevalent trade
union standards were fully accepted and provision was made for a
three-cornered board of adjustment to consist of a representative of the
particular government department, the public and labor. Such agreements
were concluded by the War and Navy departments and by the United States
Emergency Fleet Corporation. The Shipping Board sponsored a similar
agreement between the shipping companies and the seafaring unions; and
the War Department between the leather goods manufacturers and leather
workers' union. When the government took over the railways on January 1,
1918, it created three boards of adjustment on the identical principle
of a full recognition of labor organizations. The spirit with which the
government faced the labor problem was shown also in connection with the
enforcement of the eight-hour law. The law of 1912 provided for an
eight-hour day on contract government work but allowed exceptions in
emergencies. In 1917 Congress gave the President the right to waive the
application of the law, but provided that in such event compensation be
computed on a "basic" eight-hour day. The War and Navy departments
enforced these provisions not only to the letter but generally gave to
them a most liberal interpretation.

The taking over of the railways by the government revolutionized the
railway labor situation. Under private management, as was seen, the four
brotherhoods alone, the engineers, firemen, conductors, and trainmen
enjoyed universal recognition, the basic eight-hour day (since 1916),
and high wages. The other organizations of the railway workers, the
shopmen, the yardmen, the maintenance of way men, the clerks, and the
telegraphers were, at best, tolerated rather than recognized. Under the
government administration the eight-hour day was extended to all grades
of workers, and wages were brought up to a minimum of 68 cents per hour,
with a considerable though not corresponding increase in the wages of
the higher grades of labor. All discrimination against union men was
done away with, so that within a year labor organization on the railways
was nearing the hundred percent mark.

The policies of the national railway administration of the open door to
trade unionism and of recognition of union standards were successfully
pressed upon other employments by the National War Labor Board. On March
29, 1918, a National War Labor Conference Board, composed of five
representatives of the Federation of Labor, five representatives of
employers' associations and two joint chairmen, William H. Taft for the
employers and Frank P. Walsh for the employes, reported to the Secretary
of Labor on "Principles and Policies to govern Relations between Workers
and Employers in War Industries for the Duration of the War." These
"principles and policies," which were to be enforced by a permanent War
Labor Board organized upon the identical principle as the reporting
board, included a voluntary relinquishment of the right to strike and
lockout by employes and employers, respectively, upon the following
conditions: First, there was a recognition of the equal right of
employes and employers to organize into associations and trade unions
and to bargain collectively. This carried an undertaking by the
employers not to discharge workers for membership in trade unions or for
legitimate trade union activities, and was balanced by an undertaking of
the workers, "in the exercise of their right to organize," not to "use
coercive measures of any kind to induce persons to join their
organizations, nor to induce employers to bargain or deal therewith."
Second, both sides agreed upon the observance of the _status quo ante
bellum_ as to union or open shop in a given establishment and as to
union standards of wages, hours, and other conditions of employment.
This carried the express stipulation that the right to organize was not
to be curtailed under any condition and that the War Labor Board could
grant improvement in labor conditions as the situation warranted. Third,
the understanding was that if women should be brought into industry,
they must be allowed equal pay for equal work. Fourth, it was agreed
that "the basic eight-hour day was to be recognized as applying in all
cases in which the existing law required it, while in all other cases
the question of hours of labor was to be settled with due regard to
government necessities and the welfare, health, and proper comfort of
the workers." Fifth, restriction of output by trade unions was to be
done away with. Sixth, in fixing wages and other conditions regard was
to be shown to trade union standards. And lastly came the recognition of
"the right of all workers, including common laborers, to a living wage"
and the stipulation that in fixing wages, there will be established
"minimum rates of pay which will insure the subsistence of the worker
and his family in health and reasonable comfort."

The establishment of the War Labor Board did not mean that the country
had gone over to the principle of compulsory arbitration, for the Board
could not force any party to a dispute to submit to its arbitration or
by an umpire of its appointment. However, so outspoken was public
opinion on the necessity of avoiding interruptions in the War industries
and so far-reaching were the powers of the government over the employer
as the administrator of material and labor priorities and over the
employes as the administrator of the conscription law that the indirect
powers of the Board sufficed to make its decision prevail in nearly
every instance.

The packing industry was a conspicuous case of the "new course" in
industrial relations. This industry had successfully kept unionism out
since an ill-considered strike in 1904, which ended disastrously for the
strikers. Late in 1917, 60,000 employes in the packing houses went on
strike for union recognition, the basic eight-hour day, and other
demands. Intervention by the government led to a settlement, which,
although denying the union formal recognition, granted the basic
eight-hour day, a living wage, and the right to organize, together with
all that it implied, and the appointment of a permanent arbitrator to
adjudicate disputes. Thus an industry which had prohibited labor
organization for fourteen years was made to open its door to trade
unionism.[88] Another telling gain for the basic eight-hour day was made
by the timber workers in the Northwest, again at the insistence of the

What the aid of the government in securing the right to organize meant
to the strength of trade unionism may be derived from the following
figures. In the two years from 1917 to 1919 the organization of the meat
cutters and butcher workmen increased its membership from less than
10,000 to over 66,000; the boilermakers and iron shipbuilders from
31,000 to 85,000; the blacksmiths from 12,000 to 28,000; the railway
clerks from less than 7000 to over 71,000; the machinists from 112,000
to 255,000; the maintenance of way employes from less than 10,000 to
54,000; the railway carmen from 39,000 to 100,000; the railway
telegraphers from 27,000 to 45,000; and the electrical workers from
42,000 to 131,000. The trades here enumerated--mostly related to
shipbuilding and railways--accounted for the greater part of the total
gain in the membership of the Federation from two and a half million
members in 1917 to over three and a third in 1919.

An important aspect of the cooperation of the government with the
Federation was the latter's eager self-identification with the
government's foreign policy, which went to the length of choosing to
play a lone hand in the Allied labor world. Labor in America had an
implicit faith in the national government, which was shared by neither
English nor French labor. Whereas the workers in the other Allied
Nations believed that their governments needed to be prodded or forced
into accepting the right road to a democratic peace by an international
labor congress, which would take the entire matter of war and peace out
of the diplomatic chancellories into an open conference of the
representatives of the workers, the American workers were only too eager
to follow the leadership of the head of the American nation. To this
doubtless was added the usual fervor of a new convert to any cause (in
this instance the cause of the War against Germany) and a strong
distrust of German socialism, which American labor leaders have
developed during their drawn-out struggle against the German-trained
socialists inside the Federation who have persistently tried to
"capture" the organization.

When on January 8, 1918, President Wilson enunciated his famous Fourteen
Points, the Federation of course gave them an enthusiastic endorsement.
In the autumn of 1918 Gompers went to Europe and participated in an
Inter-Allied labor conference. He refused, however, to participate in
the first International Labor and Socialist Congress called since the
War, which met at Berne, Switzerland, in March 1919, since he would not
sit with the Germans while their country was not formally at peace with
the United States. The convention of the Federation in June 1919 gave
complete endorsement to the League of Nations Pact worked out at
Versailles,--on general grounds and on the ground of its specific
provisions for an international regulation of labor conditions designed
to equalize labor standards and costs. Contrasting with this was the
position of British labor, which regarded the Pact with a critical eye,
frankly confessing disillusionment, but was willing to accept it for the
sake of its future possibilities, when the Pact might be remodelled by
more liberal and more democratic hands.

The contrast in outlook between the mild evolutionism of the American
Federation of Labor and the social radicalism of British labor stood out
nowhere so strongly as in their respective programs for Reconstruction
after the War. The chief claim of the British Labor party for
recognition at the hands of the voter at the General Election in
December 1918, was its well-thought-out reconstruction program put forth
under the telling title of "Labour and the New Social Order." This
program was above all a legislative program. It called for a
thoroughgoing governmental control of industry by means of a control of
private finance, natural resources, transportation, and international
trade. To the workingmen such control would mean the right to steady
employment, the right to a living wage, and the appropriation of
economic surpluses by the state for the common good--be they in the form
of rent, excessive profits, or overlarge personal incomes. Beyond this
minimum program loomed the cooperative commonwealth with the private
capitalist totally eliminated.

Such was the program of British labor. What of the Reconstruction
program of American labor? First of all, American labor thought of
Reconstruction as a program to be carried out by the trade union, not by
the government. Moreover, it did not see in Reconstruction the great
break with the past which that meant to British labor. The American
Federation of Labor applied to Reconstruction the same philosophy which
lies at the basis of its ordinary, everyday activity. It concerned
itself not with any far-reaching plan for social reorganization, but
with a rising standard of living and an enlarged freedom for the union.
The American equivalent of a government-guaranteed right to employment
and a living wage was the "right to organize." Assure to labor that
right, free the trade unions of court interference in strikes and
boycotts, prevent excessive meddling by the government in industrial
relations--and the stimulated activities of the "legitimate"
organizations of labor, which will result therefrom, will achieve a far
better Reconstruction than a thousand paper programs however beautiful.
So reasoned the leaders of the American Federation of Labor. During the
period of War, they of course gladly accepted directly from the
government the basic eight-hour day and the high wages, which under
other circumstances they could have got only by prolonged and bitter
striking. But even more acceptable than these directly bestowed boons
was the indirect one of the right to organize free from anti-union
discriminations by employers. Having been arrested in its expansion, as
we saw, by anti-union employers and especially "trusts," the American
Federation of Labor took advantage of the War situation to overflow new
territory. Once entrenched and the organization well in hand, it thought
it could look to the future with confidence.


[84] For the developments which led up to this joint move see above,

[85] Congress ignored the last-named recommendation which would have
introduced in the United States the Canadian system of "Compulsory

[86] See below, 283-287.

[87] See below, 238-240.

[88] The unions again lost their hold upon the packing industry in the
autumn of 1921.



The Armistice with Germany came suddenly and unexpectedly. To the
organized workers the news was as welcome as to other citizens. But, had
they looked at the matter from a special trade union standpoint, they
would probably have found a longer duration of the War not entirely
amiss. For coal had been unionized already before the War, the railways
first during the War, but the third basic industry, steel, was not
touched either before or during the War. However, it was precisely in
the steel industry that opposition to unionism has found its chief seat,
not only to unionism in that industry alone but to unionism in related
or subsidiary industries as well.

The first three months after the Armistice the general expectation was
for a set-back in business conditions due to the withdrawal of the
enormous government War-time demand. Employers and trade unions stood
equally undecided. When, however, instead of the expected slump, there
came a prosperity unknown even during the War, the trade unions resumed
their offensive, now unrestrained by any other but the strictly economic
consideration. As a matter of fact, the trade unions were not at all
free agents, since their demands, frequent and considerable though they
were, barely sufficed to keep wages abreast of the soaring cost of
living. Through 1919 and the first half of 1920 profits and wages were
going up by leaps and bounds; and the forty-four hour week,--no longer
the mere eight-hour day,--became a general slogan and a partial reality.
Success was especially notable in clothing, building, printing, and the
metal trades. One cannot say the same, however, of the three basic
industries, steel, coal, and railways. In steel the twelve-hour day and
the seven-day week continued as before for approximately one-half of the
workers and the unions were preparing for a battle with the "Steel
Trust." While on the railways and in coal mining the unions now began to
encounter opposition from an unexpected quarter, namely, the government.

When in the summer of 1919 the railway shopmen demanded an increase in
their wages, which had not been raised since the summer of 1918,
President Wilson practically refused the demand, urging the need of a
general deflation but binding himself to use all the powers of the
government immediately to reduce the cost of living. A significant
incident in this situation was a spontaneous strike of shopmen on many
roads unauthorized by international union officials, which disarranged
the movement of trains for a short time but ended with the men returning
to work under the combined pressure of their leaders' threats and the
President's plea.

In September 1919, the United States Railroad Administration and the
shopmen's unions entered into national agreements, which embodied the
practices under the Administration as well as those in vogue on the more
liberal roads before 1918, including recognition and a large number of
"working rules." These "national agreements" became an important issue
one year later, when their abolition began to be pressed by the railway
executives before the Railroad Labor Board, which was established under
the Transportation Act of 1920.

In the summer of 1919 employers in certain industries, like clothing,
grew aware of a need of a more "psychological" handling of their labor
force than heretofore in order to reduce a costly high labor turnover
and no less costly stoppages of work. This created a veritable Eldorado
for "employment managers" and "labor managers," real and spurious.
Universities and colleges, heretofore wholly uninterested in the problem
of labor or viewing training in that problem as but a part of a general
cultural education, now vied with one another in establishing "labor
management" and "labor personnel" courses. One phase of the "labor
personnel" work was a rather wide experimentation with "industrial
democracy" plans. These plans varied in form and content, from simple
provision for shop committees for collective dealing, many of which had
already been installed during the War under the orders of the War Labor
Board, to most elaborate schemes, some modelled upon the Constitution of
the United States. The feature which they all had in common was that
they attempted to achieve some sort of collective bargaining outside the
channels of the established trade unions. The trade unionists termed the
new fashioned expressions of industrial democracy "company unions." This
term one may accept as technically correct without necessarily accepting
the sinister connotation imputed to it by labor.

The trade unions, too, were benefiting as organizations. The Amalgamated
Clothing Workers' Union firmly established itself by formal agreement on
the men's clothing "markets" of Chicago, Rochester, Baltimore, and New
York. The membership of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union rose to
175,000. Employers in general were complaining of increased labor
unrest, a falling off of efficiency in the shop, and looked askance at
the rapid march of unionization. The trade unions, on their part, were
aware of their opportunity and eager for a final recognition as an
institution in industry. As yet uncertainty prevailed as to whether
enough had survived of the War-time spirit of give and take to make a
struggle avoidable, or whether the issue must be solved by a bitter
conflict of classes.

A partial showdown came in the autumn of 1919. Three great events, which
came closely together, helped to clear the situation: The steel strike,
the President's Industrial Conference, and the strike of the soft coal
miners. The great steel strike, prepared and directed by a Committee
representing twenty-four national and international unions with William
Z. Foster as Secretary and moving spirit, tried in September 1919 to
wrest from the owners of the steel mills what the railway shopmen had
achieved in 1918 by invitation of the government, namely, "recognition"
and the eight-hour day. Three hundred thousand men went out on strike at
the call of the committee. The industry came to a practical standstill.
But in this case the twenty-four allied unions were not dealing with a
government amenable to political pressure, nor with a loosely joined
association of employers competing among themselves. Furthermore, the
time had passed when the government had either the will or the power to
interfere and order both sides to arbitrate their dispute. On the
contrary, the unions were now dealing unaided with the strongest
capitalist aggregation in the world.

At the request of President Wilson, Gompers had urged the strike
committee to postpone the strike until after the meeting of the national
industrial conference called by the President in October, but the
committee claimed that it could not have kept the men back after a
summer of agitation and feverish organization had they even tried. The
President's conference, modelled upon a similar conference which met
earlier in Great Britain, was composed of three groups of
representatives equal in number, one for capital, one for labor, and one
for the general public. Decisions, to be held effective, had to be
adopted by a majority in each group. The labor representation, dominated
of course by Gompers, was eager to make the discussion turn on the steel
strike. It proposed a resolution to this effect which had the support of
the public group, but fearing a certain rejection by the employer group
the matter was postponed. The issue upon which the alignment was
effected was industrial control and collective bargaining. All three
groups, the employer and public groups and of course the labor group,
advocated collective bargaining,--but with a difference. The labor group
insisted that collective bargaining is doomed to be a farce unless the
employes are allowed to choose as their spokesmen representatives of the
national trade union. In the absence of a powerful protector in the
national union, they argued, the workers in a shop can never feel
themselves on a bargaining equality with their employer, nor can they be
represented by a spokesman of the necessary ability if their choice be
restricted to those working in the same plant. The employers, now no
longer dominated by the War-time spirit which caused them in 1917 to
tolerate an expansion of unionism, insisted that no employer must be
obliged to meet for the purpose of collective bargaining with other
than his own employes.[89] After two weeks of uncertainty, when it had
become clear that a resolution supported by both labor and public
groups, which restated the labor position in a milder form, would be
certain to be voted down by the employer group, the labor group withdrew
from the conference, and the conference broke up. The period of the
cooperation of classes had definitely closed.

Meantime the steel strike continued. Federal troops patrolled the steel
districts and there was no violence. Nevertheless, a large part of the
country's press pictured the strike by the steel workers for union
recognition and a normal workday as an American counterpart of the
Bolshevist revolution in Russia. Public opinion, unbalanced and excited
as it was over the whirlpool of world events, was in no position to
resist. The strike failed.

Nothing made so clear to the trade unionists the changed situation since
the War ended as the strike of the bituminous coal miners which began
November 1. The miners had entered, in October 1917, into a wage
agreement with the operators for the duration of the War. The purchasing
power of their wages having become greatly reduced by the ever rising
cost of living, discontent was general in the union. A further
complication arose from the uncertain position of the United States with
reference to War and Peace, which had a bearing on the situation. The
miners claimed that the Armistice had ended the War. The War having
ended, the disadvantageous agreement expired with it. So argued the
miners and demanded a sixty percent increase in tonnage rates, a
corresponding one for yardmen and others paid by the day or hour, and a
thirty-hour week to spread employment through the year. The operators
maintained that the agreement was still in force, but intimated a
readiness to make concessions if they were permitted to shift the cost
to the consumer. At this point, the Fuel Administration, a War-time
government body, already partly in the process of dissolution,
intervened and attempted to dictate a settlement at a fourteen percent
increase, which was entirely unacceptable to the union. The strike
continued and the prospect of a dire coal famine grew nearer. To break
the deadlock, on motion of Attorney-General Palmer, Judge Anderson of
Indianapolis, under the War-time Lever Act, issued an injunction
forbidding the union officials to continue conducting the strike. The
strike continued, the strikers refusing to return to work, and a
Bituminous Coal Commission appointed by the President finally settled it
by an award of an increase of twenty-seven percent. But that the same
Administration which had given the unions so many advantages during the
War should now have invoked against them a War-time law, which had
already been considered practically abrogated, was a clear indication of
the change in the times. In a strike by anthracite coal miners in the
following year an award was made by a Presidential board of three,
representing the employers, the union, and the public. The strikers,
however, refused to abide by it and inaugurated a "vacation-strike," the
individual strikers staying away on a so-called vacation, nominally
against the will of the union officers. They finally returned to work.

Both the steel and coal strikes furnished occasions for considerable
anti-union propaganda in the press. Public sentiment long favorable to
labor became definitely hostile.[90] In Kansas the legislature passed a
compulsory arbitration law and created an Industrial Relations Court to
adjudicate trade disputes. Simultaneously an "anti-Red" campaign
inaugurated by Attorney-General Palmer contributed its share to the
public excitement and helped to prejudice the cause of labor more by
implication than by making direct charges. It was in an atmosphere thus
surcharged with suspicion and fear that a group of employers, led by the
National Association of Manufacturers and several local employers'
organizations, launched an open-shop movement with the slogan of an
"American plan" for shops and industries. Many employers, normally
opposed to unionism, who in War-time had permitted unionism to acquire
scope, were now trying to reconquer their lost positions. The example of
the steel industry and the fiasco of the President's Industrial
Conference crystallized this reviving anti-union sentiment into action.

Meanwhile the railway labor situation remained unsettled and fraught
with danger. The problem was bound up with the general problem as to
what to do with the railways. Many plans were presented to Congress,
from an immediate return to private owners to permanent government
ownership and management. The railway labor organizations, that is, the
four brotherhoods of the train service personnel and the twelve unions
united in the Railway Employes' Department of the American Federation
of Labor, came before Congress with the so-called Plumb Plan, worked out
by Glenn E. Plumb, the legal representative of the brotherhoods. This
plan proposed that the government take over the railways for good,
paying a compensation to the owners, and then entrust their operation to
a board composed of government officials, union representatives, and
representatives of the technical staffs.[91] So much for ultimate plans.
On the more immediate wage problem proper, the government had clearly
fallen down on its promise made to the shopmen in August 1919, when
their demands for higher wages were refused and a promise was made that
the cost of living would be reduced. Early in 1920 President Wilson
notified Congress that he would return the roads to the owners on March
1, 1920. A few days before that date the Esch-Cummins bill was passed
under the name of the Transportation Act of 1920. Strong efforts were
made to incorporate in the bill a prohibition against strikes and
lockouts. In that form it had indeed passed the Senate. In the House
bill, however, the compulsory arbitration feature was absent and the
final law contained a provision for a Railroad Labor Board, of railway,
union, and public representatives, to be appointed by the President,
with the power of conducting investigations and issuing awards, but with
the right to strike or lockout unimpaired either before, during, or
after the investigation. It was the first appointed board of this
description which was to pass on the clamorous demands by the railway
employes for higher wages.[92]

No sooner had the roads been returned under the new law, and before the
board was even appointed, than a strike broke out among the switchmen
and yardmen, whose patience had apparently been exhausted. The strike
was an "outlaw" strike, undertaken against the wishes of national
leaders and organized and led by "rebel" leaders risen up for the
occasion. For a time it threatened not only to paralyze the country's
railway system but to wreck the railway men's organizations as well. It
was finally brought to an end through the efforts of the national
leaders, and a telling effect on the situation was produced by an
announcement by the newly constituted Railroad Labor Board that no
"outlaw" organization would have standing before it. The Board issued an
award on July 20, retroactive to May 1, increasing the total annual wage
bill of the railways by $600,000,000. The award failed to satisfy the
union, but they acquiesced.

When the increase in wages was granted to the railway employes, industry
in general and the railways in particular were already entering a period
of slump. With the depression the open-shop movement took on a greater
vigor. With unemployment rapidly increasing employers saw their chance
to regain freedom from union control. A few months later the tide also
turned in the movement of wages. Inside of a year the steel industry
reduced wages thirty percent, in three like installments; and the
twelve-hour day and the seven-day week, which had figured among the
chief causes of the strike of 1919 and for which the United States Steel
Corporation was severely condemned by a report of a Committee of the
Interchurch World Movement,[93] has largely continued as before. In the
New York "market" of the men's clothing industry, where the union faces
the most complex and least stable condition mainly owing to the
heterogeneous character of the employing group, the latter grasped the
opportunity to break with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union. By
the end of the spring of 1921 the clothing workers won their struggle,
showing that a union built along new lines was at least as efficient a
fighting machine as any of the older unions. It was this union also and
several local branches of the related union in the ladies' garment
industry, which realized the need of assuring to the employer at least a
minimum of labor efficiency if the newly established level of wages was
not to be materially lowered. Hence the acceptance of the principle of
"standards of production" fixed with the aid of scientific managers
employed jointly by the employers and the union.

The spring and summer of 1921 were a time of widespread "readjustment"
strikes, or strikes against cuts in wages, especially in the building
trades. The building industry went through in 1921 and 1922 one of its
periodic upheavals against the tyranny of the "walking delegates" and
against the state of moral corruption for which some of the latter
shared responsibility together with an unscrupulous element among the
employers. In San Francisco, where the grip of the unions upon the
industry was strongest, the employers turned on them and installed the
"open-shop" after the building trades' council had refused to accept an
award by an arbitration committee set up by mutual agreement. The union
claimed, however, in self-justification that the Committee, by awarding
a _reduction_ in the wages of fifteen crafts while the issue as
originally submitted turned on a demand by these crafts for a _raise_
in wages, had gone outside its legitimate scope. In New York City an
investigation by a special legislative committee uncovered a state of
reeking corruption among the leadership in the building trades' council
and among an element in the employing group in connection with a
successful attempt to establish a virtual local monopoly in building.
Some of the leading corruptionists on both sides were given court
sentences and the building trades' council accepted modifications in the
"working rules" formulated by the counsel for the investigating
committee. In Chicago a situation developed in many respects similar to
the one in San Francisco. In a wage dispute, which was submitted by both
sides to Federal Judge K.M. Landis for arbitration, the award authorized
not only a wage reduction but a revision of the "working rules" as well.
Most of the unionists refused to abide by the award and the situation
developed into literal warfare. In Chicago the employers' side was
aggressively upheld by a "citizens' committee" formed to enforce the
Landis award. The committee claimed to have imported over 10,000
out-of-town building mechanics to take the places of the strikers.

In the autumn of 1921 the employers in the packing industry discontinued
the arrangement whereby industrial relations were administered by an
"administrator,"[94] Judge Alschuler of Chicago, whose rulings had
materially restricted the employers' control in the shop. Some of the
employers put into effect company union plans. This led to a strike, but
in the end the unions lost their foothold in the industry, which the War
had enabled them to acquire. By that time, however, the open-shop
movement seemed already passing its peak, without having caused an
irreparable breach in the position of organized labor. Evidently, the
long years of preparation before the War and the great opportunity
during the War itself, if they have failed to give trade unionism the
position of a recognized national institution, have at least made it
immune from destruction by employers, however general or skillfully
managed the attack. In 1920 the total organized union membership,
including the 871,000 in unions unaffiliated with the American
Federation of Labor, was slightly short of 5,000,000, or over four
million in the Federation itself. In 1921 the membership of the
Federation declined slightly to 3,906,000, and the total organized
membership probably in proportion. In 1922 the membership of the
Federation declined to about 3,200,000, showing a loss of about 850,000
since the high mark of 1920.

The legal position of trade unions has continued as uncertain and
unsatisfactory to the unions, as if no Clayton Act had been passed. The
closed shop has been condemned as coercion of non-unionists. Yet in the
Coppage case[95] the United States Supreme Court found that it is not
coercion when an employer threatens discharge unless union membership is
renounced. Similarly, it is unlawful for union agents to attempt
organization, even by peaceful persuasion, when employes have signed
contracts not to join the union as a condition of employment.[96] A
decision which arouses strong doubt whether the Clayton Act made any
change in the status of trade unions was given by the Supreme Court in
the recent Duplex Printing case.[97] In this decision the union rested
its defense squarely on the immunities granted by the Clayton Act.
Despite this, the injunction was confirmed and the boycott again
declared illegal, the court holding that the words "employer and
employes" in the Act restrict its benefits only to "parties standing in
proximate relation to a controversy," that is to the employes who are
immediately involved in the dispute and not to the national union which
undertakes to bring their employer to terms by causing their other
members to boycott his goods.

The prevailing judicial interpretation of unlawful union methods is
briefly as follows: Strikes are illegal when they involve defamation,
fraud, actual physical violence, threats of physical violence, or
inducement of breach of contract. Boycotts are illegal when they bring
third parties into the dispute by threats of strikes, or loss of
business, publication of "unfair lists,"[98] or by interference with
Interstate commerce. Picketing is illegal when accompanied by violence,
threats, intimidation, and coercion. In December 1921 the Supreme Court
declared mere numbers in groups constituted intimidation and, while
admitting that circumstances may alter cases, limited peaceful picketing
to one picket at each point of ingress or egress of the plant.[99] In
another case the Court held unconstitutional an Arizona statute, which
reproduced _verbatim_ the labor clauses of the Clayton Act;[100] this on
the ground that concerted action by the union would be illegal if the
means used were illegal and therefore the law which operated to make
them legal deprived the plaintiff of his property without due process of
law. In June 1922, in the Coronado case, the Court held that unions,
although unincorporated, are in every respect like corporations and are
liable for damages in their corporate capacity, including triple damages
under the Sherman Anti-Trust law, and which may be collected from their

We have already pointed out that since the War ended the American labor
movement has in the popular mind become linked with radicalism. The
steel strike and the coal miners' strike in 1919, the revolt against the
national leaders and "outlaw" strikes in the printing industry and on
the railways in 1920, the advocacy by the organizations of the railway
men of the Plumb Plan for nationalization of railways and its repeated
endorsement by the conventions of the American Federation of Labor, the
resolutions in favor of the nationalization of coal mines passed at the
conventions of the United Mine Workers, the "vacation" strike by the
anthracite coal miners in defiance of a government wage award, the
sympathy expressed for Soviet Russia in a number of unions, notably of
the clothing industry, have led many to see, despite the assertions of
the leaders of the American Federation of Labor to the contrary, an
apparent drift in the labor movement towards radicalism, or even the
probability of a radical majority in the Federation in the not distant

The most startling shift has been, of course, in the railway men's
organizations, which have changed from a pronounced conservatism to an
advocacy of a socialistic plan of railway nationalization under the
Plumb Plan. The Plumb Plan raises the issue of socialism in its
American form. In bare outline the Plan proposes government acquisition
of the railroads at a value which excludes rights and privileges not
specifically granted to the roads in their charters from the States. The
government would then lease the roads to a private operating corporation
governed by a tri-partite board of directors equally representing the
consuming public, the managerial employes, and the classified employes.
An automatic economy-sharing scheme was designed to assure efficient
service at low rates calculated to yield a fixed return on a value shorn
of capitalized privileges.

The purpose of the Plumb Plan is to equalize the opportunities of labor
and capital in using economic power to obtain just rewards for services
rendered to the public. In this respect it resembles many of the land
reform and other "panaceas" which are scattered through labor history.
Wherein it differs is in making the trade unions the vital and organized
representatives of producers' interests entitled to participate in the
direct management of industry. An ideal of copartnership and
self-employment was thus set up, going beyond the boundaries of
self-help to which organized labor had limited itself in the eighties.

But it is easy to overestimate the drift in the direction of radicalism.
The Plumb Plan has not yet been made the _sine qua non_ of the American
labor program. Although the American Federation of Labor endorsed the
principle of government ownership of the railways at its conventions of
1920 and 1921, President Gompers, who spoke against the Plan, was
reelected and again reelected. And in obeying instructions to cooperate
with brotherhood leaders, he found that they also thought it inopportune
to press Plumb Plan legislation actively. So far as the railway men
themselves are concerned, after the Railroad Labor Board set up under
the Esch-Cummins act had begun to pass decisions actually affecting
wages and working rules, the pressure for the Plumb Plan subsided.
Instead, the activities of the organizations, though scarcely lessened
in intensity, have become centered upon the issues of conditions of

The drift towards independent labor politics, which many anticipate,
also remains quite inconclusive. A Farmer-Labor party, launched in 1920
by influential labor leaders of Chicago (to be sure, against the wishes
of the national leaders), polled not more than 350,000 votes. And in the
same election, despite a wide dissatisfaction in labor circles with the
change in the government's attitude after the passage of the War
emergency and with a most sweeping use of the injunction in the coal
strike, the vote for the socialist candidate for President fell below a
million, that is behind the vote of 1912, notwithstanding a doubling of
the electorate with women's suffrage. Finally, the same convention of
the American Federation of Labor, which showed so much sympathy for the
ideas of the Plumb Plan League, approved a rupture with the
International Trade Union Federation, with headquarters in Amsterdam,
Holland, mainly on account of the revolutionary character of the
addresses issued by the latter.


[89] The most plausible argument in favor of the position taken by the
employing group is that no employer should be forced to decide matters
as intimately connected with the welfare of his business as the ones
relating to his labor costs and shop discipline with national union
leaders, since the latter, at best, are interested in the welfare of the
trade as a whole but rarely in the particular success of _his own_
particular establishment.

[90] The turn in public sentiment really dated from the threat of a
strike for the eight-hour day by the four railway brotherhoods in 1916,
which forced the passage of the Adamson law by Congress. The law was a
victory for the brotherhoods, but also extremely useful to the enemies
of organized labor in arousing public hostility to unionism.

[91] See below, 259-261, for a more detailed description of the Plan.

[92] The Transportation Act included a provision that prior to September
1, 1920, the railways could not reduce wages.

[93] A Protestant interdenominational organization of influence, which
investigated the strike and issued a report.

[94] The union had not been formally "recognized" at any time.

[95] Coppage _v._ Kansas, 236 U.S. (1915).

[96] Hitchman Coal and Coke Co. _v._ Mitchell et al, 245 U.S. 229

[97] Duplex Printing Press Co. _v._ Deering, 41 Sup. Ct. 172 (1921).

[98] Montana allows the "unfair list" and California allows all

[99] American Steel Foundries of Granite City, Illinois, _v._ Tri-City
Central Trades' Council, 42 Sup. Ct. 72 (1921).

[100] Truax et al. _v._ Corrigan, 42 Sup. Ct. 124 (1921).





To interpret the labor movement means to offer a theory of the struggle
between labor and capital in our present society. According to Karl
Marx, the founder of modern socialism, the efficient cause in all the
class struggles of history has been technical progress. Progress in the
mode of making a living or the growth of "productive forces," says Marx,
causes the coming up of new classes and stimulates in each and all
classes a desire to use their power for a maximum class advantage.
Referring to the struggle between the class of wage earners and the
class of employers, Marx brings out that modern machine technique has
concentrated the social means of production under the ownership of the
capitalist, who thus became absolute master. The laborer indeed remains
a free man to dispose of his labor as he wishes, but, having lost
possession of the means of production, which he had as a master-workman
during the preceding handicraft stage of industry, his freedom is only
an illusion and his bargaining power is no greater than if he were a

But capitalism, Marx goes on to say, while it debases the worker, at the
same time produces the conditions of his ultimate elevation. Capitalism
with its starvation wages and misery makes the workers conscious of
their common interests as an exploited class, concentrates them in a
limited number of industrial districts, and forces them to organize for
a struggle against the exploiters. The struggle is for the complete
displacement of the capitalists both in government and industry by the
revolutionary labor class. Moreover, capitalism itself renders effective
although unintended aid to its enemies by developing the following three
tendencies: First, we have the tendency towards the concentration of
capital and wealth in the hands of a few of the largest capitalists,
which reduces the number of the natural supporters of capitalism.
Second, we observe a tendency towards a steady depression of wages and a
growing misery of the wage-earning class, which keeps revolutionary
ardor alive. And lastly, the inevitable and frequent economic crises
under capitalism disorganize it and hasten it on towards destruction.
The last and gravest capitalistic industrial crisis will coincide with
the social revolution which will bring capitalism to an end. The
wage-earning class must under no condition permit itself to be diverted
from its revolutionary program into futile attempts to "patch-up"
capitalism. The labor struggle must be for the abolition of capitalism.

American wage earners have steadily disappointed several generations of
Marxians by their refusal to accept the Marxian theory of social
development and the Marxian revolutionary goal. In fact, in their
thinking, most American wage earners do not start with any general
theory of industrial society, but approach the subject as bargainers,
desiring to strike the best wage bargain possible. They also have a
conception of what the bargain ought to yield them by way of real
income, measured in terms of their customary standard of living, in
terms of security for the future, and in terms of freedom in the shop or
"self-determination." What impresses them is not so much the fact that
the employer owns the employment opportunities but that he possesses a
high degree of bargaining advantage over them. Viewing the situation as
bargainers, they are forced to give their best attention to the menaces
they encounter as bargainers, namely, to the competitive menaces; for on
these the employer's own advantage as a bargainer rests. Their impulse
is therefore not to suppress the employer, but to suppress those
competitive menaces, be they convict labor, foreign labor, "green" or
untrained workers working on machines, and so forth. To do so they feel
they must organize into a union and engage in a "class struggle" against
the employer.

It is the employer's purpose to bring in ever lower and lower levels in
competition among laborers and depress wages; it is the purpose of the
union to eliminate those lower levels and to make them stay eliminated.
That brings the union men face to face with the whole matter of
industrial control. They have no assurance that the employer will not
get the best of them in bargaining unless they themselves possess enough
control over the shop and the trade to check him. Hence they will strive
for the "recognition" of the union by the employer or the associated
employers as an acknowledged part of the government of the shop and the
trade. It is essential to note that in struggling for recognition, labor
is struggling not for something absolute, as would be a struggle for a
complete dispossession of the employer, but for the sort of an end that
admits of relative differences and gradations. Industrial control may be
divided in varying proportions,[101] reflecting at any one time the
relative ratio of bargaining power of the contesting sides. It is
labor's aim to continue increasing its bargaining power and with it its
share of industrial control, just as it is the employer's aim to
maintain a _status quo_ or better. Although this presupposes a
continuous struggle, it is not a revolutionary but an "opportunist"

Once we accept the view that a broadly conceived aim to control
competitive menaces is the key to the conduct of organized labor in
America, light is thrown on the causes of the American industrial class
struggles. In place of looking for these causes, with the Marxians, in
the domain of technique and production, we shall look for them on the
market, where all developments which affect labor as a bargainer and
competitor, of which technical change is one, are sooner or later bound
to register themselves. It will then become possible to account for the
long stretch of industrial class struggle in America prior to the
factory system, while industry continued on the basis of the handicraft
method of production. Also we shall be able to render to ourselves a
clearer account of the changes, with time, in the intensity of the
struggle, which, were we to follow the Marxian theory, would appear
hopelessly irregular.

We shall take for an illustration the shoe industry.[102] The ease with
which shoes can be transported long distances, due to the relatively
high money value contained in small bulk, rendered the shoe industry
more sensitive to changes in marketing than other industries. Indeed we
may say that the shoe industry epitomized the general economic evolution
of the country.[103]

We observe no industrial class struggle during Colonial times when the
market remained purely local and the work was custom-order work. The
journeyman found his standard of life protected along with the master's
own through the latter's ability to strike a favorable bargain with the
consumer. This was done by laying stress upon the quality of the work.
It was mainly for this reason that during the custom-order stage of
industry the journeymen seldom if ever raised a protest because the
regulation of the craft, be it through a guild or through an informal
organization, lay wholly in the hands of the masters. Moreover, the
typical journeyman expected in a few years to set up with an apprentice
or two in business for himself--so there was a reasonable harmony of

A change came when improvements in transportation, the highway and later
the canal, had widened the area of competition among masters. As a first
step, the master began to produce commodities in advance of the demand,
laying up a stock of goods for the retail trade. The result was that his
bargaining capacity over the consumer was lessened and so prices
eventually had to be reduced, and with them also wages. The next step
was even more serious. Having succeeded in his retail business, the
master began to covet a still larger market,--the wholesale market.
However, the competition in this wider market was much keener than it
had been in the custom-order or even in the retail market. It was
inevitable that both prices and wages should suffer in the process. The
master, of course, could recoup himself by lowering the quality of the
product, but when he did that he lost a telling argument in bargaining
with the consumer or the retail merchant. Another result of this new way
of conducting the business was that an increased amount of capital was
now required for continuous operation, both in raw material and in
credits extended to distant buyers.

The next phase in the evolution of the market rendered the separation of
the journeymen into a class by themselves even sharper as well as more
permanent. The market had grown to such dimensions that only a
specialist in marketing and credit could succeed in business, namely,
the "merchant-capitalist." The latter now interposed himself permanently
between "producer" and consumer and by his control of the market assumed
a commanding position. The merchant-capitalist ran his business upon the
principle of a large turn-over and a small profit per unit of product,
which, of course, made his income highly speculative. He was accordingly
interested primarily in low production and labor costs. To depress the
wage levels he tapped new and cheaper sources of labor supply, in prison
labor, low wage country-town labor, woman and child labor; and set them
up as competitive menaces to the workers in the trade. The
merchant-capitalist system forced still another disadvantage upon the
wage earner by splitting up crafts into separate operations and tapping
lower levels of skill. In the merchant-capitalist period we find the
"team work" and "task" system. The "team" was composed of several
workers: a highly skilled journeyman was in charge, but the other
members possessed varying degrees of skill down to the practically
unskilled "finisher." The team was generally paid a lump wage, which
was divided by an understanding among the members. With all that the
merchant-capitalist took no appreciable part in the productive process.
His equipment consisted of a warehouse where the raw material was cut up
and given out to be worked up by small contractors, to be worked up in
small shops with a few journeymen and apprentices, or else by the
journeyman at his home,--all being paid by the piece. This was the
notorious "sweatshop system."

The contractor or sweatshop boss was a mere labor broker deriving his
income from the margin between the piece rate he received from the
merchant-capitalist and the rate he paid in wages. As any workman could
easily become a contractor with the aid of small savings out of wages,
or with the aid of money advanced by the merchant-capitalist, the
competition between contractors was of necessity of the cut-throat kind.
The industrial class struggle was now a three-cornered one, the
contractor aligning himself here with the journeymen, whom he was forced
to exploit, there with the merchant-capitalist, but more often with the
latter. Also, owing to the precariousness of the position of both
contractor and journeyman, the class struggle now reached a new pitch of
intensity hitherto unheard of. It is important to note, however, that as
yet the tools of production had not undergone any appreciable change,
remaining hand tools as before, and also that the journeyman still owned
them. So that the beginning of class struggles had nothing to do with
machine technique and a capitalist ownership of the tools of production.
The capitalist, however, had placed himself across the outlets to the
market and dominated by using all the available competitive menaces to
both contractor and wage earner. Hence the bitter class struggle.

The thirties witnessed the beginning of the merchant-capitalist system
in the cities of the East. But the situation grew most serious during
the forties and fifties. That was a period of the greatest
disorganization of industry. The big underlying cause was the rapid
extension of markets outrunning the technical development of industry.
The large market, opened first by canals and then by railroads,
stimulated the keenest sort of competition among the
merchant-capitalists. But the industrial equipment at their disposal had
made no considerable progress. Except in the textile industry, machinery
had not yet been invented or sufficiently perfected to make its
application profitable. Consequently industrial society was in the
position of an antiquated public utility in a community which
persistently forces ever lower and lower rates. It could continue to
render service only by cutting down the returns to the factors of
production,--by lowering profits, and especially by pressing down wages.

In the sixties the market became a national one as the effect of the
consolidation into trunk lines of the numerous and disconnected railway
lines built during the forties and fifties. Coincident with the
nationalized market for goods, production began to change from a
handicraft to a machine basis. The former sweatshop boss having
accumulated some capital, or with the aid of credit, now became a small
"manufacturer," owning a small plant and employing from ten to fifty
workmen. Machinery increased the productivity of labor and gave a
considerable margin of profits, which enabled him to begin laying a
foundation for his future independence of the middleman. As yet he was,
however, far from independent.

The wider areas over which manufactured products were now to be
distributed, called more than ever before for the services of the
specialist in marketing, namely, the wholesale-jobber. As the market
extended, he sent out his traveling men, established business
connections, and advertised the articles which bore his trade mark. His
control of the market opened up credit with the banks, while the
manufacturer, who with the exception of his patents possessed only
physical capital and no market opportunities, found it difficult to
obtain credit. Moreover, the rapid introduction of machinery tied up all
of the manufacturers' available capital and forced him to turn his
products into money as rapidly as possible, with the inevitable result
that the merchant was given an enormous bargaining advantage over him.
Had the extension of the market and the introduction of machinery
proceeded at a less rapid pace, the manufacturer probably would have
been able to obtain greater control over the market opportunities, and
the larger credit which this would have given him, combined with the
accumulation of his own capital, might have been sufficient to meet his
needs. However, as the situation really developed, the merchant obtained
a superior bargaining power and, by playing off the competing
manufacturers one against another, produced a cut-throat competition,
low prices, low profits, and consequently a steady and insistent
pressure upon wages. This represents the situation in the seventies and

For labor the combination of cut-throat competition among employers with
the new machine technique brought serious consequences. In this era of
machinery the forces of technical evolution decisively joined hands
with the older forces of marketing evolution to depress the conditions
of the wage bargain. It is needless to dilate upon the effects of
machine technique on labor conditions--they have become a commonplace of
political economy. The shoemakers were first among the organized trades
to feel the effects. In the later sixties they organized what was then
the largest trade union in the world, the Order of the Knights of St.
Crispin,[104] to ward off the menace of "green hands" set to work on
machines. With the machinists and the metal trades in general, the
invasion of unskilled and little skilled competitors began a decade
later. But the main and general invasion came in the eighties, the
proper era from which to date machine production in America. It was
during the eighties that we witness an attempted fusion into one
organization, the Order of the Knights of Labor, of the machine-menaced
mechanics and the hordes of the unskilled.[105]

With the nineties a change comes at last. The manufacturer finally wins
his independence. Either he reaches out directly to the ultimate
consumer by means of chains of stores or other devices, or else, he
makes use of his control over patents and trade marks and thus succeeds
in reducing the wholesale-jobber to a position which more nearly
resembles that of an agent working on a commission basis than that of
the _quondam_ industrial ruler. The immediate outcome is, of course, a
considerable increase in the manufacturer's margin of profit. The
industrial class struggle begins to abate in intensity. The employer,
now comparatively free of anxiety that he may be forced to operate at a
loss, is able to diminish pressure on wages. But more than this: the
greater certainty about the future, now that he is a free agent, enables
him to enter into time agreements with a trade union. At first he is
generally disinclined to forego any share of his newly acquired freedom
by tying himself up with a union. But if the union is strong and can
offer battle, then he accepts the situation and "recognizes" it. Thus
the class struggle instead of becoming sharper and sharper with the
advance of capitalism and leading, as Marx predicted, to a social
revolution, in reality, grows less and less revolutionary and leads to a
compromise or succession of compromises,--namely, collective trade

But the manufacturer's emancipation from the middleman need not always
lead to trade agreements. In the shoe industry this process did not do
away with competition. In other industries such an emancipation was
identical with the coming in of the "trust," or a combination of
competing manufacturers into a monopoly. As soon as the "trust" becomes
practically the sole employer of labor in an industry, the relations
between labor and capital are thrown almost invariably back into the
state of affairs which characterized the merchant-capitalist system at
its worst, but with one important difference. Whereas under the
merchant-capitalist system the employer was _obliged_ to press down on
wages and fight unionism to death owing to cut-throat competition, the
"trust," its strength supreme in both commodity and labor market, can do
so and usually does so _of free choice_.

The character of the labor struggle has been influenced by cyclical
changes in industry as much as by the permanent changes in the
organization of industry and market. In fact, whereas reaction to the
latter has generally been slow and noticeable only over long periods of
time, with a turn in the business cycle, the labor movement reacted
surely and instantaneously.

We observed over the greater part of the history of American labor an
alternation of two planes of thought and action, an upper and a lower.
On the upper plane, labor thought was concerned with ultimate goals,
self-employment or cooperation, and problems arising therefrom, while
action took the form of politics. On the lower plane, labor abandoned
the ultimate for the proximate, centering on betterments within the
limits of the wage system and on trade-union activity. Labor history in
the past century was largely a story of labor's shifting from one plane
to another, and then again to the first. It was also seen that what
determined the plane of thought and action at any one time was the state
of business measured by movements of wholesale and retail prices and
employment and unemployment. When prices rose and margins of employers'
profits were on the increase, the demand for labor increased and
accordingly also labor's strength as a bargainer; at the same time,
labor was compelled to organize to meet a rising cost of living. At such
times trade unionism monopolized the arena, won strikes, increased
membership, and forced "cure-alls" and politics into the background.
When, however, prices fell and margins of profit contracted, labor's
bargaining strength waned, strikes were lost, trade unions faced the
danger of extinction, and "cure-alls" and politics received their day in
court. Labor would turn to government and politics only as a last
resort, when it had lost confidence in its ability to hold its own in
industry. This phenomenon, noticeable also in other countries, came out
with particular clearness in America.

For, as a rule, down to the World War, prices both wholesale and retail,
fluctuated in America more violently than in England or the Continent.
And twice, once in the thirties and again in the sixties, an
irredeemable paper currency moved up the water mark of prices to
tremendous heights followed by reactions of corresponding depth. From
the war of 1812, the actual beginning of an industrial America, to the
end of the century, the country went through several such complete
industrial and business cycles. We therefore conveniently divide labor
and trade union history into periods on the basis of the industrial
cycle. It was only in the nineties, as we saw, that the response of the
labor movement to price fluctuations ceased to mean a complete or nearly
complete abandonment of trade unionism during depressions. A continuous
and stable trade union movement consequently dates only from the

The cooperative movement which was, as we saw, far less continuous than
trade unionism, has also shown the effects of the business cycle. The
career of distributive cooperation in America has always been intimately
related to the movements of retail prices and wages. If, in the advance
of wages and prices during the ascending portion of the industrial
cycle, the cost of living happened to outdistance wages by a wide
margin, the wage earners sought a remedy in distributive cooperation.
They acted likewise during the descending portion of the industrial
cycle, when retail prices happened to fall much less slowly than wages.

Producers' cooperation in the United States has generally been a "hard
times" remedy. When industrial prosperity has passed its high crest and
strikes have begun to fail, producers' cooperation has often been used
as a retaliatory measure to bring the employer to terms by menacing to
underbid him in the market. Also, when in the further downward course of
industry the point has been reached where cuts in wages and unemployment
have become quite common, producers' cooperation has sometimes come in
as an attempt to enable the wage earner to obtain both employment and
high earnings bolstered through cooperative profits.


[101] The struggle for control, as carried on by trade unions, centers
on such matters as methods of wage determination, the employer's right
of discharge, hiring and lay-off, division of work, methods of enforcing
shop discipline, introduction of machinery and division of labor,
transfers of employes, promotions, the union or non-union shop, and
similar subjects.

[102] The first trade societies were organized by shoemakers. (See
above, 4-7.)

[103] See Chapter on "American Shoemakers," in _Labor and
Administration_, by John R. Commons (Macmillan, 1913).

[104] See Don D. Lescohier, _The Order of the Knights of St. Crispin_.

[105] See above, 114-116.



The puzzling fact about the American labor movement is, after all, its
limited objective. As we saw before, the social order which the typical
American trade unionist considers ideal is one in which organized labor
and organized capital possess equal bargaining power. The American trade
unionist wants, first, an equal voice with the employer in fixing wages
and, second, a big enough control over the productive processes to
protect job, health, and organization. Yet he does not appear to wish to
saddle himself and fellow wage earners with the trouble of running
industry without the employer.

But materialistic though this philosophy appears, it is nevertheless the
product of a long development to which the spiritual contributed no less
than the material. In fact the American labor movement arrived at an
opportunist trade unionism only after an endeavor spread over more than
seventy years to realize a more idealistic program.

American labor started with the "ideology" of the Declaration of
Independence in 1776. Intended as a justification of a political
revolution, the Declaration was worded by the authors as an expression
of faith in a social revolution. To controvert the claims of George III,
Thomas Jefferson quoted Rousseau. To him Rousseau was in all probability
little more than an abstract "beau idéal," but Rousseau's abstractions
were no mere abstractions to the pioneer American farmer. To the latter
the doctrine that all men are born free and equal seemed to have grown
directly out of experience. So it appeared, two or three generations
later, to the young workmen when they for the first time achieved
political consciousness. And, if reality ceased to square with the
principles of the Declaration, it became, they felt, the bounden duty of
every true American to amend reality.

Out of a combination of the principles of individual rights, individual
self-determination, equality of opportunity, and political equality
enumerated and suggested in the Declaration, arose the first and most
persistent American labor philosophy. This philosophy differed in no
wise from the philosophy of the old American democracy except in
emphasis and particular application, yet these differences are highly
significant. Labor read into the Declaration of Independence a
condemnation of the wage system as a permanent economic régime; sooner
or later in place of the wage system had to come _self-employment_.
Americanism to them was a social and economic as well as a political
creed. Economic self-determination was as essential to the individual as
political equality. Just as no true American will take orders from a
king, so he will not consent forever to remain under the orders of a
"boss." It was the _uplifting_ force of this social ideal as much as the
propelling force of the changing economic environment that molded the
American labor program.

We find it at work at first in the decade of the thirties at the very
beginning of the labor movement. It then took the form of a demand for a
free public school system. These workingmen in Philadelphia and New York
discovered that in the place of the social democracy of the
Declaration, America had developed into an "aristocracy." They thought
that the root of it all lay in "inequitable" legislation which fostered
"monopoly," hence the remedy lay in democratic legislation. But they
further realized that a political and social democracy must be based on
an educated and intelligent working class. No measure, therefore, could
be more than a palliative until they got a "Republican" system of
education. The workingmen's parties of 1828-1831 failed as parties, but
humanitarians like Horace Mann took up the struggle for free public
education and carried it to success.

If in the thirties the labor program was to restore a social and
political democracy by means of the public school, in the forties the
program centered on economic democracy, on equality of economic
opportunity. This took the form of a demand of a grant of public land
free of charge to everyone willing to brave the rigors of pioneer life.
The government should thus open an escape to the worker from the wage
system into self-employment by way of free land. After years of
agitation, the same cry was taken up by the Western States eager for
more settlers to build up their communities and this combined agitation
proved irresistible and culminated in the Homestead law of 1862.

The Homestead law opened up the road to self-employment by way of free
land and agriculture. But in the sixties the United States was already
becoming an industrial country. In abandoning the city for the farm, the
wage earner would lose the value of his greatest possession--his skill.
Moreover, as a homesteader, his problem was far from solved by mere
access to free land. Whether he went on the land or stayed in industry,
he needed access to reasonably free credit. The device invented by
workingmen to this end was the bizarre "greenback" idea which held their
minds as if in a vise for nearly twenty years. "Greenbackism" left no
such permanent trace on American social and economic structure as
"Republican education" or "free land."

The lure of "greenbackism" was that it offered an opportunity for
self-employment. But already in the sixties, it became clear that the
workingman could not expect to attain self-employment as an individual,
but if at all, it had to be sought on the basis of producers'
cooperation. In the eighties, it became doubly clear that industry had
gone beyond the one-man-shop stage; self-employment had to stand or fall
with the cooperative or self-governing workshop. The protagonist of this
most interesting and most idealistic striving of American labor was the
"Noble Order of the Knights of Labor," which reached its height in the
middle of the eighties.

The period of the greatest enthusiasm for cooperation was between 1884
and 1887; and by 1888 the cooperative movement had passed the full cycle
of life and succumbed. The failure of cooperation proved a turning point
in the evolution of the American labor program. Whatever the special
causes of failure, the idealistic unionism, for which the ideas of the
Declaration of Independence served as a fountain head, suffered in the
eyes of labor, a degree of discredit so overwhelming that to regain its
old position was no longer possible. The times were ripe for the
opportunistic unionism of Gompers and the trade unionists.

These latter, having started in the seventies as Marxian socialists, had
been made over into opportunistic unionists by their practical contact
with American conditions. Their philosophy was narrower than that of the
Knights and their concept of labor solidarity narrower still. However,
these trade unionists demonstrated that they could win strikes. It was
to this practical trade unionism, then, that the American labor movement
turned, about 1890, when the idealism of the Knights of Labor had
failed. From groping for a cooperative economic order or
self-employment, labor turned with the American Federation of Labor to
developing bargaining power for use against employers. This trade
unionism stood for a strengthened group consciousness. While it
continued to avow sympathy with the "anti-monopoly" aspirations of the
"producers," who fought for the opportunity of self-employment, it also
declared that the interests of democracy will be best served if the wage
earners organized by themselves.

This opportunist unionism, now at last triumphant over the idealistic
unionism induced by America's spiritual tradition, soon was obliged to
fight against a revolutionary unionism which, like itself, was an
offshoot of the socialism of the seventies. At first, the American
Federation of Labor was far from hostile to socialism as a philosophy.
Its attitude was rather one of mild contempt for what it considered to
be wholly impracticable under American conditions, however necessary or
efficacious under other conditions. When, about 1890, the socialists
declared their policy of "boring from within," that is, of capturing the
Federation for socialism by means of propaganda in Federation ranks,
this attitude remained practically unchanged. Only when, dissatisfied
with the results of boring from within, the socialists, now led by a
more determined leadership, attempted in 1895 to set up a rival to the
Federation in the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, was there a sharp
line drawn between socialist and anti-socialist in the Federation. The
issue once having become a fighting issue, the leaders of the Federation
experienced the need of a positive and well rounded-out social
philosophy capable of meeting socialism all along the front instead of
the former self-imposed super-pragmatism.

By this time, the Federation had become sufficiently removed in point of
time from its foreign origin to turn to the social ideal derived from
pioneer America as the philosophy which it hoped would successfully
combat an aggressive and arrogant socialism. Thus it came about that the
front against socialism was built out from the immediate and practical
into the ultimate and spiritual; and that inferences drawn from a
reading of Jefferson's Declaration, with its emphasis on individual
liberty, were pressed into service against the seductive collectivist
forecasts of Marx.



The question of a political labor party hinges, in the last analysis, on
the benefits which labor expects from government. If, under the
constitution, government possesses considerable power to regulate
industrial relations and improve labor conditions, political power is
worth striving for. If, on the contrary, the power of the government is
restricted by a rigid organic law, the matter is reversed. The latter is
the situation in the United States. The American constitutions, both
Federal and State, contain bills of rights which embody in fullness the
eighteenth-century philosophy of economic individualism and governmental
_laissez-faire_. The courts, Federal and State, are given the right to
override any law enacted by Congress or the State legislatures which may
be shown to conflict with constitutional rights.

In the exercise of this right, American judges have always inclined to
be very conservative in allowing the legislature to invade the province
of economic freedom. At present after many years of agitation by
humanitarians and trade unionists, the cause of legislative protection
of child and woman laborers seems to be won in principle. But this
progress has been made because it has been shown conclusively that the
protection of these most helpless groups of the wage-earning class
clearly falls within the scope of public purpose and is therefore a
lawful exercise of the state's police power within the meaning of the
constitution. However, adult male labor offers a far different case.
Moreover, should the unexpected happen and the courts become converted
to a broader view, the legislative standards would be small compared
with the standards already enforced by most of the trade unions.
Consequently, so far as adult male workers are concerned (and they are
of course the great bulk of organized labor), labor in America would
scarcely be justified in diverting even a part of its energy from trade
unionism to a relatively unprofitable seeking of redress through
legislatures and courts.[106]

But this is no more than half the story. Granting even that political
power may be worth having, its attainment is beset with difficulties and
dangers more than sufficient to make responsible leaders pause. The
causes reside once more in the form of government, also in the general
nature of American politics, and in political history and tradition. To
begin with, labor would have to fight not on one front, but on
forty-nine different fronts.[107]

Congress and the States have power to legislate on labor matters; also,
in each, power is divided between an executive and the two houses of the
legislature. Decidedly, government in America was built not for strength
but for weakness. The splitting up of sovereignty does not especially
interfere with the purposes of a conservative party, but to a party of
social and industrial reform it offers a disheartening obstacle. A labor
party, to be effective, would be obliged to capture all the diffused
bits of sovereignty at the same time. A partial gain is of little avail,
since it is likely to be lost at the next election even simultaneously
with a new gain. But we have assumed here that the labor party had
reached the point where its trials are the trials of a party in power or
nearing power. In reality, American labor parties are spared this sort
of trouble by trials of an anterior order residing in the nature of
American politics.

The American political party system antedates the formation of modern
economic classes, especially the class alignment of labor and capital.
Each of the old parties represents, at least in theory, the entire
American community regardless of class. Party differences are considered
differences of opinion or of judgment on matters of public policy, not
differences of class interest. The wage earner in America, who never had
to fight for his suffrage but received it as a free gift from the
Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democratic movements and who did not
therefore develop the political class consciousness which was stamped
into the workers in Europe by the feeling of revolt against an upper
ruling class, is prone to adopt the same view of politics. Class parties
in America have always been effectively countered by the old established
parties with the charge that they tend to incite class against class.

But the old parties had on numerous occasions, as we saw, an even more
effective weapon. No sooner did a labor party gain a foothold, than the
old party politician, the "friend of labor," did appear and start a
rival attraction by a more or less verbal adherence to one or more
planks of the rising party. Had he been, as in Europe, a branded
spokesman of a particular economic class or interest, it would not have
been difficult to ward him off. But here in America, he said that he too
was a workingman and was heart and soul for the workingman. Moreover,
the workingman was just as much attached to an old party label as any
average American. In a way he considered it an assertion of his social
equality with any other group of Americans that he could afford to take
the same "disinterested" and tradition-bound view of political struggles
as the rest. This is why labor parties generally encountered such
disheartening receptions at the hands of workingmen; also why it was
difficult to "deliver the labor vote" to any party. This, on the whole,
describes the condition of affairs today as it does the situations in
the past.

In the end, should the workingman be pried loose from his traditional
party affiliation by a labor event of transcendent importance for the
time being, should he be stirred to political revolt by an oppressive
court decision, or the use of troops to break a strike; then, at the
next election, when the excitement has had time to subside, he will
usually return to his political normality. Moreover, should labor
discontent attain depth, it may be safely assumed that either one or the
other of the old parties or a faction therein will seek to divert its
driving force into its own particular party channel. Should the labor
party still persist, the old party politicians, whose bailiwick it will
have particularly invaded, will take care to encourage, by means not
always ethical but nearly always effective, strife in its ranks. Should
that fail, the old parties will in the end "fuse" against the upstart
rival. If they are able to stay "fused" during enough elections and also
win them, the fidelity of the adherent of the third party is certain to
be put to a hard and unsuccessful test. To the outsider these
conclusions may appear novel, but labor in America learned these lessons
through a long experience, which began when the first workingmen's
parties were attempted in 1828-1832. The limited potentialities of labor
legislation together with the apparent hopelessness of labor party
politics compelled the American labor movement to develop a sort of
non-partisan political action with limited objectives thoroughly
characteristic of American conditions. Labor needs protection from
interference by the courts in the exercise of its economic weapons, the
strike and the boycott, upon which it is obviously obliged to place
especial reliance. In other words, though labor may refuse to be drawn
into the vortex of politics for the sake of positive attainments, or,
that is to say, labor legislation, it is compelled to do so for the sake
of a _negative_ gain--a judicial _laissez-faire_. That labor does by
pursuing a policy of "reward your friends" and "punish your enemies" in
the sphere of politics. The method itself is an old one in the labor
movement; we saw it practiced by George Henry Evans and the land
reformers of the forties as well as by Steward and the advocates of the
eight-hour day by law in the sixties. The American Federation of Labor
merely puts it to use in connection with a new objective, namely,
freedom from court interference. Although the labor vote is largely
"undeliverable," still where the parties are more or less evenly matched
in strength, that portion of the labor vote which is politically
conscious of its economic interests may swing the election to whichever
side it turns. Under certain conditions[108] labor has been known even
to attain through such indirection in excess of what it might have won
had it come to share in power as a labor party.

The controversy around labor in politics brings up in the last analysis
the whole problem of leadership in labor organizations, or to be
specific, the role of the intellectual in the movement. In America his
role has been remarkably restricted. For a half century or more the
educated classes had no connection with the labor movement, for in the
forties and fifties, when the Brook Farm enthusiasts and their
associates took up with fervor the social question, they were really
alone in the field, since the protracted trade depression had laid all
labor organization low. It was in the eighties, with the turmoil of the
Knights of Labor and the Anarchist bomb in Chicago, that the
"intellectuals" first awakened to the existence of a labor problem. To
this awakening no single person contributed more than the economist
Professor Richard T. Ely, then of Johns Hopkins University. His pioneer
work on the _Labor Movement in America_ published in 1886, and the works
of his many capable students gave the labor movement a permanent place
in the public mind, besides presenting the cause of labor with
scientific precision and with a judicious balance. Among the other
pioneers were preachers like Washington Gladden and Lyman Abbott, who
conceived their duty as that of mediators between the business class and
the wage earning class, exhorting the former to deal with their employes
according to the Golden Rule and the latter to moderation in their
demands. Together with the economists they helped to break down the
prejudice against labor unionism in so far as the latter was
non-revolutionary. And though their influence was large, they understood
that their maximum usefulness would be realized by remaining sympathetic
outsiders and not by seeking to control the course of the labor

In recent years a new type of intellectual has come to the front. A
product of a more generalized mental environment than his predecessor,
he is more daring in his retrospects and his prospects. He is just as
ready to advance an "economic interpretation of the constitution" as to
advocate a collectivistic panacea for the existing industrial and social
ills. Nor did this new intellectual come at an inopportune time for
getting a hearing. Confidence in social conservatism has been undermined
by an exposure in the press and through legislative investigations of
the disreputable doings of some of the staunchest conservatives. At such
a juncture "progressivism" and a "new liberalism" were bound to come
into their own in the general opinion of the country.

But the labor movement resisted. American labor, both during the periods
of neglect and of moderate championing by the older generation of
intellectuals, has developed a leadership wholly its own. This
leadership, of which Samuel Gompers is the most notable example, has
given years and years to building up a united fighting _morale_ in the
army of labor. And because the _morale_ of an army, as these leaders
thought, is strong only when it is united upon one common attainable
purpose, the intellectual with his new and unfamiliar issues has been
given the cold shoulder by precisely the trade unionists in whom he had
anticipated to find most eager disciples. The intellectual might go from
success to success in conquering the minds of the middle classes; the
labor movement largely remains closed to him.

To make matters worse the intellectual has brought with him a psychology
which is particularly out of fit with the American labor situation. We
noted that the American labor movement became shunted from the political
arena into the economic one by virtue of fundamental conditions of
American political institutions and political life. However, it is
precisely in political activity where the intellectual is most at home.
The clear-cut logic and symmetry of political platforms based on general
theories, the broad vistas which it may be made to encompass, and lastly
the opportunity for eloquent self-expression offered by parliamentary
debates, all taken together exert a powerful attraction for the
intellectualized mind. Contrast with this the prosaic humdrum work of a
trade union leader, the incessant wrangling over "small" details and
"petty" grievances, and the case becomes exceedingly clear. The mind of
the typical intellectual is too generalized to be lured by any such
alternative. He is out of patience with mere amelioration, even though
it may mean much in terms of human happiness to the worker and his

When in 1906, in consequence of the heaping up of legal disabilities
upon the trade unions, American labor leaders turned to politics to seek
a restraining hand upon the courts,[109] the intellectuals foresaw a
political labor party in the not distant future. They predicted that one
step would inevitably lead to another, that from a policy of bartering
with the old parties for anti-injunction planks in their platforms,
labor would turn to a political party of its own. The intellectual
critic continues to view the political action of the American
Federation of Labor as the first steps of an invalid learning to walk;
and hopes that before long he will learn to walk with a firmer step,
without feeling tempted to lean upon the only too willing shoulders of
old-party politicians. On the contrary, the Federation leaders, as we
know, regard their political work as a necessary evil, due to an
unfortunate turn of affairs, which forces them from time to time to step
out of their own trade union province in order that their natural enemy,
the employing class, might get no aid and comfort from an outside ally.

Of late a _rapprochement_ between the intellectual and trade unionist
has begun to take place. However, it is not founded on the relationship
of leader and led, but only on a business relationship, or that of giver
and receiver of paid technical advice. The role of the trained economist
in handling statistics and preparing "cases" for trade unionists before
boards of arbitration is coming to be more and more appreciated. The
railway men's organizations were first to put the intellectual to this
use, the miners and others followed. From this it is still a far cry to
the role of such intellectuals as Sidney and Beatrice Webb, G.D.H. Cole
and the Fabian Research group in England, who have really permeated the
British labor movement with their views on labor policy. However, there
is also a place for the American intellectual as an ally of trade
unionism, not only as its paid servant. The American labor movement has
committed a grave and costly error because it has not made use of the
services of writers, journalists, lecturers, and speakers to popularize
its cause with the general public. Some of its recent defeats, notably
the steel strike of 1919, were partly due to the neglect to provide a
sufficient organization of labor publicity to counteract the anti-union
publicity by the employers.


[106] This assumes that the legislative program of labor would deal
primarily with the regulation of labor conditions in private employment
analogous to the legislative program of the British trade unions until
recent years. Should labor in America follow the newer program of labor
in Britain and demand the taking over of industries by government with
compensation, it is not certain that the courts would prove as serious a
barrier as in the other case. However, the situation would remain
unchanged so far as the difficulties discussed in the remainder of this
chapter are concerned.

[107] For the control of the national government and of the forty-eight
State governments.

[108] Such as a state of war; see above, 235-236.

[109] See above, 203-204.



The rise of a political and economic dictatorship by the wage-earning
class in revolutionary Russia in 1917 has focussed public opinion on the
labor question as no other event ever did. But one will scarcely say
that it has tended to clarity of thought. On the one hand, the
conservative feels confirmed in his old suspicions that there is
something inherently revolutionary in any labor movement. The extreme
radical, on the other hand, is as uncritically hopeful for a Bolshevist
upheaval in America as the conservative or reactionary is uncritically
fearful. Both forget that an effective social revolution is not the
product of mere chance and "mob psychology," nor even of propaganda
however assiduous, but always of a new preponderance of power as between
contending economic classes.

To students of the social sciences, it is self-evident that the
prolonged rule of the proletariat in Russia in defiance of nearly the
whole world must be regarded as a product of Russian life, past and
present. In fact, the continued Bolshevist rule seems to be an index of
the relative fighting strength of the several classes in Russian
society--the industrial proletariat, the landed and industrial
propertied class, and the peasantry.

It is an irony of fate that the same revolution which purports to enact
into life the Marxian social program should belie the truth of Marx's
materialistic interpretation of history and demonstrate that history is
shaped by both economic and non-economic forces. Marx, as is well known,
taught that history is a struggle between classes, in which the landed
aristocracy, the capitalist class, and the wage earning class are raised
successively to rulership as, with the progress of society's technical
equipment, first one and then another class can operate it with the
maximum efficiency. Marx assumed that when the time has arrived for a
given economic class to take the helm, that class will be found in full
possession of all the psychological attributes of a ruling class,
namely, an indomitable will to power, no less than the more vulgar
desire for the emoluments that come with power. Apparently, Marx took
for granted that economic evolution is inevitably accompanied by a
corresponding development of an effective will to power in the class
destined to rule. Yet, whatever may be the case in the countries of the
West, in Russia the ruling classes, the gentry and the capitalists,
clearly failed in the psychological test at the critical time. This
failure is amply attested by the manner in which they submitted
practically without a fight after the Bolshevist coup _d'état_.

To get at the secret of this apparent feebleness and want of spunk in
Russia's ruling class one must study a peculiarity of her history,
namely, the complete dominance of Russia's development by organized
government. Where the historian of the Western countries must take
account of several independent forces, each standing for a social class,
the Russian historian may well afford to station himself on the high
peak of government and, from this point of vantage, survey the hills and
vales of the society which it so thoroughly dominated.

Apolitism runs like a red thread through the pages of Russian history.
Even the upper layer of the old noble class, the "Boyars," were but a
shadow of the Western contemporary medieval landed aristocracy. When the
several principalities became united with the Czardom of Muscovy many
centuries ago, the Boyar was in fact no more than a steward of the
Czar's estate and a leader of a posse defending his property; the most
he dared to do was surreptitiously to obstruct the carrying out of the
Czar's intentions; he dared not try to impose the will of his class upon
the crown. The other classes were even more apolitical. So little did
the several classes aspire to domination that they missed many golden
opportunities to seize and hold a share of the political power. In the
seventeenth century, when the government was exceptionally weak after
what is known as the "period of troubles," it convoked periodical
"assemblies of the land" to help administer the country. But, as a
matter of fact, these assemblies considered themselves ill used because
they were asked to take part in government and not once did they aspire
to an independent position in the Russian body politic. Another and
perhaps even more striking instance we find a century and a half later.
Catherine the Great voluntarily turned over the local administration to
the nobles and to that end decreed that the nobility organize themselves
into provincial associations. But so little did the nobility care for
political power and active class prerogative that, in spite of the
broadest possible charters, the associations of nobles were never more
than social organizations in the conventional sense of the word.

Even less did the commercial class aspire to independence. In the West
of Europe mercantilism answered in an equal measure the needs of an
expanding state and of a vigorous middle class, the latter being no less
ardent in the pursuit of gain than the former in the pursuit of
conquest. In Russia, on the other hand, when Peter the Great wanted
manufacturing, he had to introduce it by government action. Hence,
Russian mercantilism was predominantly a state mercantilism. Even where
Peter succeeded in enlisting private initiative by subsidies, instead of
building up a class of independent manufacturers, he merely created
industrial parasites and bureaucrats without initiative of their own,
who forever kept looking to the government.

Coming to more recent times, we find that the modern Russian factory
system likewise owes its origin to governmental initiative, namely, to
the government's railway-building policy. The government built the
railways for strategic and fiscal reasons but incidentally created a
unified internal market which made mass-production of articles of common
consumption profitable for the first time. But, even after Russian
capitalism was thus enabled to stand on its own feet, it did not unlearn
the habit of leaning on the government for advancement rather than
relying on its own efforts. On its part the autocratic government was
loath to let industry alone. The government generously dispensed to the
capitalists tariff protection and bounties in the form of profitable
orders, but insisted on keeping industry under its thumb. And though
they might chafe, still the capitalists never neglected to make the best
of the situation. For instance, when the sugar producers found
themselves running into a hole from cut-throat competition, they
appealed to the Minister of Finances, who immediately created a
government-enforced "trust" and assured them huge dividends. Since
business success was assured by keeping on the proper footing with a
generous government rather than by relying on one's own vigor, it stands
to reason that, generally speaking, the capitalists and especially the
larger capitalists, could develop only into a class of industrial
courtiers. And when at last the autocracy fell, the courtiers were not
to be turned overnight into stubborn champions of the rights of their
class amid the turmoil of a revolution. To be sure, Russia had entered
the capitalistic stage as her Marxians had predicted, but nevertheless
her capitalists were found to be lacking the indomitable will to power
which makes a ruling class.

The weakness of the capitalists in the fight on behalf of private
property may be explained in part by their want of allies in the other
classes in the community. The Russian peasant, reared in the atmosphere
of communal land ownership, was far from being a fanatical defender of
private property. No Thiers could have rallied a Russian peasant army
for the suppression of a communistic industrial wage-earning class by an
appeal to their property instinct. To make matters worse for the
capitalists, the peasant's strongest craving was for more land, all the
land, without compensation! This the capitalists, being capitalists,
were unable to grant. Yet it was the only sort of currency which the
peasant would accept in payment for his political support. In November,
1917, when the Bolsheviki seized the government, one of their first acts
was to satisfy the peasant's land hunger by turning over to his use all
the land. The "proletariat" had then a free hand so far as the most
numerous class in Russia was concerned.

Just as the capitalist class reached the threshold of the revolution
psychologically below par, so the wage-earning class in developing the
will to rule outran all expectations and beat the Marxian time-schedule.
Among the important contributing factors was the unity of the industrial
laboring class, a unity broken by no rifts between highly paid skilled
groups and an inferior unskilled class, or between a well-organized
labor aristocracy and an unorganized helot class. The economic and
social oppression under the old régime had seen to it that no group of
laborers should possess a stake in the existing order or desire to
separate from the rest. Moreover, for several decades, and especially
since the memorable days of the revolution of 1905, the laboring class
has been filled by socialistic agitators and propagandists with ideas of
the great historical role of the proletariat. The writer remembers how
in 1905 even newspapers of the moderately liberal stamp used to speak of
the "heroic proletariat marching in the van of Russia's progress." No
wonder then that, when the revolution came, the industrial wage earners
had developed such self-confidence as a class that they were tempted to
disregard the dictum of their intellectual mentors that this was merely
to be a bourgeois revolution--with the social revolution still remote.
Instead they listened to the slogan "All power to the Soviets."

The idea of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" reached maturity in
the course of the abortive revolution of 1905-1906. After a victory for
the people in October, 1905, the bourgeoisie grew frightened over the
aggressiveness of the wage-earning class and sought safety in an
understanding with the autocracy. An order by the Soviet of Petrograd
workmen in November, 1905, decreeing the eight-hour day in all factories
sufficed to make the capitalists forego their historical role of
champions of popular liberty against autocracy. If the bourgeoisie
itself will not fight for a democracy, reasoned the revolutionary
socialists, why have such a democracy at all? Have we not seen the
democratic form of government lend itself to ill-concealed plutocracy in
Europe and America? Why run at all the risk of corruption of the
post-revolutionary government at the hands of the capitalists? Why first
admit the capitalists into the inner circle and then spend time and
effort in preventing them from coming to the top? Therefore, they
declined parliamentarism with thanks and would accept nothing less than
a government by the representative organ of the workers--the Soviets.

If we are right in laying the emphasis on the relative fighting will and
fighting strength of the classes struggling for power rather than on the
doctrines which they preach and the methods, fair or foul, which they
practice, then the American end of the problem, too, appears in a new
light. No longer is it in the main a matter of taking sides for or
against the desirability of a Bolshevist rule or a dictatorship by the
proletariat, but a matter of ascertaining the relative strength and
probable behavior of the classes in a given society. It is as futile to
"see red" in America because of Bolshevism in Russia as to yearn for
Bolshevism's advent in the United States. Either view misses the
all-important point that so far as social structure is concerned America
is the antipodes of Russia, where the capitalists have shown little
fighting spirit, where the tillers of the soil are only first awakening
to a conscious desire for private property and are willing to forego
their natural share in government for a gift of land, and where the
industrial proletariat is the only class ready and unafraid to fight.
Bolshevism is unthinkable in America, because, even if by some
imaginable accident the government were overthrown and a labor
dictatorship declared, it could never "stay put." No one who knows the
American business class will even dream that it would under any
circumstances surrender to a revolution perpetrated by a minority, or
that it would wait for foreign intervention before starting hostilities.
A Bolshevist _coup d'état_ in America would mean a civil war to the
bitter end, and a war in which the numerous class of farmers would join
the capitalists in the defense of the institution of private

But it is not only because the preponderance of social power in the
United States is so decisively with private property that America is
proof against a social upheaval like the Russian one. Another and
perhaps as important a guarantee of her social stability is found in her
four million organized trade unionists. For, however unjustly they may
feel to have been treated by the employers or the government; however
slow they may find the realization of their ideals of collective
bargaining in industry; their stakes in the existing order, both
spiritual and material, are too big to reconcile them to revolution. The
truth is that the revolutionary labor movement in America looms up much
bigger than it actually is. Though in many strikes since the famous
textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1911, the leadership was
revolutionary, it does not follow that the rank and file was animated by
the same purpose. Given an inarticulate mass of grievously exploited
workers speaking many foreign tongues and despised alike by the
politician, the policeman, and the native American labor organizer;
given a group of energetic revolutionary agitators who make the cause of
these workers their own and become their spokesmen and leaders; and a
situation will clearly arise where thousands of workmen will be
apparently marshalled under the flag of revolution while in reality it
is the desire for a higher wage and not for a realization of the
syndicalist program that reconciles them to starving their wives and
children and to shedding their blood on picket duty. If they follow a
Haywood or an Ettor, it is precisely because they have been ignored by a
Golden or a Gompers.

Withal, then, trade unionism, despite an occasional revolutionary facet
and despite a revolutionary clamor especially on its fringes, is a
conservative social force. Trade unionism seems to have the same
moderating effect upon society as a wide diffusion of private property.
In fact the gains of trade unionism are to the worker on a par with
private property to its owner. The owner regards his property as a
protective dyke between himself and a ruthless biological struggle for
existence; his property means liberty and opportunity to escape
dictation by another man, an employer or "boss," or at least a chance to
bide his time until a satisfactory alternative has presented itself for
his choice. The French peasants in 1871 who flocked to the army of the
government of Versailles to suppress the Commune of Paris (the first
attempt in history of a proletarian dictatorship), did so because they
felt that were the workingmen to triumph and abolish private property,
they, the peasants, would lose a support in their daily struggle for
life for the preservation of which it was worth endangering life itself.
And having acquired relative protection in their private property, small
though it might be, they were unwilling to permit something which were
it to succeed would lose them their all.

Now with some exceptions every human being is a "protectionist,"
provided he does possess anything at all which protects him and which is
therefore worth being protected by him in turn. The trade unionist, too,
is just such a protectionist. When his trade union has had the time and
opportunity to win for him decent wages and living conditions, a
reasonable security of the job, and at least a partial voice in shop
management, he will, on the relatively high and progressive level of
material welfare which capitalism has called into being, be chary to
raze the existing economic system to the ground on the chance of
building up a better one in its place. A reshuffling of the cards, which
a revolution means, might conceivably yield him a better card, but then
again it might make the entire stack worthless by destroying the stakes
for which the game is played. But the revolution might not even succeed
in the first round; then the ensuing reaction would probably destroy the
trade union and with it would go the chance of a recovery of the
original ground, modest though that may have been. In practice,
therefore, the trade union movements in nearly all nations[111] have
served as brakes upon the respective national socialist movements; and,
from the standpoint of society interested in its own preservation
against catastrophic change, have played and are playing a role of
society's policemen and watch-dogs over the more revolutionary groups in
the wage-earning class. These are largely the unorganized and
ill-favored groups rendered reckless because, having little to lose from
a revolution, whatever the outcome might be, they fear none.

In America, too, there is a revolutionary class which, unlike the
striking textile workers in 1911-1913, owes its origin neither to chance
nor to neglect by trade union leaders. This is the movement of native
American or Americanized workers in the outlying districts of the West
or South--the typical I.W.W., the migratory workers, the industrial
rebels, and the actors in many labor riots and lumber-field strikes.
This type of worker has truly broken with America's spiritual past. He
has become a revolutionist either because his personal character and
habits unfit him for success under the exacting capitalistic system; or
because, starting out with the ambitions and rosy expectations of the
early pioneer, he found his hopes thwarted by a capitalistic preemptor
of the bounty of nature, who dooms to a wage-earner's position all who
came too late. In either case he is animated by a genuine passion for
revolution, a passion which admits no compromise. Yet his numbers are
too few to threaten the existing order.

In conclusion, American trade unionism, no matter whether the American
Federation of Labor keeps its old leaders or replaces them by
"progressives" or socialists, seems in a fair way to continue its
conservative function--so long as no overpowering open-shop movement or
"trustification" will break up the trade unions or render them sterile.
The hope of American Bolshevism will, therefore, continue to rest with
the will of employers to rule as autocrats.


[110] Though writers and public speakers of either extreme have often
overlooked the fundamental consideration of where the preponderance of
social power lies in their prognostications of revolutions, this has not
escaped the leaders of the American labor movement. The vehemence with
which the leaders of the American Federation of Labor have denounced
Sovietism and Bolshevism, and which has of late been brought to a high
pitch by a fear lest a shift to radicalism should break up the
organization, is doubtless sincere. But one cannot help feeling that in
part at least it aimed to reassure the great American middle class on
the score of labor's intentions. The great majority of organized labor
realize that, though at times they may risk engaging in unpopular
strikes, it will never do to permit their enemies to tar them with the
pitch of subversionism in the eyes of the great American majority--a
majority which remains wedded to the régime of private property and
individual enterprise despite the many recognized shortcomings of the

[111] Notably in Germany since the end of the World War.


The first seven chapters of the present work are based on the _History
of Labour in the United States_ by John R. Commons and Associates,[112]
published in 1918 in two volumes by the Macmillan Company, New York. The
major portion of the latter was in turn based on _A Documentary History
of the American Industrial Society_, edited by Professor Commons and
published in 1910 in ten volumes by Clark and Company, Cleveland. In
preparing chapters 8 to 11, dealing with the period since 1897, which is
not covered in the _History of Labour_, the author used largely the same
sort of material as that in the preparation of the above named works;
namely, original sources such as proceedings of trade union conventions,
labor and employer papers, government reports, etc. There are, however,
many excellent special histories relating to the recent period in the
labor movement, especially histories of unionism in individual trades or
industries, to which the author wishes to refer the reader for more
ample accounts of the several phases of the subject, which he himself
was of necessity obliged to treat but briefly. The following is a
selected list of such works together with some others relating to
earlier periods:

BARNETT, GEORGE E., _The Printers--A Study in American Trade Unionism_,
American Economic Association, 1909.

BING, ALEXANDER M., _War-Time Strikes and their Adjustment_, Dutton and
Co., 1921.

BONNETT, CLARENCE E., _Employers' Associations in the United States_,
Macmillan, 1922.

BRISSENDEN, PAUL F., _The I.W.W.--A Study in American Syndicalism_,
Columbia University, 1920.

BROOKS, JOHN G., _American Syndicalism: The I.W.W._, Macmillan, 1913.

BUDISH AND SOULE, _The New Unionism in the Clothing Industry_, Harcourt,

CARLTON, FRANK T., _Economic Influences upon Educational Progress in
the United States, 1820-1850_, University of Wisconsin, 1908.

DEIBLER, FREDERICK S., _The Amalgamated Wood Workers' International
Union of America_, University of Wisconsin, 1912.

FITCH, JOHN L., _The Steel Workers_, Russell Sage Foundation, 1911.

HOAGLAND, HENRY E., _Wage Bargaining on the Vessels of the Great Lakes_,
University of Illinois, 1915.

------, _Collective Bargaining in the Lithographic Industry_, Columbia
University, 1917.

INTERCHURCH WORLD MOVEMENT, Commission of Inquiry, Report on the Steel
Strike of 1919, Harcourt, 1920.

LAIDLER, HARRY, _Socialism in Thought and Action_, Macmillan, 1920.

ROBBINS, EDWIN C., _Railway Conductors--A Study in Organized Labor_,
Columbia University, 1914.

SCHLÜTER, HERMAN, _The Brewing Industry and the Brewery Workmen's
Movement in America_, International Union of Brewery Workmen, 1910.

SUFFERN, ARTHUR E., _Conciliation and Arbitration in the Coal Mining
Industry in America_, Mifflin, 1915.

SYDENSTRICKER, EDGAR, _Collective Bargaining in the Anthracite Coal
Industry_, Bulletin No. 191 of the United States Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 1916.

WOLMAN, LEO, _The Boycott in American Trade Unions_, Johns Hopkins
University, 1916.

_Labor Encyclopedias_:

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR, _History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book_,
American Federation of Labor, 1919.

BROWNE, WALDO R., _What's What in the Labor Movement_, Huebsch, 1921.


[112] See Author's Preface.

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