THE ARMIES OF LABOR,
A CHRONICLE OF THE ORGANIZED WAGE-EARNERS
By Samuel P. Orth
VOLUME 40 IN THE CHRONICLES OF AMERICA SERIES, ALLEN JOHNSON, EDITOR
NEW HAVEN: YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS
TORONTO: GLASGOW, BROOK & CO.
LONDON: HUMPHREY MILFORD OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
I. THE BACKGROUND II. FORMATIVE YEARS III. TRANSITION YEARS IV. AMALGAMATION V. FEDERATION VI. THE TRADE UNION VII. THE RAILWAY BROTHERHOODS VIII. ISSUES AND WARFARE IX. THE NEW TERRORISM: THE I.W.W. X. LABOR AND POLITICS
THE ARMIES OF LABOR
CHAPTER I. THE BACKGROUND
Three momentous things symbolize the era that begins its cycle with the memorable year of 1776: the Declaration of Independence, the steam engine, and Adam Smith's book, "The Wealth of Nations." The Declaration gave birth to a new nation, whose millions of acres of free land were to shift the economic equilibrium of the world; the engine multiplied man's productivity a thousandfold and uprooted in a generation the customs of centuries; the book gave to statesmen a new view of economic affairs and profoundly influenced the course of international trade relations.
The American people, as they faced the approaching age with the experiences of the race behind them, fashioned many of their institutions and laws on British models. This is true to such an extent that the subject of this book, the rise of labor in America, cannot be understood without a preliminary survey of the British industrial system nor even without some reference to the feudal system, of which English society for many centuries bore the marks and to which many relics of tenure and of class and governmental responsibility may be traced. Feudalism was a society in which the status of an individual was fixed: he was underman or overman in a rigid social scale according as he considered his relation to his superiors or to his inferiors. Whatever movement there was took place horizontally, in the same class or on the same social level. The movement was not vertical, as it so frequently is today, and men did not ordinarily rise above the social level of their birth, never by design, and only perhaps by rare accident or genius. It was a little world of lords and serfs; of knights who graced court and castle, jousted at tournaments, or fought upon the field of battle; and of serfs who toiled in the fields, served in the castle, or, as the retainers of the knight, formed the crude soldiery of medieval days. For their labor and allegiance they were clothed and housed and fed. Yet though there were feast days gay with the color of pageantry and procession, the worker was always in a servile state, an underman dependent upon his master, and sometimes looking upon his condition as little better than slavery.
With the break-up of this rigid system came in England the emancipation of the serf, the rise of the artisan class, and the beginnings of peasant agriculture. That personal gravitation which always draws together men of similar ambitions and tasks now began to work significant changes in the economic order. The peasantry, more or less scattered in the country, found it difficult to unite their powers for redressing their grievances, although there were some peasant revolts of no mean proportions. But the artisans of the towns were soon grouped into powerful organizations, called guilds, so carefully managed and so well disciplined that they dominated every craft and controlled every detail in every trade. The relation of master to journeyman and apprentice, the wages, hours, quantity, and quality of the output, were all minutely regulated. Merchant guilds, similarly constituted, also prospered. The magnificent guild halls that remain in our day are monuments of the power and splendor of these organizations that made the towns of the later Middle Ages flourishing centers of trade, of handicrafts, and of art. As towns developed, they dealt the final blow to an agricultural system based on feudalism; they became cities of refuge for the runaway serfs, and their charters, insuring political and economic freedom, gave them superior advantages for trading.
The guild system of manufacture was gradually replaced by the domestic system. The workman's cottage, standing in its garden, housed the loom and the spinning wheel, and the entire family was engaged in labor at home. But the workman, thus apparently independent, was not the owner of either the raw material or the finished product. A middleman or agent brought him the wool, carried away the cloth, and paid him his hire. Daniel Defoe, who made a tour of Britain in 1794-6, left a picture of rural England in this period, often called the golden age of labor. The land, he says, "was divided into small inclosures from two acres to six or seven each, seldom more; every three or four pieces of land had an house belonging to them,...hardly an house standing out of a speaking distance from another.... We could see at every house a tenter, and on almost every tenter a piece of cloth or kersie or shalloon.... At every considerable house was a manufactory.... Every clothier keeps one horse, at least, to carry his manufactures to the market and every one generally keeps a cow or two or more for his family. By this means the small pieces of inclosed land about each house are occupied, for they scarce sow corn enough to feed their poultry .... The houses are full of lusty fellows, some at the dye vat, some at the looms, others dressing the clothes; the women or children carding or spinning, being all employed, from the youngest to the oldest."
But more significant than these changes was the rise of the so-called mercantile system, in which the state took under its care industrial details that were formerly regulated by the town or guild. This system, beginning in the sixteenth century and lasting through the eighteenth, had for its prime object the upbuilding of national trade. The state, in order to insure the homogeneous development of trade and industry, dictated the prices of commodities. It prescribed the laws of apprenticeship and the rules of master and servant. It provided inspectors for passing on the quality of goods offered for sale. It weighed the loaves, measured the cloth, and tested the silverware. It prescribed wages, rural and urban, and bade the local justice act as a sort of guardian over the laborers in his district. To relieve poverty poor laws were passed; to prevent the decline of productivity corn laws were passed fixing arbitrary prices for grain. For a time monopolies creating artificial prosperity were granted to individuals and to corporations for the manufacture, sale, or exploitation of certain articles, such as matches, gunpowder, and playing-cards.
This highly artificial and paternalistic state was not content with regulating all these internal matters but spread its protection over foreign commerce. Navigation acts attempted to monopolize the trade of the colonies and especially the trade in the products needed by the mother country. England encouraged shipping and during this period achieved that dominance of the sea which has been the mainstay of her vast empire. She fostered plantations and colonies not for their own sake but that they might be tributaries to the wealth of the nation. An absurd importance was attached to the possession of gold and silver, and the ingenuity of statesmen was exhausted in designing lures to entice these metals to London. Banking and insurance began to assume prime importance. By 1750 England had sent ships into every sea and had planted colonies around the globe.
But while the mechanism of trade and of government made surprising progress during the mercantile period, the mechanism of production remained in the slow handicraft stage. This was now to change. In 1738 Kay invented the flying shuttle, multiplying the capacity of the loom. In 1767 Hargreaves completed the spinning-jenny, and in 1771 Arkwright perfected his roller spinning machine. A few years later Crompton combined the roller and the jenny, and after the application of steam to spinning in 1785 the power loom replaced the hand loom. The manufacture of woolen cloth being the principal industry of England, it was natural that machinery should first be invented for the spinning and weaving of wool. New processes in the manufacture of iron and steel and the development of steam transportation soon followed.
Within the course of a few decades the whole economic order was changed. Whereas many centuries had been required for the slow development of the medieval system of feudalism, the guild system, and the handicrafts, now, like a series of earthquake shocks, came changes so sudden and profound that even today society has not yet learned to adjust itself to the myriads of needs and possibilities which the union of man's mind with nature's forces has produced. The industrial revolution took the workman from the land and crowded him into the towns. It took the loom from his cottage and placed it in the factory. It took the tool from his hand and harnessed it to a shaft. It robbed him of his personal skill and joined his arm of flesh to an arm of iron. It reduced him from a craftsman to a specialist, from a maker of shoes to a mere stitcher of soles. It took from him, at a single blow, his interest in the workmanship of his task, his ownership of the tools, his garden, his wholesome environment, and even his family. All were swallowed by the black maw of the ugly new mill town. The hardships of the old days were soon forgotten in the horrors of the new. For the transition was rapid enough to make the contrast striking. Indeed it was so rapid that the new class of employers, the capitalists, found little time to think of anything but increasing their profits, and the new class of employees, now merely wage-earners, found that their long hours of monotonous toil gave them little leisure and no interest.
The transition from the age of handicrafts to the era of machines presents a picture of greed that tempts one to bitter invective. Its details are dispassionately catalogued by the Royal Commissions that finally towards the middle of the nineteenth century inquired into industrial conditions. From these reports Karl Marx drew inspiration for his social philosophy, and in them his friend Engles found the facts that he retold so vividly, for the purpose of arousing his fellow workmen. And Carlyle and Ruskin, reading this official record of selfishness, and knowing its truth, drew their powerful indictments against a society which would permit its eight-year-old daughters, its mothers, and its grandmothers, to be locked up for fourteen hours a day in dirty, ill-smelling factories, to release them at night only to find more misery in the hovels they pitifully called home.
The introduction of machinery into manufacturing wrought vast changes also in the organization of business. The unit of industry greatly increased in size. The economies of organized wholesale production were soon made apparent; and the tendency to increase the size of the factory and to amalgamate the various branches of industry under corporate control has continued to the present. The complexity of business operations also increased with the development of transportation and the expansion of the empire of trade. A world market took the place of the old town market, and the world market necessitated credit on a new and infinitely larger scale.
No less important than the revolution in industry was the revolution in economic theory which accompanied it. Unlimited competition replaced the state paternalism of the mercantilists. Adam Smith in 1776 espoused the cause of economic liberty, believing that if business and industry were unhampered by artificial restrictions they would work out their own salvation. His pronouncement was scarcely uttered before it became the shibboleth of statesmen and business men. The revolt of the American colonies hastened the general acceptance of this doctrine, and England soon found herself committed to the practice of every man looking after his own interests. Freedom of contract, freedom of trade, and freedom of thought were vigorous and inspiring but often misleading phrases. The processes of specialization and centralization that were at work portended the growing power of those who possessed the means to build factories and ships and railways but not necessarily the freedom of the many. The doctrine of laissez faire assumed that power would bring with it a sense of responsibility. For centuries, the old-country gentry and governing class of England had shown an appreciation of their duties, as a class, to those dependent upon them. But now another class with no benevolent traditions of responsibility came into power—the capitalist, a parvenu whose ambition was profit, not equity, and whose dealings with other men were not tempered by the amenities of the gentleman but were sharpened by the necessities of gain. It was upon such a class, new in the economic world and endowed with astounding power, that Adam Smith's new formularies of freedom were let loose.
During all these changes in the economic order, the interest of the laborer centered in one question: What return would he receive for his toil? With the increasing complexity of society, many other problems presented themselves to the worker, but for the most part they were subsidiary to the main question of wages. As long as man's place was fixed by law or custom, a customary wage left small margin for controversy. But when fixed status gave way to voluntary contract, when payment was made in money, when workmen were free to journey from town to town, labor became both free and fluid, bargaining took the place of custom, and the wage controversy began to assume definite proportions. As early as 1348 the great plague became a landmark in the field of wage disputes. So scarce had laborers become through the ravages of the Black Death, that wages rose rapidly, to the alarm of the employers, who prevailed upon King Edward III to issue the historic proclamation of 1349, directing that no laborer should demand and no employer should pay greater wages than those customary before the plague. This early attempt to outmaneuver an economic law by a legal device was only the prelude to a long series of labor laws which may be said to have culminated in the great Statute of Laborers of 1562, regulating the relations of wage-earner and employer and empowering justices of the peace to fix the wages in their districts. Wages steadily decreased during the two hundred years in which this statute remained in force, and poor laws were passed to bring the succor which artificial wages made necessary. Thus two rules of arbitrary government were meant to neutralize each other. It is the usual verdict of historians that the estate of labor in England declined from a flourishing condition in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to one of great distress by the time of the Industrial Revolution. This unhappy decline was probably due to several causes, among which the most important were the arbitrary and artificial attempts of the Government to keep down wages, the heavy taxation caused by wars of expansion, and the want of coercive power on the part of labor.
From the decline of the guild system, which had placed labor and its products so completely in the hands of the master craftsman, the workman had assumed no controlling part in the labor bargain. Such guilds and such journeyman's fraternities as may have survived were practically helpless against parliamentary rigor and state benevolence. In the domestic stage of production, cohesion among workers was not so necessary. But when the factory system was substituted for the handicraft system and workers with common interests were thrown together in the towns, they had every impulsion towards organization. They not only felt the need of sociability after long hours spent in spiritless toil but they were impelled by a new consciousness—the realization that an inevitable and profound change had come over their condition. They had ceased to be journeymen controlling in some measure their activities; they were now merely wage-earners. As the realization of this adverse change came over them, they began to resent the unsanitary and burdensome conditions under which they were compelled to live and to work. So actual grievances were added to fear of what might happen, and in their common cause experience soon taught them unity of action. Parliament was petitioned, agitations were organized, sick-benefits were inaugurated, and when these methods failed, machinery was destroyed, factories were burned, and the strike became a common weapon of self-defense.
Though a few labor organizations can be traced as far back as 1700, their growth during the eighteenth century was slow and irregular. There was no unity in their methods, and they were known by many names, such as associations, unions, union societies, trade clubs, and trade societies. These societies had no legal status and their meetings were usually held in secret. And the Webbs in their "History of Trade Unionism" allude to the traditions of "the midnight meeting of patriots in the corner of the field, the buried box of records, the secret oath, the long terms of imprisonment of the leading officials." Some of these tales were unquestionably apocryphal, others were exaggerated by feverish repetition. But they indicate the aversion with which the authorities looked upon these combinations.
There were two legal doctrines long invoked by the English courts against combined action—doctrines that became a heritage of the United States and have had a profound effect upon the labor movements in America. The first of these was the doctrine of conspiracy, a doctrine so ancient that its sources are obscure. It was the natural product of a government and of a time that looked askance at all combined action, fearing sedition, intrigue, and revolution. As far back as 1305 there was enacted a statute defining conspiracy and outlining the offense. It did not aim at any definite social class but embraced all persons who combined for a "malicious enterprise." Such an enterprise was the breaking of a law. So when Parliament passed acts regulating wages, conditions of employment, or prices of commodities, those who combined secretly or openly to circumvent the act, to raise wages or lower them, or to raise prices and curtail markets, at once fell under the ban of conspiracy. The law operated alike on conspiring employers and conniving employees.
The new class of employers during the early years of the machine age eagerly embraced the doctrine of conspiracy. They readily brought under the legal definition the secret connivings of the wage-earners. Political conditions now also worked against the laboring class. The unrest in the colonies that culminated in the independence of America and the fury of the French Revolution combined to make kings and aristocracies wary of all organizations and associations of plain folk. And when we add to this the favor which the new employing class, the industrial masters, were able to extort from the governing class, because of their power over foreign trade and domestic finance, we can understand the compulsory laws at length declaring against all combinations of working men.
The second legal doctrine which Americans have inherited from England and which has played a leading role in labor controversies is the doctrine that declares unlawful all combinations in restraint of trade. Like its twin doctrine of conspiracy, it is of remote historical origin. One of the earliest uses, perhaps the first use, of the term by Parliament was in the statute of 1436 forbidding guilds and trading companies from adopting by-laws "in restraint of trade," and forbidding practices in price manipulations "for their own profit and to the common hurt of the people." This doctrine thus early invoked, and repeatedly reasserted against combinations of traders and masters, was incorporated in the general statute of 1800 which declared all combinations of journeymen illegal. But in spite of legal doctrines, of innumerable laws and court decisions, strikes and combinations multiplied, and devices were found for evading statutory wages.
In 1824 an act of Parliament removed the general prohibition of combinations and accorded to workingmen the right to bargain collectively. Three men were responsible for this noteworthy reform, each one a new type in British politics. The first was Francis Place, a tailor who had taken active part in various strikes. He was secretary of the London Corresponding Society, a powerful labor union, which in 1795 had twenty branches in London. Most of the officers of this organization were at one time or another arrested, and some were kept in prison three years without a trial. Place, schooled in such experience, became a radical politician of great influence, a friend of Bentham, Owen, and the elder Mill. The second type of new reformer was represented by Joseph Hume, a physician who had accumulated wealth in the India Service, who had returned home to enter public life, and who was converted from Toryism to Radicalism by a careful study of financial, political, and industrial problems. A great number of reform laws can be traced directly to his incredible activity during his thirty years in Parliament. The third leader was John R. McCulloch, an orthodox economist, a disciple of Adam Smith, for some years editor of The Scotsman, which was then a violently radical journal cooperating with the newly established Edinburgh Review in advocating sociological and political reforms.
Thus Great Britain, the mother country from which Americans have inherited so many institutions, laws, and traditions, passed in turn through the periods of extreme paternalism, glorified competition, and governmental antagonism to labor combinations, into what may be called the age of conciliation. And today the Labour Party in the House of Commons has shown itself strong enough to impose its programme upon the Liberals and, through this radical coalition, has achieved a power for the working man greater than even Francis Place or Thomas Carlyle ever hoped for.
CHAPTER II. FORMATIVE YEARS
America did not become a cisatlantic Britain, as some of the colonial adventurers had hoped. A wider destiny awaited her. Here were economic conditions which upset all notions of the fixity of class distinctions. Here was a continent of free land, luring the disaffected or disappointed artisan and enabling him to achieve economic independence. Hither streamed ceaselessly hordes of immigrants from Europe, constantly shifting the social equilibrium. Here the demand for labor was constant, except during the rare intervals of financial stagnation, and here the door of opportunity swung wide to the energetic and able artisan. The records of American industry are replete with names of prominent leaders who began at the apprentice's bench.
The old class distinctions brought from the home country, however, had survived for many years in the primeval forests of Virginia and Maryland and even among the hills of New England. Indeed, until the Revolution and for some time thereafter, a man's clothes were the badge of his calling. The gentleman wore powdered queue and ruffled shirt; the workman, coarse buckskin breeches, ponderous shoes with brass buckles, and usually a leather apron, well greased to keep it pliable. Just before the Revolution the lot of the common laborer was not an enviable one. His house was rude and barren of comforts; his fare was coarse and without variety. His wage was two shillings a day, and prison—usually an indescribably filthy hole awaited him the moment he ran into debt. The artisan fared somewhat better. He had spent, as a rule, seven years learning his trade, and his skill and energy demanded and generally received a reasonable return. The account books that have come down to us from colonial days show that his handiwork earned him a fair living. This, however, was before machinery had made inroads upon the product of cabinetmaker, tailor, shoemaker, locksmith, and silversmith, and when the main street of every village was picturesque with the signs of the crafts that maintained the decent independence of the community.
Such labor organizations as existed before the Revolution were limited to the skilled trades. In 1648 the coopers and the shoemakers of Boston were granted permission to organize guilds, which embraced both master and journeyman, and there were a few similar organizations in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. But these were not unions like those of today. "There are," says Richard T. Ely, "no traces of anything like a modern trades' union in the colonial period of American history, and it is evident on reflection that there was little need, if any, of organization on the part of labor, at that time." *
* "The Labor Movement in America," by Richard T. Ely (1905), p. 86.
A new epoch for labor came in with the Revolution. Within a decade wages rose fifty per cent, and John Jay in 1784 writes of the "wages of mechanics and laborers" as "very extravagant." Though the industries were small and depended on a local market within a circumscribed area of communication, they grew rapidly. The period following the Revolution is marked by considerable industrial restiveness and by the formation of many labor organizations, which were, however, benevolent or friendly societies rather than unions and were often incorporated by an act of the legislature. In New York, between 1800 and 1810, twenty-four such societies were incorporated. Only in the larger cities were they composed of artisans of one trade, such as the New York Masons Society (1807) or the New York Society of Journeymen Shipwrights (1807). Elsewhere they included artisans of many trades, such as the Albany Mechanical Society (1801). In Philadelphia the cordwainers, printers, and hatters had societies. In Baltimore the tailors were the first to organize, and they conducted in 1795 one of the first strikes in America. Ten years later they struck again, and succeeded in raising their pay from seven shillings sixpence the job to eight shillings ninepence and "extras." At the same time the pay of unskilled labor was rising rapidly, for workers were scarce owing to the call of the merchant marine in those years of the rising splendor of the American sailing ship, and the lure of western lands. The wages of common laborers rose to a dollar and more a day.
There occurred in 1805 an important strike of the Philadelphia cordwainers. Theirs was one of the oldest labor organizations in the country, and it had conducted several successful strikes. This particular occasion, however, is significant, because the strikers were tried for conspiracy in the mayor's court, with the result that they were found guilty and fined eight dollars each, with costs. As the court permitted both sides to tell their story in detail, a full report of the proceedings survives to give us, as it were, a photograph of the labor conditions of that time. The trial kindled a great deal of local animosity. A newspaper called the Aurora contained inflammatory accounts of the proceedings, and a pamphlet giving the records of the court was widely circulated. This pamphlet bore the significant legend, "It is better that the law be known and certain, than that it be right," and was dedicated to the Governor and General Assembly "with the hope of attracting their particular attention, at the next meeting of the legislature."
Another early instance of a strike occurred in New York City in 1809, when the cordwainers struck for higher wages and were hauled before the mayor's court on the charge of conspiracy. The trial was postponed by Mayor DeWitt Clinton until after the pending municipal elections to avoid the risk of offending either side. When at length the strikers were brought to trial, the court-house was crowded with spectators, showing how keen was the public interest in the case. The jury's verdict of "guilty," and the imposition of a fine of one dollar each and costs upon the defendants served but as a stimulus to the friends of the strikers to gather in a great mass meeting and protest against the verdict and the law that made it possible.
In 1821 the New York Typographical Society, which had been organized four years earlier by Peter Force, a labor leader of unusual energy, set a precedent for the vigorous and fearless career of its modern successor by calling a strike in the printing office of Thurlow Weed, the powerful politician, himself a member of the society, because he employed a "rat," as a nonunion worker was called. It should be noted, however, that the organizations of this early period were of a loose structure and scarcely comparable to the labor unions of today.
Sidney Smith, the brilliant contributor to the "Edinburgh Review," propounded in 1820 certain questions which sum up the general conditions of American industry and art after nearly a half century of independence: "In the four quarters of the globe," he asked, "who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? or what old ones have they analyzed? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans? What have they done in mathematics? Who drinks out of American glasses? or eats from American plates? or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets?"
These questions, which were quite pertinent, though conceived in an impertinent spirit, were being answered in America even while the witty Englishman was framing them. The water power of New England was being harnessed to cotton mills, woolen mills, and tanneries. Massachusetts in 1820 reported one hundred and sixty-one factories. New York had begun that marvelous growth which made the city, in the course of a few decades, the financial capital of a hemisphere. So rapidly were people flocking to New York, that houses had tenants long before they had windows and doors, and streets were lined with buildings before they had sewers, sidewalks, or pavements. New Jersey had well under way those manufactories of glassware, porcelains, carpets, and textiles which have since brought her great prosperity. Philadelphia was the country's greatest weaving center, boasting four thousand craftsmen engaged in that industry. Even on the frontier, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were emerging from "settlements" into manufacturing towns of importance. McMaster concludes his graphic summary of these years as follows: "In 1820 it was estimated that 200,000 persons and a capital of $75,000,000 were employed in manufacturing. In 1825 the capital used had been expanded to $160,000,000 and the number of workers to 2,000,000." *
* History of the People of the United States (1901), vol. V, p. 230.
The Industrial Revolution had set in. These new millions who hastened to answer the call of industry in the new land were largely composed of the poor of other lands. Thousands of them were paupers when they landed in America, their passage having been paid by those at home who wanted to get rid of them. Vast numbers settled down in the cities, in spite of the lure of the land. It was at this period that universal manhood suffrage was written into the constitutions of the older States, and a new electorate assumed the reins of power. Now the first labor representatives were sent to the legislatures and to Congress, and the older parties began eagerly bidding for the votes of the humble. The decision of great questions fell to this new electorate. With the rise of industry came the demand for a protective tariff and for better transportation. State governments vied with each other, in thoughtless haste, in lending their credit to new turnpike and canal construction. And above all political issues loomed the Bank, the monopoly that became the laborer's bugaboo and Andrew Jackson's opportunity to rally to his side the newly enfranchised mechanics.
So the old days of semi-colonial composure were succeeded by the thrilling experiences that a new industrial prosperity thrusts upon a really democratic electorate. Little wonder that the labor union movement took the political by-path, seeking salvation in the promise of the politician and in the panacea of fatuous laws. Now there were to be discerned the beginnings of class solidarity among the working people. But the individual's chances to improve his situation were still very great and opportunity was still a golden word.
The harsh facts of the hour, however, soon began to call for united action. The cities were expanding with such eager haste that proper housing conditions were overlooked. Workingmen were obliged to live in wretched structures. Moreover, human beings were still levied on for debt and imprisoned for default of payment. Children of less than sixteen years of age were working twelve or more hours a day, and if they received any education at all, it was usually in schools charitably called "ragged schools" or "poor schools," or "pauper schools." There was no adequate redress for the mechanic if his wages were in default, for lien laws had not yet found their way into the statute books. Militia service was oppressive, permitting only the rich to buy exemption. It was still considered an unlawful conspiracy to act in unison for an increase in pay or a lessening of working hours. By 1840 the pay of unskilled labor had dropped to about seventy-five cents a day in the overcrowded cities, and in the winter, in either city or country, many unskilled workers were glad to work for merely their board. The lot of women workers was especially pitiful. A seamstress by hard toil, working fifteen hours a day might stitch enough shirts to earn from seventy-two cents to a dollar and twelve cents a week. Skilled labor, while faring better in wages, shared with the unskilled in the universal working day which lasted from sun to sun. Such in brief were the conditions that brought home to the laboring masses that homogeneous consciousness which alone makes a group powerful in a democracy.
The movement can most clearly be discerned in the cities. Philadelphia claims precedence as the home of the first Trades' Union. The master cordwainers had organized a society in 1792, and their journeymen had followed suit two years later. The experiences and vicissitudes of these shoemakers furnished a useful lesson to other tradesmen, many of whom were organized into unions. But they were isolated organizations, each one fighting its own battles. In 1897 the Mechanics' Union of Trade Associations was formed. Of its significance John R. Commons says:
England is considered the home of trade-unionism, but the distinction belongs to Philadelphia.... The first trades' union in England was that of Manchester, organized in 1829, although there seems to have been an attempt to organize one in 1824. But the first one in America was the "Mechanics' Union of Trade Associations," organized in Philadelphia in 1827, two years earlier. The name came from Manchester, but the thing from Philadelphia. Neither union lasted long. The Manchester union lived two years, and the Philadelphia union one year. But the Manchester union died and the Philadelphia union metamorphosed into politics. Here again Philadelphia was the pioneer, for it called into being the first labor party. Not only this, but through the Mechanics' Union Philadelphia started probably the first wage-earners' paper ever published—the 'Mechanics Free Press'—antedating, in January, 1828, the first similar journal in England by two years.*
* "Labor Organization and Labor Politics," 1827-37; in the "Quarterly Journal of Economics," February, 1907.
The union had its inception in the first general building strike called in America. In the summer of 1827 the carpenters struck for a ten-hour day. They were soon joined by the bricklayers, painters, and glaziers, and members of other trades. But the strike failed of its immediate object. A second effort to combine the various trades into one organization was made in 1833, when the Trades' Union of the City and County of Philadelphia, was formed. Three years later this union embraced some fifty societies with over ten thousand members. In June, 1835, this organization undertook what was probably the first successful general strike in America. It began among the cordwainers, spread to the workers in the building trades, and was presently joined in by cigarmakers, carters, saddlers and harness makers, smiths, plumbers, bakers, printers, and even by the unskilled workers on the docks. The strikers' demand for a ten-hour day received a great deal of support from the influential men in the community. After a mass meeting of citizens had adopted resolutions endorsing the demands of the union, the city council agreed to a ten-hour day for all municipal employees.
In 1833 the carpenters of New York City struck for an increase in wages. They were receiving a dollar thirty-seven and a half cents a day; they asked for a dollar and a half. They obtained the support of other workers, notably the tailors, printers, brushmakers, tobacconists, and masons, and succeeded in winning their strike in one month. The printers, who have always been alert and active in New York City, elated by the success of this coordinate effort, sent out a circular calling for a general convention of all the trades societies of the city. After a preliminary meeting in July, a mass meeting was held in December, at which there were present about four thousand persons representing twenty-one societies. The outcome of the meeting was the organization of the General Trades' Union of New York City.
It happened in the following year that Ely Moore of the Typographical Association and the first president of the new union, a powerful orator and a sagacious organizer, was elected to Congress on the Jackson ticket. He was backed by Tammany Hall, always on the alert for winners, and was supported by the mechanics, artisans, and workingmen. He was the first man to take his seat in Washington as the avowed representative of labor.
The movement for a ten-hour day was now in full swing, and the years 1834-7 were full of strikes. The most spectacular of these struggles was the strike of the tailors of New York in 1836, in the course of which twenty strikers were arrested for conspiracy. After a spirited trial attended by throngs of spectators, the men were found guilty by a jury which took only thirty minutes for deliberation. The strikers were fined $50 each, except the president of the society, who was fined $150. After the trial there was held a mass meeting which was attended, according to the "Evening Post," by twenty-seven thousand persons. Resolutions were passed declaring that "to all acts of tyranny and injustice, resistance is just and therefore necessary," and "that the construction given to the law in the case of the journeymen tailors is not only ridiculous and weak in practice but unjust in principle and subversive of the rights and liberties of American citizens." The town was placarded with "coffin" handbills, a practice not uncommon in those days.
Enclosed in a device representing a coffin were these words:
"THE RICH AGAINST THE POOR!
"Twenty of your brethren have been found guilty for presuming to resist a reduction in their wages!.... Judge Edwards has charged...the Rich are the only judges of the wants of the poor. On Monday, June 6, 1836, the Freemen are to receive their sentence, to gratify the hellish appetites of aristocracy!.... Go! Go! Go! Every Freeman, every Workingman, and hear the melancholy sound of the earth on the Coffin of Equality. Let the Court Room, the City-hall—yea, the whole Park, be filled with mourners! But remember, offer no violence to Judge Edwards! Bend meekly and receive the chains wherewith you are to be bound! Keep the peace! Above all things, keep the peace!"
The "Evening Post" concludes a long account of the affair by calling attention to the fact that the Trades' Union was not composed of "only foreigners." "It is a low calculation when we estimate that two-thirds of the workingmen of the city, numbering several thousand persons, belong to it," and that "it is controlled and supported by the great majority of our native born."
The Boston Trades' Union was organized in 1834 and started out with a great labor parade on the Fourth of July, followed by a dinner served to a thousand persons in Faneuil Hall. This union was formed primarily to fight for the ten-hour day, and the leading crusaders were the house carpenters, the ship carpenters, and the masons. Similar unions presently sprang up in other cities, including Baltimore, Albany, Troy, Washington, Newark, Schenectady, New Brunswick, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. By 1835 all the larger centers of industry were familiar with the idea, and most of them with the practice, of the trades organizations of a community uniting for action.
The local unions were not unmindful of the need for wider action, either through a national union of all the organizations of a single trade, or through a union of all the different trades' unions. Both courses of action were attempted. In 1834 the National Trades' Union came into being and from that date held annual national conventions of all the trades until the panic of 1837 obliterated the movement. When the first convention was called, it was estimated that there were some 26,250 members of trades' unions then in the United States. Of these 11,500 were in New York and its vicinity, 6000 in Philadelphia, 4000 in Boston, and 3500 in Baltimore. Meanwhile a movement was under way to federate the unions of a single trade. In 1835 the cordwainers attending the National Trades Union' formed a preliminary organization and called a national cordwainers' convention. This met in New York in March, 1836, and included forty-five delegates from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. In the fall of 1836 the comb-makers, the carpenters, the hand-loom weavers, and the printers likewise organized separate national unions or alliances, and several other trades made tentative efforts by correspondence to organize themselves in the same manner.
Before the dire year of 1837, there are, then, to be found the beginnings of most of the elements of modern labor organizations—benevolent societies and militant orders; political activities and trades activities; amalgamations of local societies of the same trades and of all trades; attempts at national organization on the part of both the local trades' unions and of the local trade unions; a labor press to keep alive the interest of the workman; mass meetings, circulars, conventions, and appeals to arouse the interest of the public in the issues of the hour. The persistent demand of the workingmen was for a ten-hour day. Harriet Martineau, who traveled extensively through the United States, remarked that all the strikes she heard of were on the question of hours, not wages. But there were nevertheless abundant strikes either to raise wages or to maintain them. There were, also, other fundamental questions in controversy which could not be settled by strikes, such as imprisonment for debt, lien and exemption and homestead laws, convict labor and slave labor, and universal education. Most of these issues have since that time been decided in favor of labor, and a new series of demands takes their place today. Yet as one reads the records of the early conspiracy cases or thumbs through the files of old periodicals, he learns that there is indeed nothing new under the sun and that, while perhaps the particular issues have changed, the general methods and the spirit of the contest remain the same.
The laborer believed then, as he does now, that his organization must be all-embracing. In those days also there were "scabs," often called "rats" or "dung." Places under ban were systematically picketed, and warnings like the following were sent out: "We would caution all strangers and others who profess the art of horseshoeing, that if they go to work for any employer under the above prices, they must abide by the consequences." Usually the consequences were a fine imposed by the union, but sometimes they were more severe. Coercion by the union did not cease with the strike. Journeymen who were not members were pursued with assiduity and energy as soon as they entered a town and found work. The boycott was a method early used against prison labor. New York stonecutters agreed that they would not "either collectively or individually purchase any goods manufactured" by convicts and that they would not "countenance" any merchants who dealt in them; and employers who incurred the displeasure of organized labor were "nullified."
The use of the militia during strikes presented the same difficulties then as now. During the general strike in Philadelphia in 1835 there was considerable rowdyism, and Michel Chevalier, a keen observer of American life, wrote that "the militia looks on; the sheriff stands with folded hands." Nor was there any difference in the attitude of the laboring man towards unfavorable court decisions. In the tailors' strike in New York in 1836, for instance, twenty-seven thousand sympathizers assembled with bands and banners to protest against the jury's verdict, and after sentence had been imposed upon the defendants, the lusty throng burned the judge in effigy.
Sabotage is a new word, but the practice itself is old. In 1835 the striking cabinet-makers in New York smashed thousands of dollars' worth of chairs, tables, and sofas that had been imported from France, and the newspapers observed the significant fact that the destroyers boasted in a foreign language that only American-made furniture should be sold in America. Houses were burned in Philadelphia because the contractors erecting them refused to grant the wages that were demanded. Vengeance was sometimes sought against new machinery that displaced hand labor. In June, 1835, a New York paper remarked that "it is well known that many of the most obstinate turn-outs among workingmen and many of the most violent and lawless proceedings have been excited for the purpose of destroying newly invented machinery." Such acts of wantonness, however, were few, even in those first tumultuous days of the thirties. Striking became in those days a sort of mania, and not a town that had a mill or shop was exempt. Men struck for "grog or death," for "Liberty, Equality, and the Rights of Man," and even for the right to smoke their pipes at work.
Strike benefits, too, were known in this early period. Strikers in New York received assistance from Philadelphia, and Boston strikers were similarly aided by both New York and Philadelphia. When the high cost of living threatened to deprive the wage-earner of half his income, bread riots occurred in the cities, and handbills circulated in New York bore the legend:
BREAD, MEAT, RENT, FUEL THEIR PRICES MUST COME DOWN
CHAPTER III. TRANSITION YEARS
With the panic of 1837 the mills were closed, thousands of unemployed workers were thrown upon private charity, and, in the long years of depression which followed, trade unionism suffered a temporary eclipse. It was a period of social unrest in which all sorts of philanthropic reforms were suggested and tried out. Measured by later events, it was a period of transition, of social awakening, of aspiration tempered by the bitter experience of failure.
In the previous decade Robert Owen, the distinguished English social reformer and philanthropist, had visited America, and had begun in 1826 his famous colony at New Harmony, Indiana. His experiments at New Lanark, in England, had already made him known to working people the world over. Whatever may be said of his quaint attempts to reduce society to a common denominator, it is certain that his arrival in America, at a time when people's minds were open to all sorts of economic suggestions, had a stimulating effect upon labor reforms and led, in the course of time, to the founding of some forty communistic colonies, most of them in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. "We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform," wrote Emerson to Thomas Carlyle; "not a reading man but has the draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket." One of these experiments, at Red Bank, New Jersey, lasted for thirteen years, and another, in Wisconsin, for six years. But most of them after a year or two gave up the struggle.
Of these failures, the best known is Brook Farm, an intellectual community founded in 1841 by George Ripley at West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Six years later the project was abandoned and is now remembered as an example of the futility of trying to leaven a world of realism by means of an atom of transcendental idealism. In a sense, however, Brook Farm typifies this period of transition. It was a time of vagaries and longings. People seemed to be conscious of the fact that a new social solidarity was dawning. It is not strange, therefore, that—while the railroads were feeling their way from town to town and across the prairies, while water-power and steam-power were multiplying man's productivity, indicating that the old days were gone forever—many curious dreams of a new order of things should be dreamed, nor that among them some should be ridiculous, some fantastic, and some unworthy, nor that, as the futility of a universal social reform forced itself upon the dreamers, they merged the greater in the lesser, the general in the particular, and sought an outlet in espousing some specific cause or attacking some particular evil.
Those movements which had their inspiration in a genuine humanitarianism achieved great good. Now for the first time the blind, the deaf, the dumb, and the insane were made the object of social solicitude and communal care. The criminal, too, and the jail in which he was confined remained no longer utterly neglected. Men of the debtor class were freed from that medieval barbarism which gave the creditor the right to levy on the person of his debtor. Even the public schools were dragged out of their lethargy. When Horace Mann was appointed secretary of the newly created Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837, a new day dawned for American public schools.
While these and other substantial improvements were under way, the charlatan and the faddist were not without their opportunities or their votaries. Spirit rappings beguiled or awed the villagers; thousands of religious zealots in 1844 abandoned their vocations and, drawing on white robes, awaited expectantly the second coming of Christ; every cult from free love to celibate austerity found zealous followers; the "new woman" declared her independence in short hair and bloomers; people sought social salvation in new health codes, in vegetarian boarding-houses, and in physical culture clubs; and some pursued the way to perfection through sensual religious exercises.
In this seething milieu, this medley of practical humanitarianism and social fantasies, the labor movement was revived. In the forties, Thomas Mooney, an observant Irish traveler who had spent several years in the United States wrote as follows *:
"The average value of a common uneducated labourer is eighty cents a day. Of educated or mechanical labour, one hundred twenty-five and two hundred cents a day; of female labour forty cents a day. Against meat, flour, vegetables, and groceries at one-third less than they rate in Great Britain and Ireland; against clothing, house rent and fuel at about equal; against public taxes at about three-fourths less; and a certainty of employment, and a facility of acquiring homes and lands, and education for children, a hundred to one greater. The further you penetrate into the country, Patrick, the higher in general will you find the value of labour, and the cheaper the price of all kinds of living.... The food of the American farmer, mechanic or labourer is the best I believe enjoyed by any similar classes in the whole world. At every meal there is meat or fish or both; indeed I think the women, children, and sedentary classes eat too much meat for their own good health."
* "Nine Years in America" (1850). p. 22.
This highly optimistic picture, written by a sanguine observer from the land of greatest agrarian oppression, must be shaded by contrasting details. The truck system of payment, prevalent in mining regions and many factory towns, reduced the actual wage by almost one-half. In the cities, unskilled immigrants had so overcrowded the common labor market that competition had reduced them to a pitiable state. Hours of labor were generally long in the factories. As a rule only the skilled artisan had achieved the ten-hour day, and then only in isolated instances. Woman's labor was the poorest paid, and her condition was the most neglected. A visitor to Lowell in 1846 thus describes the conditions in an average factory of that town:
"In Lowell live between seven and eight thousand young women, who are generally daughters of farmers of the different States of New England. Some of them are members of families that were rich the generation before.... The operatives work thirteen hours a day in the summer time, and from daylight to dark in the winter. At half-past four in the morning the factory bell rings and at five the girls must be in the mills. A clerk, placed as a watch, observes those who are a few minutes behind the time, and effectual means are taken to stimulate punctuality.... At seven the girls are allowed thirty minutes for breakfast, and at noon thirty minutes more for dinner, except during the first quarter of the year, when the time is extended to forty-five minutes. But within this time they must hurry to their boarding-houses and return to the factory.... At seven o'clock in the evening the factory bell sounds the close of the day's work."
It was under these conditions that the cooperative movement had its brief day of experiment. As early as 1828 the workmen of Philadelphia and Cincinnati had begun cooperative stores. The Philadelphia group were "fully persuaded," according to their constitution, "that nothing short of an entire change in the present regulation of trade and commerce will ever be permanently beneficial to the productive part of the community." But their little shop survived competition for only a few months. The Cincinnati "Cooperative Magazine" was a sort of combination of store and shop, where various trades were taught, but it also soon disappeared.
In 1845 the New England Workingmen's Association organized a protective union for the purpose of obtaining for its members "steady and profitable employment" and of saving the retailer's profit for the purchaser. This movement had a high moral flavor. "The dollar was to us of minor importance; humanitary and not mercenary were our motives," reported their committee on organization of industry. "We must proceed from combined stores to combined shops, from combined shops to combined homes, to joint ownership in God's earth, the foundation that our edifice must stand upon." In this ambitious spirit "they commenced business with a box of soap and half a chest of tea." In 1852 they had 167 branches, a capital of $241,7191.66, and a business of nearly $91,000,000 a year.
In the meantime similar cooperative movements began elsewhere. The tailors of Boston struck for higher wages in 1850 and, after fourteen weeks of futile struggle, decided that their salvation lay in cooperation rather than in trade unionism, which at best afforded only temporary relief. About seventy of them raised $700 as a cooperative nest egg and netted a profit of $510.60 the first year. In the same year the Philadelphia printers, disappointed at their failure to force a higher wage, organized a cooperative printing press.
The movement spread to New York, where a strike of the tailors was in progress. The strikers were addressed at a great mass meeting by Albert Brisbane, an ardent disciple of Fourier, the French social economist, and were told that they must do away with servitude to capital. "What we want to know," said Brisbane, "is how to change, peacefully, the system of today. The first great principle is combination." Another meeting was addressed by a German, a follower of Karl Marx, who uttered in his native tongue these words that sound like a modern I.W.W. prophet: "Many of us have fought for liberty in the fatherland. We came here because we were opposed, and what have we gained? Nothing but misery, hunger, and treading down. But we are in a free country and it is our fault if we do not get our rights.... Let those who strike eat; the rest starve. Butchers and bakers must withhold supplies. Yes, they must all strike, and then the aristocrat will starve. We must have a revolution. We cannot submit any longer." The cry of "Revolution! Revolution!" was taken up by the throng.
In the midst of this agitation a New York branch of the New England Protective Union was organized as an attempt at peaceful revolution by cooperation. The New York Protective Union went a step farther than the New England Union. Its members established their own shops and so became their own employers. And in many other cities striking workmen and eager reformers joined hands in modest endeavors to change the face of things. The revolutionary movements of Europe at this period were having a seismic effect upon American labor. But all these attempts of the workingmen to tourney a rough world with a needle were foredoomed to failure. Lacking the essential business experience and the ability to cooperate, they were soon undone, and after a few years little more was heard of cooperation.
In the meantime another economic movement gained momentum under the leadership of George Henry Evans, who was a land reformer and may be called a precursor of Henry George. Evans inaugurated a campaign for free farms to entice to the land the unprosperous toilers of the city. In spite of the vast areas of the public domain still unoccupied, the cities were growing denser and larger and filthier by reason of the multitudes from Ireland and other countries who preferred to cast themselves into the eager maw of factory towns rather than go out as agrarian pioneers. To such Evans and other agrarian reformers made their appeal. For example, a handbill distributed everywhere in 1846 asked:
"Are you an American citizen? Then you are a joint owner of the public lands. Why not take enough of your property to provide yourself a home? Why not vote yourself a farm?
"Are you a party follower? Then you have long enough employed your vote to benefit scheming office seekers. Use it for once to benefit yourself; Vote yourself a farm.
"Are you tired of slavery—of drudging for others—of poverty and its attendant miseries? Then, vote yourself a farm.
"Would you free your country and the sons of toil everywhere from the heartless, irresponsible mastery of the aristocracy of avarice?.... Then join with your neighbors to form a true American party...whose chief measures will be first to limit the quantity of land that any one may henceforth monopolize or inherit; and second to make the public lands free to actual settlers only, each having the right to sell his improvements to any man not possessed of other lands."
"Vote yourself a farm" became a popular shibboleth and a part of the standard programme of organized labor. The donation of public lands to heads of families, on condition of occupancy and cultivation for a term of years, was proposed in bills repeatedly introduced in Congress. But the cry of opposition went up from the older States that they would be bled for the sake of the newer, that giving land to the landless was encouraging idleness and wantonness and spreading demoralization, and that Congress had no more power to give away land than it had to give away money. These arguments had their effect at the Capitol, and it was not until the new Republican party came into power pledged to "a complete and satisfactory homestead measure" that the Homestead Act of 1862 was placed on the statute books.
A characteristic manifestation of the humanitarian impulse of the forties was the support given to labor in its renewed demand for a ten-hour day. It has already been indicated how this movement started in the thirties, how its object was achieved by a few highly organized trades, and how it was interrupted in its progress by the panic of 1837. The agitation, however, to make the ten-hour day customary throughout the country was not long in coming back to life. In March, 1840, an executive order of President Van Buren declaring ten hours to be the working day for laborers and mechanics in government employ forced the issue upon private employers. The earliest concerted action, it would seem, arose in New England, where the New England Workingmen's Association, later called the Labor Reform League, carried on the crusade. In 1845 a committee appointed by the Massachusetts Legislature to investigate labor conditions affords the first instance on record of an American legislature concerning itself with the affairs of the labor world to the extent of ordering an official investigation. The committee examined a number of factory operatives, both men and women, visited a few of the mills, gathered some statistics, and made certain neutral and specious suggestions. They believed the remedy for such evils as they discovered lay not in legislation but "in the progressive improvement in art and science, in a higher appreciation of man's destiny, in a less love for money, and a more ardent love for social happiness and intellectual superiority."
The first ten-hour law was passed in 1847 by the New Hampshire Legislature. It provided that "ten hours of actual labor shall be taken to be a day's work, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties," and that no minor under fifteen years of age should be employed more than ten hours a day without the consent of parent or guardian. This was the unassuming beginning of a movement to have the hours of toil fixed by society rather than by contract. This law of New Hampshire, which was destined to have a widespread influence, was hailed by the workmen everywhere with delight; mass meetings and processions proclaimed it as a great victory; and only the conservatives prophesied the worthlessness of such legislation. Horace Greeley sympathetically dissected the bill. He had little faith, it is true, in legislative interference with private contracts. "But," he asks, "who can seriously doubt that it is the duty of the Commonwealth to see that the tender frames of its youth are not shattered by excessively protracted toil?.... Will any one pretend that ten hours per day, especially at confining and monotonous avocations which tax at once the brain and the sinews are not quite enough for any child to labor statedly and steadily?" The consent of guardian or parent he thought a fraud against the child that could be averted only by the positive command of the State specifically limiting the hours of child labor.
In the following year Pennsylvania enacted a law declaring ten hours a legal day in certain industries and forbidding children under twelve from working in cotton, woolen, silk, or flax mills. Children over fourteen, however, could, by special arrangement with parents or guardians, be compelled to work more than ten hours a day. "This act is very much of a humbug," commented Greeley, "but it will serve a good end. Those whom it was intended to put asleep will come back again before long, and, like Oliver Twist, 'want some more.'"
The ten-hour movement had thus achieved social recognition. It had the staunch support of such men as Wendell Phillips, Edward Everett, Horace Greeley, and other distinguished publicists and philanthropists. Public opinion was becoming so strong that both the Whigs and Democrats in their party platforms declared themselves in favor of the ten-hour day. When, in the summer of 1847, the British Parliament passed a ten-hour law, American unions sent congratulatory messages to the British workmen. Gradually the various States followed the example of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania—New Jersey in 1851, Ohio in 1852, and Rhode Island in 1853—and the "ten-hour system" was legally established.
But it was one thing to write a statute and another to enforce it. American laws were, after all, based upon the ancient Anglo-Saxon principle of private contract. A man could agree to work for as many hours as he chose, and each employer could drive his own bargain. The cotton mill owners of Allegheny City, for example, declared that they would be compelled to run their mills twelve hours a day. They would not, of course, employ children under twelve, although they felt deeply concerned for the widows who would thereby lose the wages of their children. But they must run on a twelve-hour schedule to meet competition from other States. So they attempted to make special contracts with each employee. The workmen objected to this and struck. Finally they compromised on a ten-hour day and a sixteen per cent reduction in wages. Such an arrangement became a common occurrence in the industrial world of the middle of the century.
In the meantime the factory system was rapidly recruiting women workers, especially in the New England textile mills. Indeed, as early as 1825 "tailoresses" of New York and other cities had formed protective societies. In 1829 the mill girls of Dover, New Hampshire, caused a sensation by striking. Several hundred of them paraded the streets and, according to accounts, "fired off a lot of gunpowder." In 1836 the women workers in the Lowell factories struck for higher wages and later organized a Factory Girls' Association which included more than 2,500 members. It was aimed against the strict regimen of the boarding houses, which were owned and managed by the mills. "As our fathers resisted unto blood the lordly avarice of the British Ministry," cried the strikers, "so we, their daughters, never will wear the yoke which has been prepared for us."
In this vibrant atmosphere was born the powerful woman's labor union, the Female Labor Reform Association, later called the Lowell Female Industrial Reform and Mutual Aid Society. Lowell became the center of a far-reaching propaganda characterized by energy and a definite conception of what was wanted. The women joined in strikes, carried banners, sent delegates to the labor conventions, and were zealous in propaganda. It was the women workers of Massachusetts who first forced the legislature to investigate labor conditions and who aroused public sentiment to a pitch that finally compelled the enactment of laws for the bettering of their conditions. When the mill owners in Massachusetts demanded in 1846 that their weavers tend four looms instead of three, the women promptly resolved that "we will not tend a fourth loom unless we receive the same pay per piece as on three.... This we most solemnly pledge ourselves to obtain."
In New York, in 1845, the Female Industry Association was organized at a large meeting held in the court house. It included "tailoresses, plain and coarse sewing, shirt makers, book-folders and stickers, capmakers, straw-workers, dressmakers, crimpers, fringe and lacemakers," and other trades open to women "who were like oppressed." The New York Herald reported "about 700 females generally of the most interesting age and appearance" in attendance. The president of the meeting unfolded a pitiable condition of affairs. She mentioned several employers by name who paid only from ten to eighteen cents a day, and she stated that, after acquiring skill in some of the trades and by working twelve to fourteen hours a day, a woman might earn twenty-five cents a day! "How is it possible," she exclaimed, "that at such an income we can support ourselves decently and honestly?"
So we come to the fifties, when the rapid rise in the cost of living due to the influx of gold from the newly discovered California mines created new economic conditions. By 1853, the cost of living had risen so high that the length of the working day was quite forgotten because of the utter inadequacy of the wage to meet the new altitude of prices. Hotels issued statements that they were compelled to raise their rates for board from a dollar and a half to two dollars a day. Newspapers raised their advertising rates. Drinks went up from six cents to ten and twelve and a half cents. In Baltimore, the men in the Baltimore and Ohio Railway shops struck. They were followed by all the conductors, brakemen, and locomotive engineers. Machinists employed in other shops soon joined them, and the city's industries were virtually paralyzed. In New York nearly every industry was stopped by strikes. In Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, in cities large and small, the striking workmen made their demands known.
By this time thoughtful laborers had learned the futility of programmes that attempted to reform society. They had watched the birth and death of many experiments. They had participated in short-lived cooperative stores and shops; they had listened to Owen's alluring words and had seen his World Convention meet and adjourn; had witnessed national reform associations, leagues, and industrial congresses issue their high-pitched resolutions; and had united on legislative candidates. And yet the old world wagged on in the old way. Wages and hours and working conditions could be changed, they had learned, only by coercion. This coercion could be applied, in general reforms, only by society, by stress of public opinion. But in concrete cases, in their own personal environment, the coercion had to be first applied by themselves. They had learned the lesson of letting the world in general go its way while they attended to their own business.
In the early fifties, then, a new species of union appears. It discards lofty phraseology and the attempt at world-reform and it becomes simply a trade union. It restricts its house-cleaning to its own shop, limits its demands to its trade, asks for a minimum wage and minimum hours, and lays out with considerable detail the conditions under which its members will work. The weapons in its arsenal are not new—the strike and the boycott. Now that he has learned to distinguish essentials, the new trade unionist can bargain with his employer, and as a result trade agreements stipulating hours, wages, and conditions, take the place of the desultory and ineffective settlements which had hitherto issued from labor disputes. But it was not without foreboding that this development was witnessed by the adherents of the status quo. According to a magazine writer of 1853:
"After prescribing the rate of remuneration many of the Trades' Unions go to enact laws for the government of the respective departments, to all of which the employer must assent.... The result even thus far is that there is found no limit to this species of encroachment. If workmen may dictate the hours and mode of service, and the number and description of hands to be employed, they may also regulate other items of the business with which their labor is connected. Thus we find that within a few days, in the city of New York, the longshoremen have taken by force from their several stations the horses and labor-saving gear used for delivering cargoes, it being part of their regulations not to allow of such competition."
The gravitation towards common action was felt over a wide area during this period. Some trades met in national convention to lay down rules for their craft. One of the earliest national meetings was that of the carpet-weavers (1846) in New York City, when thirty-four delegates, representing over a thousand operatives, adopted rules and took steps to prevent a reduction in wages. The National Convention of Journeymen Printers met in 1850, and out of this emerged two years later an organization called the National Typographical Union, which ten years later still, on the admission of some Canadian unions, became the International Typographical Union of North America; and as such it flourishes today. In 1855 the Journeymen Stone Cutters' Association of North America was organized and in the following year the National Trade Association of Hat Finishers, the forerunner of the United Hatters of North America. In 1859 the Iron Molders' Union of North America began its aggressive career.
The conception of a national trade unity was now well formed; compactly organized national and local trade unions with very definite industrial aims were soon to take the place of ephemeral, loose-jointed associations with vast and vague ambitions. Early in this period a new impetus was given to organized labor by the historic decision of Chief Justice Shaw of Massachusetts in a case * brought against seven bootmakers charged with conspiracy. Their offense consisted in attempting to induce all the workmen of a given shop to join the union and compel the master to employ only union men. The trial court found them guilty; but the Chief Justice decided that he did not "perceive that it is criminal for men to agree together to exercise their own acknowledged rights in such a manner as best to subserve their own interests." In order to show criminal conspiracy, therefore, on the part of a labor union, it was necessary to prove that either the intent or the method was criminal, for it was not a criminal offense to combine for the purpose of raising wages or bettering conditions or seeking to have all laborers join the union. The liberalizing influence of this decision upon labor law can hardly be over-estimated.
* Commonwealth vs. Hunt.
The period closed amidst general disturbances and forebodings, political and economic. In 1857 occurred a panic which thrust the problem of unemployment, on a vast scale, before the American consciousness. Instead of demanding higher wages, multitudes now cried for work. The marching masses, in New York, carried banners asking for bread, while soldiers from Governor's Island and marines from the Navy Yard guarded the Custom House and the Sub-Treasury. From Philadelphia to New Orleans, from Boston to Chicago, came the same story of banks failing, railroads in bankruptcy, factories closing, idle and hungry throngs moving restlessly through the streets. In New York 40,000, in Lawrence 3500, in Philadelphia 20,000, were estimated to be out of work. Labor learned anew that its prosperity was inalienably identified with the well-being of industry and commerce; and society learned that hunger and idleness are the golden opportunity of the demagogue and agitator. The word "socialism" now appears more and more frequently in the daily press and always a synonym of destruction or of something to be feared. No sooner had business revived than the great shadow of internal strife was cast over the land, and for the duration of the Civil War the peril of the nation absorbed all the energies of the people.
CHAPTER IV. AMALGAMATION
After Appomattox, every one seemed bent on finding a short cut to opulence. To foreign observers, the United States was then simply a scrambling mass of selfish units, for there seemed to be among the American people no disinterested group to balance accounts between the competing elements—no leisure class, living on secured incomes, mellowed by generations of travel, education, and reflection; no bureaucracy arbitrarily guiding the details of governmental routine; no aristocracy, born umpires of the doings of their underlings. All the manifold currents of life seemed swallowed up in the commercial maelstrom. By the standards of what happened in this season of exuberance and intense materialism, the American people were hastily judged by critics who failed to see that the period was but the prelude to a maturer national life.
It was a period of a remarkable industrial expansion. Then "plant" became a new word in the phraseology of the market place, denoting the enlarged factory or mill and suggesting the hardy perennial, each succeeding year putting forth new shoots from its side. The products of this seedtime are seen in the colossal industrial growths of today. Then it was that short railway lines began to be welded into "systems," that the railway builders began to strike out into the prairies and mountains of the West, and that partnerships began to be merged into corporations and corporations into trusts, ever reaching out for the greater markets. Meanwhile the inventive genius of America was responding to the call of the time. In 1877 Bell telephoned from Boston to Salem; two years later, Brush lighted by electricity the streets of San Francisco. In 1882 Edison was making incandescent electric lights for New York and operating his first electric car in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
All these developments created a new demand for capital. Where formerly a manufacturer had made products to order or for a small number of known customers, now he made on speculation, for a great number of unknown customers, taking his risks in distant markets. Where formerly the banker had lent money on local security, now he gave credit to vast enterprises far away. New inventions or industrial processes brought on new speculations. This new demand for capital made necessary a new system of credits, which was erected at first, as the recurring panics disclosed, on sand, but gradually, through costly experience, on a more stable foundation.
The economic and industrial development of the time demanded not only new money and credit but new men. A new type of executive was wanted, and he soon appeared to satisfy the need. Neither a capitalist nor a merchant, he combined in some degree the functions of both, added to them the greater function of industrial manager, and received from great business concerns a high premium for his talent and foresight. This Captain of Industry, as he has been called, is the foremost figure of the period, the hero of the industrial drama.
But much of what is admirable in that generation of nation builders is obscured by the industrial anarchy which prevailed. Everybody was for himself—and the devil was busy harvesting the hindmost. There were "rate-wars," "cut-rate sales," secret intrigues, and rebates; and there were subterranean passages—some, indeed, scarcely under the surface—to council chambers, executive mansions, and Congress. There were extreme fluctuations of industry; prosperity was either at a very high level or depression at a very low one. Prosperity would bring on an expansion of credits, a rise in prices, higher cost of living, strikes and boycotts for higher wages; then depression would follow with the shutdown and that most distressing of social diseases, unemployment. During the panic of 1873-74 many thousands of men marched the streets crying earnestly for work.
Between the panics, strikes became a part of the economic routine of the country. They were expected, just as pay days and legal holidays are expected. Now for the first time came strikes that can only be characterized as stupendous. They were not mere slight economic disturbances; they were veritable industrial earthquakes. In 1873 the coal miners of Pennsylvania, resenting the truck system and the miserable housing which the mine owners forced upon them, struck by the tens of thousands. In Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Maryland, Ohio, and New York strikes occurred in all sorts of industries. There were the usual parades and banners, some appealing, some insulting, and all the while the militia guarded property. In July, 1877, the men of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad refused to submit to a fourth reduction in wages in seven years and struck. From Baltimore the resentment spread to Pennsylvania and culminated with riots in Pittsburgh. All the anthracite coal miners struck, followed by most of the bituminous miners of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The militia were impotent to subdue the mobs; Federal troops had to be sent by President Hayes into many of the States; and a proclamation by the President commanded all citizens to keep the peace. Thus was Federal authority introduced to bolster up the administrative weakness of the States, and the first step was taken on the road to industrial nationalization.
The turmoil had hardly subsided when, in 1880, new strikes broke out. In the long catalogue of the strikers of that year are found the ribbon weavers of Philadelphia, Paterson, and New York, the stablemen of New York, New Jersey, and San Francisco, the cotton yard workers of New Orleans, the cotton weavers of New England and New York, the stockyard employees of Chicago and Omaha, the potters of Green Point, Long Island, the puddlers of Johnstown and Columbia, Pennsylvania, the machinists of Buffalo, the tailors of New York, and the shoemakers of Indiana. The year 1881 was scarcely less restive. But 1886 is marked in labor annals as "the year of the great uprising," when twice as many strikes as in any previous year were reported by the United States Commissioner of Labor, and when these strikes reached a tragic climax in the Chicago Haymarket riots.
It was during this feverish epoch that organized labor first entered the arena of national politics. When the policy as to the national currency became an issue, the lure of cheap money drew labor into an alliance in 1880 with the Greenbackers, whose mad cry added to the general unrest. In this, as in other fatuous pursuits, labor was only responding to the forces and the spirit of the hour. These have been called the years of amalgamation, but they were also the years of tumult, for, while amalgamation was achieved, discipline was not. Authority imposed from within was not sufficient to overcome the decentralizing forces, and just as big business had yet to learn by self-imposed discipline how to overcome the extremely individualistic tendencies which resulted in trade anarchy, so labor had yet to learn through discipline the lessons of self-restraint. Moreover, in the sudden expansion and great enterprises of these days, labor even more than capital lost in stability. One great steadying influence, the old personal relation between master and servant, which prevailed during the days of handicraft and even of the small factory, had disappeared almost completely. Now labor was put up on the market—a heartless term descriptive of a condition from which human beings might be expected to react violently—and they did, for human nature refused to be an inert, marketable thing.
The labor market must expand with the trader's market. In 1860 there were about one and a third million wage-earners in the United States; in 1870 well over two million; in 1880 nearly two and three-quarters million; and in 1890 over four and a quarter million. The city sucked them in from the country; but by far the larger augmentation came from Europe; and the immigrant, normally optimistic, often untaught, sometimes sullen and filled with a destructive resentment, and always accustomed to low standards of living, added to the armies of labor his vast and complex bulk.
There were two paramount issues—wages and the hours of labor—to which all other issues were and always have been secondary. Wages tend constantly to become inadequate when the standard of living is steadily rising, and they consequently require periodical readjustment. Hours of labor, of course, are not subject in the same degree to external conditions. But the tendency has always been toward a shorter day. In a previous chapter, the inception of the ten-hour movement was outlined. Presently there began the eight-hour movement. As early as 1842 the carpenters and caulkers of the Charleston Navy Yard achieved an eight-hour day; but 1863 may more properly be taken as the beginning of the movement. In this year societies were organized in Boston and its vicinity for the precise purpose of winning the eight-hour day, and soon afterwards a national Eight-Hour League was established with local leagues extending from New England to San Francisco and New Orleans.
This movement received an intelligible philosophy, and so a new vitality, from Ira Steward, a member of the Boston Machinists' and Blacksmiths' Union. Writing as a workingman for workingmen, Steward found in the standard of living the true reason for a shorter workday. With beautiful simplicity he pointed out to the laboring man that the shorter period of labor would not mean smaller pay, and to the employer that it would not mean a diminished output. On the contrary, it would be mutually beneficial, for the unwearied workman could produce as much in the shorter day as the wearied workman in the longer. "As long," Steward wrote, "as tired human hands do most of the world's hard work, the sentimental pretense of honoring and respecting the horny-handed toiler is as false and absurd as the idea that a solid foundation for a house can be made out of soap bubbles."
In 1865 Steward's pamphlet, "A Reduction of Hours and Increase of Wages," was widely circulated by the Boston Labor Reform Association. It emphasized the value of leisure and its beneficial reflex effect upon both production and consumption. Gradually these well reasoned and conservatively expressed doctrines found champions such as Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, and Horace Greeley to give them wider publicity and to impress them upon the public consciousness. In 1867 Illinois, Missouri, and New York passed eight-hour laws and Wisconsin declared eight hours a day's work for women and children. In 1868 Congress established an eight-hour day for public work. These were promising signs, though the battle was still far from being won. The eight-hour day has at last received "the sanction of society"—to use the words of President Wilson in his message to Congress in 1916, when he called for action to avert a great railway strike. But to win that sanction required over half a century of popular agitation, discussion, and economic and political evolution.
Such, in brief, were the general business conditions of the country and the issues which engaged the energies of labor reformers during the period following the Civil War. Meanwhile great changes were made in labor organizations. Many of the old unions were reorganized, and numerous local amalgamations took place. Most of the organizations now took the form of secret societies whose initiations were marked with naive formalism and whose routines were directed by a group of officers with royal titles and fortified by signs, passwords, and ritual. Some of these orders decorated the faithful with high-sounding degrees. The societies adopted fantastic names such as "The Supreme Mechanical Order of the Sun," "The Knights of St. Crispin," and "The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor," of which more presently.
Meanwhile, too, there was a growing desire to unify the workers of the country by some sort of national organization. The outcome was a notable Labor Congress held at Baltimore in August, 1866, which included all kinds of labor organizations and was attended by seventy-seven delegates from thirteen States. In the light of subsequent events its resolutions now seem conservative and constructive. This Congress believed that "all reforms in the labor movement can only be effected by an intelligent, systematic effort of the industrial classes... through the trades organizations." Of strikes it declared that "they have been injudicious and ill-advised, the result of impulse rather than principle,...and we would therefore discountenance them except as a dernier ressort, and when all means for an amicable and honorable adjustment has been abandoned." It issued a cautious and carefully phrased Address to the Workmen throughout the Country, urging them to organize and assuring them that "the first thing to be accomplished before we can hope for any great results is the thorough organization of all the departments of labor."
The National Labor Union which resulted from this convention held seven Annual Congresses, and its proceedings show a statesmanlike conservatism and avoid extreme radicalism. This organization, which at its high tide represented a membership of 640,000, in its brief existence was influential in three important matters: first, it pointed the way to national amalgamation and was thus a forerunner of more lasting efforts in this direction; secondly, it had a powerful influence in the eight-hour movement; and, thirdly, it was largely instrumental in establishing labor bureaus and in gathering statistics for the scientific study of labor questions. But the National Labor Union unfortunately went into politics; and politics proved its undoing. Upon affiliating with the Labor Reform party it dwindled rapidly, and after 1871 it disappeared entirely.
One of the typical organizations of the time was the Order of the Knights of St. Crispin, so named after the patron saint of the shoemakers, and accessible only to members of that craft. It was first conceived in 1864 by Newell Daniels, a shoemaker in Milford, Massachusetts, but no organization was effected until 1867, when the founder had moved to Milwaukee. The ritual and constitution he had prepared was accepted then by a group of seven shoemakers, and in four years this insignificant mustard seed had grown into a great tree. The story is told by Frank K. Foster, * who says, speaking of the order in 1868: "It made and unmade politicians; it established a monthly journal; it started cooperative stores; it fought, often successfully, against threatened reductions of wages...; it became the undoubted foremost trade organization of the world." But within five years the order was rent by factionalism and in 1878 was acknowledged to be dead. It perished from various causes—partly because it failed to assimilate or imbue with its doctrines the thousands of workmen who subscribed to its rules and ritual, partly because of the jealousy and treachery which is the fruitage of sudden prosperity, partly because of failure to fulfill the fervent hopes of thousands who joined it as a prelude to the industrial millennium; but especially it failed to endure because it was founded on an economic principle which could not be imposed upon society. The rule which embraced this principle reads as follows: "No member of this Order shall teach, or aid in teaching, any fact or facts of boot or shoemaking, unless the lodge shall give permission by a three-fourths vote...provided that this article shall not be so construed as to prevent a father from teaching his own son. Provided also, that this article shall not be so construed as to hinder any member of this organization from learning any or all parts of the trade." The medieval craft guild could not so easily be revived in these days of rapid changes, when a new stitching machine replaced in a day a hundred workmen. And so the Knights of St. Crispin fell a victim to their own greed.
* "The Labor Movement, the Problem of Today," edited by George E. McNeill, Chapter VIII.
The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, another of those societies of workingmen, was organized in November, 1869, by Uriah S. Stephens, a Philadelphia garment cutter, with the assistance of six fellow craftsmen. It has been said of Stephens that he was "a man of great force of character, a skilled mechanic, with the love of books which enabled him to pursue his studies during his apprenticeship, and feeling withal a strong affection for secret organizations, having been for many years connected with the Masonic Order." He was to have been educated for the ministry but, owing to financial reverses in his family, was obliged instead to learn a trade. Later he taught school for a few years, traveled extensively in the West Indies, South America, and California, and became an accomplished public speaker and a diligent observer of social conditions.
Stephens and his six associates had witnessed the dissolution of the local garment cutters' union. They resolved that the new society should not be limited by the lines of their own trade but should embrace "all branches of honorable toil." Subsequently a rule was adopted stipulating that at least three-fourths of the membership of lodges must be wage-earners eighteen years of age. Moreover, "no one who either sells or makes a living, or any part of it, by the sale of intoxicating drinks either as manufacturer, dealer, or agent, or through any member of his family, can be admitted to membership in this order; and no lawyer, banker, professional gambler, or stock broker can be admitted." They chose their motto from Solon, the wisest of lawgivers: "That is the most perfect government in which an injury to one is the concern of all"; and they took their preamble from Burke, the most philosophical of statesmen: "When bad men combine, the good must associate, else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
The order was a secret society and for years kept its name from the public. It was generally known as the "Five Stars," because of the five asterisks that represented its name in all public notices. While mysterious initials and secret ceremonies gratified the members, they aroused a corresponding antagonism, even fear, among the public, especially as the order grew to giant size. What were the potencies of a secret organization that had only to post a few mysterious words and symbols to gather hundreds of workingmen in their halls? And what plottings went on behind those locked and guarded doors? To allay public hostility secrecy was gradually removed and in 1881 was entirely abolished—not, however, without serious opposition from the older members.
The atmosphere of high idealism in which the order had been conceived continued to be fostered by Stephens, its founder and its first Grand Master Workman. He extolled justice, discountenanced violence, and pleaded for "the mutual development and moral elevation of mankind." His exhortations were free from that narrow class antagonism which frequently characterizes the utterances of labor. One of his associates, too, invoked the spirit of chivalry, of true knighthood, when he said that the old trade union had failed because "it had failed to recognize the rights of man and looked only to the rights of tradesmen," that the labor movement needed "something that will develop more of charity, less of selfishness, more of generosity, less of stinginess and nearness, than the average society has yet disclosed to its members." Nor were these ideas and principles betrayed by Stephens's successor, Terence V. Powderly, who became Grand Master in 1879 and served during the years when the order attained its greatest power. Powderly, also, was a conservative idealist. His career may be regarded as a good example of the rise of many an American labor leader. He had been a poor boy. At thirteen he began work as a switch-tender; at seventeen he was apprenticed as machinist; at nineteen he was active in a machinists' and blacksmiths' union. After working at his trade in various places, he at length settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and became one of the organizers of the Greenback Labor party. He was twice elected mayor of Scranton, and might have been elected for a third term had he not declined to serve, preferring to devote all his time to the society of which he was Grand Master. The obligations laid upon every member of the Knights of Labor were impressive: Labor is noble and holy. To defend it from degradation; to divest it of the evils to body, mind and estate which ignorance and greed have imposed; to rescue the toiler from the grasp of the selfish—is a work worthy of the noblest and best of our race. 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 in the dust. We mean no conflict with legitimate enterprise, no antagonism to necessary capital; but men in their haste and greed, blinded by self-interests, overlook the interests of others and sometimes violate the rights of those they deem helpless. We mean to uphold the dignity of labor, to affirm the nobility of all who earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. 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. 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. To pause in his toil, to devote himself to his own interests, to gather a knowledge of the world's commerce, to unite, combine and cooperate in the great army of peace and industry, to nourish and cherish, build and develop the temple he lives in is the highest and noblest duty of man to himself, to his fellow men and to his Creator.