THERE are two objects with which a member of the working class may join a labour organisation. The two are not necessarily exclusive one of the other. One object is that the individual's position in his particular trade may be more favourable and more secure. The other is that the condition of the working class in general may be improved. Until recently, both in England and in America, the former has been the main, to a large extent the only, idea in the minds of the working men when they joined bodies of organised labour. But, of late years, to this has been added the idea of work for the emancipation of the working class as a whole. This idea is with more and more distinctness shaping itself to that of the nationalisation of all means of production and distribution, and in America more than in England it is taking this form.
Let us quote three different writers in this connection. One is an American clergyman. Writing in the Century Magazine, he declares that "Labour is organising for the purpose of its interests. It is thus deepening the chasm and intensifying the hostility between the labouring classes and the capitalists. Nearly every trade has now its trade union--some local, some national. These unions are essentially warlike in their aims and in their methods." On the other hand, another writer, equally able, says the Ohio Commissioner, declares trades unions to be simply "A bull movement in the labour market." Finally, the Ohio Commissioner himself holds that "the latter is undoubtedly right, the former wrong, because trades unions, as they exist to-day, do not recognise any hostility as existing between capital and labour." Our readers will know that, for once, we are on the side of the clergyman in this matter. It is just because the working class is recognising the inherent hostility between their class and the capitalistic that the second object of trades unions mentioned above is becoming more and more clearly the primary object.
And if we wanted proof of this we could have no better than the words Of ex-Mayor Grace of New York: "They are organised for defence, not for aggression,....their end is to make the working man's life less precarious; to make him a better mechanic, a better man, a better husband and father, and a better citizen." With Mayor Grace the wish is father to the thought. From this optimistic belief the mayor, then getting ready to become ex-mayor, was rudely shaken when, in November 1886, he saw organised labour declaring for Henry George as his successor and against Abram Hewitt, and declaring with no bated breath that its opposition to the latter was largely based on the fact that he was a representative of the capitalistic class.
Lastly, we quote from Professor Ely's "Labour Movement in America " his conception of the meaning and value of working-class organisations. Professor Ely, the English reader must remember, is the political economist of America least unfavourably disposed, or we may even say most favourably disposed, to the labourers as a class. He is the head and front of the Economic Association, and a sore stone of offending to the orthodox school of economist:: in that country. According to him, the Trades Union and working-class organisations (1) "enable the labourer to withhold his commodity temporarily from the market;" (2) "assist the labourer to find the best market for his commodity" [labour, as Professor Ely will call it-labour-power as it should be called]; (3) "render it easy for the artisan to form useful connections with those pursuing the same trade;" (4) "educate the labourers to prudence in marriage.' To many of our readers these "uses" of working-class organisations will appear ludicrously useless, and to yet more they will appear insufficient, by reason of the omission of that one use which to the working class is becoming more and more paramount--the organisation of labour against the capitalistic class, with a view to the ending of the present method of production and distribution.
Against these declarations of Professor Ely and of the Ohio Commissioner, and of the "able writer." we are content to set the declarations and preambles of various working-class organisations to be given in the sequel. It will be found that these are practically unanimous in stating, explicitly or implicitly, that the working-class movement is a political one, and is directed towards the abolition of the present wage-system. And the facts of the electoral contests of November 1886, of the various contests since that date, and of the preparation made by the United Labour Party for coming struggles, are yet more eloquent witnesses on our behalf.
SKETCH OF THE HISTORY OF WORKING-CLASS ORGANISATIONS IN AMERICA.--For the facts now given we are indebted to Professor Ely's book and to the reports of the Bureaux of Labour statistics. There are "no traces of anything like a modern trades union in the colonial period of American history." But in 1802 the tailors of New York struck for an extra four dollars a month, and marching about the city with a band, compelled their fellows to come out on strike, until the clapping of their leader into prison ended this first working-class effort in America. Between 1800 and 1825 sporadic appearances of unions of one trade in one place occur. They are illustrated by the New York Society of Journeymen Shipwrights, incorporated April 3rd, 1803; the New York House Carpenters' Union, 1806; the New York Typographical Society, 1817; Albany Typographical Society, 1821; and, at last the movement quitting New York State, the Columbian Charitable Society of Shipwrights and Caulkers of Boston and Charlestown, 1822.
From 1825 the working-class movement really begins. More local unions appear; unions between workers in different trades and in one place, unions between workers of the same trade in many places, finally between workers in different trades and in different places, are gradually evolved. Boston and New York are the chief centres of the work from 1895 to 1861. But in 1830 a working man's convention met at Syracuse, New York State, and nominated a governor for the State. In the same year, the workmen's party of New York helping, the Democrats elected three or four members of the legislature. In 1833 the General Trades Union of the City of New York, prototype of the Central Labour Union, to be presently described, met, and in 1835 there is mention of a National Trades Union. The ten years before the civil war are remarkable for the number of trades unions organised on a national basis. A list of these follows :--Instrumental Typographical Union, 1850, 28,000 members, July 1886; National Trade Association of Hat Finishers, 1854, divided in 1868 into two organisations, the one retaining the old name, 3,392 members, the other calling itself the Silk and Fur Hat Finishers' Trade Association, 643 members; the Sons of Vulcan, 1858; the Iron Moulders' Union of North America, 1859; the Machinists and Blacksmiths' Union of North America, 1859.
The years 1861 to 1886 are yet more full of the movements of labour. The civil war had, after the fashion of the Crusades in the history books, stirred the minds of men, brought different types into contact, even if into collision, opened up avenues of communication, and above all, forced the attention of men on labour problems by the sudden and unrighteous encroachments of business men and, if we may be allowed the pleonasm, adventurers. In 1863 the Brotherhood of the Footboard, an organisation of engine-drivers, was founded, and a year later it became the Grand International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. In 1865, still another year later, one of the most important bodies in the world, the Cigar Makers' National Union, started. In 1837 it was International. An International Union of Brick-layers and Masons, in 1865; the Order of Railway Conductors (originally known as the: Conductors Brotherhood), in 1868; the Wool Hat Finishers' Association, in 1869; the Trade Union of Furniture Workers (late the International Furniture Workers Union), in 1873; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, in 1875; the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, made up of the Sons of Vulcan, the Associated Brotherhood of Iron and Steel Heaters, and the Iron and Steel Roll Hands' Union, in 1876; the Granite Cutters' National Union of the United States, America, in 1877; Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, in 1881; Cigar Makers' Progressive Union of America, 1882; the National Hat Makers, in 1883; the Railroad Brakemen, in 1884; the Coalminers' National Federation, in 1885; the Journeymen Bakers' National Union, in 1886,--are the chief trades unions formed since the war.
"Other trades unions which must be mentioned are the following:--The Chicago Seamen's Union, the United Order of Carpenters and Joiners, the Plasterers' National Union, the Journeymen Tailors' National Union of the United States, Deutsch Amerikanische Typographia (composed of those setting type for German books or periodicals), American Flint Glass Workers, and the Universal Federation of Window Glass Workers. Working men who have national or international organisations of which I am not acquainted with the precise names are the boiler makers, book keepers (clerks included), bottle blowers, stationary engineers, metal workers, piano makers, plumbers, railroad switchmen, shoe lasters, spinners, stereotypers, telegraphers, silk weavers, wood carvers" ("Ely,') pp. 65, 66). The membership of the American Trades Unions varies from 2,000 to 25,000 each, while there are also many thousand Americans who belong to the English Amalgamated Engineers, Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, the machinists, Millwrights, smiths, and pattern makers.
Before turning our attention to the genuine working-class organisations, a few words on the Grange or the Patrons of Husbandry. This body, with its unfortunate name-word "patrons," is an essentially class organisation, and not a working-class one. It is composed of farmers, and farmers only. No. 6 of its Declaration of Purposes reads: " Ours being peculiarly a farmers' institution, we cannot admit all to our ranks."
The Grange is local, is state, is national in its character. It professes to advance the interests of all, apparently by the self-satisfactory method of advancing those of the one. The one is, of course, the agricultural constituency, as the patrons put it; the employing fraction only of this, as facts show. Started in 1866, on the initiative of P. H. Kelly, a Minnesota farmer,
who had been sent south just after the war by the Agricultural Department of the Government, the Grange went through the usual stages of a successful organisation--struggle, growth, political temptation, reaction, recovery. In 1886 Maine added 1,100 "patrons" and 11 new granges; the corresponding numbers for New Hampshire and Pennsylvania were respectively 700 and 9; 1,700 and 18; Massachusetts increased its membership 100 per cent., with 10 new granges; Connecticut, 150 per cent., with 16 new granges.
The objects of the Grange are very definite, as far as the actual farming interest is concerned, and are vagueness itself as far as relates to the people generally. To make farms self-sustaining, to diversify crops, to discountenance the credit and the mortgage system, to dispense with a surplus of middle men, to oppose the tyranny of monopolies, are definite aims. But there is an air of vagueness about labouring for the good of mankind, developing a better manhood, fostering mutual understanding, suppressing prejudices.
The Grange is not a political organisation. Upon this point it is very explicit and reiteratory. It claims to be educational and co-operative, and has many co-operative associations (132 in Texas alone), banks, insurance companies, and so forth. Yet by its agitation this organisation has helped to secure the passing of the Inter-state Commerce Law, the Oleo-margarine Law, and other enactments.
Recognising the antagonism between capital and labour to-day (Declaration 4), yet the Grange makes no definite contribution to the solution of the problem of their reconciliation. Not that the organisation ignores economic questions, as witness the resolution passed at the annual session of the National Grange in 1885: "Resolved that the Worthy Lecturer of the National Grange be instructed to continue the distribution of subjects for discussion quarterly, to subordinate granges, and that questions of political economy be given prominence," etc. On further investigation the questions of political economy resolve themselves into "gold, silver, greenbacks, national banks, corporations, inter-state and transcontinental transportation, and the tariff as it relates to agriculture."
From the above it will be seen that at present the Grange is a trade union only in the narrow sense; is an organisation of farmers alone; is not a political body. It may in time become leavened with the leaven of the general working-class movement; but as it is at present constituted the Grange is probably more likely to be a hindrance to that general movement than a help.
We pass to the chief organisations,--the Knights of Labour, the Central Labour Unions, the Socialistic Labour Party, and the United Labour Party. These are organisations of organisations, and as such hold the same position in respect to the bodies they group together as a generalisation of generalisations holds to the inductions that it summaries.