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Bert Cochran

American Labor in Midpassage

(July 1958)

From American Socialist, July 1958.
Copied from the American Socialist Archive created by Louis Proyect.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Despite its institutional strength, the union movement has been on the defensive for a decade. What are the weaknesses behind the powerful facade?

THE American scale is big and the trade unions have grown up to the same measure. The American trade union movement towers above all other trade union organizations as American industry towers above British, German, or Scandinavian. The British and Swedish unions have organized a larger percentage of the work force than the American, but the very breadth of the American trade union structure – with better than twice the membership of the British, with its 125,000 signed contracts, its approximately $500 million a year dues income and a roughly equal amount in local and district treasuries, its 650 weekly and 250 monthly publications, its 15,000 full-time national officials, organizers, and staff technicians and additional thousands in the localities, its million dollar buildings and office establishments – place it in a class apart. In terms of manpower, resources, and bureaucratic machinery, the American trade unions are the most powerful in the world – facing also the most powerful adversary in the world.

The very massiveness of the structure gives the labor movement social weight and latent powers of resistance, excellently shown in labor’s contrasting fortunes in the two post-World War reactions. It is part of the historical record that after the nation won the wars for democracy, once in 1918, and again in 1945, labor, on each occasion, had immediately thereafter to face a sustained onslaught. Gompers’ AFL did not have what it takes and succumbed to the attack: the steel strike of 1919 was crushed; the miners retreated under threat of government injunction; the packinghouse victory was quickly dissipated and the industry resumed open shop operations; the railroad shopmen’s strike went under the knife. Company unionism was on the rise and the AFL lost its war-time membership gains and slid back to below the three-million mark. The unions stagnated during the twenties, surviving as isolated enclaves on the fringes of the economy. It was a far different story with the labor movement forged during the New Deal. The 1945-1946 strike wave was victorious all along the line, and came up with the first round of post-war wage increases. True, the employers had more success after they shifted their offensive to the political field and secured passage of the Taft-Hartley law. But even in the ensuing ten-year retreat, the unions continued to expand their membership with the growth of the labor force, and even bettered their percentage slightly. The membership stood at about 12¾ million in 1945 and 17½ million in 1956. If we divide the latter figure by 51,878,000 non-agricultural employees, union strength in 1956 would be a third of its theoretical potential. If we eliminate a number of virtually unorganizable categories, we get the official union calculation – 40 percent of its theoretical potential. Union membership is a slightly higher percentage of the labor force than ten years ago, and four times the percentage of 1930.

AS Leo Huberman indicates in his article after reviewing some of the testimony before the McClellan Committee, the struggle against unions is going on today as it did before the advent of the CIO. We have only to mention Kohler, Perfect Circle, Square D, Louisville and Nashville, Southern Bell, Westinghouse, to recall that embittered strikes are also not unknown in the fifties. But overall, the struggle has assumed generalized political forms in an attempt to housebreak and contain the unions. Many of the biggest corporations cannot operate any longer on an open shop basis. Outright union-busting now takes place mostly in the unorganized sectors.

The union movement has held its own as a bureaucratic structure, even if it has not displayed much prowess in carrying the attack to the opponent. In the economic field, the unions are a substantial institution of a different order of power from the twenties. In the old AFL, labor unions were usually able to raise the wages of their members above the general level, but their wage rates set no pattern for the country as a whole. With the unions now bargaining for such a sizable part of the work force, amounting to 100 percent in some of the country’s basic industries, the major wage agreements set a pattern that is followed to one degree or another throughout the business community.

IN the political field, the “reward your friends, and punish your enemies” policy is likewise practiced on a qualitatively different scale. The unions have built a considerable machinery in the form of political action committees in the localities, positions of strength within the Democratic Party in many industrial centers, and a network of alliances with liberal political figures on the city, state, and federal levels.

The bureaucratic front looks solid, substantial, and even imposing. But behind the facade resides a creature wracked by disease. Despite its institutional strength, the trade unions movement has been on the defensive and in retreat for a decade. The unions showed more political muscle inside the Democratic Party and the legislative halls twenty years ago when they were a third of their present size. Rather than mount a campaign to repeal the Taft-Hartly law, the unions have had rained on them an unending stream of hostile rulings from the National Labor Relations Board (the most recent consequences of which have been the setback in the department store field in Toledo, and the breaking of the O’Sullivan Rubber strike), the ICC attack on the “hot cargo” clauses in Teamster contracts, the passage of “right to work” laws in 18 states, and a renewal of unfavorable court judgements. (The recent Supreme Court decision permitting scabs to sue unions in the Sate courts has perilous implications.) The very idea of a labor counter-offensive is forgotten. Union officials are busy tying to fend off additional punitive legislation. Even social security legislation enacted during the New Deal has been permitted to erode. For example, unemployment insurance benefits – the most touted of the “built-in stabilizers” of the new peoples’ capitalism – have been steadily chipped away so that by now employers have cut their tax rates by two-thirds and reduced average benefits to about one-third of weekly earnings compared to about half in 1935 when the law was passed.

THE new organizational campaigns announced at the time of the AFL-CIO merger have been stillborn. There is no substantial organization of new fields in progress. The South remains the haven of the open shop and runaway plant. Chemicals and textiles are largely unorganized. No inroads are being made among white collar workers. The breakthrough into new fields took place during the CIO crusade from 1935 to 1941. The next big membership gains came during the war when the established unions mushroomed out in their jurisdictions under the “maintenance of membership” clauses that they secured from Roosevelt’s War Labor Board in return for the no-strike pledge and the wage freeze. Their expansion of the work force in the unionized industries.

Traditionally, the American trade unions have not been front-line fighters for civil liberties. The craving for respectability and approbation of official public opinion has led the average conservative union official to shun associations with radicals, or those who might be tagged as radicals – even though such aloofness would endanger civil liberties, which are necessary foundation stones of free trade unions. But the labor record of the past decade has probably plumbed new depths in opportunist short-sightedness and bigotry. CIO officials got involved in the witch-hunt by themselves employing McCarthyite tactics against Communist opponents. The crooks and panderers in the AFL found anti-Communism a superb patriotic shield for their sordid transactions. Other more disinterested officials were animated by anti-Communist attitudes no different from those of officials in the American Legions or Chamber of Commerce. The labor movement has scarcely lifted a finger in the specialized sphere of government industrial security regulation, an area which directly endangers union contractual procedures. Even when the independent West Coast Longshore Union was able, through court action, to breach the Coast Guard blacklist, the decision was promptly sabotaged by the AFL-CIO maritime unions. Apathy, timidity, drift, as well as small-tie opportunism-officials are able to rid themselves of opponents or potential “trouble markers” by getting them dismissed as “security risks” – these are the determinants, rather than the welfare of the labor movement as a whole.

The role of the unions so far as the transcendent questions of our time are concerned – war and peace, the H-bomb, nuclear testing, co-existence, colonial freedom – has been equally undistinguished. During the war, labor officials accepted appointments to various advisory commissions and boards. Some of the more socially alert labor officials got big notions of labor’s coming role in foreign policy making. At the time, there was a considerable amount of criticism of “striped pants diplomacy” in the labor press, and demands by people like Irving Brown, Victor Reuther, and George Balkanzi, that labor officials be appointed to authoritative posts. Of course, these soap bubbles were quickly pricked after the war, and labor has relapsed into its traditional position as the object, not the subject, of foreign policy. The truth is most labor officials are too provincial to have informed opinions on these matters. The membership rightly feels that it cannot receive guidance in this complicated sphere from union officers. Recently, there have been a few token gestures of progressivism, as when Walter Reuther and Jacob Potofsky signed citizens’ declarations calling for a halt in nuclear testing, but in the main, labor has been a faithful servitor of the cold war, while George Meany and a group of official have been at pains to identify themselves with its most reactionary and uncompromising advocates.

IT might seem visionary to berate a labor movement for its indifference to civil liberties, or its support of the cold war, when it has permitted some of its leading unions to become sinkholes of peculation and corruption. Many might think it more important first to install better locks on the treasury boxes, and devise improved procedures for voting on union contracts, before we get unduly exercised about unionizing unorganized industries, or defending civil liberties of radicals. For forty years, labor students and sociologists have analyzed the causes of labor corruption. The most recent study (Corruption and Racketeering in the Labor Movement, by Philip Taft, Ithaca, New York, 1958) comes to roughly the same conclusions as previous investigations:

“Basically, racketeering in labor unions appears to flow from a general slackness in American society, an emphasis upon material gain, and practices prevalent in many areas of the business community.

“As employers in some trades will buy off inspectors, so they will make collusive bargains with a business agent. When American influence recently became marked in Western Germany, some of our labor mores apparently got transplanted, as well.

“Labor representatives out of contact with their fellow workers and functioning as an organ of management on the codetermination boards have shown themselves avid spokesmen for the employers. The ‘bonzen,’ [bosses] as they are called, forgot their origins and became inordinately concerned with the problems of management.” (pp.33-34.)

But explanation is not justification. The labor movement has arisen not to mirror the corruptions and exploitations of our acquisitive society, but to eradicate them. To the extent that unionism succumbs to the practices of the business world, it loses its raison d’etre. The very employers who make use of corrupt labor officials induce their political spokesmen to expose the corruption in order to discredit and undermine the labor movement. In the midst of the worst post-war depression, labor officials are preoccupied with undoing the damages of the McClellan exposures. It is startling how little has been done by the government in ten months of depression to alleviate the plight of the unemployed and how ineffectual and tame has been the response of this big labor movement. Its few feeble attempts at mass demonstrations turned into pep rallies for the Democrats. It has proven helpless even to secure passage of an improved unemployment compensation bill.

To sum up, the labor movement is not a leader in the nation today. It does not evoke an image as the protector of the underdog, the champion of progress, the advocate of the brotherhood of man. It is, in the mind of the general public, another “special interest.”

BUT the unions have attained a numerical strength and a social weight where they can no longer limit themselves to their role of the past. Even if we assume that Gompers’ narrow semi-syndicalist job-consciousness was the last word in statesmanship for a trade union movement of 1½ to 2 million, parceled out in craft jurisdictions, such a program is still unworkable for a labor movement of 18 million entrenched in the major industrial strongholds of the economy. Whatever historic role we assign the unions, whether the classic Marxist idea that they are the training grounds for socialist struggles, or the current sociological theory that labor is one of the important “countervailing forces” in a pluralistic society, or the liberal conception that the labor movement is a key institution for safeguarding democracy in a slowly evolving society, we would have to conclude on the empirical evidence that the labor movement’s moral standing is declining and that it is not making adequate use of its powers. C. Wright Mills called the labor leaders “the new men of power” in 1948. His recent conclusion in The Power Elite (New York 1956) fits the facts more accurately:

“For a brief time, it seemed that labor would become a power-bloc independent of Corporation and State but operating upon and against them. After becoming dependent upon the government system, however, the labor unions suffered rapid decline in power and now have little part in major national decisions. The United States now has no labor leaders who carry any weight of consequence in decisions of importance to the political outsiders now in charge of the visible government. Well below the top councils, they are of the middle levels of power.” (pp.262-263)

The result has been a working class pushed off its perch of the thirties and reduced again to a submerged layer of society. The working class has been kept reasonably contented, however, like the proletariat of the Roman Empire, with bread and circuses. While the union organizations have solidified themselves as bureaucratic edifices, and élan and glow have gone, and the outlook of the ranks has grown philistine.

The more understanding of the labor intellectuals who follow union events closely recognize this state of affairs. They deplore the shortcomings and derelictions and offer suggestions for improvement. But they feel that, realistically, one cannot demand very much more from trade unions than they are doing, that unions are a functional institutionalism in our society which by its nature cannot go beyond the specific job of rendering a business service. They hold that criticisms made from the assumption that labor ought to remake our society, or be a decision-maker in the existing society, are intrinsically utopian, corresponding neither to the temper of the country, nor the wishes of the union membership. It was this sober administrative realism that led Selig Perman and the Wisconsin school in the twenties to embrace Gompers’ brand of business unionism and to ridicule the radicals. It is this same outlook that motivated J.B.S. Hardman and many labor experts in the forties and fifties to tailor their thinking to the existing labor movement.

AN empirical approach is often very effective in describing the existing situation, or estimating a slowly modifying one. But it falls down in anticipating “leaps” and “crisis” in a historical development (as David Herreshoff describes in his discussion of the Wisconsin school) and is poor at orienting itself in a fast-changing period. Even if an historical estimation contains errors, it is still more fruitful in furnishing a working hypothesis for purposes of long-range orientation and policy-planning that a merely descriptive sociology. Is this meant to suggest that the trade union movement will soon face a period of swift change as did the AFL in the early thirties? Or are the unions up against a typical round of difficulties, some of which will be eliminated by small modification of their practices, and some of which are the usual problems that inevitably attend all organizations and human endeavors?

Beneath the general slough in labor affairs, a considerable organizational and power re-arrangement is now in progress. The unity of the AFL and CIO two years ago was a threadbare, formal affair. It was further compromised y the disproportionate weight of the AFL in the policy-making Executive Council, and the consequent submergence of the CIO, which had in the past been the more militant and democratic labor body, and which even in 1955 was the cleaner and more virile organization. But the CIO had little bargaining power. It was by that time less than half the size of its rival. The expulsion of the Communist-dominated unions had been part of the process of its loss of momentum. When afterwards, McDonald of the Steel Union started a clique battle against Walter Reuther of the Auto Workers, the CIO was in danger of disintegration and had to take the best terms available from the AFL. Inside the common federation, the industrial unions appeared to be facing an uphill journey. The crafts started to aggressively push their jurisdiction claims. The Teamsters were perfecting a series of private alliances with other unions. And the Teamster-Building Trades bloc was holding up unification of the main state and city bodies. It also seemed at the time that the employers and politicians were going to throw their influence behind the business unionists of the Beck-Hoffa stamp. (Witness the deal with Montgomery Ward, and Senator Goldwater’s declaration that he hoped Hoffa’s philosophy would prevail against that of Walter Reuther.)

THE McClellan Senatorial hearings transformed the picture. As an unforeseen by-product of the disclosures, the AFL-CIO hierarchy was driven to make far-reaching alterations in its internal dispositions. The Teamsters Union has been forced out of the federation. The other big wheel, the Carpenters, has its officers under a cloud as well as an indictment. The revolt of the Building Trades petered out at the 1957 Atlantic City convention; President Meany, resting on a new power bloc, told them off in words that no one would have dared employ two years ago. New, more effective machinery to arbitrate jurisdictional conflicts was subsequently adopted by the Executive Council, and under the whip of public scandalization, a degree of centralized power has been assumed which would never have been tolerated by the International chieftains in Gompers’ day. The executive weight in labor’s councils-for the time being at any rate-has shifted to a combination of the industrial unions and the semi-industrial AFL unions like the Machinists, Electricians, Railway Clerks.

The McClellan disclosures have forced through the adoption of the so-called ethical practices codes and the squeezing out of a number of the more compromised officials. The atmosphere around the labor movement is very different from the time when Joseph Fay slugged Dubinsky at the New Orleans AFL convention for the latter’s speech against racketeering, and Dave Beck was the honored speaker at businessmen’s luncheons. The unions are now under heavy pressure to clean up their more flagrant administrative abuses in order to be able to present a defensible front to the public. But the McClellan disclosures produced no revolts in the ranks. The men and women who pay the dues were voiceless. The reform was a purely top affair and therefore of restricted scope. The AFL-CIO leaders run bureaucratized organizations and had neither the capacity nor the desire to appeal to the ranks to stage internal revolts within their unions. Hence, they had no alternative course but to drop the recalcitrant unions and to sacrifice those union officials who had been caught red-handed. The cleanup campaign will eliminate a few crooked leaders and will institute some improved procedures, but the character, leadership, and direction of the present union movement will be little altered; neither will it stop the decay or retreat. For that, other methods and forces are needed.

A BASIC redirection of union policies can be visualized only as a consequence of an insurgent mood sweeping the nation, and finding reflection in union ranks. It is hard to see the unions as initiators of such a change. They will, rather, be beneficiaries of it. Left to their own devices, the union officials will perpetuate themselves in office and continue to follow the lines of least resistance. But the mass mood has see-sawed in the United States every few decades, and there is no reason to suppose that the pendulum will not swing again in the opposite direction from the present. The time intervals vary depending on a whole series of circumstances, but the oscillating process goes on.

Any new upheaval inside the unions will necessarily assume different forms from the upsurge of the thirties. The unionization wave that came with the NRA hit a predominantly unorganized and leaderless working class. The old set of AFL officials feared the mass production workers and were in any case unequipped to cope with the problems of mass unionism. They weren’t even up to protecting their organizations’ interests in the code setups, as the exasperated comments of Mrs. Perkins and other friendly New Dealers attest. Consequently, the political radicals were able to play a unique role in the early stages of unionization as they possessed the special skills that were at a premium at the time. They partially filled the existing vacuum of leadership. Now, however, the union movement is, in a technical sense, an excellently organized machine, and disposes of a wide network of skilled personnel. The present union officialdom constitutes a formidable bureaucratic power. New bodies of workers will be absorbed, as they are organized, into the existing organism (as they were in the more alert unions like the Miners and women’s and men’s clothing workers in the early thirties) rather than form a rival power center, as did the CIO. Radicals will play an independent role inside the unions again to the extent that they represent the sentiments of sizable segments of union ranks. Their militancy and self-sacrifice will be appreciated as they were in the thirties. But they will be operating this time in a union movement headed by an entrenched and seasoned officialdom, and their technical skills may very well be inferior to those of the administration forces.

Such a trend is all the more likely because of the collapse of political radicalism in the fifties. There is no sizable cadre of men and women ready to step into the breach. At the time of the AFL-CIO merger, when there was talk of launching an ambitious organization campaign, Fortune magazine voiced skepticism that it would come off, and gave as one of its reasons the absence of a group of radicals able and willing to handle that kind of work. This same collapse of radicalism explains the absence of rank and file initiative in response to the McClellan exposures. It is the other side of the coin of the prevailing apathy in the unions, reflecting the listlessness in the nation at large.

NOWADAYS, labor writers ignore the essential tie-up between union democracy and radicalism, probably because radicalism is currently viewed by the academic community as something alien which intellectuals or fanatics seek artificially to inject into the bloodstream of the labor movement. There have, of course, been innumerable instances of radicalized intellectuals or intellectualized radical workers, seeking, in a wise or unwise manner, to influence conservative labor movements in the direction of their ideas. Such efforts have met at different times favorable as well as unfavorable responses, because radicalism and conservatism are varying aspects of the workers’ aspirations for a better life under capitalism; now one, now the other, coming into prominence, depending on conditions. Both are endemic to the labor movement, as any reliable text of American labor history will quickly reveal. Radicalism, however, is intimately connected with union democracy for two special reasons.

First, internal union life becomes vibrant only when workers are in motion. In such times, the ranks are interested in alternative lines to official policy, and seek to participate in decision-making. This may lead them to break through, or attempt to break through, the bureaucratic crust. Ordinarily, union proceedings are pretty humdrum, and only a tiny part of the membership participates. The most recent study of a group of medium-size industrial local unions showed that attendance at meetings typically ranged from 2 to 6 percent. Naturally, controversies of any nature can excite the passions of the members and impart vigor to union proceeding. The existence of a two-party system and the waging of hard-fought election campaigns in the Typographical Union is a case in point. But it is a historical fact that democratic participation and spirited controversy occur most commonly when the membership is in a militant state and anxious to realize substantial social objectives, or to change the union personnel, or both.

Second, a rank and file group is helpless when confronting an entrenched union administration unless it has leaders and some kind of organization. Even where the administration does not seek to apply pressures, threats, or sanctions against the dissidents, the democratic process is reduced to paltry and primitive proportions where its implementation depends on a scattering of unconnected individuals who attempt to pit their proposals against those of a well-oiled machine commanding all the resources of office. That is why when union ranks are in upheaval and seriously resolved to enforce changes, they inevitably throw up new leaders from their midst and form at least some kind of rudimentary caucuses or working groups. Where upheavals spread through a number of unions, and reflect broader social issues rather than passing grievances of a strictly local union nature, such native union radicalism tends to fuse, to one extent or another, with political radicalism-whatever the precise mechanism by which the fusion is realized.

SOCIOLOGISTS have analyzed the process by which a labor union becomes conservatized as it gains responsibilities and power, how the agitator of yesterday becomes the bureaucrat of today, and how a fighting membership settles down when it wins some improvements in its work conditions. This evolution is by now a familiar story and has been repeated in the trade unions of every country in the Western world. Within severe limitations, Michel’s “law of oligarchy” operates with fidelity. But the life cycle of the labor movement does not end with the conservatization and bureaucratization of once militant and democratic movements. Capitalism does not furnish labor unions with that kind of a stable foundation. New crises arise, which breed new upheavals, and start a new cycle-at times, on a higher basis. The American labor movement didn’t get fixed for eternity, or even for a very long time, with Gompers’ triumph over the Knights of Labor. And the present AFL-CIO, stemming from the New Deal, is not the last word on the subject, either. But today’s absence of radical ginger groups around unions, and the prostration of organized radicalism, means that new moods of insurgency will find expression more slowly. It will take more time for the ranks to throw up new spokesmen. Internal union changes will rest for some time to come in the hands of the present officialdom, sections of it reflecting at times progressive currents.

Over forty years ago, John R. Commons wrote:

“It doubtless has appealed to some people who consider the employer’s position more powerful than that of the union, that the employer should be compelled in some way to deal with unions, or at least to confer with their representatives. But if the State recognizes any particular union by requiring the employer to recognize it, the State must necessarily guarantee the union to the extent that it must strip it of any abuses it may practice.” (US Commission On Industrial Relations, Final Report, Washington 1915, p.374.)

These remarks have a prophetic ring today. During the New Deal, labor officials started to lean on government boards and depend on government mediation machinery. The CIO officials embraced the alliance without qualm or inhibition. The AFL hesitated for a few brief moments, but soon forgot old Sam Gompers’ admonition that “what they give, they can take away,” and followed suit. The labor leaders have grown accustomed to using crutches and their walking limbs have atrophied. When the government turned its scowling side on the labor movement and passed the Taft-Harley law, John L. Lewis proposed that the union bypass the law and rely on their economic strength. But the labor hierarchs found this too strong meat for their stomachs. They decided to live with the law. The unions are now enmeshed in a tangle of legal regulations, NLRB rulings, and court decisions, which have made unionism a happy hunting ground for lawyers. With each new decision, the unions sink deeper into the quagmire of legalistic red tape and restrictive regulation. The hiring of more lawyers, more statisticians, more lobbyists, is not the unmixed blessing that many labor writers imagine. It is by no means exclusively a sign of maturity. Up to a point, it is the inevitable concomitant of big unionism dealing with vast corporations and a swollen government bureaucracy. But it is also testifies, in part, to the flabbiness of labor unions which have permitted themselves to be sucked into the maw of capitalist government, and have consequently surrendered a part of their hard-won independence. Whatever be the fate of the new batch of laws now before Congress and the State legislatures, this is a process which will most likely continue and deepen, given the forces at play on both sides.

THE unions are not only caught in the coils of government regulation, but will time and again be faced with punitive edicts which will represent real dangers to their functioning and interfere with their growth. That is why the impulse to enlarge their political influence will grow with each new harassment. The authors of the Taft-Hartley law feared such a reaction and tried to forestall labor politics with crude proscriptions. But labor is strong enough to surmount these and future obstacles thrown in its path if it has the will to political power. Very likely, labor’s political experimentations will eventually culminate with the establishment of some kind of labor party. Whatever its institutional form, however, it appeared to be labor’s manifest destiny to emerge on the political scene in another decade with at least the comparable effectiveness of its British cousins.

The process gives every indication of proceeding along the lines of slow, ponderous change-except for the fact that the United States capitalism, as the twentieth century empire builder, is caught in a crisis of monumental proportions, and absorbs the crisis of every part of the so called free world within its won system. What the precise impact of the crisis will be on the labor unions is difficult to gauge. A lot depends on the economic situation at home. An armaments prosperity bolstered by credit buying has up to now acted as a powerful soporific, effectively doping the working people and nestling intellectuals in clouds of euphoria. But the current depression is breaking the hypnosis. It is not the maintenance of any special level of living standard that determines the political mood. Given a certain minimum level, it is the feeling of security that makes for conservatism and acquiescence, and the feeling of uncertainty that provokes anxiety and impatience. Because the unions are being pushed irrevocably into the volatile sphere of politics, they will react with increasing sensitivity to coming atmospheric disturbances. And the signs point to a stormy decade ahead.

Capitalists employ labor for the amount of profit realized and workingmen labor for the amount of wages received ... This is the only relation existing between them; they are two distinct elements, or rather two distinct classes, with interests as widely separated as the poles. We find capitalists ever watchful of their interests – ever ready to make everything bend to their desires. Then why should not laborers be equally watchful of their interests – equally ready to take advantage of every circumstance to secure good wages and social elevation?

If workingmen and capitalists are equal co-partners, composing one vast firm by which the industry of the world is carried on and controlled, why do they not share equally in the profits? Why does capital take to itself the whole loaf, while labor is left to gather up the crumbs? Why does capital roll in luxury and wealth, while labor is left to eke out a miserable existence in poverty and want? Are these the evidences of an identity of interests, of mutual relations, of equal partnership? No sir. On the contrary they are evidences of an antagonism. This antagonism is the general origin of all “strikes.” Labor has always the same complaints to make, and capital always the same oppressive rules to make and powers to employ. Were it not for this antagonism, labor would often escape the penalty of much misery and moral degradation, and capital the disgrace and rin consequent upon such dangerous collisions. There is not only a never-ending conflict between the two classes, but capital is in all cases the aggressor. Labor is always found on the defensive because:

Capital enjoys individual power and in the exercise of that is given to encroach upon the rights and privileges of labor.

Labor is individually weak and only becomes powerful when banded together for self-defense.

Capital knows no other commercial principle than that ... which ways “buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest” but which if applied to labor means “keep down the price of labor and starve the workingman.”

If there is a mutuality and oneness of feeling, I ask, sir, what means this universal uprising of the workingmen of this continent who are rushing together as with the power of the whirlwind, towards one common center – a union of workingmen?

William H. Sylvis, Speech to the Ironmolders International Union Convention, 1864

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