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Taken as a whole these agitations have had a tremendous influence on the organization. Cheered by every victory and forgetting the defeats, the A. F. of L., always optimistic and ready to grasp every opportunity for advancement, moved steadily forward over every obstacle. And there have been obstacles, some of which were great enough to dishearten any group of men other than those steeled in the school of Labor.
The agitation for the shorter workday is believed to have been one of the most important fundamentals in the many that have made the A. F. of L. so powerful. The preliminary steps for a universal demand for eight hours were taken in the 1884 convention, and May 1, 1886, was selected as the date for its inauguration. Each local union was asked to vote on the question, those favoring it to be bound by the strike order, and those voting in opposition to pledge themselves to sustain the other pioneers in the movement. Arrangements were made for conferences with employers who were willing to talk over the change in hours. Among the trades that voted to make the campaign were the Cigarmakers, Furniture Workers, German Printers and Carpenters. The Cigarmakers and German Printers succeeded and the Furniture Workers compromised on nine hours. The Carpenters established eight hours in seven cities and compromised on nine in eighty-four. The agitation was very popular in New York, Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington and Baltimore.
The Anarchists, members of the International Workingmen's Party, who had hitherto violently opposed the eight-hour movement and condemned it on every occasion, seized upon it as an instrument, it is believed, to further their propaganda, and the mildest of their agitators became prominent in their attendance at eighthour meetings. The throwing of the bombs at the Haymarket meeting in Chicago on May 5, 1886, however, had a very depressing effect on the eight-hour movement. Nevertheless, the eight-hour agitation reduced the working time of 200,000 employes in industries and the advantages gained were plainly apparent. Much hostility had been met from employers, although the reduction in hours was accompanied with a corresponding reduction in wages. Renewed efforts for a shorter workday were recommended. The rapidly increasing use of machinery caused much unemployment, and in 1887 it was declared "that so long as there is one man who seeks employment and cannot obtain it the hours of labor are too long."
May 1, 1890, was selected for another general strike for the eight-hour day. A most remarkable campaign followed which spread to Europe. In the entire history of Labor there never had been a question on which the thoughts of the people of the civilized world had been so thoroughly centered. In 1888 the combined forces and influences of the employing and speculative classes had so thoroughly awed the unorganized working people into submission, that every meeting night of labor organizations the question of a reduction in wages had to be met. Employers, without consulting their employes, simply posted notices reductions would take place and if they did not strike that was the end of it. Obnoxious rules were forced on the workers and they were compelled to sign ironclad contracts giving up their right to organize for self-protection. Labor was humiliated, browbeaten and scourged. But the spirit of Labor was not broken.
It was in these dark days that the proclamation was sent over the world that the eight-hour day would be enforced May 1, 1890. From that moment a change took place. Hope was instilled into the minds and hearts of the workers to supplant despair. To the rallying cry of eight hours the working people again stood erect and staunch in their manhood. The tide had changed. This appeal was answered with enthusiasm:
"To all who love liberty and are loyal to the principles of free government; to all who look forward to an increased wealth more widely distributed; to all lovers of the human race everywhere; to union men and those not now under the banner of organized labor, we appeal in the name of justice and humanity, of increased wealth and diminished poverty, to concentrate their energies upon the single issue of reduction in the hours of labor."
The International Labor Congress in session in Paris in 1889, in sympathy with the labor movement of the United States, voted to hold simultaneous meetings in every city in Europe, May 1, 1890. This was followed by the selection of May 1 as the European Labor Day. Liebknecht and Bebel, the German delegates, voted against the proposition, saying they could not approve it as long as the Hohenzollerns ruled Germany. The Carpenters were selected to make the struggle. It was successful in 137 cities, benefiting 47,197 workmen. It was at this time the declaration was made that the establishment of the eight-hour day would not end the efforts of the working people for economic and social improvements and reforms.
By 1892 the eight-hour agitation had revolutionized Labor. From a defensive stand it had assumed the aggressive. It was found that no other demand could so thoroughly unite and concentrate the toilers with such unanimity of thought and action. During 1893 and 1894 Labor passed through the greatest industrial depression ever known in this country. It was the crucial test of organization. At least 6,000,000 were idle. This lamentable industrial condition was attributed to many causes. From the time industry began to emerge from the panic of 1872-79 there began the introduction of vastly improved machinery, tools and methods of production. The inventions in electricity, the general application of this force as well as steam to industry was displacing labor faster than new industries could be founded. As a result the great storehouses were glutted with the very articles required by the people who had not the means to buy them. Labor offered the only reasonable, practical and tangible solution to meet the changed conditions of Had less antagonism been met from employers industry-the shorter workday. and those who should have been friends of Labor, the panic of 1893 would have been less intense, if not averted.
It was then The In 1900 the agitation for the eight-hour day was still going on. decided to secure the shorter workday for at least one trade each year. philosophy, as well as the stern necessity for a reduction in the hours of labor, was declared to be underestimated and too little understood.
"There are some who believe, or pretend to believe," the convention maintained, "that a reduction in the hours of labor carries with it a curtailment of production. As a matter of fact every reduction in the hours of labor that has occurred has been followed by a vast increase in production. Increased leisure and opportunity for the workers have made them larger consumers and users of productive labor, giving to industry and commerce an impetus obtainable by no other means."
"It is untrue," said the convention in 1905, "that_wealth production is diminished with the enforcement of an eight-hour day. In no instance where a fair test has been made do employers vary in their favorable attestation of its wisdom and economy. In the construction of the battleship Connecticut under the eighthour plan and the battleship Louisiana on the ten-hour basis, the advantage was to the former. The establishment of the eight-hour day is not alone a substantial good in itself, but contains potential possibilities in future advances. Leisure is opportunity, opportunity is the gateway to a new world of thought and action. The new world is whither our union pilgrimage marches.
In 1905 the International Typographical Union began a general strike for eight hours, and it was successful. The watchword adopted was: "We propose to sell to the employers eight hours out of twenty-four and we will do as we please with the remaining sixteen." After the victory the slogan was changed to: "We are selling to the employers eight hours out of twenty-four and are doing as we please with the remaining sixteen." This principle was adopted by the A. F. of L.:
"The history of the labor movement has demonstrated that reductions of the hours of labor can be secured with less difficulty than can increases in wages, while it also is true that increases in wages can be more readily obtained after the workday has been shortened."
Up to this time twenty-six trades were enjoying the eight-hour day in whole or part. In 1907 the convention declared:
"We regard the reduction of the hours of labor as paramount to all other considerations, even to an increase in wages, except in such occupations
where the earnings are so meager as to make it difficult to maintain a fair standard of living. But in those trades where machinery is making such wonderful strides it is absolutely necessary that the hours of work should be shortened in order that the opportunity for employment be shared by all members."
Several attempts were made to change the eight-hour day policy of the A. F. of L. A small minority wanted to gain the shorter workday in private employment by legislation instead of by the economic power of labor. But the convention stood on this principle:
"The American Federation of Labor declares the question of the regulation of wages and hours of labor should be through trade union activity and not be made subject to laws through legislative enactment, excepting in so far as such regulations affect or govern the employment of women and minors, health and morals and employment by federal, state or municipal governments. The economic strength of the organization determines its bargaining power. It cannot be overestimated that the wage-earners must depend on their economic organizations for securing the shorter workday. One of Labor's greatest victories was the winning of industrial freedom through the repeal of those laws through which the workers' terms of employment had been largely determined by legislative and judicial authorities and the establishment of the privilege to organize on the industrial field and through their collective strength enforce their right to have a determining voice in their terms of employment."
While maintaining that the eight-hour day for workers in private employment should be secured through trade union activity, the A. F. of L. persistently demanded the shorter workday for government employes. Such a law was enacted in 1886, but never enforced. After the A. F. of L. was organized, it began an agitation for enforcement of the act. This met with more or less success, but was wholly dependent on the viewpoint of the federal official having the power to order it obeyed.
In 1892 Congress enacted an eight-hour law which went further than the 1868 act. The new measure extended the shorter workday to employes of contractors for government work. But the same opposition was met to its being enforced. It also was soon found that this law did not cover all the workers for which it was intended, as federal officials decided it did not apply to subcontractors. Then another campaign was begun to extend the law. Finally, in 1912 an act was secured that covered contractors and subcontractors. It was only by persistent demands this law was finally enforced.
When war came in 1917 the principle of the maximum workday had been indorsed by society and the United States Government. Owing to the emergencies created by the war, it was found that it would be impossible for the United States to supply our soldiers with munitions by working only eight hours. Congress then empowered the President to suspend the law when necessary, but provided that all overtime should be paid for at the rate of time and a half. This maintained the eight-hour principle while meeting an emergency. The penalizing of overtime prevented such work except where absolutely necessary.
While submitting without protest to the necessity for conditionally suspending the eight-hour law during the war, the convention in 1918 issued this warning:
"Organized labor must stand firmly and unalterably for a continuance of the shorter kday. It will not tolerate any attempt to increase the basic hours of labor."
It thus will be seen that the introduction of the eight-hour day had become a blessing to employers as well as employes. When first considered it was believed the shorter day would give more employment, that the displacing of workmen by machinery could be met only by dividing up the work so all would obtain sufficient upon which to live. But it was gradually learned that the eight-hour day was revolutionizing humanity itself; that with the increased hours for rest and education the productivity of the worker was increasing. This remarkable change became so pronounced that it did not appear to be a radical statement when President
Wilson declared the eight-hour day is sanctioned by society and is necessary to the well-being of the people.
Another remarkable fact has developed during the many years the eight-hour agitation has been in progress. Where laws have been enacted making eight hours a day's work they have not been enforced until the economic power of Labor has compelled their enforcement. In Colorado, for instance, the constitution provided for the eight-hour day in mines, but the great strike in that state of coal miners was to force its observance by the great corporations. Many lives were lost and women and children suffered starvation because the employers refused absolutely to recognize the law. It is this contempt for law by certain employers that propogates the I. W. W., Socialists and Bolsheviks. And were it not for the trade unions, whose whole existence have proved they are the best prepared to gain necessary remedial laws, our country would be like that of old Russia, driven into chaos by an autocracy in government and industry.
The growth of Labor has not been without its internal strife. The rapid changes in industry has made new trades and eliminated old. These have been the cause of bitter dispute over which should control the job. This led the 1900 convention to say:
"In our constantly changing industrial system, where we find a different stage of development in each industrial center, any definite line laid down would either act as a straight jacket or would be disregarded."
No one had the knowledge or power to say where one trade ended and another began. So time was necessary for the problems to adjust themselves. Because of these jurisdictional disputes the Scranton convention in 1901 adopted its famous trade automony principle:
"We hold that the interests of the trade union movement will be promoted by closely allied and subdivided crafts giving consideration to amalgamation and to the organization of District and National Trade Councils to which should be referred questions in dispute and which should be adjusted within allied craft lines."
In 1911 it added:
"Whatever argument or excuse there might have been in the past for the existence of two organizations of the one craft we now believe that such argument or excuse is absent. The time has arrived for the A. F. of L. to openly and emphatically declare itself to the effect that large as this country is it is not large enough to hold two organizations of one craft."
Efforts to provide a board of mediation and conciliation to give its entire time to adjusting questions of jurisdiction were defeated, the convention in 1914 deciding:
"The plan is not in harmony with the spirit which has characterized all of the work of the A. F. of L. and assured its success and continued usefulness. That spirit upon which so much depends is the absolute absence of any element of compulsion. The plans, policies and decisions, as adopted and followed, are voluntarily indorsed by those whom it may affect. There is a spontaneity and a flexibility about the trade union movement that enables it to adapt itself to every changing condition, every new development, and to serve the best interests of the wage earners. It is so flexible and adjustable that it is a part of their lives and changes as their daily needs change."
Notwithstanding the many great battles fought on the economic field by the A. F. of L., it grows stronger and more forceful as the years sweep by. The weak and poorly financed trade unions have grown into powerful organizations both financially and economically. They grew "not by leaps and bounds in the dark, but by steps in the light to reach the march of liberty, fraternity and equality." The 1882 convention said that "no well defined, systematic and scientific basis of organization prevails. Each trade is groping blindly after results, with more or less defective machinery and imperfect perception of methods and issues. With
a few notable exceptions our unions have yet to withstand a period of storm and stress. Low dues, partial organization and neglect of business principles have proved insurmountable obstacles to full success.'
Agitation for high ues was unceasing. These came gradually until_today there are few unions that have not learned the lesson of preparedness. During the intense industrial depression of 1893 the unions having a system of high dues and beneficial features maintained their ranks unbroken. They also were prepared to take advantage of the first sign of an industrial revival. And the greatest success attends high dues when inaugurated in "dull times." Nearly all the secession movements have originated in national and international unions with a cheap per capita tax. High dues, weekly strike benefits, out-of-work benefits, sick benefits and old age pensions will hold members in good standing no matter how distressing may be their conditions.
While conscious of the fact the strike is industrial war, whose precipitation is to be avoided if possible and whose consequences are often lamentable, the A. F. of L. in 1884 declared it was not convinced it was not a necessity as affording the only alternative against outrageous injustice and intolerable oppression. It contended the strike, when based on justice, conducted with discretion and used as a last resort, is a perfectly legitimate weapon whose force is moral as well as physical, and whose results are often more beneficial than its apparent ending would indicate. Strikes are bad no doubt, but only are they so when failures, but not so bad when successful. Therefore to know when to strike, and more especially when not to, are the questions of greatest import.
As the trade unions grew in strength by the establishment of high dues strikes became less numerous than in the years when organization was in progress. Having the means of self-defense there were fewer strikes in proportion as the means of resistance increased. This advancement was substantial. There was no going backward, the convention saying in 1901:
"From the inception of our Federation in 1881, through these years of work, pain, travail and anguish, fluctuations of dullness and activity, we have steadily marched onward and forward along the path of evolutionary progress. We have witnessed the ebbing away of the great nineteenth, and the ushering in of the marvellous twentieth century. And in the first year of that great era we present to the world of workers and thinkers the broadest, most comprehensive federalization of the workers the world has ever seen, where unity, liberty, solidarity, and independence are strangely and successfully entwined. In our Federation are coined and expressed the griefs, the wails, the hopes, the yearnings of the masses, as well as are evolved the methods and the efforts to assuage the former and to accomplish the latter."
The labor movement of Canada is part of the A. F. of L. The latter for many years has conducted an organizing campaign in that country, and although attempts have been made by employers to divide the workers they have failed. In 1902 the Canadian Trade and Labor Congress inserted a clean-cut declaration in its constitution in favor of unity and fraternity with the A. F. of L. It declared unequivocally for international trade unionism. The Congress was conceded the right to speak and act for organized labor in all political and legislative matters in the Dominion of Canada. Funds were appropriated to aid in securing remedial legislation from the Dominion Parliament and remarkable progress was made in shortening the workday and increasing wages. Complete harmony exists between the trade unions of that country and the A. F. of L. and it is believed the "separatists" have been made permanently impotent.
Compulsory arbitration is relentlessly opposed by the A. F. of L. In 1904 it
"Disputes between workers and employers may be generally adjusted by arbitration, but if they are, it will come only when the workers are better organized, when their power and their rights have received greater recognition. The first step must be organization, the second conciliation, the next possible, arbitration, but compulsory arbitration-never."