The Menace of Privilege Chapter Eleven first part
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.
Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.
start of CHAPTER 11, DANGERS OF UNIONISM
Born of Necessity, Due to Privilege
As we have seen, a militant trade union is not a natural, but an unnatural, formation. It does not come in the course of natural progress. It is a demand of warfare. It arises from a necessity some laborers feel to make defense against the encroachments of what they erroneously call “capital.” Afterwards, as it becomes strong, it changes its policy from defense to offense. As in other warfare, this leads to much real as well as to much seeming injustice.
First of all, to the average man who has nothing to do with unions and who does not realize that privilege is shutting up natural agencies against labor, and therefore that employment is growing relatively scarcer, nothing can seem more against the American principle of personal freedom than to force a laborer against his will to join a union, whether the force used be moral or physical.
If a man is a free man, it is reasoned, if he belongs to himself, then he has a clear and indisputable right to sell his exertions as he will. Following the fundamental law of human nature, which impels him to satisfy his desires with the least exertion, he will sell his labor for the best price he can get. Then why should he join himself with others, taking for his labor only as much as they take for theirs, and refusing to work when they refuse to work? On what principle of justice can such a free man be compelled to give up his freedom and be forced into the union?
On the principle that men are drafted unwillingly into armies for the defense of the state. On the principle that compels those who have necessaries to share with those who have them not in the emergency of a famine. On the principle that prompts the blowing up of houses lying in the course of a city conflagration. Rights of persons and property are infringed in these cases, but they are infringed for the general good.
And similarly, laborers form unions for warfare. They do not voluntarily so organize. They are driven to do so for defense primarily against the oppression of Privilege, which is miscalled “capital.” They also feel that the compulsion realized by some should be made to bear equally on all laborers, since the more men that act together, the better the average benefit. It is for the common good of laborers that all join forces against the common foe.
Therefore those who first organize resort to what the state does when volunteers do not take up her defense in time of need — they use compulsion; they draft other laborers. Their excuse is common necessity. Their motto is: “An injury to one must be the concern of all.” They say that all skilled laborers should be in unions. They proceed to force such to join who do not freely do so.
This is not compatible with free conditions? No; but conditions are not free. Privilege controls the avenues of employment, and in that sense tends to enslave laborers. If trade unions are against the free exercise of personal liberty, censure should not be bestowed upon the unions without first condemning Privilege, which drives laborers to this course.
Keeping this in mind, we may fairly challenge the point of view taken by the distinguished president of Harvard University, Dr. Eliot, who honors the “scab” as representing the spirit of personal liberty among workingmen. (He delivered a series of addresses in Sanders Theater, Cambridge, before the students of the university, on industrial conditions, during April and May, 1904.)
As a matter of fact, the “scab” would not exist in free conditions. Existing in conditions of restraint or limitation upon labor, he presents rather a mean than an admirable character — that of one who would undercut his fellows when they are trying, and not unjustly, to put up, or at least keep up, the rate of pay.
There is more in the life of a laborer than mere employment. There is such a thing as fellowship, the touch of the elbow; that which produces esprit de corps. Man is not solitary in his habits; he is gregarious. He lives in groups. He likes to be associated with his fellows. From this association spring powers not merely of mental enjoyment, but of physical cooperation. It adds to and multiplies man’s powers.
This craving for association is just as natural to him as is that law in the physical world which relates to the mutual attraction of bodies. And as human beings seek and enjoy each other’s society, so it follows that men will find most harmony by segregating, if only in a loose and free way, into crafts. This is not by any human rule or statute, or the following of any wise man’s precepts. It is according to the inborn desires of our nature.
And if men naturally desire to associate with their fellows, is there not an added reason for laborers to associate when the purpose is to institute a militant betterment movement? “Scabs” are laborers who refuse to join this movement. They are induced by hard conditions not to adhere to the fellowship of their craft, but to desert and undersell it. Certainly there is no virtue in that.
It follows then that the “scab” may not possess the virtuous, hardy independence of spirit that we hear ascribed to him, but rather the mean one of advancing himself at the expense of his fellows, when they are fighting to advance the fortunes of all.
Yet not only is it said that trade unions invade the liberty of individual laborers in compelling them to join the unions, but that they force employers to organize in self-defense. It is true that some employers — competitive employers — are driven into what are called employers’ associations. But while this may immediately be due to militant unionism, it is antecedently due to that which causes laborers to organize for warfare, that is to say, to the pressure of monopolies of various kinds.
And yet said President Charles S. Mellen, of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, in a recent public speech: “No one interest has done more to promote the trust or combination — the larger corporation — than organized labor. It has forced them into existence for protection from exaction.”
Poor, weak things — these trusts and combinations and other privileged corporations! Laborers who have banded themselves together to save themselves from being ground to pieces by the great monopoly machine, have forced the building of the monopoly machine! What next? As well say that the crew of a merchant-man who armed themselves and determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible, thereby called into existence the buccaneer craft they beheld crowding down upon them. As well accuse wayfarers of infesting a lonely highroad with robbers, when they drew knives and pistols for defense. So far from the buccaneers and highwaymen springing up because merchantmen and wayfarers armed themselves, the reverse was true. Merchantmen and wayfarers armed because buccaneers and highwaymen threatened.
But while we may no more agree with the railroad president about the origin of trusts, combinations and other privileged corporations than we do with the university president about the virtues of the “scab,” we cannot deny that a fast growing and centralizing trade unionism is potential for ominous results within the state if guided by unwise or unscrupulous leadership.
This centralizing movement is as obvious as the augmenting numbers of the unions. The extension of the principle of the “sympathetic” strike and the contribution from far and wide to enormous strike-war funds attest that. (More than $2,600,000 were raised for the anthracite strike fund in Pennsylvania in 1902, of which $1,800,000 were paid out in strike benefits and in kindred ways. More than $400,000 of this money came from other unions and the public.) The growth of the American Federation of Labor, embracing 1,992 unions, aggregating a membership of one and three-quarter millions, attests that. But what attests it more than either is the “expansion” movement among the unions.
The printers, for instance, find that the developments of the craft have brought into close and reciprocal relations with it workmen of other crafts, like the stereotypers. The printers consequently desire to have their union in some way include the stereotypers, since the latter are indispensable to them. Likewise the coal mine workers say that the pump men and the engineers in the mines are really at one with them in general interest, and that these men should not form outside and totally separate organizations, but should be in some way closely affiliated. The brewery workmen in the same manner think that all the workmen about breweries, having a common interest, should be bound together, and not be broken up among various craft unions.
The advocates of this kind of union — by trade rather than by craft — who desire to bind in one union all the crafts belonging to a given trade, are called “expansionists.” Those who oppose are called “autonomists.” They aim to keep the crafts separately organized, no matter how much they may overlap each other in various trades.
The autonomists are for the most part composed of the numerically smaller crafts. They fear, and reasonably, that absorption into the larger bodies will lose to the members of the small crafts whatever power their unions now give them for self-help. Since printers greatly outnumber stereotypers, the former might be expected to look more particularly after their own needs, and not so carefully after those of the stereotypers, as the stereotypers would were they acting as a separate organization. The stereotypers and printers have met this difficulty by keeping up their separate unions, but by agreeing each to support the other in a strike. This brings the closest unity of action between the two unions. A similar policy is likely to follow in all the trades of mixed crafts where the great expansionist unions do not absorb the smaller autonomist unions. But whether the unions merge or covenant, the end is the same — centralization.
Next week — Embezzlement and “Arthurization”
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