The Menace of Privilege Chapter Eleven third 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.
end of CHAPTER 11, DANGERS OF UNIONISM
Do unions ever make treaties with monopoly employers?
Some unions make the grossest kind of such treaties even now, without the least pretense of hiding them. For example, the Coal Teamsters’ Union of Chicago “hunts the public” in company with the Coal Team Owners’ Association. The latter is the delivery department of the Coal Trust. The Coal Trust controls the mineral. The coal teamsters entered into an understanding with the trust by which the teamsters received more wages, the trust got a higher price for its coal — and the public suffered a further hold-up.
Sometimes these wage agreements help to build a monopoly combination. It was charged and was generally believed that when the house-building George A. Fuller Construction Company moved from Chicago to New York it brought Samuel Parks to “scab” for it and then to control the Bridge Builders’ Union in New York for it. During the early summer of 1903 a lockout of bridge builders engaged in house construction occurred. It was a general lockout, with the single exception of men employed by the Fuller Company. Respecting this, Mr. Ray Stannard Baker, in an article in McClure’s Magazine for November, 1903, said: –
- During the whole time of the lockout the man on the street may have noticed that work on many new buildings, some of the most important in New York, went forward without interruption, quietly, persistently. Further inquiry would have shown that all, or nearly all, of these buildings were under contract by a single concern — the George A. Fuller Construction Company. Now, why was this company working when all the other builders of New York were idle? How did it rise superior to strikes and lockouts? Had it solved at last the labor problem?
The Fuller Company, itself capitalized at $20,000,000, was at that very time owned and operated by a still larger corporation, the United States Realty and Construction Company, capitalized at $66,ooo,ooo.
Other monopoly companies have endeavored to influence the labor unions by offering to its members (not in the aggregate as forming the union, but separately as individuals) stock in their respective companies at a reduced or “ground-floor” price. The United States Steel Corporation (Steel Trust) has in this way enlisted more than twenty thousand of its employees for three things: continuance of the trust, peace between trust and union. and high steel prices for the public. A similar policy has been tried to a limited degree by some of the large railroads, and has proved more or less successful.
I recite these things to show what trade unions now actually practice and to suggest that if Privilege shall continue to exist and, continuing, shall cause unionism to strengthen in numbers and centralization, there is serious reason to fear that strong and unscrupulous individuals among the unions, such as work their way to the top wherever power resides, will use the great labor movement to get a larger tribute out of Privilege and directly or indirectly out of the public as well.
Nor will the use of “labor-crushing” devices by Privilege lessen the likelihood of this. It will, on the contrary, strengthen it, since it will in the end force closer organization among laborers. Most important of the powers used by Privilege to “crush labor” are court orders and soldiers. These are so important as to require subsequent consideration in separate chapters. But we may here speak of the lesser powers employed.
First of these may be named the “Free Companies.” They are large or small bands of workmen who can at short notice be set in the places of striking or locked-out men. The members of these bands are drafted from all parts of the country and, under what are virtually contracts, are carried from point to point as strike troubles arise: now to New York on a subway railroad strike, perhaps next month to San Francisco where a surface street railroad strike is threatened.
The generality of these strike substitutes are good-for-naughts, or men rendered desperate by the bitter strife for a livelihood. They are banded together like those prototype “Free Companies” of medieval Europe, which sold their swords to any cause and put cities to ransom. If forms differ, the principle is the same. The “Free Companies” of to-day sell their services to any cause to which they can be adapted. They ask no questions as to who is in the right or who in the wrong, or what is the eternal justice of things. They want a living. They see no easier way of getting it than by taking the pay of Privilege to fight their brother laborers.
If the National Association of Manufacturers has little resemblance to the “Free Companies,” it nevertheless is a serious embarrassment to labor unionism. This association was organized among a number of large manufacturers about ten years ago for joint effort along lines of mutual interest. One of the first matters to engage its efforts was the development of export trade. Other matters followed. But the labor question became paramount. The manufacturers in this association were large employers. Some of them belonged to the great trust combinations, possessing railroad, tariff and other government-made privileges.
They denounced the “arrogance” and “tyranny” of militant trade unionism. They opposed it and declared for an “open-shop” policy under which they said they would employ men showing best ability. To the laborers this was serious, for, as Professor John R. Commons of the Wisconsin University said in an address before the American Economic Association last year, “No amount of protest or solemnity of promise, and especially no appeal to the Declaration of Independence from those protected by a tariff that violates the Declaration, can persuade the unions that the employer wants the open shop except to get his labor below the union rate.”
The execution of this plan to “free labor” fell to Mr. David M. Parry, president of the association. His friends take pride in telling how twenty years ago Mr. Parry was a blacksmith, then became a wheelwright, and from that arose to buggy manufacturing, until now he has in Indianapolis the largest factory in that line in the world.
Mr. Parry masterfully set himself to strengthening his organization. He succeeded wonderfully. His association now includes approximately three thousand of the great manufacturers in the United States. It has an extensive information and correspondence bureau in New York, and publishes fortnightly a newspaper devoted to its interests. It has been a vigilant and bitter opponent of all eight-hour and anti-injunction legislation, stamping such as “class ” legislation.
But this was not enough. The members of the Manufacturers’ Association wanted to go more actively into the local strike and boycott field than the other aims of their organization would permit. With that in view, a separate organization was formed, called the Citizens’ Industrial Association of America. Besides the heads of great manufacturing plants, it is composed of employers’ associations, anti-strike and anti-boycott associations, strike insurance associations and Citizens’ Alliances. Mr. Parry was elected president, and the Citizens’ Industrial Association’s purpose was announced to be to protect free labor. The word “free” did not mean free from the shackels of Privilege, but free from the fellowship of trade unions; free from “the acts of violence of organized labor.”
The Citizens’ Industrial Association of America is intended to be active only in times of strike or in boycott crises. Yet if we are to judge of its methods by those found to be employed by the Citizens’ Alliance of Colorado when I made a formal examination into the conditions of the great miners and smelters’ strike there a year ago, those methods must without hesitation be pronounced utterly lawless and subversive of civil rights and civil order.
Composed of representatives of the railroads, the mining and the smelting monopolies that rule that State, together with associated or dependent bankers and newspaper proprietors and editors, and including all the merchants and storekeepers and their clerks who could be coerced into joining it, the Citizens’ Alliance instigated the Governor, State militia and State Supreme Court to seize men whose only crime was that they were known to be trade unionists, clapped them into prison without warrant and even without the preferring of formal charges, kept them there without pretense of trying them, and shipped them out of the State under military escort by car and train loads when the prisoners persistently refused to renounce their unions and join the Citizens’ Alliance.
With the backing of the soldiers it also invaded and searched domiciles without legal process; sacked a trade union cooperative store; at the muzzle of loaded revolvers forced a sheriff and a member of regularly elected town officials to resign from office and substituted men of its own choosing. It even drove out judges who ventured to threaten it with legal proceedings and punishment. It even went the length to admit that there was no civil law in all this. Its plea was that the “best elements” in the community had had to set constituted laws aside and adopt vigilant methods against “trade union secret assassination” and “wholesale murder by dynamite.”
Yet though ample time has since elapsed, not one of the specific charges has ever been proven in court, and some of them have never even been brought there. No greater blow was ever delivered against American liberties than was struck in Colorado by the Citizens’ Alliance with the help of the militia and in the interest of the corporate privileges of that State. Yet it was all done under the plea of protecting life and property and of “freeing labor from the thraldom of trade unionism.”
Such methods may in places and for a time break the power of labor organizations. But the reaction will come and laborers become the more closely organized for resistance. And they will evince marvelous self-restraint if they do not use the club fashioned by the “better element.” Elsewhere than in Colorado soldiers have been used and everywhere the injunction order is being applied, as we shall in subsequent chapters see. But so long as Privilege exists to crowd down laborers in their pay, labor unionism will grow in power for passive or forcible resistance.
The alternative to such strife — with Privilege continuing — is the treaty: an industrial agreement between organized privilege and organized labor. In that event let the nation beware. It will come to realize that it has two vast standing industrial armies quartered upon it. One army will be the army of Privilege; the other, of laborers. Refraining from blows, they will agree to share, even if unequally, the advantages of Privilege, and together they will eat out the substance of the nation.
Next week — the Weapons of Privilege, in detail.
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