THE AWAKENING OF LABOR.
Never in the history of the world was there a time when the workers were more discontented than at the present. From every corner of the world we hear the workers protesting against the unjust decisions of the courts; the continual increased cost of commodity; the reduction in wages and the lack of employment. These things have started the brain of the workers to think for themselves.
It was inspiring to note the activity the worker displayed in the last campaign.
The year 1908 will go down in history as the beginning of labor's greatest fight for its rights. This new born activity of the workers, proves that they want something more than a full dinner pail. It proves that he wants to rank a little higher than his master's horse: that he wants something more than coarse meats, adulterated foods and cheap clothing and merely wages—enough to keep him in existence.
The workers are beginning to realize that the shackles of wage servitude are just as degrading and unjust as the shackles of chattle slave. They are finding out that they are part of the human family and that in order to save the human family, and to protect himself and his fellow worker from a system that is destroying his home, sending his little sons and daughters into the sweat shops, the mills, mines and factories; yes, and into a life of prostitution, he must study the cause of these ills and this capitalist system and find out for themselves where the trouble lays.
Why is It they wonder that they have to live in houses that the owners of large corporations would not put their horses in, and why is It that they have to buy their clothing and stuff to live on, on the installment, plan? Many similar questions are popping up in the minds of the worker today. He commences to realize for the first time in his life that the interest of his boss and himself are not identical. He comes to the conclusion that he must get into the union where he and his fellow workers can discuss plans for their betterment, and because they do this, proves to him the foolishness of the old teaching of the boss's interest and his being identical, for if they were, he knows that they would ask the bosses to their meetings to help discuss these plans. And again, he is seeing that If such was the case there would be no use for a union. These things the workers are beginning to see, where a few years ago it was all Latin to him. He also knows that whatever better conditions he and his fellow-workers possess have been won only through hard fighting, and many a time by depriving himself and family of the necessities of life. And he has become aroused enough to realize that if he is ever to stand forth a free man he must consider these great social problems that are facing the workers, not only in these United States, but the whole world over. For the injury to one worker is an injury to all workers.
There has been a great cry for years to keep politics out of the unions, and now, at last, who should come forth and drag politics into the unions but the president of the A. F. of L. and his colleagues, It was a wise move, and these men realize that it must be done. While I personally do not agree with the tactics used or the kind of politics. I feel grateful to Brother Gompers and the rest of the executive board for making the start.
I do not believe that we should drag the old corrupt brand of politics into our unions, but I believe that the study of social and economic problems, as well as a discussion of them in our union, is the only way we can come to any understanding on political questions. For with the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the rulings of the courts, the very foundation of our unions are threatened. Some of the brothers may not like the idea of this open discussion. Well, they have had to take some medicine at times they did not like, but it was for their own good; so will this discussion be. Not only for their own good, but for the good of all.
The great trouble has been all down through history, that the workers have always looked to some Wise man to lead them on. But if the workers ever expect to get anything lasting and something really for their interest, they must learn to think and reason for themselves and not have some idol worshiper to mislead them.
Well, let us see if we can find a cause for these social ills that society is suffering from today. Let us go back a short time ago when the older of us learned our trade, and let us take the building trades for example, as we are more acquainted with that trade than others. You will remember how you used to work all during the long winter months making up stock. You also remember how you used to discuss matters with the boss, and many is the time you was one of the boss' household. You remember what a pride you took in your work, and it brings back some good old recollections, even though your wages were small and your hours long. But do not forget that with those small wages you could buy as much then as you can now with these great fortunes the bosses tell us we are receiving. Then you could rent a house for $4 to $6 a month; you could buy. wood for $3 a cord, this being practically the only fuel at that time, as coal was a luxury then. Meat you could buy for 10 cents a pound for the best. Vegetables one did not generally have to think about, for nearly everyone had a little patch of ground to raise them on. But how do these prices correspond with prices for the same today? If you want a good steak the meat trust sees that you pay 18 or 20 cents a pound; if you are lucky enough to have the price of a food chopper, why you can then get some round or shoulder steak for 14 to 16 cents. Vegetables you have to buy at whatever price the grocers' association may set. Wood is something of the past for the workers, for today if you want some good body wood you are asked by the lumber trust to pay into their coffers from $16 to $20 a cord, and "Divine Right Baer," the King of the coal trust, for being good to the miners, only extracts from your pockets from $4 to $8 a ton for a few black diamonds mixed with slate and stone.
Now we find that while the trusts have been playing tag with our pocket, evolution has been playing havoc with our jobs. This you know, for today we have in the place of the small shop the great factories with the modern stamping machines, which can be operated by children and women and these machines will turn out more work than the tinner ever dreamed of doing, and in comparison the product is higher, as we find everything that the worker has to buy continually going sky high. The reason for all this is, if you will only examine a little, because one set of people own the tools with which you must labor, and if they take a trip abroad, buy an automobile, buy a new mansion, or, in fact, any tax which they contract is only shifted back upon the workers by tacking onto the price of the goods which they sell. So if a worker who is getting more wages than he formerly did will set down for just one evening and do a little figuring he will find that the increase in wages has not benefited him financially, for he finds it harder to save a dollar today than he formerly did.
All these facts the workers are commencing to see and understand. They find out that grumbling about the kids and women working, and this and that, and the formation of the trust, the unjust decisions of the courts, does not help matters one bit. So now the worker thinks he must get into politics and see if he can remedy things that way. He has struck the "right church," but most of them the wrong pew. The workers are going to be like a fish caught and thrown on the bank. They will scramble about until they plunge into a political party that stands for the interest of the working class, and not try to settle these problems in a political party with their masters. No more so can they settle matters of great importance to them than by having the masters at the union meetings.
For fear that someone who may read this article may say, "Oh, that fellow is a dreamer, for I know things never were as he states them, and as for the present time, why the workers were never more prosperous than now; anyway, I believe that he is a Socialist and them fellows are all dreamers," I will quote for such brother's benefit some figures of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 1907. And no one will say that a Socialist gave these figures, for the majority of the workers would not throw their votes away to elect those to office who would give you such figures, and more besides, which the workers should have. While these figures are extremely interesting in themselves, they would be more so if the corresponding statistics for 1908 were available for comparison, 1908 being a panic year. However, the figures if available would be abnormal and it may be assumed that when conditions have become readjusted the tendencies revealed by the table here cited will reassert themselves.
From the Bureau's Bulletin we learn that the wages per hour in the principal manufacturing and mechanical industries of the United States during 1907 averaged 3.7 per cent higher than in 1906, while the retail price of food showed an average increase of 4.2 per cent for the same period. That is to say, the purchasing power of an hour's wages as measured by food was one-half of 1 per cent less in 1907 than in 1906.
The retail prices of food are taken as an index to the cost of living, because nearly half of the money spent for'all purposes by a workingman's family is spent for food. These figures do not apply to salaried employes in any industry.
Perhaps a fairer idea of where the wage earner stood in 1907 is given by a comparison between the figures for that year and the average for the ten years from 1890 to 1899 in the same Bulletin. We find as compared in each case with the average for the years from 1890 to 1899. the average wages per hour in 1907 were 28.8 per cent higher, the number of employes in the establishments investigated was 44.4 per cent greater, and the average hours of labor per week were 5 per cent lower.
The price of food for 1907 was 20 per cent higher than the average for the ten-year period. Thus the purchasing power of an hour's wages in 1907 as measured in the purchase of food was 6.8 per cent above the average for the decade compared.
The comparison between 1906 and 1907 covers 41 industries, of which all but one showed an increase in wages per hour.
The figures for 1908 will show a much greater percentage increase in the cost of living above that of wages, as we all must admit that there was a great decrease in wages during 1908, besides millions out of employment.
For instance, take the Wall Street Journal, which states that prosperity has not yet returned.
These conditions, as well as those of child labor and the graft in our national, state and municipal governments, will wake the workers up as they have never been aroused before, and they will not stand for such conditions much longer.
I often have [heard] some of those old conservative brothers say: "Oh, you can never educate the workers—they are so dumb." Still, if you should tell that same individual that he is dumb he would be mad enough to fight and he is the worst one to educate in any new ideas.
Once again we have an example of the justice of our courts. This time it comes home to us of the A. F. of L., for last month a decision was rendered by Judge Wright, sentencing three officers of the A. F. of L. to jail. As in the cases of Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone, and Jan Janoff Pouren and Christian Ansoff Rudowitz, the Russian political refugees, the workers must cast off all personal differences and make such a protest against such unjust decisions that it will make the labor haters sit up and think. We must all remember that these three men are not on trial. No, it is labor they are using these men for, to have something to point to and say: "Now you fellows be good, for you see what your leaders got." But, brothers, It is time that we call their bluff. Make them show their hands, and if they can beat ours, all well and good; but let us make them play fair.
This is the beginning of the great battle that must be fought between capital and labor. Using the phrase of war, they are skirmishers and our soldiers must be trained. So I say, brothers and comrades, pick up the gauntlet and go forth and defend your rights as workingmen, as this is the awakening of labor.
H. E. STEINER, Member of Local No. 46
Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers' Journal (Feb. 15, 1909): 60-63