Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/November 1914/Ephemeral Labor Movements, 1866-1889
|EPHEMERAL LABOR MOVEMENTS, 1866–1889|
By Dr. FRANK T. CARLTON
THE history of labor organizations (1866–1889) is a record of ebb and flow, agitation, organization and disintegration. It is, indeed, a strange blend of unionism and politics, of individualism and socialism, of strikes, greenbackism and cooperation, of prosperity, panics and concentration of industry. This quarter of a century is preeminently one of preparation; in it are laid the economic and psychological foundations upon which have been built, in a large measure, the trade-union organizations of to-day. Movements, ephemeral and , but grand in conception, hasten nervously across the stage. At intervals during the period writers in the numerous labor papers declare that now is a time of transition and that organization at this particular moment will be unusually fruitful of good results. The workers, distrustful and individualistic but harassed by the fear of monopoly, the competition of unskilled labor, the introduction of machinery and lower wages, cohere for a brief period under the pressure of extraordinary conditions or the influence of enthusiastic leaders, only to repel each other as their financial skies appear to clear. But, by the end of the period, the labor organization had become one of the permanent institutions of the nation.
When the civil war ended labor organizations of the trade-union type were multiplying and waxing stronger. The return of the soldiers to peaceful pursuits, the continued influx of immigrants from the old world, and the growing power of industrial combinations, all contributed to arouse the wage earners of the nation to activity. The years 1866 and 1867, probably represent the period of maximum activity during the era immediately following the surrender at Appomattox. In 1864, an unsuccessful attempt had been made to organize a national federation of trade unions. Two years later the National Labor Union was organized at a National Labor Congress held in Baltimore. This was the first successful national federation of trade unions formed since the National Trades' Union disappeared in 1837. In 1865, a state federation of trade unions was organized in New York—The Workingmen's Assembly. This continued until merged in 1897 with the state organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Its chief purpose seems to have been to influence legislation. "The distinctive features of the organization are Protective,  In the early years of the Assembly, nearly all of the affiliated bodies were protective, many benevolent, and at least two were secret—The Supreme Mechanical Order of the Sun and the Knights of St. Crispin. In 1869, the assembly favored the establishment of cooperative enterprises; but little progress was reported for the year 1868. At the close of that year there were at least six cooperative foundries in the state.and Secret."
The Workingmen's Union of New York City and vicinity, "reorganized in 1864 and incorporated in 1866," was a city central labor union. All representatives sent to this central body were required to be "practical" workingmen actually working at their trade. The objects of the union were to unite the strength of different organizations in the city, to foster a friendly feeling between workingmen, to discuss and modify proposed legislation, to adjust difficulties between labor and capital—accepting the "axiom, That the interests of labor and capital should be identical,"—to discountenance strikes except when "they become absolutely necessary." Evidently class consciousness was not as yet highly developed among the organized workingmen of our largest city. A very interesting preamble to the constitution of The Stair Builders' Mutually Protective and Benevolent Union of New York City offers further evidence. The Stair Builders deplored the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. They asserted in italics that the "interests of the employee and the employer are identical." But they also declared "the independent and irresponsible action of individual employers ignores the claims and rights of employees, casts upon the field of labor incompetent workmen, lowers the dignity of the mechanic, and degrades labor." Through union action they hoped to advance the interests of labor and to secure their just reward.
In 1868, at least twelve national and international trade unions were in existence: International Union of Bricklayers, Plasterers' International Union, Carpenters' National Union, National Typographical Union, Moulders' International Union, International Union of Machinists and Blacksmiths, Coach Makers' International Union, Ship-carpenters and Caulkers' International Union, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Glass-Bottle Blowers' Association, Cigar Makers' International Union, Knights of St. Crispin. The Daughters of St. Crispin was organized in 1869; and was the only women's trade union having a national organization. One authority states that more than thirty national trade unions were in existence during the decade, 1863–1873.
The President of the New York State Workingmen's Assembly reported a membership of 280 organizations in January, 1868, and 305 one year later. The assembly was said to represent 25,000 working people. Five unions in New York City were reported to contain a membership of at least 1,000 persons each. These unions were: Typographical Union, No. 6, 2,300 members; Longshoremen's Society, No. 2, 2,300 members; Bricklayers' Union, No. 2, 1,600 members; Cigar Makers' Union, No. 90, 1,250 members; United Cabinet Makers' Union (German), 1,000 members. In the year 1867, thirty thousand was "not an extravagant estimate of the actual strength of the labor organizations in New York" City. Brooklyn, Jersey City, Newark and the Westchester towns were estimated to contain 20,000 additional union men. At the annual meeting of the Bricklayers' International Union in 1867, it was reported that the national body contained 24 unions in good working order. One year previous, the number was only ten.
As has been indicated, with the return of the soldiers looking for employment, the rising tide of immigration, the greater use of labor saving devices, and the growing strength of corporate organizations, the need of greater solidarity and unanimity of action among the working people was felt sufficiently to enable a national federation to be formed and continued for a few years. Like the pioneer national federation of trade unions organized in the thirties, the National Labor Union was merely an advisory body; it never attained much strength or prestige. William H. Sylvis, one of America's ablest labor leaders, was an important factor in initiating and building up this organization. Mr. Sylvis was elected president of the National Labor Union in 1868.
From its inception political activity seems to have been an important part of the work of the National Labor Union. In fact the chief aim and purpose of the organization was political rather than purely industrial. The first congress, held in 1866 at Baltimore, recommended that steps be taken to form a national labor party "which shall be put in operation as soon as possible." Again, in 1867, it was resolved that the time had arrived when "the industrial classes should cut themselves aloof from party ties and predilections and organize themselves into a National Labor Party." In the first congress much stress was laid upon the necessity of organizing trade unions; but, in 1868, a resolution was adopted stating that "the very existence of the National Labor Union depends upon the immediate organization of an independent labor party." The greenback issue and the opposition to national banks first received official recognition in 1867. Doubtless those two issues were raised at that time because of the depression which followed the close of the war and because of the demand that the greenbacks be retired. Contraction of the currency was checked by act of congress in 1868.
An influential element within the National Labor Union favored affiliation with the International Workingmen's Association; but it never united with this socialist organization. In 1870, a resolution was adopted in which the National Labor Union "declares its adhesion to the principles of the International Workingmen's Association, and expects at no distant day to affiliate with it." The National Labor Union as an organization can not, however, be said to have been class conscious. Substantiating this statement is the fact that delegates were admitted to the annual meetings from organizations other than those of workingmen. In 1866 delegates from Eight-hour Leagues, Land and Labor Reform Unions and Anti-Monopoly Associations were admitted. At the annual congress in 1870 a representative from a farmers' club was seated. It is also worthy of mention that at this congress a representative of the National Guard of Industry and one from the Colored Teachers' Association of Cincinnati were given seats. Nevertheless, at the congress of 1869, Miss Susan B. Anthony was rejected as the delegate of the Working-women's Protective Association, on the ground that it "was not a bona fide labor organization." The credentials of Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a representative of the Woman's Suffrage Association were accepted in 1868—because she came from an organization for the "amelioration of the conditions of those who labor for a living."
After the death of President Sylvis in the summer of 1869, only a few days before the annual meeting, the National Labor Union began to show unmistakable signs of weakness. The editor of its official organ, The Workingman's Advocate, of Chicago, pointed to the apathy of the workingmen as an alarming sign of the times. The officials were not receiving that essential of all organizations, financial support. On January 29, 1870, appeared an editorial in regard to the union under the caption, "To Be or Not To Be." In March, the president issued an urgent appeal for funds. Since the preceding summer only $448 had been received by the treasurer of the organization from all sources.
The Congress of 1871 decided to divide the political and industrial activities; and it authorized calls for two conventions for 1872—the National Labor Party and the National Labor Union. It was the convention of the former which nominated David Davis for president in 1872. The last Congress of the National Labor Union was held in 1872. It was of little importance; but steps were taken leading toward the organization of a "National Industrial Congress." Nevertheless, as late as March 24, 1874, The Workingman's Advocate still called itself "the official organ of the National Labor Union."
The first National Industrial Congress was held in Cleveland, July 15, 1873. The only labor organization which opposed the movement was the ever-conservative Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. The leaders of the new movement proposed to steer clear of politics. No constitution was adopted in 1873. Robert Schilling, of Ohio, was chosen as its president. Some of the resolutions adopted savored somewhat of political activity; and later some opposition developed because of the adoption of these resolutions. But the call for this congress stated definitely that steps would be taken to prevent it from deteriorating into a political party. Evidently the leaders of the Industrial Congress believed that politics had wrecked the National Labor Union; and that a stronger national federation of trade unions was desirable. The second congress was held at Rochester, April 14, 1874. Many of the delegates were men who had been prominent in the National Labor Union. A constitution was adopted and the name Industrial Brotherhood was assumed. The declaration of principles was almost the same as that later adopted by the Knights of Labor. Many of the demands were political rather than purely industrial. Its platform viewed with alarm the aggression of aggregated wealth, which, it was urged, tends toward the degradation of the masses.
Although Mr. Powderly is of the opinion that a third congress was not held, there is evidence that a National Industrial Congress was held at Indianapolis on April 13, 1875. In its declaration of principles, appeared a clause opposing the use of the military power against striking workingmen. The Workingman's Advocate became in due time the "official organ of the National Industrial Congress"; and as late as October 13, 1877, it still used this title. Although the Brotherhood or the National Industrial Congress was organized by trade-union men, it was somewhat like the Knights of Labor in principle. Trade unionists objected to the organization of locals under the auspices of the Industrial Brotherhood; and they also were adverse to associating with unskilled labor in an organization. This attitude on the part of the skilled men and the continued industrial depression following the panic of 1873 destroyed the organization. The early death of the Industrial Congress indicates that the National Labor Union was not destroyed solely because it went into politics, but chiefly because the industrial development of the country was not sufficient to weld the workingmen of the nation into a strong and permanent federation. They could see no excellent reasons for paying dues to such an organization—except during a time of stress. The National Labor Union and its successor, the National Industrial Congress, died of financial weakness and the apathy of their members.
In 1876, another attempt was made to form a national federation. A call was issued by an "executive committee" from Pittsburgh, January 5, 1876, "To all Labor Orders, Unions and Associations of the United States." Delegates were asked to be "prepared to take such steps as will place our now scattered forces under one organized movement, for immediate action, to get and to hold, and use the balance of power. . . . The issue is a labor issue, an issue of the right of men to 1876. The social democrats tried in vain to commit it to the policy of organizing a distinct labor party. A substitute plan was adopted which is quite similar to the more recent plan fathered by President Gompers of the American Federation of Labor.
Resolved: That independent political action is extremely hazardous and detrimental to the labor interests; that the workingmen of the country should organize into trades unions and labor leagues to educate the people first,
The editor of a labor paper complained in 1877:
All our national organizations for the unification of labor are dead. Labor is divided in a thousand unions and factions.
He declared that employers and employers' associations were bitterly fighting labor and that the next necessary step in the struggle against combinations of capital was a "National Federation of Trades' Unions." During the last years of the seventies, such national unions as the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers of the United States, the International Typographical Union, and the Cigar Makers' International Union were agitating the matter of a national federation. In 1881, the President of the Typographical Union wrote in his annual report:
The subject is of such importance that we can afford to suffer in patience numerous failures if as an ultimate result the mechanics of the United States and Canada can be brought into a closer and common organization for the common good.
There is much evidence indicating that the far-sighted labor leaders of the seventies saw the need of a permanent national federation of trade unions. On November 15, 1881, at Pittsburgh, was formed the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. This organization in 1886 voted to merge with other trade unions and the name, American Federation of Labor, was adopted.
In addition to the trade unions of the period, such as the International Typographical Union and the Cigar Makers' International Union, and the national federations, such as the National Labor Union and the Industrial Congresses, the Knights of Labor and numerous ephemeral labor organizations appeared whose ideal was that of "one big union." Like the Knights of Labor these organizations practically ignored trade lines. Except in the case of a few controlled by the socialists, they were in reality reform associations composed chiefly of wage earners. These ephemeral organizations are interesting chiefly because they throw some light upon the conditions of the period and upon the ideals and demands of the wage earners. The decade of the seventies was especially prolific of ephemeral labor-reform associations.
The National Guard of Industry was organized in 1869. It admitted "all trustworthy persons who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow" and who are friendly to its purposes. The platform of the order was a peculiar hotch-potch of humanitarianism, trade unionism and political reform; it favored the eight-hour day and cooperation, and opposed granting land to corporations. The "early closing movement" is not of recent origin. As early as 1866 or 1867, in New York City, a "Dry Goods Clerks' Early Closing Association" was in existence. The Supreme Mechanical Order of the Sun was established in the early sixties. It was still in existence in 1869, a secret order having an extensive ritual and several degrees.
In 1872, the Christian Labor Union was formed for the purpose of influencing the Church to aid in the establishment of cooperative associations. The Association of United Workers of America, called by Professor Commons the "nationalized International," came into being in 1874, and was apparently merged into the Workingmen's Party two years later. It was a socialist organization. Each member was expected to support only those political movements which aimed directly at the economic emancipation of the wage earners.
The Junior Sons of '76 "do not attribute all our suffering to any single cause, but to a variety of causes." They appealed to all workers to unite "against the growing power of monopolies" by using the ballot. Laboring men should be elected to office. The Junior Sons was a secret organization supposed to be composed exclusively of workingmen. In the spring of 1875, it was stated that in several counties of Pennsylvania the majority of the voters were members of the order. The Order of American Mechanics admitted only native-born persons.
One of the most unique and most powerful of the ephemeral organizations was the Sovereigns of Industry, established in 1874. It was a secret order which admitted both men and women. According to the preamble of the organization's constitution, it was "an association of the industrial working classes without regard to race, color, nationality or occupation; not founded for the purpose of waging any war of aggression upon any other class, or fostering any antagonism of labor against capital, nor of arraying the poor against the rich, but for mutual assistance in self-improvement and self-protection." The sovereigns repudiated the subsistence theory of wages, and proposed to increase real wages by reducing expenses through cooperation. The ultimate purpose seemed to be the elimination of the wage system. They proposed to "make war on the middleman as the exclusive remedy for the ills of the workers." The sovereigns did not propose to displace any existing labor organization. In the spring of 1875, it was estimated that over 50,000 Pennsylvanians belonged to the order.
The International Labor Union was organized in 1877 with George E. McNeill as president.
In this hour of the dark distress of labor, we call upon all laborers of whatever nationality, creed or color, skilled or unskilled, trade unionist and those now out of union, to join hands with us and each other to the end that poverty and all its attendant evils shall be abolished forever.
The chief objects of the union are indicative of the important demands of the labor reformers in 1877: reduction of the hours of labor; higher wages; factory, mine and shop inspection; abolition of the contract convict labor and truck system; employers to be held responsible for accidents to employees on account of the neglect of employers; prohibition of child labor; establishment of labor bureaus. Although branches are reported to have existed in seventeen states, the membership was small. The union attained its greatest strength in 1878.
As early as 1866, organized labor began timidly and intermittently to enter the political field. Editor Cameron of The Workingman's Advocate, perhaps the leading labor paper of the period and the official organ of the National Labor Union, was nominated as a candidate for a seat in the lower house of the Illinois legislature, by the workingmen of Chicago. The editor of the National Workman, the official organ of the federated trades of New York City, wrote (January 5, 1867):
The New Year opens with flattering auspices to the cause of labor reform. Many governors of states and members of state legislatures have been elected upon the workingmen's tickets, as friends of the eight-hour system.
The first Congress of the National Labor Union (1866) declared that only candidates favorable to an eight-hour law should be deemed desirable by the workingmen of the country. In 1867, at least three states, New York, Connecticut and Michigan, held workingmen's conventions; and a National Labor Rform Party seems to have been organized. In a platform adopted August 22, 1867, it opposed national banks. The "money monopoly" was held to be "the parent of all monopolies." The issuance of treasury notes was recommended as a preventive of growing inequality in the distribution of wealth. Land monopoly was feared; and as a remedy for insufficient employment, it was urged that workers proceed to the public lands and become actual settlers. The platform contained a clause favoring cooperation; and strikes were deprecated. A demand was made for improved dwellings and tenements for workers. This party undoubtedly died soon after its birth, because William H. Sylvis, upon being elected president of the National Labor Union in 1868, urged the organization of a workingman's party, and the congress voted to organize a "labor reform party."
The leaders of the labor movement in the late sixties often deplored the rottenness which prevailed in partisan politics.
It is a sad day for the people when such rottenness prevails in the Senate; when knavery rules the House; when pampered debility occupies the presidential chair, and cabinets are composed of corrupt politicians or political ingrates. . . . The laboring man of to-day in America whatever he may be theoretically, is practically a paria and a slave, at the mercy of corrupt swindlers, under the guise of respectable capitalists.
An address of the National Labor Union, issued in 1870, declared that the whole country was under "the supreme control of bankers, moneyed men and professional politicians." The editor of The Workingman's Advocate urged the formation of a "Great Peoples' Party." At this time "money and monopoly" were repeatedly mentioned as menaces to free government.
In 1870, the National Labor Congress voted to take independent political action throughout the country. It was stated that the two old parties would not join hands with labor and would not accept the platform of the National Labor Union. The workers did not rally to the support of the labor candidates. After the election, the editor of The Workingman's Advocate declared with some bitterness that the labor-reform candidates had been overwhelmingly defeated—and by the workers themselves. The candidates, it was stated, "were for the most part representative trade unionists." The Congress of 1870 also authorized the appointment of a committee to issue a call for a national convention. It was issued soon after a meeting of the committee, held January 17, 1871.
This call is worthy of brief notice. It confidently asserted that capital was master in the United States. The instrumentalities which gave capital its favorable and dominating position were enumerated under five heads:
1. Banking and moneyed monopolies.
2. Consolidated railways and other traction monopolies.
3. Manufacturing monopolies which crushed the small operators and determined the wages of the workers.
4. Land monopolies—the result of the absorption of the public domain by a few corporations.
5. Commercial and grain monopolies which indulge in speculation. The first and fourth points were not new or especially significant. The outcry against banks dates back to the time of Jackson or before that era. During the forties and fifties much opposition was manifested against land monopoly. This call was, however, directed specifically against the policy of giving land to railways. But the remaining three points are of more significance; new foes are now feared by the wage earners of the country. Consolidated railways, manufacturing, commercial and grain monopolies are represented as inimical to the interests of the wage earners; and the call favored the regulation or abolishment of corporate monopolies. The editor of The Workingman's Advocate asserted that "centralization and labor" are two antagonistic elements.
A labor-reform party was organized in Massachusetts in 1869; and in that year it elected twenty-one representatives to the State Assembly and one state senator. The state ticket polled 13,000 votes. In the following year, Wendell Phillips was nominated for governor. The party advocated the separation of industrial from political questions. Two new and significant demands are found in the platform: the regulation of railway rates and the abolition of the importation of laborers, particularly from China, under contract. In 1871, the resolutions presented by Phillips and adopted by the labor-reform party were tinged with socialism. It was affirmed that labor is the creator of all wealth; the abolition of special privileges was demanded; and it was asserted that the capitalistic system was making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
An attempt was made, in 1872, to put a national ticket in the field. David Davis of Illinois was nominated for president and Joel M. Parker of New Jersey for vice-president. Neither of the gentlemen were workingmen. Both withdrew a few weeks later; and no further nominations were made. Two years later, independent reform candidates were nominated in Illinois and, perhaps, elsewhere. In 1875, the editor of The Workingman's Advocate was interested in the Greenback Party.
Undoubtedly many members of the National Labor Union who were committed to political action and opposed to the "money monopoly" became members of the Greenback Party. Others who were more radical turned to the Workingmen's Party of the United States. In other words, the small but aggressive class-conscious element within the National Labor Union joined the latter party; and the element which stood for reform affiliated with the Greenback movement. Those who joined the Greenback Party adopted the philosophy of the small proprietor and the skilled artisan; but those who united with the Workingmen's Party and later the Socialist Labor Party, adopted the economic theories of Karl Marx. The Greenbackers did not propose to do away with private ownership of capital; they only desired to prevent the concentration of capital in the hands of a few large capitalists. The Greenbacker was a reactionist rather than a progressive; he wished to prevent the growth of monopoly and large-scale industry. His viewpoint was that of the pre-Civil-War period; he looked backward instead of forward. Consequently, the Greenback movement is much more closely related to anarchism than to socialism.
The American workingman of the generation immediately following the Civil War was still saturated with the philosophy of the frontier or of Jacksonian democracy; he as yet accepted the oft-repeated, and not-frequently contradicted, dictum that each and every wage earner had an excellent opportunity to become a small proprietor or even a captain of industry. As long as this situation obtained, it was not difficult for "pure and simple" trade unionism generated in a period of stress and of rising prices like the last years of the Civil War, to be gradually transmuted into "labor reformism" and "greenbackism." The greatest labor organization of the period under discussion, the Knights of Labor, was primarily a reform association. The ultimate aim of its leaders during its years of growth was some form of a cooperative commonwealth. Its famous preamble was taken almost verbatim from one drawn in 1874 for another organization, by George E. McNeill, the "Apostle of the Eight-hour Movement." But hard times, unemployment, the disappearance of the famous westward-moving frontier line, the rush of immigrants from Southern Europe, the consolidation of capital, and the failure of sundry reform movements were preparing the way for the development of permanent trade unions. During the decade of the eighties were organized over one fourth of the national trade unions considered by the Industrial Commission in 1901; but only about one in every six were organized before 1880. Or, less than one half were in existence prior to 1890.
Likewise the socialists were not strong before 1890. The "German period of socialism in the United States" ended about 1876. The International Workingmen's Association formed its first American section in 1871.
By 1874, the attempts to internationalize the American movement were abandoned, and in that year a nationalized International, the United Workers of America, was attempted.
Another International Workingmen's Association was organized, in 1881, composed of American workingmen and farmers. It was strongest in the west; but soon disbanded. Two years later, the International Working Peoples' Association was formed. In this organization the anarchists were in control. The local socialist labor party in Chicago, which polled about 12,000 votes in the city election of 1879, and elected three aldermen, was soon broken into factions. One portion supported General Weaver of the Greenback ticket in 1880. Another faction influenced by the teaching of anarchists, began to doubt the wisdom of political action. In recent years, the direct-actionists of the Chicago branch of the Industrial Workers of the World seem to constitute a type of socialists similar to the American Internationalists of the eighties. In each case, the value of political action is depreciated, revolution and direct action are emphasized, and a tendency toward anarchism may be discerned.
The panic of 1873 and the five years of depression following the panic forced many unions to disband. It was a period marked by an extraordinary amount of unemployment, unrest and suffering, by reductions of wages, and by strikes and lockouts. In the later years of the period, many secret organizations of workingmen appeared. In the spring of 1874, a writer in a labor paper asserted, doubtless with some exaggeration, that "to-day there is not a Trade or Labor Union in existence but gives the greatest publicity to its aims and objects." It was intimated that opposition on the part of employers would cause secret unions to spring up. One year later, the National Labor Tribune contained an editorial entitled, "The Spread of Secret Orders"—meaning labor organizations. Pinkerton, the detective, writing in 1878, asserted that there were scores of secret labor organizations. Labor difficulties culminated with the railway strikes of 1877. These were precipitated by cuts in wages. The year 1879 ushered in a more prosperous period.
The two quotations following represent fairly well the attitude of the discontented wage earners in 1876, the centennial year.
Symbolize if you can the American laborer of 1876. Show him as he is, without liberty of thought or action, oppressed, cheated, trodden on, vilified by press and public opinion, condemned by the pulpit and the platform, reduced to serfdom by a combination of capitalists and monopolists; bring such a picture among your grand paintings, produce such an image among your statuary, and look on this picture and then on that, and ask what has the public of America accomplished for the cause of humanity.
The chairman of an "Immense Mass Meeting of Workingmen" held at Cooper Institute, June 17, 1876, under the auspices of the Independent Labor Party, declared:
The lands, the money, the property of the nation have passed into the hands of the few, and the many are idle, homeless and starving.
The agitation and unrest among the workers led to repressive measures on the part of various city officials.
On the announcement of public meetings of the unemployed, the conscience-pricked communities took alarm and feared that the bringing together of so many heretofore patient sufferers might imperil their lives and property. From the earliest days of the agitation of the question of the relations of labor and capital, free speech had often been restrained and sometimes forbidden. This had been especially true in those smaller towns and manufacturing centers.
In New York City, the city officials revoked a permit to hold a meeting of laboring people in Tompkins Square, and drove out the people who came to attend the meeting. This was frequently referred to as "The Tompkins Square Outrage."
In the soft coal fields, after a strike in 1875 caused by a reduction in wages, two of the strike leaders, John Siney, president of the Miners' Union, and Zingo Parks were arrested for conspiracy. Siney was acquitted; but Parks was sent to the penitentiary. The famous "coal and iron police" was organized at this time. The union among the miners was practically destroyed, and soon the "Molly Maguires" appeared as the natural product of a policy of repression.
The pressure of hard times caused the membership of the International Typographical Union to decrease from 9,797 in 1873 to 4,260 in 1878; and the number of unions in the organization declined from 105 to 60. In 1877, unionism among cigarmakers "was almost extinct." Only 17 unions remained in good standing in the International Union. Outside of New York City, Chicago and Detroit there were only 217 union cigarmakers in the United States and Canada. The strikes of 1877 are said to have acted as an "alarm bell." There were over six times as many unions in 1881 as in 1877; and they were better organized "than in the most flourishing days of the past." Organization among the coal miners was practically destroyed by the period of hard times.
John Siney died of grief and hunger in 1876, and with him all organization among the men.
The Knights of St. Crispin and the Daughters of St. Crispin also practically disappeared with the panic.
Up to 1875 as a rule, labor leaders opposed the use of the strike except as a last resort. President Siney of the National Miners' Association stated that one of the objects of the association was "to remove as far as possible the cause of all strikes." In 1877, the first great railway strike occurred, and many bitter contests took place in the cigarmaking industry. And after 1877, "strikes multiplied enormously."
The middle years of the decade of the eighties were years of discontent and struggle. The competitive battle was extremely fierce. Many independent industries and proprietors were being ruthlessly crushed in order that industrial "American Beauty roses" might flourish; and in the process the employee inevitably suffered. The employer no longer came in personal touch with his employees; and the old personal relations no longer existed to soften and humanize the treatment of his employees. On the other hand, where the unions were in control, "the methods employed were not always diplomatic, and sometimes they were a bit coarse." This big-stick policy reached its climax in some of the western mining towns the government of which was controlled by the unions. The dark pictures painted by the labor leaders of the decade should be studied.
Absorbed in the task of getting large dividends, the employer seldom inquired of his superintendent how he managed the business intrusted to his keeping, or how he treated the employees. In thousands of places throughout the United States, as many superintendents, foremen or petty bosses are interested in stores, corner groceries or saloons. In many places the employee is told plainly that he must deal at the store, or get his liquor from the saloon in which his boss has an interest; in others he is given to understand that he must deal in these stores or saloons, or forfeit his situation.
Worse conditions never existed in any industry in this country than those of the Hocking Valley region of Ohio in 1884. Slavery was heaven compared with what the miners of the Hocking Valley had to endure.
A new era was in the making; and the wage earners were being prepared for more definite and firm organization. But it was also a period in which capitalism was becoming strong and immigration was multiplying. The old individualistic ideals were still generally accepted; and were not displaced without much social friction. Strikes were of frequent occurrence and the boycott a popular weapon.
What is the spectacle presented to our view? Crime reaching a magnitude it never did before; poverty increasing with frightful rapidity; intense and steadily increasing competition with labor in nearly every vocation of industry; an army of idlers crowding upon the workers everywhere; the man who is driven by necessity or want to work or die of starvation is compelled to fight his own fellows or be guarded by the police in the discharge of his duties. A decrepit, homeless humanity, swelling in numbers every day, audible groans of want, woe and misery coming up from every mining, manufacturing and commercial district, and from many agricultural districts throughout the civilized world. Strikes on every hand and general discontent prevailing.
Finally, what would to-day be called "direct action" was advocated, and the Haymarket Square episode followed. The decade of the eighties was an era of capitalistic combination in the form of "pools"; but the spirit of solidarity among the wage earners was still very weak. The "separating influences of shops in one town, theories about general principles, language, nationality, or the division of labor, split the workers on one and the same product into bickering factions."
The variety of political reform movements, their weakness and lack of harmony are indicative of the bankruptcy of the reform movements of the type then prevailing. Truth, "A Journal for the Poor," and a radical paper, declared:
This journal is not the paid mouthpiece of either Trades' Unions, Knights of Labor, Anti-Monopoly Party, Greenback Party, Socialistic Labor Party, Liberal League, Patrons of Husbandry (Grangers), Farmers' Alliance, Irish Revolutionary Organizations, or any other Nihilistic, Communal or Socialistic organization. But it is the friend of every one of them.
Buchanan speaks of the lack of harmony in the ranks of the labor and reform forces of this period. In 1888, as editor of the Chicago Enquirer, he pled for a union among the following movements: "The Union Labor Party, United Labor Party, Progressive Labor Party, American Reform Party, the Grange, the Farmer's Alliance, the Tax Reformers, Anti-Monopolists, Homesteaders, and all other political and politico-economic organizations of bread-winners."
Nevertheless, labor organizations were gaining in strength. The Knights of Labor reached its high water mark in 1886; and the American Federation of Labor increased from less than 50,000 in 1881 to over 200,000 in 1889. In an address sent by the heads of several trade unions to the convention of the Knights of Labor in 1886, it was confidently assorted that "within the past year the national and international trades unions have grown with giant strides." The following statistics of growth during the preceding year were offered:
International Typographical Union has gained
Cigarmakers' International Union has gained
Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners has gained
International Union of Bricklayers and Masons has gained
National Bakers' Union has gained
Furniture Workers' Union has gained
Amalgamated Iron and Steel Workers has gained
Iron Molders' Union has gained
Granite Cutters' Union has gained
Custom Tailors have gained
Coal Miners have gained
During the period under consideration, employers' associations hostile to organized labor were by no means unknown. In July, 1872, "The Employers' Central Executive Committee" of New York City sent out a questionnaire containing eleven questions. The committee desired "to avail itself of the wisdom and experience of Thinkers and Employers," and hoped to be able to solve the difficulties arising because of combinations of workingmen. The prevention of strikes seemed to be one important problem. The seventh question asked whether unionists had given trouble and whether it would be easy to displace them. The eight read: "What Restrictions are imposed upon you as an Employer by Combinations of workmen assuming to regulate the pay or other conditions of Labor?" Another circular letter emanating from the same source requested employers to meet personally with the executive committee. This committee "are in session every day from 10 o'clock a. m. to 10 o'clock p. m." There is reason to believe that this employers' association was not a weak organization. In a speech given at a mass meeting held in New York City in June, 1876, a member of the "executive committee of the Independent Labor Party" said:
Less than five years ago we had over 79,000 organized men in the city; but 200 or 300 men gathered together in a hotel on Fifth Ave., combined against you by using the government, by going to Albany, to Washington, and to the Board of Aldermen. They have destroyed the Trade Union system, and reduced the workmen of the city to a condition of beggary and starvation.
The employers' associations of the seventies and eighties used many of the weapons which similar bodies of a more recent date have frequently used—blacklist, detectives, coal and iron police, the labor spy, promotion of labor leaders in order to weaken the union, discharge of union men, and the like.
In conclusion, the chief peculiarities of the labor movements of the quarter of a century, 1866–1889, may be briefly summarized:
1. Unstable—ebbed and flowed with industrial changes and disputes.
2. Undisciplined—demanded of leaders immediate and strenuous action. Many strikes, usually of short duration.
3. No very definite class consciousness, except in the eighties. The chief demands were of the purely trade-union type—higher wages, shorter hours, better working and living conditions, etc.—for political reform—elimination of money or land monopoly, labor bureaus, etc.—or for cooperation.
4. Time after time leaders asserted that a transition period was just ahead and that especial efforts were needed at that particular time and place.
5. Repeatedly the attention is directed to the concentration of wealth and the growing menace of monopoly power.
6. The labor leaders of the period were muckrakers; they attacked the political rottenness of the time.
7. Immigration of Chinese laborers (coolies) was feared—not only in the west but also in the east.
8. Many persistent, but futile, attempts were made to weld labor into a strong political party.
- Proceedings of Fifth Annual Session, January, 1869.
- Laws, Rules and Regulations, issued 1867.
- Constitution and By-laws, printed in 1869.
- Andrews, "Report on the Condition of Woman and Child Wage Earners in the United States," Vol. 10: 89.
- Proceedings of the 5th Annual Session (1869).
- New York Tribune, April 30, 1867; also in "The Labor Question," a collection of articles published in 1867.
- "Documentary History of American Industrial Society," Vol. 9: 137.
- Ibid., p 204.
- "Documentary History of American Industrial Society," Vol. 9: 268.
- See Hillquit, "History of Socialism in the United States," p. 193.
- "Documentary History of American Industrial Society," Vol. 9: 231. Miss Anthony was seated in 1868.
- Workingman's Advocate, December 11, 1869.
- Workingman's Advocate, May 3, 1873.
- Report of the Industrial Commission, Vol. 17: 3.
- "Thirty Years of Labor," p. 126.
- Files of The Workingman's Advocate, 1875.
- Powderly, "Thirty Years of Labor," p. 126.
- National Labor Tribune, April 7, 1877.
- Pamphlet in New York Public Library.
- General Rules, published in 1876.
- National Labor Tribune, April 24, 1875.
- National Labor Tribune, April 24, July 31, October 23, 1875.
- McNeill, "The Labor Movement," pp. 161–162.
- Workingman's Advocate, September 12, 1868.
- Letter written by H. H. Day, member of executive committee of the N. L. U., to Senator Henry Wilson, Workingman's Advocate, June 19, 1869.
- See article by the writer in Quarterly Journal of Economics, February, 1910.
- July 15, 1871.
- Carlton, "The History and Problems of Organized Labor," p. 61.
- For a statement of the theory of greenbackism, see "Documentary History of American Industrial Society," Vol. 9: 33–43.
- Hughan, "The Present Status of Socialism in the United States," p. 34.
- "Documentary History of American Industrial Society," Vol. 9: 46.
- Hughan, ibid., p. 38.
- Ely, "The Labor Movement in America," Ch. 9.
- One was also elected in 1878 and again in 1880.
- Schilling in Parson's "Life of Albert E. Parsons."
- Rhodes, "History of the United States," Vol. 7: 52–53.
- Iron Moulders' International Journal, quoted in The Toiler, June 27, 1874.
- April 24, 1875.
- Pinkerton, "Strikes, Communists, Tramps and Detectives," p. 89.
- National Labor Tribune, April 24, 1875.
- McNeill, "The Labor Movement," p. 147.
- Simonds, "The Story of Manual Labor in all Ages," p. 661.
- Cigarmakers' Official Journal, March 10, 1881.
- Simonds, "The Story of Manual Labor in all Ages," p. 661.
- Swinton, "Striking for Life or Labor's Side of the Labor Question."
- Buchanan, "The Story of a Labor Agitator."
- Cherouny, "The Historical Development of the Labor Question," pp. 240–244.
- Powderly in "Labor: Its Rights and Wrongs" (1886). Also, in North American Review, May, 1886.
- Buchanan, "The Story of a Labor Agitator."
- Ibid., p. 128.
- Morgan, "History of the Wheel and Alliance," p. 662 (1889).
- Cherouny, "The Historical Development of the Labor Question."
- September 15, 1883, Vol. 7.
- "Story of a Labor Agitator," p. 429.
- "Labor: Its Rights and Wrongs" (1886).
- Circulars in New York Public Library.
- McNeill, "The Labor Movement," p. 266.