Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 22: PUBLIC REGULATION OF HOURS AND WAGES - Economics, vol. 2: Modern Economic Problems
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CHAPTER 22: PUBLIC REGULATION OF HOURS AND WAGES - Frank A. Fetter, Economics, vol. 2: Modern Economic Problems 
Economics, vol. 2: Modern Economic Problems, 2nd edition, revised (New York: The Century Co., 1923).
Part of: Economics, 2 vols.
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PUBLIC REGULATION OF HOURS AND WAGES
§ 1. Spread of the shorter working-day. § 2. The shorter day and the lump-of-labor notion. § 3. Fewer hours and greater efficiency. § 4. Child-labor. § 5. Child-labor legislation. § 6. Limitation of the working-day for women. § 7. Limitation of the working-day for men. § 8. Broader aspects of this legislation. § 9. Plan of the minimum wage. § 10. Wage theory in the minimum wage. § 11. Limitations of the minimum wage, § 12. Mediation and voluntary arbitration. § 13. Compulsory arbitration. § 14. Organized labor’s attitude toward labor legislation. § 15. Organized labor’s opposition to compulsory arbitration. § 16. The public and labor legislation. § 17. The public and compulsory arbitration.
§ 1. Spread of the shorter working-day. Since about 1880 a shorter working-day has been one of the prime objects of organized labor in America. Notable progress was early made in some trades, reducing hours from eleven to ten, or from ten to nine, and in a few cases from nine to eight. In the building trades in the cities, especially, the eight-hour day has come to be well-nigh the rule. In 1912 it was estimated1 that 1,847,000 wage-earners were working in the United States on the eight-hour basis; of these 475,000 were public employees. A large proportion of the remainder were women and children whose hours were limited by law, or were men working in the same establishments with them. Since that date the eight-hour day has been more widely adopted both through private action in many establishments and by legislation. Beginning in 1915, occurred an especially rapid spread of the eight-hour day, continuing throughout the period of rising prices until 1920.
§ 2. The shorter day and the lump-of-labor notion. The shorter working-day is advocated by most workers in the belief that it will result, not in less pay per day, but in even greater pay than the longer day, even if the output should be decreased. This view is connected with the lump-of-labor notion.2 It assumes that men will work no faster in a shorter day, and that there is so much work to be done regardless of the rate of wages; and concludes that the shorter day will reduce the amount of labor for sale and cause wages to rise. To the extent, however, that laborers, as consumers, mutually buy each other’s labor, evidently this loss due to curtailing production must fall upon the laborers as a class. The workers naturally desire and strenuously demand the same daily pay for a shorter day, which means a higher wage per hour. If wages per hour increase less than enough to make up for the fewer hours, the purchasing power of the workers must be reduced. If the output per hour is increased proportionately to the pay per hour, the existing wages equilibrium would not be disturbed. But if the output increases not at all or in less than the proportion of the increase in pay, there is an inevitable disturbance of the wage equilibrium. In a competitive industry this would compel a speedy readjustment of wages downward. If a certain group, or large number, of workers were to begin turning out only 80 per cent as large a product as they did before, while getting the same money wage, the costs per unit would be thereby increased. Prices must rise or many of the establishments must close, and then prices would rise as a result. This must throw some of the workmen out of employment and create a new bargaining situation for wages.
But, it is said, let the general eight-hour day be applied to every industry and to all wage workers at once,—then all workers and all employers in the industry would be in a like situation. At once, however, there must occur changes of consumers’ choices in a great number of ways. If there are one fifth fewer goods, evidently at least one fifth of the consumers must go without. These would largely be the wage workers. The things of which wage labor makes up a large part of the costs will rise in price relative to the things of which self-employed labor and of which materials and machinery make up a relatively larger part. This must compel a reduction of the demand for the products of wage labor relative to other things, and be reflected to labor in a lower wage. This reduction would not necessarily be just in proportion to the reduced output (that is, say, 20 per cent if from ten to eight hours, or 11 per cent if from nine to eight hours). It might even be more, but probably would be somewhat less. In any case, both the money wages and the real wages of laborers, either in the particular trade or generally, must be reduced by a general reduction of hours that results in a decreased output. In such cases, even when the workmen by a strike or general movement secured the same wage scale for a day of fewer hours (a higher wage per hour), they would be unable to hold it excepting where they had monopolistic control of the trade.
The conclusion to which the foregoing reasoning has led is, then, that, excepting in certain situations of labor monopoly which are comparatively rare, the shorter day will not raise total wages when it cuts down production, certainly not for the reason that it cuts down production. When the working-day is already not so long that it exhausts the physical and nervous powers of the workers, a general reduction of hours without increased production per hour will reduce the real incomes of the workers, as well as those of the whole community. However, a reduction of hours is economically justified, even if material production is reduced, if the working-day is so long that it is injurious to health, to morals, and to family life. In that case the disutility of the later hours doubtless exceeded to the workers and to society, the utility of the additional material product.
§ 3. Fewer hours and greater efficiency. A very different argument for the shorter day is that the rate of work may be so increased that the output remains at least as large as in the longer day, or even larger. A faster working pace is possible in many cases with the shorter day, particularly in those operations calling for physical or mental dexterity. This view is less attractive to the workers than the preceding one, but is more acceptable to the employers and to the public. The change to fewer hours undoubtedly has resulted in many cases in larger production, and could be made to result so in many other cases by applying the methods of scientific management. But it is a change that cannot be repeated indefinitely and under all conditions with like favorable results. Whether in any particular case it can be depends in part on the length of the working-day at the start. Such an increase in output might occur in a change from exhausting hours, as from twelve to ten, and again from ten to nine, and yet not be possible in a change from nine to eight. Moreover, the speeding up of the workers beyond a certain point may have had physiological effects outweighing the benefit from shorter hours. It is now said that with the increase of automatic machinery there are more and more workmen who much of the time have merely to watch the machine-tool run, and occasionally adjust the material. There has, however, been collected a notable body of evidence to show that, in many industries and in different establishments using much machinery, a reduction of hours to a number as few as eight has been followed by the increase of the output per worker, or by improvement in the quality of work, or by improvement in the management, resulting in a reduction of the cost of production. This is often sufficient, or more than sufficient, to compensate for the shorter time. Wages have remained as high as, or higher than, before, and employment has been more regular. As far as this result is due to the individual worker, it is explained by the same evidence referred to below3 as bearing upon the health of the worker. This evidence tends to prove that with longer periods of rest and recreation the worker lives in a physical and mental condition fitting him far better for his work and for continuing his working life.
All of the foregoing arguments are weighed in terms of private incomes and of the value of the products, whereas the main considerations that have of late been influencing legislation and judicial decision in favor of shorter hours have been those of public welfare. The legal limitation of working hours is being treated primarily as a health measure, into the judgment of which is more and more entering a broader conception of the happiness, morality, and opportunities for good citizenship for the worker and his family.
4. Child-labor. In agricultural conditions, such as have prevailed generally in America, there is little need of limiting the hours of work for children and the age at which they may begin to work. The barefoot boy trudging over clover-fields to carry water to the harvesters may be the happier, healthier, and better for his work. Child-labor in agriculture has never become a social “problem” so long as the children work with their own parents at their own homes; but the labor of children for wages, especially in gangs on large farms (as in beet cultivation and cranberry-picking) or in canning factories, has exhibited evils as pronounced as any in urban manufacturing conditions.
The evil of forcing children into factories was early recognized. The most obvious evils of child-labor are neglect of the child’s schooling; destruction of home life; overwork, overstrain, and loss of sleep, with resulting injury to health; unusual danger of industrial accidents; and exposure to demoralizing conditions. The usual assumption that the worker is able to contract regarding the conditions of labor on terms of equality with the employer is most palpably false in the case of children. The child, subject to the commands of his parents and guardians, is not a free agent. Often poverty leads parents to rob their children of health, of schooling, and of the joys of childhood. Lazy fathers are tempted to support themselves in idleness on the wages of their young children. In some immigrant groups, particularly, conditions of child-serfdom have developed in America. The competition of child-labor also depresses the wages of adults, and thus the evil grows.
§ 5. Child-labor legislation. The limitation of hours was first applied to children working in English factories early in the nineteenth century, and thence has extended throughout the world, tardily following the spread of the factory system. The first American law of the kind was in Massachusetts, in 1842, limiting to ten hours the labor of children under twelve years of age in manufacturing establishments. Following this, all the earlier state laws fixed the minimum age low and the maximum of hours high, and the laws were poorly enforced for lack of adequate administrative machinery and of public interest. In all these respects many states gradually improved their child-labor laws in the latter part of the last century, and much more rapidly since 1903. Now the maximum working-day for children in about one half of the states is 8 hours, in one quarter is 9 hours, and in one quarter is 10 hours (and in a few southern states it is 11 hours). Night work by children is very generally forbidden (in about forty states). During the same time the minimum age has been pretty generally raised to 14 years for factory work, with higher ages (16, 18, or even 21 years) in some states for certain occupations dangerous to health or morals. In addition to these general limitations, special provision is made for individual examinations, to determine whether the child is mentally and physically fit to work and has met the requirements of the compulsory education laws of the state.
The culmination of years of effort in and out of Congress was the enactment, September 1, 1916, of a child-labor law that prohibited the interstate shipment of goods produced in factories wherein any child had, within thirty days, been employed under unfavorable conditions as to hours of work as specified in the act. This act was soon, however, declared unconstitutional. Another way of attacking the problem through the use of the federal taxing power was then found. In the so-called “Revenue Act of 1918” (enacted February 24, 1919) a child-labor employment tax was imposed on the entire net profits of persons or of corporations employing children at specified times and under specified ages (16 years in mines, 14 in mills, canneries, workshops, or factories). The constitutionality of this act has been questioned in a district court, but, up to this writing, not in any higher federal jurisdiction.
In the labor section of the treaty of Versailles of 1919, among the nine points, or general principles, held to be of special and urgent importance, the sixth reads: “The abolition of child-labor and the imposition of such limitations on the labor of young persons as shall permit the continuation of their education and assure their proper development.”
Child-labor legislation, viewed as a merely negative policy, is not of great moment. Its real significance is to be judged only in connection with the broader social policy of protecting and developing all of the children of the nation to be healthy, intelligent, moral, and efficient citizens. Children growing into blighted and ignorant manhood and womanhood are threats to society.
§ 6. Limitation of the working-day for women. Legislation to limit the hours and conditions of employment of women usually comes later than the limitation of child-labor. The grounds of special laws to protect workingwomen are that women are less able than men to protect themselves in the labor contract, that they are physically weak and are peculiarly exposed to certain dangers to health, that as future mothers they need protection for their own and the public welfare, and that in the period of maternity the dangers are especially great. The work of women in factories operates in some ways to depress the wages of men, and it is harmful in its effects upon the home and family life. At present five states limit the hours of women to 8 a day, twelve to 9 a day, fifteen to 10 a day, four to 11 or less a day. A number of states forbid the work of women in designated places of work, such as saloons, mines, or where constant standing is required. Only as late as 1911, in America, has legislation, now in four states, given maternity protection, as is now more fully provided in European countries in connection with systems of health insurance.
In all of the great industrial countries of Europe night work by women is restricted (prohibited between 10 p. m., and 5 a. m., or yet more narrowly limited); but legislation along this line is found in only eight American states.
§ 7. Limitation of the working-day for men. The general assumption made in law has been that the adult male worker is competent to judge of the working conditions, hours of labor, and wages, and is capable of protecting his own interests sufficiently by his power of refusal to accept employment. The legislatures have, much more tardily than in their legislation for children and for women, acted contrary to this assumption; but, when this has been done, the courts in America have vigorously asserted the general doctrine and denied the constitutionality of the laws. However, some exceptions were made in legislation, and, after much apparent hesitation and vacillation, were allowed by the courts to stand, and these have now grown in number until they form an impressive total.
These exceptions have come in various ways. There is, first, the eight-hour limitation in public employment, required in federal employment in 1868, really effective since 1892, and now in force likewise in about two thirds of the states. In almost the same jurisdictions—national, state, and municipal—eight hours is the legal day for work done by private contractors for the government. Work on railroads and street railways, particularly in the direct operation of trains, such as the work of dispatchers, signalmen, and trainmen, is subjected to a large variety of regulative measures, hours being limited in some cases to eight, in others to nine, ten, twelve, or sixteen, and in a number of cases a specified minimum number of hours of rest is required after the maximum hours of labor. These laws are primarily for the protection of the public, but they afford a protection to the employee much needed, as many well authenticated cases of excessive and exhausting hours demonstrate.
The limitation of hours has very recently been extended to many private businesses in which exceptional conditions exist affecting the health of the workers or the safety of the public. This development has occurred almost entirely since the United States Supreme Court in 1898 (Holden vs. Hardy) sustained a Utah statute limiting to eight the hours of labor in underground mines. Now eight-hour laws in certain specified cases are found applying to mines, smelters, tunnels, and a variety of other kinds of work, and in a few cases the limit is nine, ten, or eleven hours.
§ 8. Broader aspects of this legislation. The subject took on a new aspect when the legislature of Oregon, in 1913, declared broadly that “no person shall be hired, nor permitted to work for wages, under any conditions or terms, for longer hours or days of service than is consistent with his health and physical well-being and ability to promote the general welfare by his increasing usefulness as a healthy and intelligent citizen,” and fixed ten hours as the limit of work consistent with such a measure of health and welfare, in work in any mill, factory, or manufacturing establishment. This law was sustained by the Supreme Court of that state, and on appeal the decision was affirmed by the United States Supreme court.4 In support of the law there was presented a voluminous brief giving a most impressive body of evidence from scientific and from practical business sources, to show the many evils, popularly unsuspected or underestimated, that result from long hours even in industries of no exceptional hazards.5 Psysiological and psychological tests demonstrate that the fatigue following more than a moderate working period not only reduces immediate efficiency, but so poisons the system that greater liability to accident, disease, intemperance, immorality, and premature decay results.
Two main purposes appear somewhat intermingled in this legislation in limitation of hours. The first purpose is to protect the public directly where the safety of others is dependent on the health and efficiency of the worker. The second purpose is to protect directly the worker’s health and welfare, that policy being recognized to be in the long run the best likewise for the public welfare. In legal reasoning it is being recognized that the individual wage worker, even the adult male, is not in a position to judge the number of hours he ought, for his own good, to work, and is unable to fix the length of his own working-day. As a matter of economic theory, the usance of a child, a woman, or a man is merely that kind and amount of service that can be given out by each without repressing the normal possibilities of growth, reducing the normal health and vigor, or shortening the normal period of healthy productive human existence.6 It is becoming a general social policy to prevent the abnormal strains of industry that cause the unnatural deterioration of the human factor in industry. A wage worker may be permitted to sell his daily net fund of working power—his usance—but not his life.
Among the principles in the labor section of the Versailles treaty are the following: “the adoption of an eight hours’ day or a forty-eight hours’ week as the standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained,” and “the adoption of a weekly rest of at least twenty-four hours, which should include Sunday whenever practicable.”
§ 9. Plan of the minimum wage. Even more recent than the legislative regulation of hours downward is the attempt to regulate wages upward in the case of certain low-paid wage workers. It is true that much public regulation of wages occurred in Europe before the end of the eighteenth century; but in the main this was directed toward limiting the demands of the wageworkers, and in England its administration was in the hands of justices of the peace who were of the employing class. The modern movement for the minimum wage began in Victoria in 1896, and it soon extended to nearly all the other Australasian states. Great Britain applied the plan in 1910 to industries in which wages were exceptionally low. The plan was first adopted in the United States by Massachusetts in the year 1912, though in an emasculated form, and spread so rapidly that at the end of 1919 it was found in fourteen states and in the District of Columbia. Minimum-wage laws usually lay down a “living wage” as the standard to be used, and they are known as “flat-rate” or “wage-board” laws, according as they prescribe a flat rate of wages or, as is more frequent, leave the decision in each case to a wage commission established to administer the law.
At first glance the principles involved in the legislation limiting hours and those in minimum-wage legislation may seem to be the same. But there is an important difference. In the former case the evil is that of a too long working period, injurious to health, and this can be reached directly and stopped by an efficiently administered law. But in the latter case the real evil is industrial weakness and incapacity such that the workers are unable to command a “living wage” in a competitive market. A minimum-wage law, by itself, neither cures the industrial incapacity nor insures employment to the industrially weak at any wage. The law does not attempt to compel employers to employ at the legal minimum wage every one who wishes to work; it merely declares that the employer shall not employ any one whom, in his employ, he finds to be not worth so high a wage.
§ 10. Wage theory in the minimum wage. In most discussions of the wages of women there is a ready confusion of sympathetic ideals of what one would like to see with the cold facts as they are. Women’s services (especially those of young women) have increasingly of late been coming upon the labor market in such a way as to cause abnormal congestion in a few occupations. Employers have not caused low wages in these cases. Partly these occupations are the clean, light, and agreeable ones; partly they have a relative social glamour; largely they can be followed for a few years near the home of the worker; nearly always they may be undertaken with brief training and little skill. Investigation has shown that at least 80 per cent of this group of girl workers live at home. A wage that is a “living wage” when used as a pro-rata contribution to an American family income is frequently insufficient for the girl living “independently.” Such a girl is, under the conditions, unable to earn a living in her chosen occupation, and the minimum-wage law takes her need as the standard up to which must be raised the wages of the other four fifths.
It may be better to deal with such individual cases as appear among the one fifth of all girls employed than to apply governmental wage-fixing to the whole group. Unless the demand for a particular kind of service is absolutely inelastic (a rare if not impossible situation in a large market), there must be fewer jobs for the less capable workers at high than at low wages, other prices remaining the same. Further, some of the less capable workers must be crowded out of such jobs as remain; for an artificially higher wage attracts into an occupation some from other occupations in which the pay before was higher. It seems to be admitted by the friends of minimum-wage legislation that this result is logically to be expected, and that to some degree it appears. Of course, it is never possible to tell to just what extent workers have been and are being excluded in this way from any particular establishment or occupation. Forbidden to earn what they can, the poorer workers must become dependent on charity. It may be said, and perhaps truly: better this than underpaid labor destructive to the health of the workers, and evil in its competitive effects upon other wage workers.
§ 11. Limitations of the minimum wage. Generous sympathies have guided this movement, of which much has been hoped, and which, on the other hand, has always had its adverse critics. Its friends, after more than twenty years of experience, hardly claim more for it than that the “dire predictions” have not been verified. In truth, it would seem that the plan as yet has not been tried on a scale that could yield very large fruits either for good or for evil. The persons whom it is sought to aid are only selected groups of the lowest paid workers, generally limited to minors and young women, who in many cases are those of immigrant families in urban districts. A large volume of discussion on this subject has developed, mostly of an a priori nature, of which we may here touch only a few of the salient points.
The one unquestioned service of the minimum-wage law is that of diagnosing the evil of low wages rather than in remedying it. The minimum-wage law brings to light the industrial incapacity of particular individuals to earn a living wage. Alongside of the abnormally low paid occupations or elsewhere in the industrial organization are other occupations in which with, or often even without, special training, the sweated workers could get, competitively, more than the minimum wage if they could, or would, qualify for the work. More direct remedies would be to transfer workers to jobs in which they can get a living wage, to abolish the incapable workers or their incapacity by such methods as regulating foreign or cityward immigration, custodial care of the physically, mentally, and morally weak, vocational guidance, and more effective measures of industrial education.
§ 12. Mediation and voluntary arbitration. The labor controversies in which the public has the largest interest as a third party7 are those that result or may result in strikes. The public interest becomes acute when a strike results in interference with the individual freedom of other workers and of non-participants, when it causes a blocking of the highways and disturbance of the peace, and when it prevents the regular production and transportation of the commodities that the public consumes. The public, therefore, has steadily become more interested in all methods and agencies designed to conserve better relations between employers and wage workers, and to diminish or, if possible, to do away with strikes when individual and collective bargaining between the two parties fail.
Mediation, or conciliation, is the effort of a third party to get the two parties to a trade dispute to come together to agree peaceably upon a settlement. Mediation may be voluntarily undertaken in a particular case by any citizen or by a public official, usually the executive (mayor, governor, or President); or it may be by a regular public state or national commission charged with this duty (as in some seventeen states).
Arbitration is the decision, by a disinterested person (or commission) to whom it is submitted, of the exact terms, after a provisional settlement of a dispute. It is voluntary when the parties agree in advance to accept the verdict, and compulsory when they are compelled by law to submit to arbitration and abide by the verdict.
Some provision either of voluntary private or of public agencies to mediate between the parties in labor disputes and to facilitate voluntary arbitration has been made of late in most communities of the civilized world, including thirty-two of our states. No one objects to them, and they accomplish much good; but they fail oftenest in the greater emergencies because of the unwillingness of one or the other party to submit the case, or because of lack of any power to enforce the decisions.
During the World War many plans of arbitration were devised in various countries. The most notable of these in America was the Federal War Labor Board to arbitrate in disputes between railroads and train operatives engaged in interstate commerce. Steps had earlier been taken in this direction, first by the act of 1888, then by the Erdman Act of 1898, superseded by the Newlands Act of 1913, and supplemented by measures for mediation by the Department of Labor. Under the Federal Control Act creating the Federal Railway Administration for war purposes, a labor board exercised virtually absolute power. But, in the transportation act (Esch-Cummins Act) of February 28, 1920, restoring the railroads to private control, the voluntary principle was maintained. Provision was made for “Railroad Boards of Labor Adjustment” to be established by agreement between any carrier or group of carriers and employees; and for a supreme Railroad Labor Board of nine, three for each of the groups of management, labor, and public, with a central office at Chicago. If the decision of any of these boards is violated, apparently the utmost remedy of the Labor Board is to “make public its decision in such manner as it may determine.” Great Britain, by the Industrial Courts Act of 1919, has provided for a central court to be appointed by the Minister of Labor, and for such other courts of inquiry as may be needed to take up particular labor disputes as they arise, on the principle of voluntary arbitration.
§ 13. Compulsory arbitration. The serious question in the subject of arbitration concerns the introduction of the principle of coercion by government, in compulsory arbitration. This, in principle, is pretty radically different from voluntary arbitration; for, as it denies to the parties the right to settle their dispute by private agreement, it becomes in effect the legal regulation of rates of wages and conditions of work. In principle this was involved in the regulation of wages in England from the fourteenth to the early part of the nineteenth centuries. The plan is approached in the industrial courts that are now provided in a number of European countries for a cheap and expeditious settlement of small disputes regarding trade matters, arising in the relations between employer and employees.
The new modern development began when New Zealand passed a compulsory arbitration act in 1894, followed to some extent since by all the other Australasian states, largely through the action of the labor party. Through the operation of its act, New Zealand came to be called the “land without strikes,” though the description was inaccurate, especially after 1907. The Canadian Industrial Disputes Act of 1907 is an example that has had influence upon public opinion everywhere, and has been followed to some extent in recent legislation in New Zealand, America, and elsewhere. It involves the compulsory principle in a limited degree, making it unlawful in public utilities and mines to change the terms of employment without thirty days’ notice, or to strike or lockout until after investigation and hearing before a board to be nominated for the purpose. The Colorado Act of 1915 went even beyond the Canadian act in its scope.
A notable experiment was undertaken when the Kansas legislature in January, 1920, established a Court of Industrial Relations. This court, in addition to the powers previously held by the state Public Utilities Commission, was given other regulative powers in respect to wages, hours, and conditions of work in a number of industries affected with a public interest, including coal-mining and all public utilities. The individual worker is guaranteed freedom of action in making or terminating contracts, but the right to strike is denied in forbidding conspiracy to quit employment. The operation of this act, strongly denounced by organized labor, is watched with great interest by the general public. The plan seems destined to have wider application and a larger development in the not distant future.
§ 14. Organized labor’s attitude toward labor legislation. Labor organizations hitherto have been in their legal nature almost entirely private and voluntary. They are seldom incorporated and are rarely even recognized in any way by legislatures and by courts, which deal merely with the members as individuals.8 Their private character, combined with their limited membership as compared with the total population, leaves them without the power to accomplish legally by themselves the results that they desire in their own interest. Hence they are tempted at times to usurp public authority over the field of private rights in industry.9 In other cases, when they have come to the end of their unaided powers, they invoke the aid of the law to accomplish their objects. But the appeal of organized labor to the law is special and qualified, being confined to cases where the actions of others are controlled to the advantage of the union, such as regulating the work of women and children, controlling the acts of employers in respect to construction of factories, and limiting the length of trains. This does not imply a peculiarly selfish attitude on the part of organized labor. Action together in any social group always develops in men their loyalty and spirit of coöperation without always making them more considerate to those outside of their group. Indeed, often men acting through their chosen officials, private or public, are more selfish collectively than they are individually. The leaders of any group of men, whether of wage workers, merchants, manufacturers, or political constituents, find it necessary to show that the interest of their supporters rather than a broader “sentimentality” is uppermost in their thought. And, further, the jealousy of any limitation of their power is as powerful a motive in one group of men as in another. All are made of the same human clay. But the stronger and more successful a labor organization is, the more vigorously do its leaders resist any legislation that limits the functions and field of action of the labor leaders, or that settles labor troubles in a way that makes the voluntary labor organization less necessary to the individual worker. Of course, self-help, as a spirit and as a policy, is a virtue, if it does not sacrifice the rights of others. But if the facts above suggested are borne in mind they will help to explain the otherwise often puzzling attitudes of organized labor toward different measures of social legislation.
§ 15. Organized labor’s opposition to compulsory arbitration. Organized labor in America has attained to a highly influential position. On the whole, it constitutes an “aristocracy of labor,” consisting largely of skilled workers who obtain a wage exceeding that of unskilled workers to a degree not seen anywhere else in the world. In this they have been favored by a combination of conditions which it is not possible to describe briefly; suffice it here to say that organization is itself not the whole explanation, but only a small part of it. That organized labor, officially, is strongly opposed to compulsory arbitration in America is thus perhaps sufficiently to be understood on the principle of “Let well enough alone.” When, in August, 1916, a strike on the entire railroad system was threatened by the four railroad brotherhoods, and some action was proposed in the form of the Canadian act, the trade-union officials issued a statement containing these words: “Since the abolition of slavery no more effectual means has been devised for insuring the bondage of the workingman than the passage of compulsory investigation acts of the character of the Canadian Industrial Disputes Act.” Within less than a week the brotherhoods called off the strike after Congress had passed the much discussed Adamson Act giving the men the eight-hour day—a substantial part of what they had asked—and providing for investigation, by a commission, of the effects of the rule. The decision was compulsory upon the railroads, but not upon the men to accept the terms.
§ 16. The public and labor legislation. It has come to be recognized that in every serious labor dispute, especially in such as develop into strikes, those concerned are not merely the two parties, employers and employees, but a third party, the public, consisting of every one else whose interests are not directly or indirectly bound up with one of the other two parties. The line of demarcation is not easy to draw exactly. An individual may be divided in sympathy, inclining to the one party perhaps because of some personal friendships or class loyalty, or to the other party because of material investments, while in the main having interests distinct from either. But, wherever the public is drawn in as a party, it includes far more persons and embraces far larger interests than does either of the other two parties or than do both of them together. The public becomes a party primarily because it consists of the purchasers and consumers of the products, who are deprived of the usual supply of goods more or less essential to their welfare or even to their existence. With the increasing division of labor and complexity of industrial organization, more and more kinds of business have, in a greater and greater degree, become “affected with a public interest.” The public becomes an unwilling party, therefore, in every serious labor controversy.
In order that any kind of labor legislation shall be enacted, it is necessary (as far as we have a government by public opinion) for a majority of the public to be convinced that the conditions are such as call for governmental interference. It becomes so convinced in two broadly distinguishable classes of cases: one, when the masses of unorganized workers are too weak to secure for themselves conditions of work and wages consistent with health and morality; and the other, when strong bodies of organized workers, in their attempts to win their ends in an industrial dispute, exceed their private rights and invade the public welfare.
§ 17. The public and compulsory arbitration. Where the railways are owned and operated by the state (as is now the case pretty generally except in America and Great Britain) the question of the “right to strike” arises from time to time in critical forms. The logic of the situation compels even those officials that are of the labor party or are most favorable to labor, to maintain an uninterrupted service on the public railways. The experiences of that nature in France and in Australasia have been notable. Nowhere in the United States has the principle of compulsory arbitration been adopted, but at the time of the great anthracite strike, in 1902, public sentiment grew strong in favor of it. As a result of the intolerable conditions in the mines of Colorado, was passed the compulsory investigation act of 1915 in that state. In 1916 the threat of a general railroad strike brought from the public press almost unanimous condemnation of the strike as a method of settlement of wage disputes on the railroads. In the end, organized labor accepted, apparently with much satisfaction, a law involving the legal fixation of wages and the principle of compulsion as applied to the employers. President Roosevelt, at the time of labor trouble in the government printing office, maintained that employees of the government could not have the right to strike. Governor Coolidge (later Vice-President) upheld the same principle in the case of the policemen’s strike in Boston in 1919. The trend of public opinion seems to be strongly to the same general conclusion.
[1 ]By the Secretary of the American Federation of Labor.
[2 ]See Vol. I, pp. 458-467.
[3 ]See especially, § 8.
[4 ]Bunting vs. State of Oregon, 243 U. S. 426 (Oct., 1916).
[5 ]Published as “The Case for the Shorter Working Day,” by the National Consumers’ League; see especially pp. 621-892.
[6 ]See Vol. I, pp. 135 and 197.
[7 ]See § 16.
[8 ]The few exceptions to this statement are mostly recent; such as the recognition of the unions in New Zealand in 1894 as parties in the plan of compulsory arbitration, and in Great Britain in 1909 as agencies through which unemployment insurance may be administered.
[9 ]As appeared in ch. 21.