1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Trade Unions
TRADE UNIONS, combinations for regulating the relations between workmen and masters, workmen and workmen, or masters and masters, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any industry or business.
I.—The United Kingdom
By the English common law such combinations were, with certain unimportant exceptions, regarded as illegal. They were History of British Legislation. considered to be contrary to public policy, and were treated as conspiracies in restraint of trade. Those who were concerned in them were liable to be criminally prosecuted by indictment or information, and to be punished on conviction by fine and imprisonment. The offence was the same whether it was committed by masters or by workmen. But although the common law applied mutatis mutandis to both of them alike, it was, practically speaking, in reference rather to the latter than to the former that its effects were developed and ascertained. Although workmen, as individuals, might lawfully consent or refuse to labour for any remuneration or for any time they pleased, the hostility of the common law to combinations effected the result that when two or more of them joined together, and agreed to labour only on certain stipulated terms, their agreements were not only null and void, but were criminal offences subject to punishment. It was immaterial whether the end they had in view was to determine wages or to limit work; or whether the means they adopted for promoting its attainment was a simultaneous withdrawal from employment, an endeavour to prevent other workmen from resuming or taking employment, or an attempt to control the masters in the management of their trade, the engagement of journeymen or apprentices, or the use of machinery or industrial processes; or whether in seeking to enforce their demands they relied merely on advice and solicitation, or resorted to reproach and menace, or proceeded to actual violence. In any event their combination in itself constituted a criminal conspiracy, and rendered them amenable to prosecution and punishment.
From the reign of Edward I. to the reign of George IV. the operation of the common law was enforced and enlarged by between thirty and forty acts of parliament, all of which were more or less explicitly designed to prohibit and prevent the organization of labour. But the rise of the manufacturing system towards the end of the 18th century, and the revolution which accompanied it in the industrial arrangements of the country, were attended by a vast and unexpected extension of the movement which the legislature had for so long essayed to suppress. Among the multitudes of workmen who then began to be employed in factories, trade unions in the form of secret societies speedily became numerous and active, and to meet the situation a more summary procedure than that which had hitherto been available was provided by an act passed in 1800. Act of 1800. By this statute it was enacted that all persons combining with others to advance their wages or decrease the quantity of their work, or in any way to affect or control those who carried on any manufacture or trade in the conduct and management thereof, might be convicted before one justice of the peace, and might be committed to the common gaol for any time not exceeding three calendar months, or be kept to hard labour in the house of correction for a term of two calendar months.
The discontent and disorder consequent upon the introduction of steam and improved appliances into British manufactures in the first quarter of the 19th century, in conjunction with a state of commercial depression and national distress, led to the nomination of a select committee by the House of Commons, to inquire into the whole question of what were comprehensively designated the “combination laws,” in the session of 1824. The committee reported to the House that “those laws had not only not been efficient to prevent combinations either of masters Act of 1824. or workmen, but on the contrary had, in the opinion of many of both parties, had a tendency to produce mutual irritation and distrust and to give a violent character to the combinations, and to render them highly dangerous to the peace of the community.” They further reported that in their judgment “masters and workmen should be freed from such restrictions as regards the rate of wages and the hours of working, and be left at perfect liberty to make such agreements as they mutually think proper.” They therefore recommended that “the statute laws which interfered in these particulars between masters and workmen should be repealed,” and also that “the common law under which a peaceable meeting of masters or workmen might be prosecuted should be altered.” In pursuance of their report, an act, 5 Geo. IV. c. 95, was at once brought in and passed. But the immediate results of the change which it effected were regarded as so inconvenient, formidable and alarming, that in the session of 1825 the House of Commons appointed another select committee to re-examine the various problems, and review and reconsider the evidence submitted to their predecessors. They reported without delay in favour of the total repeal of the act of 1824, and the restoration of those provisions of the combination laws, whether statutory or customary, which it had been more particularly intended to abrogate. The consequence was an act passed in 1825 of Act of 1825. which the preamble declares that the act of 1824 had not been found effectual, and that combinations such as it had legalized were “injurious to trade and commerce, dangerous to the tranquillity of the country, and especially prejudicial to the interests of all who were concerned in them.” The effect of this act was to leave the common law of conspiracy in full force against all combinations in restraint of trade, except such as it expressly exempted from its operation, as it had been before the act of 1824 was passed. It comprised, however, within itself the whole of the statute law relating to the subject, and under it no persons were liable to punishment for meeting together for the sole purpose of consulting upon and determining the rate of wages or prices which they, being present, would require for their work or pay to their workmen, or the hours for which they would work or require work in any trade or business, or for entering into any agreement, verbal or written, for the purpose of fixing the rate of wages or prices which the parties to it should so receive or pay. But all persons were subjected to a maximum punishment of three months' imprisonment with hard labour who should by violence, threats or intimidation, molestation, or obstruction, do, or endeavour to do, or aid, abet or assist in doing or endeavouring to do, any of a series of things inconsistent with freedom of contract which the act enumerated and defined.
In 1859, in order to remove certain doubts which had arisen as to the true import and meaning of the undefined words Act of 1859. “molestation” and “obstruction,” it was provided by an amending act that “no person, by reason merely of his endeavouring peaceably and in a reasonable manner, and without threat or intimidation, direct or indirect, to persuade others to cease or abstain from work, in order to obtain the rate of wages or the altered hours of labour agreed to by him and others, should be deemed to have been guilty of ‘molestation’ or ‘obstruction.’ ”
In spite of the partial recognition which trade unions had thus received, they continued to be unlawful, although not Acts of 1869-1876. necessarily criminal, associations. In certain cases, they were by statute exempted from penal consequences, and their members were empowered to combine for specified purposes, and to collect funds by voluntary contributions for carrying them into effect. But in the estimation of the common law the special privileges which had been accorded to them under particular circumstances did not confer any general character of legality upon them, and where their rules were held to be in restraint of trade, as in the prohibition of piece-work or the limitation of the number of apprentices, they were still regarded as conspiracies. In this condition the law was when what became notorious as the “Sheffield and Manchester outrages” suggested the appointment of the royal commission on trade unions, which investigated the subject from 1867 to 1869. The outcome was, first, a temporary measure for the more effectual protection of the funds of trade unions, passed in 1869, and, secondly, the two measures which, as amended and amending, are cited together as the “Trade Union Acts 1871 and 1876.”
Under these statutes, construed with the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, the law relating to General Effects. combinations, whether of workmen or of masters, entered upon a new phase. In connexion with trade disputes no person can be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit an act which would not be criminal if committed by him singly. The purposes of a trade union are not to be deemed illegal merely because they are in restraint of trade, and the circumstance that they are in restraint of trade is not to render any member of it liable to prosecution, nor is it to avoid or make voidable any agreement or trust relating to it. No court, however, can entertain legal proceedings with the object of directly enforcing or recovering damages for the breach of an agreement between the members of a trade union as such, concerning the conditions on which the members for the time being shall or shall not sell their goods, transact their business, employ or be employed, or the payment by any person of any subscription or penalty to a trade union, or for the application of the funds of a trade union to provide benefits or to furnish contributions to any employer or workman not a member of such trade union in consideration of such employer or workman acting in conformity with the rules or resolutions of such trade union, or to discharge any fine imposed upon any person by any court of justice or any agreement made between one trade union and another, or any bond to secure such agreement. But such incapacity to sue on such agreements is not to be taken as constituting any of them illegal. Every person, however, commits a misdemeanour, and on conviction is liable to a maximum fine of £20, or to a maximum imprisonment of three months with hard labour, who wilfully and maliciously breaks a contract of service or hiring, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the probable consequence of his so doing, either alone or in combination with others, will be to endanger human life or cause serious bodily injury, or to expose valuable property, whether real or personal, to destruction or serious injury; or, who, being employed by a municipal authority or by any company or contractor on whom is imposed by act of parliament, or who have otherwise assumed, the duty of supplying any place with gas or water, wilfully and maliciously breaks a contract of service or hiring, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the probable consequence of his so doing, alone or in combination with others, will be to deprive the inhabitants of that place, wholly or in part, of their supply of gas or water; or who, with a view to compel any other person to do or to abstain from doing any act which such other person has a right to abstain from doing or to do, wrongfully and without legal authority uses violence to or intimidates such other person or his wife or children, or injures his property, or who persistently follows such person about from place to place, or who hides any tools, clothes or other property owned or used by such other person, or deprives him of or hinders him in the use thereof, or who watches or besets the house or other place where such person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, or the approach to such house or place, or who follows such other person with two or more other persons in a disorderly manner in or through any street or road. Attending at or near the house or place where a person resides or works or carries on business, in order merely to obtain or communicate information was not watching or besetting within the statute, but this proviso has since been repealed. In regard to registration, trade unions are placed on a similar footing with friendly and provident and industrial societies, and they enjoy all the privileges, advantages and facilities which those associations possess and command, except in so far as they differ by the fact that there is no legally enforceable contract between a trade union and its members, and that the right of a registered trade union to invest funds with the National Debt Commissioners is limited, and in a few other matters. On their side, however, they have to comply with the same conditions, are subject to the same liabilities, and are compelled to make the same periodical returns.
During the years following 1876 several important amendments of the law, other than special trade union legislation, Later Legislation. and the decisions of the courts in various cases, led up to the important act of 1906. These affected principally the liability of trade union funds to be taken in execution for the wrongful acts of agents of the union, the statute law relating to picketing and other incidents of strikes, and the law of conspiracy as affecting trade unions.
The two latter points are dealt with in the article on Strikes and Lock-Outs, and it may suffice here to say that the clauses in the act of 1875 prescribing punishment for watching and besetting a house, &c., with the view of compelling any other person in the manner set forth, have been amended by the repeal of the proviso that “Attending at or near the house or place where a person resides, or works, or carries on business, or happens to be, or the approach to such house or place, in order merely to obtain or communicate information, shall not be deemed a watching or besetting within the meaning of this section” by the enactment in the act of 1906 that: “It shall be lawful for one or more persons, acting on their own behalf or on behalf of a trade union or of an individual employer or firm in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, to attend at or near a house or place where a person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, if they so attend merely for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information, or of peacefully persuading any person to work or abstain from working.”
The object was to include the right of peaceful persuasion which had been supposed by parliament to be implied in the terms of the act of 1875. Further, the law of conspiracy has been amended by enactments in the act of 1906 that: “An act done in pursuance of an agreement or combination by two or more persons shall, if done in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, not be actionable unless the act if done without any such agreement or combination would be actionable,” and “An act done by a person in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute shall not be actionable on the ground only that it induces some other person to break a contract of employment or that it is an interference with the trade, business or employment of some other person, or with the right, of some other person to dispose of his capital or his labour as he wills.”
The act of 1875, in the words of Lord Cairns, was framed on the principle that “the offences in relation to trade disputes Leading Cases in the Law-courts. should be thoroughly known and understood, and that persons should not be subjected to the indirect and deluding action of the old law of conspiracy,” but no one during the discussion of the bill was thinking of the civil action. This matter became important when the dicta of various judges in the House of Lords in the case of Quinn v. Leathem showed that there might be an action for damages based on any conspiracy to injure or do harm, particularly when it is considered that the very essence of a strike is in one sense injury to those against whom it is directed, and these opinions became of the utmost import to trade unions when the Taff Vale case showed that the fact of procuring to strike might also involve trade union funds in liability, even where there had been no procuring to break contracts. This important decision arose through the amendment of general procedure under the Judicature Acts in 1881. The distinction was abolished between legal and equitable rules as regards parties to sue and be sued, and in 1883 there was issued a General Order No. xvi. of the supreme court, rule 9 of which prescribed that where there are numerous parties having the same interest in one cause or matter, one or more of such persons may sue or be sued, or may be authorized by a court or judge to defend in such cause or matter, on behalf or for the benefit of all persons so interested. It was decided in Temperton v. Russell in 1893 where three trade unions were made defendants to represent all the members, and the order did not apply in the case of a trade union, because the words of the order “numerous parties having the same interest in one cause or matter” could only be satisfied by parties who had, or claimed to have, a beneficial proprietary right which they were asserting or defending, from which it was inferred that they could not be sued at all, and in the report of the Royal Commission on Labour in 1894 the opinion was either assumed or expressly stated that they could not be sued in tort. In 1901 the House of Lords overruled Temperton v. Russell in the case of the Duke of Bedford v. Ellis, holding that the General Order No. xvi. rule 9, was universal in its application. In the same year the Taff Vale case came before the House of Lords. In the first place, expounding the Trade Union Act 1871, they held unanimously that from the provisions in that act concerning registered trade unions there is to be legally inferred an intention of parliament that a trade union might be Taff Vale Case. sued in tort in its registered name, with the consequence that trade union funds would be liable case. for any damages that might be awarded. Secondly—apart from the Trade Union Act—Lord Macnaghten and Lord Lindley expressed an unhesitating opinion that under the General Order No. xvi. as interpreted in Duke of Bedford v. Ellis, any trade union, whether registered or not, could be sued in tort by means of a representative action. Trade unionists protested against the result as a decision of judges making a practically new law against trade unions and nullifying the settlement of their status made by the legislature in 1871, and in June 1903 a royal commission was again appointed to inquire into the subject of trade disputes and trade combinations and as to the law affecting them, and to report on the law applicable to the same and the effect of any modifications thereof.
The majority of the commission reported in January 1906 in favour of an alteration in the law relating to picketing and Act of 1906. conspiracy, but against any alteration of the law as laid down in the Taff Vale judgment. A different view was, however, expressed in the Trade Disputes Act passed in the same year, whereby it was enacted with reference to trades union funds that “an action against a trade union, whether of workmen or masters, or against any members or officials thereof on behalf of themselves and all other members of the trade union in respect of any tortious act alleged to have been committed by or on behalf of the trade union, shall not be entertained by any court,” although “nothing in this section shall affect the liability of the trustees of a trade union to be sued in the events provided for by the Trades Union Act 1871, section 9, except in respect of any tortious act committed by or on behalf of the union in contemplation or in furtherance of a trade dispute.” This act and the two previous acts are cited together as the Trade Union Acts 1871 to 1906, and form the present statutory enactments upon the subject.
In December 1909 one of the most important judgments in connexion with trade unions was delivered in the The Osborne Judgment. case of Osborne v. Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. The litigation had extended over two years, ending in the House of Lords (December 21, 1909) upholding the decision of the court of appeal (L.R. 1909, ch. 163). The plaintiff, who had been a member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants since 1892, sued his trade union to have it declared that one of its current rules, which provided, amongst other things, for parliamentary representation and the enforced levy of contributions from him and other members of the society, towards the payment of salaries or maintenance allowance to members of parliament pledged to observe and fulfil the conditions imposed by the Labour Party, was ultra vires and void. It was decided in the King's Bench against the plaintiff, but the judgment was reversed by the court of appeal, whose decision was upheld by the House of Lords. This meant that the Labour Party in the House of Commons would have to find other ways and means than contributions from trade unionists to maintain their members in parliament. A voluntary levy was attempted, but did not meet with any success, and in 1910 agitation was set on foot by the Labour Party for the reversal of the “Osborne judgment.” They also announced in September their intention of making a change in the constitution of their party by eliminating the necessity of each member signing an acceptance of certain conditions, on the ground that the party had arrived at a state when it could trust to ordinary party loyalty to keep their members' action in accordance with the policy of the party. It was also hoped that it would meet many objections raised against their agitation for the reversal of the Osborne judgment. The agitation had the result of increasing the force of the movement for payment of members, not only in the Liberal party but also among the more progressive Conservatives.
Trade unions, in the sense in which the term is now understood, appear to be almost exclusively of modern growth. History of Organization. Though combinations among various classes of workmen to improve their position have doubtless been formed from time to time from an early period, such combinations, up to comparatively recent years, were mostly ephemeral, almost the only class among whom permanent associations of journeymen are known to have existed in the middle ages being the masons, whose confederacies were prohibited by law in 1425. With this doubtful exception, there is little or no trace of permanent combinations corresponding to the modern trade union before the 18th century. During the period when wages and conditions of employment were the subject of State regulation (e.g. under the Statute of Apprentices of Elizabeth), combinations to exact higher rates or other conditions than those so fixed were naturally regarded as illegal conspiracies.
The craft gilds of the middle ages have sometimes been regarded as the true predecessors of trade unions, but the analogy must not be pressed too far. The structure, constitution and functions of a gild of craftsmen, aiming at the protection and regulation of the craft as a whole, were essentially different from those of a trade union, formed to protect one class of persons engaged in an industry against another. Nor is there any trace of direct continuity between gilds and trade unions, for the claim of certain Irish trade unions to be descended from gilds will not bear scrutiny (see Webb, History of Trade Unionism, appendix). The only true sense in which it can be said that there is a certain indirect historical filiation between gilds and trade unions is that, as pointed out by Brentano, some of the earliest trade unions had for their original object the enforcement of the decaying Elizabethan legislation, which in its turn had taken the place of the obsolete regulation of industry by the craft gilds, so that among the rules and objects of such unions would naturally be some bearing a likeness to gild regulations.
The actual way in which trade unions first came into being probably varied very greatly. In some cases, as stated above, their origin can be definitely traced to associations for enforcing the legal regulation of industry against the opposition of employers; in others, the meetings of journeymen belonging to the same trade for such purposes as sick or burial clubs became naturally the nucleus of secret combinations to raise wages. The growth of the “capitalistic” system of industry, under which the workman no longer owned the materials or instruments with which he worked, was one of the most potent causes of the development of workmen's combinations. The efforts of trade unions to revive the enforcement of the Elizabethan legislation not only failed, but led to its repeal (1813-1814); but the laws against combinations, which had been made more stringent and more general by the acts of 1799-1800, remained unaltered until 1824. In spite of these acts, which made all combinations illegal, there is evidence that trade clubs of journeymen existed and were tolerated in many trades and districts during the first quarter of the 19th century, though they were always subject to the fear of prosecution if they took hostile action against employers; and in many cases strikes were suppressed by the conviction of their leaders under these acts or under the common law of conspiracy. The partial protection accorded to societies for the purpose of regulating wages and hours of labour by the law of 1825 led to a rapid multiplication and expansion of trade unions, and to an outburst of strikes, in which, however, partly owing to the widespread commercial depression, the workmen were mostly unsuccessful. Thus the first impetus given to trade unions by the modification of the combination laws was followed by a collapse, which in its turn was followed (in the third decade of the century) by a succession of attempts on the part of workmen to establish a federal or universal combination, to embrace members not of one but of several trades. To this new form of combination, which excited a good deal of alarm among employers, the term “trades union,” as distinct from trade union, was applied. All these general movements, however, proved short-lived, and the most extensive of them, the “Grand National Consolidated Trades Union,” which was formed in 1834 and claimed half a million adherents, only had an active existence for a few months, its break-up being hastened by the conviction and transportation of six Dorchester labourers for the administration of unlawful oaths. In the years of depressed trade which followed, trade unionism once more declined, and the interest of workmen was largely diverted from trade combinations to more general political movements, e.g. Chartism, the Anti-Corn-Law agitation and Robert Owen's schemes of co-operation.
From 1845 we trace another revival of trade unions, the characteristic tendency of this period being the amalgamation of local trade clubs to form societies, national in scope, but confined to single or kindred trades. High rates of contribution, and the provision of friendly as well as trade benefits, were among the features of the new type of union, of which the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, formed in 1851, was the most important example. The growth of unions of the new type was followed by a development of employers' associations in the 'sixties, and by a number of widespread strikes and lock-outs, and also by various efforts to promote arbitration and conciliation by the establishment of joint boards of employers and employed. (See Arbitration and Conciliation and Strikes and Lock-outs.)
A series of outrages at Sheffield and Manchester in 1865-1866, in which officials of some local trade societies were implicated, led to the appointment in 1867 of a Royal Commission on Trade Unions, whose report was followed by the passage of the Trade Union Act of 1871, which as amended in 1876 and 1906 now governs the legal position of trade unions. Conferences of trade union representatives held in 1866 and 1867 to determine their policy with respect to the royal commission of inquiry, led to the gatherings of the trade union congress which are still held annually.
The period of inflated trade which began in 1871 caused, as usual, another rapid growth of trade combinations, of which the most characteristic feature was their extension to agricultural and general labourers. To meet this new development of combination, the National Federation of Associated Employers of Labour was formed in 1873. The years of depression, 1875-1880, were marked by a series of unsuccessful strikes against reductions of wages, and by a general decline of trade unions, which did not again revive until nearly ten years later, when the new wave of prosperous trade brought with it an outburst of strikes, chiefly among unskilled labourers, for improved conditions, of which the most notable was the strike of the London dock labourers in 1889. These trade movements were accompanied by the formation of a large number of unions of a type more akin to those of 1830-1834 than to the more modern trade-friendly society with its high contributions and benefits. The “new unions” were chiefly among unskilled labourers; their rates of contributions were from 1d. to 3d. a week, and as a rule they only offered strike benefit. Another characteristic was the extent to which their leaders were permeated with the Socialistic doctrines which had then recently taken root in Great Britain, and which led them to advocate positive state interference with industry in the interests of the labourers (e.g. the legal limitation of hours of labour).
The reports of the Royal Commission on Labour, which sat from 1891 to 1894, contain much valuable information on the state of facts and on the opinions of employers and workmen at this period.
From 1892 onwards the progress of trade unionism can be traced statistically. The depression of trade, 1892-1895, brought with it, as usual, some decline in trade unionism; but though many of the “new unions” collapsed, some of the more important have survived to the present time. The revival of trade which began in 1896 was naturally accompanied by an increase in the strength of trade unions; but the most marked characteristic of this period was the extension and consolidation of employers' associations, of which perhaps the most notable is the Engineering Employers' Federation, which was originally formed on the Clyde, but gradually extended to other districts and became a national organization of great strength during its successful struggle with the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in 1897-1898. Among the other more important employers' associations and federations of a national character may be mentioned the Shipping Federation, the Federated Coal Owners, the Ship-building Federation, the Federation of Master Cotton-Spinners' Associations, the National Federation of Building Trade Employers, and the Incorporated Federated Associations of Boot and Shoe Manufacturers.
In 1899 a general federation of trade unions was established which had in 1907 a membership of 650,000 in 117 affiliated societies. This federation links the trade unions of the United Kingdom with those of other countries by its affiliation with the international federation of trade unions, which embraces the national federations of the principal European countries. During recent years there has been a noticeable tendency towards the creation of federations of trade unions, and the absorption of the smaller by the larger societies. Trade unions, both in their historical development and their present organization, present a very great variety of constitutions. Constitution. The oldest type is that of the local trade club, consisting of a comparatively small number of men following the same occupation in the same locality. A large number of unions have never progressed beyond this primitive form of organization. The government is of the simplest kind, by a general assembly of all the members, while such officers as are required to carry on the necessary routine business of the society are chosen by rotation or even by lot.
Indisposition to concentrate power in the hands of permanent officers and a tendency to divide the business of management equally among all the members, instead of delegating authority to a few chosen representatives, are leading characteristics of trade unions in this primitive form. The organization here described, even if adequate for ordinary current requirements, is ill suited for conducting a contest with employers, and accordingly in times of strife an improvised “strike committee” often comes into existence and practically governs the conduct of the dispute. No doubt this double constitution of the old trade club as a loosely organized friendly society, converting itself at times into a more or less secret strike combination ruled by an irresponsible committee, is to be traced to the time when trade unions as such were illegal combinations and had to carry out their objects under the guise of friendly societies. The Friendly Society of Ironfounders (established in 1809), though it has to a great extent outgrown its primitive constitution, retains in its name the mark of its origin, while the government of the London Society of Bookbinders, by mass meeting of its members, offers an example of the persistence of traditional methods under wholly changed conditions. The Sheffield trade clubs, responsible for the outrages which led to the appointment of the Trade Union Commission in 1867, and subsequently to the passage of the Trade Union Acts, conformed as a rule to the primitive type. At the present time over 750 trade unions are known to exist which are purely local in character, with no branches. The next step in trade union evolution seems to have generally been an alliance or federation of two or more local clubs belonging to the same trade. This federation would make it necessary to provide some machinery for common management, the simplest and crudest expedient being for each of the allied clubs to act in rotation as the governing branch. Thus the government of the federation or “amalgamated society” was at any given time confided to the members of a single locality, and the seat of government was periodically shifted. Some federal societies (e.g. the Mutual Association of Journeymen Coopers) still retain this primitive form of government.
As the tendency developed for local clubs to unite, the necessity of permanent officials to cope with the growing business of the amalgamation caused the institution of a paid secretary (usually elected by the whole body of members), and this led naturally to the fixing of the seat of administration at a particular centre instead of rotating among the branches. Some continuity of policy and of office tradition was thus made possible, but the executive committee almost invariably continued to consist of the local committee of the district where the seat of government happened to be. Thus up to 1892 the business of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, a society with hundreds of branches all over the United Kingdom and even abroad, was conducted by a committee elected by the London branches. The Boilermakers continued a somewhat similar form of government up to 1895; and many great societies, e.g. the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, continue a somewhat similar system to the present day.
The plan of entrusting the government of a national society to a local executive has obvious conveniences, where the society consists of a body of working men scattered over a large area and with no leisure for travelling. But the control exercised by a locally-elected committee over a general secretary deriving his authority not from them but from the vote of a much wider constituency, could hardly be expected to be very effective; while the expedients of referring all important questions to a vote of the whole body of members, and of summoning at periodical intervals special delegate meetings to revise the rules, have proved in practice but clumsy substitutes for the permanent control and direction of the executive officers by a representative council. Quite as ineffective in some cases has been the authority of a mere local executive over the committees of other districts. Accordingly, some of the largest “amalgamated” unions have now adopted a representative system of government. Thus in 1892 the Engineers revised their rules so as to provide for the election of the executive council by vote of all the members divided into eight equal electoral districts. The members of council so elected are permanent paid officials, devoting all their time to the work of the society. The general secretary, however, continues to be chosen by the whole body of members, while the responsibility of the council is also weakened by the institution of “district delegates” nominally responsible to them, but chosen by direct election in the various districts. (This division of authority and consequent weakness of responsibility was one of the causes of the state of things which led to the great engineering dispute of 1897, and it also led to a deadlock in negotiations on the north-east coast in 1908, the executive being powerless to enforce its views.) The Boilermakers adopted the system of a permanent executive in 1895.
In the case of certain highly-localized industries, such as cotton and coal, the conditions have admitted of a somewhat different form of constitution from that described above. Thus the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton-Spinners is a federal organization, consisting of a number of local associations, all, however, situated within a comparatively small area. The governing bodies of the association are—(1) a quarterly meeting of about a hundred representatives of the districts; (2) an executive committee of thirteen chosen by the above representative meeting, of whom seven must be working spinners and the other six are usually permanent district officials; (3) a sub-council to transact the ordinary daily work of the association, consisting of the six official members referred to above. The secretary is chosen by the representative meeting, and engages his own office assistants. Here we have the familiar features of representative institutions—a large legislative body, a small executive chosen by and responsible to this body, and a still smaller group of permanent officials to transact ordinary business.
Lastly, there are some large societies constituted not by the aggregation of local clubs or the federation of neighbouring associations, but originally founded as “national societies” divided into districts and branches for administrative convenience. An example is the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, founded in 1872.
Besides the tendency of the national society with branches to swallow up the local trade club, there is a further tendency among the larger societies to form federations for certain common purposes. Such federations are to be distinguished from national trade unions, inasmuch as their members are societies and not individuals, and as a rule their powers over their constituent organizations are limited to certain specific objects. On the other hand, they are more than merely consultative bodies (such as local trades councils).
Some federations consist of unions in the same industry in different districts (e.g. the Miners' Federation). “Single trade” federations like this have usually considerable powers, including that of imposing levies.
In the cotton-spinning trade, the trade union organization has a federal character, and the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton-Spinners, in spite of its name, is, strictly speaking, a federation.
Other federations (e.g. in the building trade) are formed of allied trades in the same locality, and usually have little executive power. The Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades has among its objects the settlement of disputes between members of its constituent societies as to the limits of their work. Some federations aim at embracing societies in all kinds of industries, but as a rule such organizations have not proved long-lived. The most recent example is the “General Federation of Trade Unions,” formed in 1899, referred to above.
Since 1866 a congress of delegates from trade unions has met annually for discussion, and a parliamentary committee elected by this congress watches over matters in which trade unions are interested during the ensuing year.
The principal object of every trade union is to protect the trade interests of its members, and to strengthen their position Objects and Methods. in bargaining with their employers with regard to the conditions under which they work. The chief means by which they seek to attain these objects (apart from political methods such as the promotion of legislation or of administrative action by public authorities) are twofold: viz. the support of members when engaged in a collective dispute with employers by the payment of “dispute” benefit, and the insurance of members against loss from want of work by the payment of “unemployed” benefit, so as to enable them to refuse any terms of employment inferior to those recognized by the trade union. All trade unions in one form or another provide “dispute” benefit, but a separate “unemployed” benefit is by no means universal, though, except in certain groups of trades, it is usual among more powerful and well established societies. Thus in the mining, clothing, and even many branches of the building trade, comparatively little is spent by trade unions on “unemployed” benefit, while, on the other hand, in the metal, engineering, shipbuilding, printing and other trades a large proportion of the total expenditure is devoted to this object (see Statistics below). In some important societies, such as the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, “unemployed” and “dispute” benefits are mixed up together, members engaged in a dispute receiving an addition of 5s. per week (known as “contingent” benefit) to the ordinary out-of-work pay (known as “donation”).
Unemployed benefit may, of course, be regarded as a “friendly” benefit, i.e. a provision against one class of the casualties to which a workman is exposed the loss of employment through slackness of trade. But in practice it also operates as a method of maintaining the “standard” rate of wages, members being entitled to it who could obtain employment, but only on conditions disapproved by the society or branch.
The conditions under which the members of a union are entitled to financial support in a strike vary in different societies, and are prescribed in the rules. Usually, though the initiative may come from the localities, the central executive must approve of the strike before it takes place, and may at any time declare it to be closed, though in some societies the central authority is often unwilling to take the responsibility of curbing its members by exercising its powers in this respect.
“Dispute” and “unemployed” benefits are the only ones which are specially characteristic of trade unions, and as regards the latter benefit, it may be said that trade unions have hitherto been the only form of organization capable of meeting the difficulties arising from “malingering.” Most of the more firmly established unions, however, add to their trade functions those of friendly societies, providing sick, accident, superannuation, and funeral benefits, or some of these. The position of a trade union, however, with regard to these benefits differs very materially from that of a friendly society. The trade union is under no legally enforceable contract with its members to provide the stipulated benefits: it can change their scale, or even abolish them, by vote of its members, and a member who has contributed for years in hope of receiving them has no legal redress. Again, a member excluded from the society for some “trade” reason incidentally loses all claim to friendly benefits. The funds of a trade union applicable to trade and friendly purposes are never kept distinct (in the few cases in which some distinction is attempted, the society may “borrow” from the one fund in aid of the other in case of emergency); and a prolonged strike or depression of trade may so deplete the funds as to make it impossible for the society to meet its engagements as regards sickness or superannuation. Thus the friendly society operations of trade unions have strictly no actuarial basis, and in some cases the scale of contribution and benefit have been fixed with little regard to ultimate solvency.
On the other hand, the power of levying and varying the scale of contributions adds to some extent to the financial stability of the funds, and the provision of “friendly” as well as “trade” benefits by a trade union undoubtedly gives strength and continuity to the society, and increases its power of discipline over its members. Societies that only provide “dispute” pay are exposed to violent oscillations of membership, and also to a dangerous temptation to rush into an ill-considered strike owing to the mere accumulation of funds which can be used for no other purpose.
The statistics of trade union expenditure on benefits of various classes are given below. Of the 100 principal unions, all provide dispute benefit; 79 in the year 1905 provided unemployed benefit (including in some cases travelling pay); 79, sick or accident benefit; 37, superannuation benefit; and 87, funeral benefit; 32 unions providing all four classes of benefit.
One of the most important functions of trade unions in many industries is the negotiation of agreements with employers and employers' associations for the regulation of the conditions of employment in those industries. While undoubtedly the power of withdrawing its members from employment in the last resort adds to the power of a trade union in such negotiations, many of the most important agreements by which the conditions of labour of large bodies of workmen are governed are habitually concluded, and from time to time revised, by conferences of representatives of the trade union and employers without any strike taking place. To the functions of trade unions as fighting organizations and as friendly benefit societies should therefore be added that of providing the necessary machinery and basis for the conclusion of industrial agreements between bodies of workpeople and their employers (see Arbitration and Conciliation, and Strikes and Lock-outs).
While the broad objects of trade union policy are generally similar, their methods and features vary greatly in detail. Among the objects most frequently met with (besides those of raising wages and shortening hours, which may be said to be universal) are the enforcement of a “minimum” wage; the limitation of overtime; the restriction of numbers in the trade through the limitation of apprentices, or the regulation of the age of entrance; the restriction or regulation of piecework (in trades accustomed to “time” work); the preservation for members of the trade of the exclusive right to perform certain classes of work claimed by other trades (leading to so-called “demarcation” disputes); resistance to the encroachment of labourers on work considered to be “skilled” (leading to disputes as to the class of persons to be employed on machines, &c.); and the securing of a monopoly of employment for members of the union by a refusal to work with non-unionists.
|Year.|| Number of
1Includes a small number of members abroad.
but for earlier years the records are so fragmentary that it is Statistics. impossible to give exact figures showing the total growth of trade unions over a long period. The table at foot of preceding column, based on the statistics published by the board of trade, shows the number and membership of all trade unions in the United Kingdom making continuous returns for each of theten years 1897 to 1906.
oscillations of trade, membership declining in the years of depression and increasing with the revival of trade. The decline in the number of separate unions is chiefly due to the growing tendency to amalgamate into large societies.
The following table shows the distribution of trade unions amongthe various groups of trades in 1905:—
|Groups of Unions.||Number
|Membership in 1905.|
|Mining and quarrying||68||495,968||26|
|Metal engineering and shipbuilding||222||339,282||18|
|Railway, dock and other transport||55||162,563||9|
|Printing, bookbinding and paper||40||62,368||3|
|Wood-working and furnishing||100||40,115||2|
|All other unions||196||113,922||6|
five first-named groups of trades—mining; metal engineering and shipbuilding; textile; building; and railway, dock and other transport—which among them account for over three-quarters of thetotal membership.
nonexistent, but in 1875 there were important unions of agricultural labourers, though at no time did they include any considerable proportion of the total agricultural population.
Taking the men belonging to all trade unions together, we find that their number does not amount to more than about one in five of the adult men who belong to the classes from which trade unionists are drawn. Only in a few groups do trade unionists form a high percentage of the total working population, e.g. coal-mining and cotton manufacture. The number of women belonging to trade unions at the end of 1906 was 162,453, distributed among 156 unions, of which, however, only 28 consisted exclusively of women. The great bulk of women trade unionists are found in the cotton trade, in which they actually outnumber the male members. Of all the women employed in factories and workshops, about one in twelve belongs to a trade union.
The available statistics with regard to the financial resources of trade unions, and their expenditure on various objects, are not so complete as those of membership, as the board of trade figures only relate to 100 of the principal unions. As, however, these unions include nearly two-thirds of the total membership, the figures snowing their financial position may be accepted as being representative of the whole number of societies. In 1906 the income of these 100 societies was £2,344,157 or 36s. 9½d. per head; and their expenditure £1,958,676 or 30s. 9d. per head; and at the end of the year the funds in hand amounted to £5,198,536 or 81s. 7¼d. per head.
The actual rates of contribution per member vary greatly among the unions—from 7s. up to £4 per annum. Generally speaking, the highest income per member is found among the unions in the metal, engineering and shipbuilding group, where in 1905 it averaged £3, 5s. 7¼d., while the average in the mining unions was only £1, 4s. 1½d., and among dock labourers still lower. The metal trades and the textile unions appear to hold the highest amount of funds compared with their membership, the amounts at the end of 1905 being £6, 3s. 8¼d. and £6, 0s. 3d. per head respectively in these groups, while in the building trade unions it was only 18s. 8½d. and in somesocieties of unskilled labourers far less than this.
22%. The 42.5% of expenditure on friendly benefits is made up of 19.1% on sick and accident, 12.4% on superannuation and 11% on funeral and other benefits.
The mining unions devoted 28.6% of their expenditure to the support of disputes (friendly benefits in this industry being largely provided by other agencies), while the unions in the printing and bookbinding trades only used 3.9% for this object, over three-quarters of their expenditure going to unemployed or friendly benefits. As illustrations of the variation in the expenditure by the same group of unions on a particular object from year to year, it may be stated that within the ten years' period referred to the annual expenditure of the metal, engineering and shipbuilding group on disputes varied from £514,637 in 1897, the year of the great engineering dispute, to £13,266 in 1899. Again, the expenditure of the same group of unions on unemployed benefit varied from £80,512 in 1899 to £303,749 in 1904. The burden of superannuation payments by the 100 unions has steadily increased during the ten years from £137,813 in 1896 to £306,089 in 1906.
At the end of 1906 there were 89 federations, including societies with a gross membership of over a million and three-quarters, but a considerable deduction must be made from this total on account of duplication. In the same year 231 “trades councils” were known to exist, with an affiliated membership of over 895,000.
The number of employers' associations and federations known to exist in the United Kingdom in 1906 was 953, including 60 federations and national associations. Of the total number ofassociations 398 are in the building trades.
II. Foreign and Colonial
Modern trade unionism has had its chief development in English-speaking countries, and especially in the United Kingdom, where the conditions necessary for its growth have been present to the fullest extent. With some exceptions, such unions as are found elsewhere are either derived or copied from English organizations, or are associations with political objects. It is therefore unnecessary to give more than a brief summary of the position of trade unions in some of the principal countries and colonies outside the United Kingdom (for United States see IV. below).
Germany.—In Germany the majority of trade unions are of a political character, being closely connected with the Social Democratic party. These Socialist trade unions, termed “Gewerkschaften,” were started by a congress held at Berlin in 1868, under the auspices of Fritscher and Schweitzer, two followers of Lassalle. In 1878 many of them were dissolved under the law prohibiting socialistic organizations, but shortly after their place was taken by local unions termed “Fachvereine,” which ostensibly abstained from politics, but which in various ways succeeded in evading the law and carrying on the work of the Gewerkschaften. In 1887 a general committee of the German Gewerkschaften was formed, and in 1890 the General Commission of Trade Unions in Germany was established. Later years of prosperous trade have been marked by a rapid growth in the strength of trade unions in Germany.
in 1907 a membership of 1,886,147 as compared with 743,296 in 1902 and 419,162 in 1897. Of the total number of members in 1907, 1,865,506 belonged to branches affiliated to central federations; the membership of non-federated local unions being returned as only 20,641. The income of the federated trade unions in 1907 was £2,569,839, or over 27s. per member as compared with £554,887 (or about 15s. per member) in 1902 and £204,185 (or about 10s. per member) in 1897, and the expenditure in the same years to £2,156,126, £500,276 and £177,140 respectively. Of the 61 federations in existence in 1907, 43 paid travelling benefit, 42 paid unemployed benefit, 47 paid sick benefit and 57 paid funeral, removal and special allowance.
Another group of trade unions in Germany, less important as regards number and membership than the above, are the “Gewerkvereine,” or non-political trade unions, sometimes known as “Hirsch-Duncker” unions, from the names of their founders. These unions were first formed in 1868, immediately after the Berlin congress referred to above. They were directly modelled on British trade unions. Since 1876 Social Democrats have been excluded. In their earlier years these unions suffered in membership from a series of unsuccessful strikes, and of late years they have been mostly benefit societies. In 1907 the Gewerkvereine embraced 108,889 members. Their income amounted to £77,068 in 1907 and their expenditure to £71,717.
Another group of unions, the Christian trade unions (Christliche Gewerkvereine), was formed in 1894. In 1907 the membershipof this group was 354,760. The income of these unions
these groups of unions there were a number of independent societies with a membership of 96,684 in 1907.
It will be seen that German trade unions of one type or another included a membership of nearly two and a half millions in 1907,their membership having more than doubled in the last five years.
France.—In France combinations of workmen as well as of employers were prohibited by the laws of the 14th of June and the 28th of September 1792, which overthrew the old gild or corporation system. They were also penalized under various articles of the Penal Code, and it was not till 1864 that the prohibition was modified by law. At present the status of trade unions in France is regulated by the law of 1884, which repealed that of 1791 and modified the articles of the Penal Code so far as regards professional syndicates of employers or workmen. Since then there has been a considerable growth of workmen's unions, which in 1906 numbered 5322 with a membership of 896,012. Of the unions in existence in 1906, 3675 with a membership of 752,362 belonged to 187 federations. There is, however, some duplication owing to the fact that some unions belong to more than one federation. In 1906 there were 260,869 members of unions in the transport, warehousing, &c., groups of trades, 103,835 in the metal, 73,126 in the mining and quarrying, 78,854 in the textile, 66,678 in the building, 51,407 in the agricultural, forestry, fishing and cattle breeding, 48,353 in the food preparation trades and the remainder in various other trades.
Austria.—Apart from the Austrian gilds, membership of which is compulsory for persons engaged in non-factory handicrafts and trades (under a law of 1883) and in mining (under a law of 1896), there are a certain number of trade unions in Austria, though freedom of combined action among workmen is less complete than in many other European countries. Such right of combination as exists rests on the law of 1870, which removed the restrictions imposed by the Penal Code on combinations for influencing the conditions of labour. The impulse given to the formation of unions by this law, and by the advantages gained for the workmen during the years of prosperous trade that immediately followed, received a severe check during the succeeding depression of trade, when these advantages were mostly lost. Trade unionism did not revive until 1888, from which time the unions formed have mostly been on a Social Democratic basis, the majority being affiliated to a central organization in Vienna.
been published annually by the Central Trade Union Commission (Gewerkschafts-Kommission) at Vienna. In 1907 there were 5156 trade unions in particular trades, with a membership of 501,094, affiliated to the Social Democratic trade unions (Gewerkschaften). Of the total number of unions, 49 were central unions, 77 were district unions and 5030 were local unions. Of the total number of members 454,693 were males and 46,401 were females. The greatest membership, 84,085 in 1907, is shown to have been in the metal engineering and shipbuilding group of industries, the building trades coming next with 68,543 members. The transport trades showed a membership of 61,744, and the textile trades, 51,632. The chemical, glass and pottery trades included 54,469 members and the wood-working and furnishing group included 36,502 members. Food and tobacco trades accounted for 32,679, and mining and quarrying for 30,715 members.
The total receipts of the trade unions in 1907 amounted to £338,365 and the total expenditure to 297,822, excluding receipts and expenditure for disputes. The expenditure on account of disputes, for which £136,822 was collected by special free organizations of the branch unions, amounted to £76,066 in 1907.
There are besides these unions a number of general unions not confined to one trade, and trade-clubs—educational associations discharging to a greater or less extent trade union functions. These associations have, however, been excluded from the statistics published by the Gewerkschafts Kommission as not being trade unions proper.
Hungary.—The trade union movement in Hungary is of very recent growth. The membership of unions affiliated to the Central Federation at the end of 1907 is given in the Volkwirtschaftliche Mitteilungen aus Ungarn as 130,192, compared with 129,332 at the end of 1906. Independent local unions had a membership of 11,838 at the end of 1907. The largest groups of organized workers are :n the building trade (35,630), metal workers (27,732), railway employees (17,192) and wood-workers (14,665).Italy. The Bolletino of the bureau of labour for August 1908 states that the membership of trade unions at the beginning of 1908 numbered 191,599 (in 2550 local unions). Included in the
beginning of 1907.
Denmark.—In 1907 there were 99,052 members of 1249 trade unions in Denmark, and of these 78,081 were in unions affiliated to the National Federation. The largest unions in the Federation are those of the general labourers with 22,660 members; blacksmiths and machinists with 8000 members; masons, 5300 members; railway employés, 4990 members; carpenters, 3855 members; textile workers, 3700 members; and cabinet-makers, 3590 members.
Sweden.—In Sweden there were, in 1906, 126,272 members of 1596 trade unions, and of these 30,645 were factory workers (trades not specified), 24,485 were in unions connected with the metal trades, 10,706 were in the transport trades, 17,862 were in the woodworking trades, 7132 were in the food, &c., trades, 6602 were in the building trades, and 6005 were in the clothing trades.
Norway.—The trade union movement in Norway dates practically from 1884. At the end of 1906 there were 25,339 members of trade unions, as compared with 16,087 at the end of 1905. Of the membership in 1905, 5277 were iron and metal workers, 4910 journeymen (factory workers), and 1117 printers.
Holland.—In 1893 a National Labour Secretariat was formed, to which, in 1899, 45 societies with 13,050 members were said to be affiliated. After a general strike in April 1903 the membership of trade unions in Holland decreased considerably, the Secretariat losing half its members and several trade unions dissolving. In 1906 it was stated in the International Report of the Trade Union Movement that a new national centre of unions had been formed with trade unions affiliated to it, having a membership of 26,227, while the old centre still continued with a membership of 5000. The Diamond Workers' Federation, with a membership of over 8000, was affiliated with the new national centre.
The total number of members of trade unions at the end of 1906 is given as 128,845, 33,125 of these belonging to Christian organizations, while 95,720 belonged to other organizations.
Belgium.—The status of trade unions in Belgium is regulated by the law of 1898, under which they can be incorporated, provided that their objects are non-political and are confined to the furtherance of the interests of particular trades. Belgian trade unions, nevertheless, are mostly political in character, the majority being connected either with the Socialist-Labour, Catholic or Liberal parties. The membership of the Socialist-Labour group of unions in 1905 was 94,151, of the Catholic unions 17,814, of the free trade unions 34,833 and of the Liberal unions 1685, making a grand total of 148,483.
Of the 94,000 members of the Socialist-Labour unions, 60,000 are employed in mining, 11,500 in the textile industry and 7800 in the metal industry. Of the 17,800 in the Catholic trade unions, 5300 are in the textile trades, and 3200 in the building trades. Of the 35,000 in the free trade unions, 11,000 are in the textile industry, 6000 in the glass industry, 3600 in the applied art trades and 3300 in the printing and bookbinding trades.
Several organizations, e.g. the diamond workers, the printers' federation of Brussels, &c., are affiliated with the trade union committee without, however, joining the political organization. The Catholic and Liberal associations also do not affiliate with the otherorganizations.
British Dominions and Colonies.—Trade unionism has only developed to any considerable extent in a few of the industrial centres of the self-governing dominions. A great number of the unions in Canada are branches of organizations having their headquarters in the United States or in England. In July 1907 the Canadian Labour Gazette stated that of the 1593 local trade unions known to be in existence, 1346 were affiliated with central organizations of an international character. Besides these 1593 local trade unions, there were 8 congresses and national associations of labour, 49 trade and labour councils and 31 federations of trade unions known to be in existence.
Between 1876 and 1890 all the principal Australian states passed statutes more or less resembling the Trade Union Acts of the United Kingdom. A similar law was passed in New Zealand in 1878, but in this dominion and in some of the Australian states trade unions can now become incorporated and acquire a special legal status by registration as industrial unions under the laws relating to industrial conciliation and arbitration. In New Zealand there were, in 1906, 261 unions of workers with a membership of 29,869 and 133 unions of employers with a membership of 3276. In the years immediately preceding 1890 certain Australian unions, especially among the shearers and the seamen and wharf labourers, acquired great strength, and their determined attempts to secure a monopoly of employment for members of their organizations led to prolonged labour disputes in 1890 and 1891 (see Strikes and Lock-Outs), which resulted in the defeat of the unions and a consequent diminution of their membership and influence. More recently the unions have revived. They are encouraged by the laws relating to arbitration and conciliation, which (inter alia) permit preference for employment to be awarded to members of trade unions in certain circumstances.
see reports on trade unions published by the board of trade (from 1887 onwards). Much information respecting trade unions is contained in the reports of the royal commission on trade unions (1867) and of the royal commission on labour (1891-1894). See also report of royal commission on trade disputes and trade combinations (1903-1906). The reports of the chief registrar of friendly societies give information with regard to trade unions registered under the Trade Union Acts. On the history and constitution of trade unions the fullest information is given in Webb's History of Trade Unionism and Industrial Democracy, both of which contain valuable bibliographical appendices which may be consulted as regards other sources of information respecting British trade unions. On trade unions abroad (besides the reports on foreign countries and the colonies of the royal commission on labour), see Kulemann's Die Gewerkschaftsbewegung (Jena, 1900), dealing with trade unions in all countries, and the board of trade “Abstract of Foreign Labour Statistics” and Labour Gazette, both of which give numerous references to the foreign official sources of information on trade unions, together with a summary of the statistics whichthey contain.
III. Economic Effects of Trade Unionism
There is no general consensus of opinion as to the extent to which trade unions can attain success in achieving the objects which they set before themselves, or as to how far their action is beneficial or otherwise to the general community. One of the principal objects of trade unions being to maintain and increase the rates of wages paid to their members, the first question would be practically solved if statistical evidence were available to connect the course of wages with the action of combinations. Such evidence, however, is inconclusive. The period of growth of trade unionism in Great Britain has certainly been on the whole a period of rising wages. But many other causes tending to raise wages have been operative over the same period, and some of the facts might be explained as much by the tendency of rising wages to strengthen combinations as by that of combinations to raise wages.
Again, the observed fact that the rise has not been confined to industries in which organizations are strong might be explained either by the supposition that the rise brought about by trade unions has benefited a wider circle than their membership, or that the rise both within and outside the ranks of trade unions is due to causes other than their action. Perhaps the strongest statistical evidence of the power of trade unions to affect wages in particular districts is afforded by the local differences of wages in the same trade, which, it is contended, cannot be wholly explained by local differences of cost of living or industrial conditions, but which often correspond closely to differences of strength of trade union organization. This argument, however, does not touch the question of the effect of combination on the general level of wages.
Hardly more conclusive than the reasoning founded on statistics have been the attempts to solve the question by pure economic theory. During the prevalence of the old view of wages known as the “wage-fund” theory, combinations were usually held to be powerless to affect the general rate of wages, because they could not alter the proportion between capital and population, on which wages were thought to depend. The question however, was reopened by the change in theory which led economists to regard wages as depending primarily on the productivity of industry, and secondarily (and within comparatively narrow limits) on the relative power of bargaining as between the labourers or groups of labourers and the organizers of labour. According to this view, the effect of combinations on the rate of wages will ultimately depend, so far as the first and most important factor in the problem is concerned, on their effect on the general productiveness of industry. Prima facie, we might expect that trade unionism would, on the whole, restrict productiveness, and this is undoubtedly a view widely held among employers. Strictly professional associations tend generally to become conservative so far as methods of work are concerned; and even trade unions which may not “officially” oppose the introduction of new processes and the use of machinery may nevertheless serve to focus and make effective the hostility felt by the artisan towards methods of business organization which seem to him likely to decrease the demand for his services or to alter the conditions of work to his detriment. In some trades also trade unions are charged with encouraging or permitting their members to restrict the amount of work performed by them in a given time, with the short-sighted object of making more work for others. Many unions have attempted also with varying degrees of success to keep up the value of their labour by creating an artificial scarcity by restricting the numbers entering the trade, and have in various ways sought to control the management of business to a degree which must restrict the freedom of experiment on which the attainment of the maximum productiveness of industry must depend. By the resort to strikes—an essentially wasteful method of settling differences with employers—they have also to some extent restricted production, though the loss directly due to this cause is often exaggerated (see Strikes and Lock-Outs). Moreover, by their insistence on the payment to all workmen of a fixed “minimum” wage they have diminished the field for the profitable employment of the old and less capable, and may to some extent have discouraged the expert workman from earning and receiving the full reward of his extra ability.
On the other hand, it is claimed that trade unions have in many cases acted in the interests of industrial peace by restraining their members from ill-considered strikes, and that, by providing a recognized channel through which the workmen's grievances may find expression, they have often assisted in adjusting differences which would otherwise have led to the interruption of production. In particular they have frequently formed a convenient basis on which to build a system of conciliation or arbitration boards by which strikes are prevented (see Arbitration). It is also claimed that by protecting the “standard of life” of their members through the policy of securing a “minimum” rate of wages, trade unions may tend in the long run to build up a physically and industrially superior class of workmen, and thus ultimately increase the efficiency of industry.
The comparative weight of the above considerations differs according to the point of view from which the question is regarded. At any given time an individual employer may tend to feel most strongly the disadvantages of the restrictions under which he is placed by the action of a particular trade union, and may attach but little importance to the general effects, in the long run, on the national output of the pressure which such combinations exercise—which from the point of view of the general well-being of the community is by far the most important consideration. Generally speaking, any action of trade unions tending to diminish the efficiency and industry of the individual workman is as injurious to the community as to the individual employer, except in so far as such restriction may conceivably affect the health of the working community from over-strain. But the policy of “levelling up” the standard rate of wages, which may mean loss or ruin to a particular employer, may nevertheless act quite otherwise with respect to the national well-being, in so far as it tends to eliminate the “unfit” employer and to concentrate the industry in the hands of the more capable and more enterprising of the employing class, and in the localities most suited for the purpose. The pressure of rising wages has undoubtedly acted as a stimulus to the invention of labour-saving devices and the adoption of economical methods, as is shown in America, where the highest wages are often seen concurrently with the lowest labour cost. Advocates of trade unionism sometimes lay much stress on this aspect of their operation. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that competition, both as between different grades of employing ability and of local advantages, is now international, and that the concentration of an industry in the most suitable localities and in the hands of the most capable organizers, which is claimed as a beneficial result of trade union action, may for any particular country mean the transference of the industry abroad; and this transference, especially in the case of industries dependent on export to neutral markets, may involve a considerable national loss.
Apart from the effect of trade unions on the total amount of the “national dividend,” their supporters claim that they are able to alter the mode of distribution of this dividend. It is not usually claimed that they are able to affect the proportion of the total product which is paid as rent or interest for the use of the instruments of production, but that they can alter the proportions in which the residue is shared between the organizers of labour and the manual labouring class, to the advantage of the latter. The methods by which trade unions seek to achieve this result require separate examination.
The first group of methods are those which aim at creating a scarcity of some particular kind of labour so as to alter the relation of demand and supply. The particular methods employed for this purpose have been already sufficiently described. With regard to all of them it may be remarked that they are ineffective as regards the raising of the general rate of wages throughout the country (i.e. the average income per head of the manual labour classes), seeing that an artificial scarcity of one sort of labour implies a redundancy of some other kind. As regards the rate of wages in particular occupations there is no doubt but that at least for a time such methods may cause a considerable rise of wages, only limited at first by the imperfection of the control exercised by the union over the number competing in the labour market and by the extent to which the rise in the cost of production so caused is checked by the competition of goods imported from abroad, or of alternative commodities, or by the loss of foreign markets, or the diminution of home demand. But as time goes on other forces of a more subtle kind tend to come into play which further limit the power of the combination to keep up wages through restricting the supply of labour. Besides the substitution of alternative commodities, alternative processes of production may be invented, diminishing the demand for the services of the members of the exclusive trade union, while the artificial rise of wages is also likely to attract labour into the trade.
Generally speaking, it may be said that while the artificial restriction of the supply of workmen in a trade may raise wages for a time, it calls into play forces tending to restore the equilibrium of demand and supply by diminishing demand, and that these forces grow progressively stronger as time goes on, while the restrictive capacity of the combination usually tends to diminish. This is apart from the fact that restriction of the supply of labour entering a trade almost always involves the narrowing of the field of ability from which the trade can be recruited, and thus a lowering of the general standard of efficiency.
The other group of trade union methods which requires examination is that which aims at strengthening the economic position of the labourer by substituting collective for individual negotiations as regards wages, supported by a common reserve fund out of which the labourer may be maintained while waiting for his terms to be accepted. Undoubtedly these methods of mutual insurance and collective bargaining afford a powerful instrument for preventing “sweating” and for enabling the whole body of workmen to exact at the earliest moment and retain to the latest moment the full amount of the wages which a given state of trade and prices will enable the industry to support. The establishment of general working rules and standards of time or piece wages throughout a trade or district may also serve to protect the better and more capable employers against their more inefficient or unscrupulous competitors, and thus tend towards the survival of the “fittest” among the employing class. It is always to be remembered that the effect of collective bargaining is not in the long run one-sided. Combinations of workmen beget counter-combinations of employers, and the conditions of important industries tend to be settled more and more by “treaties” concluded between powerful bodies of employers and employed. Were the combinations on both sides which enter into these agreements conterminous with the entire trades which they represent, and especially if the trades were protected from foreign competition, the interests of the general unorganized mass of consumers might conceivably suffer from these agreements.
As regards the future prospects of trade unions in Great Britain it is difficult to prophesy. The hopes of those who look for a universal expansion of these organizations so as to include the whole or the majority of the members of the manual-labour classes are probably extravagant. Not less chimerical is the expectation of the opponents of trade unions that a few defeats at the hands of determined employers or employers' organizations will permanently cripple them and lead to their decay and extinction. Probably for many years trade unions will include, as now, in their membership a powerful minority of the working classes, wielding an influence out of all proportion to their actual numbers. It is to be expected that experience and the spread of education may cause them gradually to abandon the rules and methods which interfere most with the economical application of labour and capital to industry.
Lastly, it may be pointed out that trade unionism has been the result of the growth of a class of manual workmen working for wages for employers who provide the materials and instruments of industry, and into whose ranks it is relatively difficult for the average workman to rise. It remains to be proved whether the class feeling which enables powerful trade unions to flourish can permanently be fostered and maintained except among workmen who expect to remain workmen most of their lives. If these conditions should be materially altered, trade unionism in its present form must decay or undergo a profound alteration. (X.)
IV. United States
Trade unions in the United States are best treated from the broad standpoint of labour organizations generally, i.e. associations of wage-earners having for their general purpose the improvement of their members, either through a lessened working day, increased wages, or more satisfactory rules and conditions of employment. They may or may not admit employers, but as a rule they do not admit them. Sometimes they are formed for a specific purpose, like the Eight-Hours League, but generally they have platforms comprehending all the demands which labour Labour Organization. usually makes. Labour organizations in the United States cannot be given a definite birthday. Prior to 1825 there were very few of them. In colonial days we have hints of their existence, but their purpose was partly political, and their membership often consisted of politicians. The purpose of the Caulkers' Club, in the early days of Massachusetts, was “to lay plans for introducing certain persons into places of trust and power.” Tradition has it that the word “caucus” was derived from this club. It is also said that Samuel Adams's father, as early as 1724, was active in the club's work. There was probably a union of journeymen bakers in the city of New York in 1741 and of shoemakers in Philadelphia in 1792. The shipwrights of New York City were incorporated on the 3rd of April 1803, and the tailors and carpenters of that city were organized in 1806. The New York Typographical Society was in existence in 1817, and was probably organized in the early years of the 19th century. Peter Force was its president for a time, and Thurlow Weed was a member. A strike occurred in Mr Weed's office in 1821 on account of the employment of a non-union man, who was then designated a “rat.” In 1823 was organized the Columbian Charitable Society of Shipwrights and Caulkers of Boston and Charlestown.
The period from 1825 to 1860 may be called the formative period. About 1825, and for some years afterwards, there was a Formative Period. general discussion of socialistic theories, growing out Robert Owen's experiments at New Lanark, in Scotland, and out of his communistic attempt at New Harmony, Indiana, in 1825. The wave of philosophic transcendentalism also, which swept over the country between 1825 and 1840, affected not only social but industrial life. Labour papers began to be established. The Working Man's Advocate, published in New York City in 1825, was probably the very first American labour journal. Soon afterwards there appeared the Daily Sentinel and Young America, projected by two Englishmen, George Henry Evans and Frederick W. Evans. The chief demands advocated by these journals were the freedom of public lands, the breaking up of monopolies, the adoption of a general bankruptcy law, a lien for the labourer upon his work for his wages, the abolition of imprisonment for debt, equal rights for women with men, and the abolition of chattel and wage slavery. These demands were endorsed by over 600 newspapers. In 1830 a Working-man's Convention was held in Syracuse, New York, the outcome of which was the nomination of Ezekiel Williams for governor. In 1832 a delegated convention which met in the state house at Boston initiated the 10-hours movement. The Tribune (New York), under the leadership of Horace Greeley, was opened to the advocacy of Fourierism, and so on all hands the movement towards organization was helped. In 1845 the New England Working Man's Association was organized, and such men as Charles A. Dana, George Ripley, Albert Brisbane, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, and others participated in its meetings. The first industrial congress of the United States was convened in the city of New York on the 12th of October 1845, but little came of it. Other and more important labour congresses were held in that city and in Chicago in 1847 and 1850 respectively. During the latter part of the formative period, that is, from 1825 to 1860, most of the great national trade unions that are now influential were projected and organized, though their great and rapid growth has been since the Civil War. The National Typographical Union was organized in 1852, its name being changed to International in 1862 in order to admit Canadian members; the National Union of Hat Finishers in 1854; the Iron Moulders' Union of North America on the 5th of July 1859; and in the same year the Machinists' and Blacksmiths' Union of North America. By 1860 the national unions already formed numbered 26.
During the next few years, among other important organizations, were instituted what are known as the group of railway Railway Brotherhoods. brotherhoods, the oldest and largest of which is the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. The grand division was founded at Detroit, Michigan, on the 17th of August 1863, under the name of the Brotherhood of the Footboard. The society was reorganized under its present title at Indianapolis, Ind., on the 17th of August 1864. The second national association of railway employés that was organized was the Conductors' Brotherhood, formed at Mendota, Illinois, on the 6th of July 1868, by the conductors from various railways in the United States. This brotherhood was recognized, and a general governing board established, on the 15th of December of the same year. Ten years later the name of the organization was changed from the Conductors' Brotherhood to the Order of Railroad Conductors of America. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen was organized at Port Jervis, N.Y., on the 1st of December 1873. The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen was organized at Oneonta, N.Y., on the 23rd of September 1883. It was called the Brotherhood of Railroad Brakemen until the 1st of January 1890, when the present name was adopted. The Brotherhood of Railroad Trackmen is one of the younger and smaller organizations. The first efforts to found it were made in the spring of 1887, but its permanent organization took place a year later. The Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen of America was founded on the 9th of September 1890, by the consolidation of the Carmen's Mutual Aid Association, the Brotherhood of Railroad Car Repairers, the Car Inspectors, Repairers and Oilers' Protective Association and the Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen of Canada. The Switchmen's Union of North America is the outgrowth of the Switchmen's Mutual Aid Association, the present organization dating from 1897. Several of these railway brotherhoods suffered materially in their membership and influence through the organization of the American Railway Union in 1893.
The Cigar-Makers' National Union dates from 1864, the Bricklayers' and Masons' International Union from the 17th of October 1865, the United States Wool Hat Finishers' Association from 1869 and the National Union of Horseshoers of the United States from 1875. The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers resulted, as its name signifies, from the consolidation of various other orders and societies, the present order being organized at Pittsburg in August 1876. The consolidated National Unions. societies were known previously to the new order of things as the United Sons of Vulcan, the Associated Brotherhood of Iron and Steel Heaters, Rollers and Roughers of the United States, and the Iron and Steel Roll Hands' Union. The oldest was the United Sons of Vulcan, originating in Pittsburg on the 17th of April 1858, and afterwards called the Iron City Forge. The organization is now known as the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers. The Granite Cutters' National Union was organized in 1877, the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners in 1881 and the Journeymen Bakers' National Union in 1886.
There have also been attempts to organize labour on a general or universal plan. The first of these was the International Association of Working-men, known as the “International,” which was organized in London in the autumn of 1864. This society sought to associate working-men wherever manufacturing has been extended. The International grew The International. for a while, but never at any time had a membership exceeding 100,000 and probably never over 50,000. It did not extend to the United States with much force; certainly no large number of the working-men of the country were involved in it, and branches were not organized in the union until 1870 or 1871.
The second attempt was the Noble Order of Knights of Labour of America, which was founded in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Knights of Labour. Day 1869, through the efforts of Uriah S. Stephens and six associates, all garment-cutters. For several years the garment-cutters of Philadelphia had been organized as a trade union, but failed to maintain satisfactory rates of wages. Dissatisfaction prevailed, and resulted in the autumn of 1869 in the disbandment of the union. Stephens, who was a far-seeing man, and anticipated the disruption of his union, had prepared the outlines of a plan for an organization embracing, as he said, “all branches of honourable toil.” He advocated education, co-operation and an intelligent use of the ballot as the proper means for gradually abolishing the present wage-system. The order had a varied career. Mr Stephens, himself a Mason, brought into the ritual of the new order many of the features of speculative Masonry. The obligations were in the nature of oaths, taken with much solemnity upon the Bible, and the members were sworn to the strictest secrecy. The order was known for a long time as “Five Stars,” that designation being used in printing and writing. Many expressions taken from Greek literature were introduced into the ceremonies. The instructions given to every person admitted into the order are perhaps the best exponent of the nature of the ritual:—
divest it of the evils to body, mind and estate which ignorance and greed have imposed ; to rescue the toiler from the grasp of the selfish—is a work worthy of the noblest and best of our race. In all the multifarious branches of trade capital has its combinations; and, whether intended or not, they crush the manly hopes of labour and trample poor humanity in the dust. We mean no conflict with legitimate enterprise, no antagonism to necessary capital, but men, in their haste and greed, blinded by self-interests, overlook the interests of others and sometimes violate the rights of those they deem helpless. We mean to uphold the dignity of labour, to affirm the nobility of all who earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. We mean to create a healthy public opinion on the subject of labour (the only creator of values), and the justice of its receiving a full, just share of the values or capital it has created. We shall, with all our strength, support laws made to harmonize the interests of labour and capital, and also those laws which tend to lighten the exhaustiveness of toil. To pause in his toil, to devote to his own interests [sic], to gather a knowledge of the world's commerce, to unite, combine and co-operate in the great army of peace and industry, to nourish and cherish, build and develop, the temple he lives in, is the highest and noblest duty of man to himself, to hisfellow men and to his Creator.
The ritual was neither printed nor written, and in all probability there is not now in existence a copy of it. So long as the utmost secrecy was retained the order did not grow rapidly; gradually it lost its secrecy and worked on more general plans. From the best evidence that can be secured it is probable that the first local assembly of the Knights of Labour was organized as early as 1873 in Philadelphia. Attempts at outside organization had been unsuccessful. The second assembly consisted of ship carpenters and caulkers employed in Cramp's shipyard. After this the order spread quite rapidly, 20 assemblies being organized in Philadelphia during 1873. A district assembly, consisting of delegates from local assemblies in Philadelphia, met in that city on Christmas Day 1873 and organized District Assembly No. 1. The order increased during the years following this action, and in 1877 delegates were chosen to organize a general assembly. These delegates met at Reading, Pennsylvania, on the 1st of January 1878, and organized the first general assembly, Mr Stephens, the founder, presiding as temporary chairman. Seven states were represented. General assemblies have been held each year since that time, and changes in the constitution or work of the order have been the subject of warm discussion. At the meeting of the first general assembly the membership must have been small, probably only a few thousand. It did not reach 50,000 till five years later. The general assembly of 1880, at Pittsburg, denounced strikes as injurious and not worthy of support except in extreme cases. At the fifth session, at Detroit, in 1881, the most important actions in the history of the order were taken, and from this session the rapid growth of the order may be dated. The assembly then declared that on and after the 1st of January 1882 the name and objects of the order should be made public. It also declared that women should be admitted upon an equal footing with men, and a strong committee was appointed to revise the constitution and the ritual. At the next general assembly, September 1882, in New York, the revised constitution was adopted, as well as laws and regulations for supporting strikes. After this the order began to grow rapidly. It antagonized the trade unions, the contention being that the order embraced higher and grander principles than those underlying the organization of the former. The trade unions in existence at that time struggled to preserve their organizations against what they considered the encroachment of the Knights of Labour. The high-water mark of the order was probably during 1883, 1884, 1885 and 1886, when, according to the very best information, it numbered not less than 1,000,000 members. In 1900 its membership was estimated at about 130,000.
The third attempt to bring into one order men employed in different vocations was the American Railway Union, American Railway Union. organized in Chicago on the 20th of June 1893. It included all railway employés born of white parents. It was organized for the protection of members in all matters relating to wages and their rights as employés, and affirmed that such employés were entitled to a voice in fixing wages and in determining conditions of employment. The union won a great victory on the North-Western railway in April 1894, but its action in the great strikes in Chicago in 1894 cost it its life. Its membership reached at one time 150,000.
The separate unions found that the co-operation of other unions was needed to perfect and extend their work, and Federations of Labour. attempts were made from time to time to organize a federated body. The initial steps were taken in 1866, when the trades assemblies of New York City and Baltimore called a national labour congress, the 100 delegates sent by 60 secret and open organizations from different trade unions meeting on the 20th of August. In 1867 a second convention was called to meet in Chicago, the aim being to form a Trades Union Congress like that existing in Great Britain. The National Labour Union held two conventions in 1868, the first in May and the other in September; it met again in Chicago in 1869, in Boston in 1870, in Philadelphia in 1871 and in Columbus, Ohio, in 1872. This closed the experience of the National Labour Union. During 1873, owing to the industrial depression, many of the trade unions were suspended. An industrial congress met in Rochester, N.Y., in April 1874, consisting of some of the leading trade unionists of the United States, and on the 14th of that month a convention was held representing the Sovereigns of Industry. The expectation was that the old National Labour Union should be taken up. The Industrial Brotherhood of the United States, another secret order, partaking largely of the character of the Knights of Labour, was represented in that convention. As might have been expected, the two ideas—that on which the Knights of Labour was organized and the trade union idea—immediately became antagonistic, yet a platform containing most of the principles of the Knights of Labour was adopted. The movement ended with the Rochester meeting. The years 1875 and 1876 saw other attempts; but they were chiefly political in their character and the temporary orders then organized were disbanded. Between 1876 and 1881 other attempts were made at federation. A call issued jointly by the Knights of Industry and a body known as the Amalgamated Labour Union, consisting of some dissatisfied members of the Knights of Labour, resulted in a convention held at Terre Haute, Ind., on the 2nd of August 1881. The chief purpose was to supplant the Knights of Labour by the creation of a new secret order. The membership of the convention, however, had trade union proclivities and did not believe in multiplying labour societies. The secret organization was not effected. Another convention was held in Pittsburg, on the 19th of November 1881, as the result of the following statement:—
councils, Knights of Labour, and various other local, national and international labour unions, all engaged in the noble task of elevating and improving the condition of the working classes. But great as has been the work done by these bodies, there is vastly more that can be done by a combination of all these organizations in a federationof trades and labour unions.
It is claimed that the 107 delegates represented 262,000 workmen. Their deliberations resulted in the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions of the United States and Canada. Its platform differed but very little from that of the Knights of Labour, although it was in some respects more comprehensive. It demanded eight hours as a day's work; called for national and state incorporation of trade unions; favoured obligatory education of all children, and the prohibition of their employment under the age of fourteen; favoured the enactment of uniform apprentice laws; opposed bitterly all contract convict labour and the truck system for payment of wages; demanded laws giving to working men a first lien on property upon which their labour had been expended; insisted upon the abrogation of all so-called conspiracy laws; advocated the establishment of a national bureau of labour statistics; urged the prohibition of the importation of foreign labour; opposed government contracts on public work; favoured the adoption by states of an employers' liability act; and urged all other labour bodies to vote only for labour legislators. The second convention was held at Cleveland, O., on the 21st of November 1882.
The American Federation of Labour is the largest labour organization in the United States. It was organized at Columbus, O., on the 8th of December 1886, under the name it now bears. In 1888 it was declared that it owed its existence to the Federation of Organized Trades. &c., founded in 1881 at Pittsburg, and that the American Federation meetings or conventions should date from that year; hence it is generally stated that the Federation was founded in 1881. From the start in 1881 the Federation had a constitution, but it revised it at the convention held in Baltimore on the 16th of December 1887, under the name of the American Federation of Labour. The order is not secret, nor do individual members, through local trades unions or otherwise, owe any allegiance to it. Its object is the encouragement and formation of local trades and labour unions and the closer federation of such societies through the organization of central trades and labour unions in every state, and the combination of such bodies into state, territorial or provincial organizations for the purpose of securing general harmony not only in the interests of the working masses, but of legislation. While it is a federation, it cannot be called a federal body, like the Knights of Labour, although there are local trade unions, trade assemblies in cities and state federations; nevertheless, there is not the hierarchical character of the other body. Most of the trade unions in the United States are affiliated with the American Federation. The great railway brotherhoods are not so affiliated, except the Amalgamated Association of Railroad Employés of America, the Order of Railroad Telegraphers and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trackmen.
37 state federations, 574 city central bodies and 661 local trade and federal labour unions. The international unions are made up of approximately 28,500 local unions. The average membership on which dues have been paid was 264,825 in 1897, and ten years later the number was 1,538,970.
The chief officers of the federation are a president, first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth vice-presidents, treasurer and secretary. Samuel Gompers of New York was the first president, holding that position till 1894, when he was defeated through the endeavours of the Socialist Labour Party, and John M‘Bride elected. At the next session, however, he was re-elected. The numerical strength of the American Federation of Labour is probably not far from 1,600,000. It maintains a journal called the American Federationist, published at Washington, D.C. The doctrine of the federation relative to strikes is that each affiliated society has its own government, distinct from the government of the national convention, which has no power to order strikes, such matters being left to the affiliated societies, but is advisory and not conclusivein its action.
Unions are often organized for temporary purposes, their existence ceasing as soon as the purposes succeed or fail. The Estimated Strength. total number of members of all kinds of labour organizations cannot be stated. There are many local societies and associations other than those belonging to the Knights of Labour or those affiliated with the American Federation of Labour, but which are distinctly labour bodies. According to the best possible classification there are 20,000,000 wage-earners in the United States, including men, women and children. The most liberal estimate of the membership of all labour organizations places the total at 2,000,000. This would be about 10% of the whole body of wage-workers; but in some occupations, like that of the printing trade, the organization probably includes from 75 to 90%.
The law relating to trade unions varies somewhat in the different states. Both the federal legislature and several of the states (Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas and Louisiana) have passed laws permitting the incorporation of unions. Michigan, Wyoming and Nebraska have specially provided for incorporating assemblies of the Knights of Labour. Hardly any advantage, however, has been taken of these statutes. Some states have passed laws excepting trade unions from restrictions on combinations and conspiracies imposed by other statutes or the common law (e.g. New York), and especially from the operation of anti-trust laws (Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Montana, North Carolina and Texas). The Texas law, however, has been held unconstitutional. A number of states have passed laws, some of doubtful validity, prohibiting employers from making it a condition of employment that labourers should not belong to a union. Most states have adopted statutes legalizing union labels to indicate the products of members of trade unions.
By act of Congress, associations of the nature of labour organizations, having branches in several states or territories, may, on filing articles of association for record in Washington, become corporations. American legislation generally is friendly to trade unions. Their purposes are regarded as lawful by the courts, but if they use unlawful means for their accomplishments, a remedy will be applied. Injury to property, intimidation by threats, personal violence, or boycotts enforced by terrorism, are such unlawful means. The liberty of action thus secured to organizations of labour is equally the right of the employer. Therefore, a statute making it an offence for one to require those whom he employs to withdraw from a trade union is unconstitutional and void (see Reports of American Bar Association, xxi. 367, 372). The courts recognize that membership in trade unions is a species of property, of which no one can be deprived except through a formal procedure in conformity with the rules of the organization. Some of the States, notably New York, have a statute prohibiting trade unions from making any discrimination in connexion with their admission requirements on account of membership in the state militia or national guard.
(C. D. W.)