Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/May 1896/Pending Problems for Wage-Earners
By A. E. OUTERBRIDGE, Jr.
IN studying the important question of management of employees of industrial establishments from a common-sense as well as just and humanitarian point of view, it is necessary to remember that a factory is not an eleemosynary institution; the functions of the two are radically different, and experience has proved that modern manufacturing industries can not be practically conducted under the old idea of paternal or patriarchal regulations. The operative is jealous of his personal freedom and suspicious of purely philanthropic schemes originating within the establishment, and he resents any beneficial regulations savoring of charity. He does not complain of the strict enforcement of just rules, but he is quick to take advantage of laxity on the part of overseers, which, if continued, soon leads to chaos. On the other hand, unjust regulations can not be permanently enforced under the modern labor restrictions, for labor legislation in this country is extremely comprehensive, and takes cognizance of such infractions. In some instances where labor legislation has been elaborated to a degree which was unduly oppressive to employers, it has served to restrict industrial development, reacting upon the intended beneficiary—the employee—and has necessitated the abandonment of such policy. The "granger legislation" relating to railroads in some of the Western States affords a well-known illustration of this tendency. Employees are no longer ignorant of their rights or privileges, and employers, as a rule, neither care nor dare to trample upon them; but experience has also proved that wherever numbers of men are massed together, a certain degree of strict rule is essential to the preservation of order and proper conduct of business.
Many of the rules and regulations of workshops and factories which appear harsh or unjust to the uninitiated are in reality necessary to protect the faithful employee from impositions of shirkers, of whom there are always a certain number even in the best-regulated establishments.
It is a favorite observation with writers on social and political economy that the world is continually passing through periods of "social evolution"; one of the latest and most popular of these authors (Benjamin Kidd) calls the present time "the most remarkable epoch in the history of human thought." Portents of impending changes in the established order of things, affecting the very foundations of society and the welfare of mankind, are frequently revealed to the innate perceptions of such writers; and it would seem from some of these—more especially the German authors—that the industrial world is now upon the verge of a social cataclysm, out of which a new civilization, the resultant of many opposing forces, would be evolved. Such prophecies (like Benner's) have hitherto apparently obeyed the "law of averages" with respect to the proportion of hits and misses; yet new forecasters of future social conditions, who believe that they perceive shadows of "coming events" cast before, continue to decipher these signs according to their introspective vision rather than through the light of past experience.
The fundamental principle of the Malthusian theory, that population tends to increase in geometrical progression and that the supply of food and other necessaries of life can only be increased in arithmetical progression, tersely expressed the social problem of Malthus's generation; but the subsequent wresting from Nature of virgin soil of vast extent in India, Russia, America, and other parts of the globe, affording feeding ground for countless flocks and herds, together with facilities for plowing, sowing, and reaping unlimited crops through the aid of modern agricultural machinery, and the modern methods of rapid distribution, changed all the former conditions, rendering the law inoperative during the century which has elapsed since its promulgation. Some of the more recent prophecies have proved equally abortive, and others are likely to share the same fate in the near future.
The growth of socialism in Europe during the past quarter of a century is one of the "signs of the times" which is just now affording a fruitful field for such speculations. If we permit ourselves to view the present state of civilization through the spectacles of some of these theorists, or if we countenance the foreign socialistic propaganda, we must, it seems to me, close our eyes to countless evidences of truly wonderful progress which has been made by the wage-earning class in America during this period in mental, moral, and material welfare. The operative of to-day is not only the peer but the superior of his predecessor in all the qualifications that form the mental gauge by which we may measure the intellectual and social relations that an individual bears to the community in which he lives.
We may freely admit the statement of the socialist that "the rich are growing richer," but it does not follow as a corollary that the poor are growing poorer. It is true that capital through combination has vastly increased its power to organize and prosecute industrial pursuits on a scale of unprecedented magnitude, and that, especially as the result of energetic exploitation of new inventions, large rewards have been gained by bold investors; but I claim that, in the aggregate, labor has gained a much larger share of these benefits without incurring any of the risks.
The rich pecuniary rewards which have been reaped by Sir Henry Bessemer, and by other manufacturers who were far-seeing and courageous enough to develop his cheap process of steel-making and its later modifications, make but a small item when compared to the countless millions paid to labor during the past thirty years as the result of the development of these discoveries through the aid of capital. The Bessemer process of steel-making did more than this for labor: it sounded the death knell of the most exhausting form of toil known to man, that inferno of labor, the puddling of boiling iron by human hands. Many similar illustrations could be given.
I claim that modern mechanical inventions have in all cases proved to be distinctively beneficial to the wage-earner: he is, through their aid, better housed, better fed, better clothed, better educated, has more numerous and better amusements, and is thus approaching more nearly to the condition of the employer. Indeed, the wage-earner to-day enjoys many advantages of civilization which were unknown to employers of former generations.
Herr Liebknecht, the leader of the Social Democrats in the Reichstag, presented to American readers The Programme of German Socialism in The Forum. I carefully studied his paper with the view of discovering, if possible, some rational explanation of the problem, "How is socialism going to benefit the condition of the working class in America?" but the question remains unanswered. It is true that figures are given showing the marvelous growth of social democracy in the German Empire since 1890, and the author glories in the title which he gives to German Social-Democracy, viz., "the party of the discontented"; he also perceives signs of "an impending social crisis"; he likens the struggle between socialism and the Government to the fable of the Goblin and the Peasant; but the introduction of such a movement into this country could, I think, be more appropriately likened to the fable of the killing of the goose that laid the golden egg.
The recent presence in this country of more than one agitator from abroad, and the industrious dissemination of socialistic literature among our workingmen with the evident intention of making proselytes, thereby disturbing the peace of mind of the operative, endangering the stability of our industrial laws, and tending to nullify the gain which has come to wage-earners in America through the comparative freedom from such disturbing elements, is a subject of concern to all friends of the workingmen.
In Germany the literature of socialism has not confined itself to agitation of labor questions, but has catered to the demand for popular reading and also for popular education. In this way it gained the confidence of the people. "It has abused this confidence by giving distorted views of the writings of many of the greatest thinkers and educators"; it has used popular education as a club with which to beat into ignorant skulls socialistic propaganda. The enormous socialistic vote in Germany proves the success of the force used. Such a force, if properly applied, would be immensely beneficial to humanity; but improperly used, socialism is, as Herbert Spencer declares, "the greatest calamity that has ever befallen the human race."
The most intelligible exposition of modern German socialism may be found in a little book entitled Three Months in a Workshop, written by a student, Paul Göhre. In a prefatory note to the English translation, by Prof. Richard T. Ely, it appears that "Mr. Göhre, perplexed by conflicting theories and reports touching the lot of the German wage-earners, determines to become a wage-earner himself, and, donning the garb of a workman, finds employment in a large establishment for the manufacture of machine tools in Saxony; he mingles for three months with his fellows, who never supposed him to be anything else than a wage-earner; he shares their life, participates in their amusements, attends their political meetings, and then tells what he has seen with that simplicity which is itself literary art of a high order. The narrative is plain, straightforward, truthful."
The book is more than this: it is a practical view of a subject which has been clouded in mists. The writer has shown himself a keen observer, a disinterested and enthusiastic investigator, having nerve to enter the factory on the lowest rung of the ladder and to live and toil with the humblest employees, for the definite purpose of grasping the bottom facts of socialism as it is comprehended by the workingmen themselves, not as presented to the world by the leaders in the movement, many of whom do not really belong to the class they assume to represent. That Mr. Göhre should have succeeded, under these heroic conditions, in showing in his little book a clearer insight into the labor question and social democracy in Germany than can be found in many more elaborate treatises, is not altogether surprising. In the chapters Work in the Factory, and The Material Condition of my Fellow-Workmen, the American student and operative will recognize abuses still existing in Germany which our more progressive establishments have eliminated. The contrast also in rates of wages and quality of living with wage-earners in America will excite sympathy, but will also weld the American more firmly to the belief that the condition of the wage-earner in this country is a happy and fortunate one by comparison; that its stability must not be jeopardized by countenancing socialistic agitation.
In the chapters on Political Tendencies of my Fellow-Workmen and Social Democracy the student of industrial sociology will find much valuable information. In the chapters on Moral Conditions, and Education and Religion, ethical questions are plainly discussed. The final chapter, on Results and Demands, will interest all readers. It is shown that the labor question is not merely a wage question with the vast majority of the laboring class. It is only one factor in the movement—perhaps the most tangible, but not the most important or determinative one. "There is an ardent longing on the part of the whole class of factory labor for more respect and recognition, for greater actual and social equality in addition to the formal and political equality which is theirs already. . . . It is the irresistible impulse to a larger intellectual freedom, the craving for the benefits of knowledge and education, and for a fuller understanding of those high and lofty problems of the human soul which, despite the universal pursuit of wealth and externals, rise up before humanity today, new riddles in new forms. All this, rough, discordant, full of anomalies and extravagancies, yet plainly visible to the observ- ant eye, stamps the beginning of the labor movement in Ger- many."
If confined to such lofty aims, the mission of socialism would be worthy of, and would command the sympathy and hearty co- operation of all enlightened people; but Mr. Gohre shows that it is necessary iirst to unmask the hypocrisy of social-democratic literature, to oppose the true to the false, the impartial to the partisan; he tells us that "German Social Democracy is to-day not merely a political party, not merely the promoter of a new system of economics, or even both of these and nothing more; it is also the embodiment of a philosophy, a logical, anti-Christian, materialistic conception of the universe. Upon this materialistic system it founds its economic and political system. This principle, the caricature of a so-called science, worshiped by its followers, is the corner stone of the party, gives it authority and ideals, and exercises the most fatal and lasting influence, not so much on the social and political tendencies as on the intellectual and ethical character of the whole German laboring class." This new gospel of socialism ran like wildfire among the hundreds of thousands of German workingmen. Herr Liebknecht tells us that "nearly two millions of men voted for the socialistic programme on the 15th of June, 1893, to whom must be added nearly a million of voteless young men between the ages of twenty and twenty-five years."
The spread of socialism in Germany has now reached the de- gree which is popularly termed with us a "craze." Its earliest con- verts became its new projDhets, its inspired preachers; from inner conviction they gave their whole strength, their utmost capacity, to the cause. "Wherever two or three met together men set forth and discussed the thoughts they had imbibed from one book or half a dozen books of the new literature; sometimes fairly grasped, sometimes only half comprehended and more than half forgotten, but always brought afresh to their minds by the arti- cles in their social-democratic paper. . . . The effect of this agita- tion was the one desired. Under its pressure all the old youthful training of the workman gave way and is still giving way in every individual who brings such training with him to a factory where the spirit of social democracy prevails."
If, now, we cull out these true and noble yearnings of the work- ingmen, discarding the sophistries of their self-elected leaders, we find that their aims are those which have already been largely attained by the wage-earning class in America through educa- tion; and while we may reasonably sympathize with the German "party of the discontented," we have nothing to gain by the dis- semination of their socialistic literature, though they have much to learn from us. In England the socialistic movement presents a different phase of development; there are fewer factions or cliques of social- ists, and the tendency toward anarchism, while not so rabid as among the most radical wing of the party in Germany, is appar- ently even more generally diffused. Some of the recent social- istic literature published in England has a decided flavor of an- archism, at least in so far as it preaches the overthrow of laws by which land is held in private ownership; the private or corporate ownership of all kinds of property, factories, railroads, telegraphs, etc.; and evidences are not lacking of widespread discontent and unrest among the industrial population, which devours such litera- ture with avidity. It is reported that a million copies of a single book of this character have recently been sold to workingmen in England,
The latest cabled reports indicate that a reaction in labor senti- ment has set in in England. There was recently a "Free Labor Congress" in session at Newcastle. The president's opening ad- dress is reported to have been "a vigorous attack on trades unions, which, he declared, were manipulated by self-seekers, whose tyr- anny disgraced the cause of labor." His association, he said, had already formed "boards of conciliation" at many important cen- ters. These boards were formed of equal numbers of masters and operatives, and were all working in perfect harmony. An editorial writer, commenting upon this cablegram, says: "The revolt from trades unions was not unexpected. It was bound to come as soon as the more intelligent workmen perceived that they could no longer own themselves, but were virtually made slaves of the lazy and inefficient members of the organization. It is singular that this should have been perceived first in England instead of in America." This writer is evidently not well posted in the his- tory of the rise and fall of several labor unions in this country, which a few years ago counted their members by thousands where they now number units. Compared with a period of four or five years ago the majority of the unions have sunk into a con- dition of " innocuous desuetude/' controlled by cranks.
Labor unions, however, should not all be classed under one category, for some of these are beneficial organizations, with high motives, sound constitutions, and, above all, wise leaders. Such organizations are opposed to violence and disorder, encourage harmony and arbitration, and are mutually beneficial and helpful to employer and employee; they are aiding to discourage the spread of anarchism and socialism in this country.
Socialistic theories are inimical to American ideas and princi- ples, for the humblest workman is a free citizen, to whom a path- way is opened to the highest positions of honor and wealth. Many of our foremost men have risen from lowest origin, and have no cause to be ashamed thereof. Socialism can offer no commensurate advantages; its tendency is not to raise the masses to a higher plane, but to reduce the competent to the level of the incompetent. The world is always crowded with incompetent op- eratives, while there is at the same time an unsatisfied demand for the absolutely competent.
In daily friendly intercourse with workingmen, extending over a period of twenty years, I have found a prevalent idea in many minds that employers of labor are, as a class, jealous of the mate- rial advancement of wage-earners beyond a certain point; that a maximum wage is soon reached beyond which they can not hope to pass, and that extra effort on their part would result merely in an increase of tasks without a corresponding increase of pay. This impression is more generally inculcated in the minds of opera- tives than employers realize, and it operates to their mutual dis- advantage. Modern " piece-work " systems of pay have been de- vised (and are now generally practiced) with a view of stimulating workmen to produce the greatest output and largest percentage of perfect work; but these elaborate systems are to a certain ex- tent rendered inoperative by reason of the suspicion mentioned. That there may have been, and may still be, some ground for such impressions I do not dispute, but I do believe that a more enlightened view of the mutual relations existing between em- ployer and employee is gradually permeating the industrial world.
The great development of mechanical invention has not only increased the demand for skilled labor by increasing the output and opening constantly new fields of labor, but it has increased tenfold, and in some instances one hundredfold, the possible product of labor per capita. This is the reason why the Amer- ican employer, paying the highest wages in the world, is never- theless able to compete in the markets of Europe with so-called "pauper labor" in many manufactured articles.
the producing power of the different nations of the earth. They show an enormous in- crease during the latter half of the century of the productive power of the people of this country, and they prove, moreover, that no other nations possess equal producing power jt)«' caput. By the figtires which he has tabulated Mr. Mulhall shows that from 1820 to 1890 the " foot-ton" power of the United States increased from 4,292,000,000 of foot tons daily to 129,306,000,000 foot tons. A foot ton is a method that statisticians have of measuring the producing powers of a country. It signifies the ability of a man to accomplish with ordinary exertion in ten hours an amount of work equal to raising 300 tons one foot high. In 1820 the forces at the command of the Americans were equal to 446 foot tons of power per caput of the population. By 1890 the productive forces had increased to 1,940 foot tons per caput. These forces are now busily engaged in developing the resources of the country, in cultivating the soil, working the mines, operating the industries, carrying on the commerce, or in looking after the development of the mental powers and the enlightenment It has been proved by actual experiment on a large scale in certain sections of this country that ignorant foreign pauper labor in manufacturing industries is ultimately the most costly, and the aim of enlightened employers to-day is not to obtain the cheapest labor but the most intelligent service. The true policy of the workingman is, therefore, not agitation but education.
The organization through the aid of capital of large industrial operations, superseding former small independent industries, is a frequent source of lamentation on the part of well-meaning philan- thropists and others, on the theory that the small merchant has been injured thereby. This is probably true in isolated instances, but the evidence that the wage-earner (the subject of our discus- sion) has been benefited by improved regulations, superior fac- tory buildings, and amelioration of exhausting toil, under mod- ern methods, is overwhelming.
Moreover, the employment of large capital and improved ma- chinery has enormously increased production and decreased cost to the consumer. Wages are higher and cost of living is lower than formerly. The average wage-earner in America lives to- day in a manner quite superior to the small manufacturer of for- mer days. The large factories employ armies of skilled opera- tives many of whom would be incompetent to conduct even small industries successfully. They are reasonably insured of a fixed income, and are often enabled, by saving a portion of their wages, to become small capitalists themselves. Capital is, after all, nothing more than the aggregate savings of labor. The great financial operations are conducted by the aid of these savings of the masses, otherwise the thrifty workingman could receive no interest on his deposit in the savings bank. The individual mil- lionaire is a much less important factor in the world's work than the socialistic agitator would have us believe.
The "good old times" are hallowed in our recollections and in our traditions, but when subjected to critical comparison with the improved civilization of modern times, we find, I think, that the
of the people, whereby their producing powers may be still further increased. Next to America in the scale comes Great Britain, the producing power of which is 1,4Y0 foot tons to the inhabitant daily. Germany's forces amount to 902 foot tons for each person daily, those of France to 910 foot tons, those of Spain to 590 foot tons, those of Austria to 5G0 foot tons, and those of Italy to 380 foot tons.
thy work and do it; . . . for labor is life; from the inmost heart of the worker rises this God-given force. . , . Knowledge, that will hold good in working, cleave thou to that, for Nature herself accredits that, says ' Yea ' to that. Properly thou hast no other knowledge but what thou hast got by working; the rest is all a hypothesis of knowledge—a thing to be argued of in schools, a thing floating in the clouds, in endless logic vortices, ' till we try it and fix it.' " masses have gained immeasurably in all the comforts and con- veniences of life, in social position, in political power, in freedom from care, in health and happiness.
The coming conflict between proletariat and plutocrat is a favorite theme with socialistic writers. According to these, wealth is per se criminal, and its chief employment the oppression of the poor. I claim that modern experience proves the antithesis of this statement, which selects exceptional instances of financial crimes and attempts to use these as a blanket with which to smother all the good deeds and grand undertakings in which capital is ever engaging. Patriotic sentiment also protests against such statements. The aid of capital has been the means within little more than a century of raising the United States of America from the condition of an insignificant agricultural colony, which was not permitted under monarchical rule to manufacture the simplest articles for home consumption, into the greatest work- shop of the world, and has placed it in the front rank of wealth and power among nations.
Capital has stimulated the inventive faculty of the people and thereby aided the operative in many instances to emerge from the condition of the laborer into that of the capitalist. Very many, perhaps a majority of employers in this country, are men who have risen from the ranks of labor.
The reckless denunciation of wealth by foreign socialistic agitators is the chief danger confronting the industrial class in America to-day, since it tends to retard investment of capital in industrial enterprises, and thus to restrict the employment of labor. It is far easier for the agitator to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg" than it is for the mischief-maker to turn his hand to honest labor. The' free soil of America is not adapted to the growth of such noxious weeds, and the sooner such pernicious doctrines are eradicated the sooner will our industrial population reap the rewards to be gained in the returning prosperity for which it has so long and patiently waited.
and exhibited in Philadelphia in 17'75. In 1774 the British Parliament enacted stringent laws prohibiting the exportation to America of textile machinery. It was provided (by 21 George III, chap. 37) that "any person who packed or put on board, or caused to be brought to any place in order to be put on any vessel for exportation, any machine, engine, tool, press, paper, utensil, or silk manufacture of the kingdom, or goods wherein wool, cotton, linen, or silk are used, or any model or plan of such machinery, tool, engine, press, utensil, or implement, should forfeit every such machine, etc., and all goods packed there^with, and £200, and suffer imprisonment for one year." In 1782 a law was enacted which prohibited, under penalty of £500, the exportation or attempt to export "blocks, plates, engines, tools, or utensils used in, or which are proper for, the preparing or finishing of calico, muslin, etc." The same act prohibited transportation of tools employed in iron and steel manu- factures.—United Slates Tenth Censics, vol. ii, p. 587. APPENDIX.
The Cost and Danger of Strikes.—Few persons are awai^e of the enormous annual loss of wages due to strikes. Startling figures are fur- nished by the Labor Bureau at Washington in a recent publication cover- ing the period from 1881 to 1894 inclusive.
It appears that no less than 3,714,406 persons were thrown out of em- ployment, suffering a loss in wages of $163,807,866. Fifty-five and a half per cent of the strikes failed entirely; thirty-two per cent are classed as successful, and twelve and a half per cent as doubtful or partly success- ful. Labor organizations contributed $10,914,406 to assist strikers.
The promoters of strikes argue to their comrades that unsuccessful efforts are nevertheless ultimately beneficial; but study of the subject has led me to take the opposite view, viz., that all strikes of skilled workmen are, in the end, harmful to the participants. No one single cause has done more, in my opinion, to hasten the introduction of entirely automatic machinery in operations where a certain degree of skilled labor was con- sidered indispensable, than strikes on the part of such skilled employees. Numerous instances might be recalled where large manufacturers have, on account of strikes, cheerfully expended immense sums of money in per- fecting automatic machinery, not pidmarily to effect economy in wages, but as an insurance against future danger from such causes.
A notable instance of this nature occurred a few years ago at one of the largest iron and steel works in the world. In a certain department specially skilled men were able to make wages which now seem incredible; they were, however, paid a percentage upon the tonnage, and, owing to enormous output, the profits of these operatives exceeded in some years that of many successful manufacturers having large capital at stake. These men considered themselves indispensable, and struck, not for higher wages or shorter hours but at the dictation of outsiders. When work was re- sumed they found their occupation gone forever: automatic machinery had supplanted the former skilled labor.
I do not believe that any employee (I am one myself) is indispensable, and many highly skilled and otherwise valuable operatives have, unfor- tunately for themselves, failed to appreciate this fact until too late.
The danger I have indicated regarding the effect upon skilled labor of strikes does not appear to have presented itself to the minds of the work- ingmen, and if their leaders have perceived it they have concealed it. I regard the strike as a barbaric weapon of attack, resembling somewhat the boomerang, which, we are told, frequently returns and injures its pro- jector.
Another element of danger to the workingman which usually accom- panies a strike is the license which it affords to the irresponsible and law- less element of society to commit depredations, endangering the lives and property of innocent persons, and sometimes compelling the use of armed force for its suppression. The strikers, though innocent of these overt acts, are injured thereby, and the susi^icion lurking in many minds is not without foundation, that some leaders of strikes, while openly exhorting their followers to preserve the peace, secretly count upon this outside aid; and if they do not, they are strangely blind to the result of past ex- perience. The Eight-hour Agitation.—This is the fundamental principle or philosophy of the trade-union movement in this country, and in 1888 "the American Federation of Labor," numerically one of the strongest of the unions, voted to unite with the "Eight-hour League," and thenceforth to concentrate all effort on the struggle for eight hours. Their programme was then to take charge of one trade at a time. Thus, in 1890, the gage of battle fell to the lot of the carpenters, who accordingly struck, under orders, for an eight-hour day on May 1st, and won temporary victories in one hundred and thirty-seven cities. Plans were laid for the miners to strike, on May 1, 1891, for eight hours, but the conditions were not then favorable, and although these plans have since been in abeyance owing to depressed conditions of trade, they have not been abandoned, and I have reason to believe that employers in almost all trades will be called upon to meet this question in the not very distant future.
The argument of the eight-hour philosophers is that, by restricting the hours of work, more laborers must be employed and the idle surplus provided for; I consider that this is specious reasoning. The overflowing stream of immigration from European countries, attracted to America by comparatively high wages, suffices even now to produce a permanent flood, at least in the fields of unskilled labor. If to this we add a still more powerful attraction of eight hours forming a legal working day, the tidal wave flowing from all the less favored countries in the world would swamp our native industrial population and induce a condition which would be far less favorable to them than that which now obtains. The eight-hour party has succeeded through political influence in making eight hours a legal working day in governmental employment, and largely also in municipal contracts, and violators of the law have been rigorously prosecuted. A remarkable case occurred in Buffalo, which worked great hardship upon a citizen, and led to the decision of Justice White, of the Superior Court at Buffalo, declaring the eight-hour law unconstitutional, based upon the clause of the Constitution which provides that no person "shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law." That provision of the Constitution has been construed to mean that the rights and privileges of a citizen to make contracts
relating to his business or property can not be interfered with, by legislation. It has been declared by the courts that liberty, in its broad sense, as understood in this country, means the right not only of freedom from actual imprisonment, but the right of one to use his faculties in all lawful ways, to live and work where he will, to earn his livelihood in any lawful calling, and to pursue any lawful trade or vocation. All laws, therefore, which impair or trammel these rights, which limit one in his choice of a trade or profession, or confine him to work or live in a specified locality, or exclude him from his own house, or restrain his otherwise lawful movements, except where the public health or safety intervenes, are infringements upon his fundamental rights of liberty, which are under constitutional protection. (People vs. Warren, 34 N. Y. Supp. Superior Court, Buffalo, 942.)
The impossibility of regulating the rate and hours of labor by legislation unless in the exercise of the police power, or law of public health and safety, was recognized years ago by Chief-Justice Ruger, in McCarthy vs. Mayor, who said in reference to the original eight-hour law then under discussion:
"It is well to premise that this act was not intended to affect or regulate the rate of wages which should govern as between employer and employee. That subject is left by the act, as it always must remain, open, to be fixed by the agreement of the parties intending to enter into those relations. Experience has shown that legislation on the subject must always be futile and ineffectual, for the reason that it is controlled by the natural laws determining the value of labor and property, and which are as much beyond the power of statutes to affect as they are above the control of the wishes of the parties interested therein."
I do not mean to imply from the foregoing statements that I am opposed to shorter hours for labor; on the contrary, I believe that a shorter working day, wherever it is practicable, is beneficial alike to employee and employer; but under present conditions, it appears to me, after a careful survey of the field, that there are some prominent obstructions which must be removed before an eight-hour day can be universally adopted, or before the operatives who now work ten hours a day can reasonably hope for a general reduction to eight hours without a corresponding reduction of wages.
Wise men usually count the cost of any new undertaking before embarking in it, and a very simple calculation will show surprising figures as to the additional cost of manufacture should employers be called upon to pay the same wage for eight hours' that they now pay for ten hours' work. Let us assume that an establishment employs a thousand hands (there are factories having capacity for four or five times this number), a reduction of two hours per day per man would mean an aggregate of two thousand hours' reduction per day in the shop. Assuming the average wage to be ten cents an hour (this is much below the true average), the additional cost for this item alone would be two hundred dollars per day; while the loss from decreased output and increased fixed charges, rate of interest on plant, etc., per unit of product, would, I believe, extinguish any margin of profit obtained under present prices in any manufactured article where competition is keen. It is of course possible that in those occupations in which the output depends more upon manual dexterity than upon the mere tending of automatic machinery a decrease of hours may be partly offset by an increase of effort; but this would, I think, prove an exception, the effect of which is discounted, in part at least, by the low figure selected to represent average wages.
It is apparent that a rearrangement of some kind would be necessary; is it not likely that this rearrangement would be found in a corresponding reduction of wages?
Sympathizing as I do with all legitimate efforts of workingmen to better their condition, it appears to me that the aim of their organizations should be to secure a reduction in the hours of those workers who are compelled to submit to clearly excessive consecutive hours of attention to duty—conditions that are not only deleterious to the welfare and happiness of the laborer himself, but in some instances increasing the danger to life and limb of others whose interest and sympathy would be a powerful lever, if properly applied, to help to remove this incubus resting at present upon the boasted freedom of labor in this country.
If the views which I have here advanced shall have the effect of tending, on the one hand, to discourage unwise and impracticable schemes of some misguided wage-workers, and, on the other hand, to stimulate keener and more general interest on the part of employers of labor in the welfare of their operatives, and thus to foster a closer union between these two great interdependent elements of society, I shall feel that my efforts have been repaid. The nature of my occupation for the past fifteen years has perhaps afforded unusually favorable opportunities for viewing both sides of the sociological questions here discussed; it has certainly aroused keen personal interest in the subject and has stimulated study of these problems.