Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/May 1899/From Serfdom to Freedom
|FROM SERFDOM TO FREEDOM.|
HOWEVER keen our interest in the problems arising out of the recent Spanish war, and however earnest our study of the policy to be pursued toward our new dependencies, we should not forget that the problems pressing for a solution before the war are still with us. The labor question, which then commanded so much of our thought, is still unsettled, and is by no means dwarfed by the subjects now upon every lip. Rather, as has been shown in an article in a recent number of this magazine, this question really forms one of the most important elements of the present situation, and should not be lost sight of in shaping public policy. We are entering upon an untilled field as far as our institutions are concerned, and we have the opportunity to start on a higher level in treating the relations of capital and labor in our new possessions, if we have the wisdom to know how, and the courage to do as well as we know.
It will help us in a consideration of the present status of the laborer and of his future if we study his past, beginning, if not with Adam, at least with the laborer's entrance into English history as a distinct class. Any one at all familiar with Green's Short History of the English People will see how much use I have made of that instructive and fascinating work. And if I tell only an old story, it may still be of value to many of us in recalling facts almost forgotten, and a help to others whose vision into the past is limited. Brushing away the cobwebs in the old attic of our father's house usually brings to light treasures the recollection of which had slipped from our minds.
The free laborer, the man who works for wages, for whom and where he chooses, did not exist as a class until within about six hundred years. In the early days the laborer was tied to the soil where he was born, Such a thing as a laborer going about to seek work where he would, or having much to say about his master or his wages, was usually out of the question.
At a very early day the towns or boroughs of England had preserved old rights, or regained them, which the rural part of England had lost, and in general serfage could not exist there as it did in the country round them. Trade and manufacture, such as they were in that day, did not make the demand for labor which was made by the agricultural pursuits of the country or in the castles of the nobility. So we do not find in the towns of the eleventh or twelfth century the large labor class we do to-day. In general we may fairly say that the labor class began in the country.
The manorial system had divided the rural part of England for cultivation and general order into large estates. The lord of the manor occupied a part of the estate for his own demesne and divided the rest among his villeins or serfs, who in return were obliged to render services to him. It is not necessary for my purpose to enter into any long description or discussion of the different relations existing between different tenants and their overlord, or the differences existing under Saxon or Norman rule. The general relation of lord of the manor and his tenants or villeins or serfs is the main point to be observed. The villeins or serfs of the manor cultivated the lord's home farm or demesne, filled his barn, cut his wood, and did all his work. "These services were the labor rent by which they held their lands." Some of these tenants, the villeins, were obliged to work on the lord's demesne at harvest only and to help plow and sow, while the others, the serfs, to speak in general terms, were obliged to help on the home farm or in the castle the year round.
In course of time the use of a certain parcel of land by the tenant and a right to pasturage and so forth on the one hand, and the amount and kind of service required on the other, became definitely regulated by custom; and instead of the use of the land being a mere indulgence given to the tenant to be taken away from him on any whim of his lord, it became a definite right in the land which must be respected and could be pleaded at law.
"The number of teams," and so forth, "the services that a lord could claim, at first mere matter of oral tradition, came to be entered on the court roll of the manor, a copy of which became the title deed of the villein." So after a while instead of "villein" he became a "copyholder."
As time went on it grew to be customary, instead of rendering services for the use of the land held by copyhold, to pay a money rent. In other words, the system of leasing the little farms came into use, and from that came the tenant farmer. This left the other laborers about the lord's demesne or his castle as before. While the class of villeins, who did only occasional services, although definite as to amount and time, gradually commuted these services into money payments, and became farmers, the other serfs still remained on the manor, liable to do their work when and where it was customary. This rise of the wealthier tenants made a new class between the large proprietors, the lords of the manor, and the tenants or serfs still bound by custom to work for their lords. But the same process which freed the farmer from personal service in time became the chief way of freeing the serf also. Until this came about the serf or laborer, whatever other rights he might have, and he was not a slave, was born to his holding and his lord. He could choose neither master nor place of work. "He paid head money for license to remove from the estate in search of trade or hire, and a refusal to return on recall by his owner would have ended in his pursuit as a fugitive outlaw." But the advance of society silently worked to free the laborer from this local bondage. The runaway serf gained freedom by residence in a chartered town for a year and a day. The influence of the church was directed toward his emancipation, at least on all estates outside of its own, but the main cause was the growing tendency to commute labor services for money payments. As Mr. Green says: "The luxury of the castle hall, the splendor and pomp of chivalry, the cost of campaigns, drained the purses of knight and baron, and the sale of freedom to a serf or exemption from services to a villein afforded an easy and tempting mode of refilling them. In this process even kings took part. Edward III sent commissioners to royal estates for the especial purpose of selling manumissions to the king's serfs, and we still possess the names of those who were enfranchised with their families by a payment of hard cash in aid of the exhausted exchequer." The Crusades, whatever else they may have accomplished, aided in this freedom for the serf. Those costly expeditions dissipated the estates of the barons, and, to use Hume's somewhat strained expression, "Their poverty extorted from their pride those charters of freedom which unlocked the fetters of the slave." And so, following the rise of the farmer, came this new class—the free laborer. By the latter part of the fourteenth century labor was no longer, as a rule, "bound to one spot or one master; it was free to hire itself to what employer and to choose what field of employment it would."
This is the beginning of the labor class as we know it. In those times labor was abundant and therefore cheap. The landowners in the country and the craftsmen in the town found plenty of help, and the new class then coming upon the stage could go where it was needed. From a serf the common laborer had become his own master as far as choosing his own employer and the place of his employment. But just at this time a condition of affairs arose which put an end to this state of things. In 1348 came the Great Plague. That swept away more than half of the three or four millions who then made up the population of England. The plague and the sudden rise of wages which followed, although coupled with an increase in the cost of living, quite naturally brought on an outburst of lawless self-indulgence which told especially upon the laborer looking for work. He easily became the "sturdy beggar" or "bandit of the woods." "While harvests rotted to the ground from lack of hands, in the towns labor was just as scarce and equally as independent. The landowners and wealthier craftsmen were startled and terrified by "what seemed in their age the extravagant demands of the new labor classes." Here we have the labor problem at once and at the beginning. And from that time to this that problem has been with us. With the capitalist one person and the laborer another there has been always more or less discord. As Richard T. Ely has somewhere said, although in theory capital and labor should be allies and not enemies, the interests of those furnishing capital or labor are not precisely identical. But five hundred years ago the labor class of to-day had just come into existence. It had no organization then, and its members few political rights. The landowners and craftsmen could appeal effectively to the crown and Parliament through their wealth, their political power, and the craftsmen, especially, through their organizations. The laborer had only himself and brute force. As a result, the legislation of that day reflects the demands of the upper and middle classes only. The laboring class was considered only as it affected the landowners and craftsmen. So the labor troubles of that day were met with the Statute of Laborers. "Every man or woman," runs this famous provision, "of whatsoever condition, free or bond, able in body, and within the age of threescore years, … and not having of his own about the tillage of which he may occupy himself, and not serving any other, shall be bound to serve the employer who shall require him to do so, and shall take only the wages which were accustomed to be taken in the neighborhood where he is bound to serve "two years before the plague began. A refusal to obey was punished by imprisonment. Here was an attempt to fix the rate of wages by statute, and to fix them very much lower than a fair market rate; and, further, to force the unemployed laborer to serve any man who first demanded it. The statute failed in its object, naturally, and so sterner measures were adopted." Not only was the price of labor fixed by Parliament in the next statute of 1351, but the labor class was once more tied to the soil." It was made the servant not of one master but of a class—the employers. "The laborer was forbidden to quit the parish where he lived in search of better-paid employment; if he disobeyed, he became a 'fugitive,' and subject to imprisonment at the hands of the justices of the peace." Provisions had risen so that a day's work at the legal wages would not purchase enough for a man's support, and therefore no such law could be enforced literally. Still, the landowners persisted in trying, and at last the runaway laborer, the man looking for better wages, was branded on the forehead with a hot iron, while the harboring of serfs in towns was rigorously put down. As the landowners wanted all the labor they could get, the commutation of labor service for money payments ceased, and every effort was made and every quibble taken advantage of to annul manumissions previously made. In the towns, under the pressure of the craftsmen, the system of forced labor was applied with even more rigor than in the country, and strikes and combinations became frequent.
That is the state of things in free England at a time when labor was not strong enough to protect itself—called upon by the law of the land to work for less than living wages or be branded as cattle! The irrepressible conflict between capital and labor began with the very beginning of the existence of the labor class.
In such a condition of things as here indicated, is it any wonder that there were labor disturbances in those days—that there was a peasant revolt? Already the doctrine of the equality of man and social inequality was being preached to the lower classes. In 1360 John Ball—"a mad priest in Kent," as Froissart calls him—preached such a communistic sermon as this to the sturdy yeomen of that day: "Good people, things will never go well in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villeins and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came of the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they are better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? They are clothed in velvet, and warm in their furs and their ermines, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread; and we oatcake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labor, the rain and wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and of our toil that these men hold their state." That is the same cry against the inequality of property and social condition which we hear to-day. And we may thank him, and men like him and with his inspiration, that the conditions of five hundred years ago have changed, and that the dawn of a better and higher humanity has broken upon us. Filled with socialism and communism as the words are, they still have a truth which appeals to every sympathetic and thoughtful man.
And it was in those early days that the old rhyme was heard all over the land:
"When Adam delved and Eve span.
Who was then the gentleman?"
The sermon was preached against the tyranny of property, the rhyme was full of the democracy of the coming years.
I do not imagine that the instigators of such laws as the Statute of Laborers were hard men as men go. They could see only their side of the case. The laborer had become a necessity for them, and they rather believed that the Almighty had put him on earth for their advantage. I am afraid that something of that spirit still is left among us. The feeling still exists that the employer and capitalist can take care of and provide for the employees better than they can themselves; that they should be very thankful when out of his abundance the employer builds them a library or permits them to live in some finely ordered village as he directs. But somehow the feeling is growing now that if the wage-earner had a larger and fairer share in the profits he could take care of himself better in the end and grow faster, because he would be more his own master; and that the good things now and then given him with more or less ostentation as gifts are bought with the money he really ought to have and in the future hopes to have himself.
Well, the result of such laws and the general social discontent and the levy of new taxes upon even the lower classes brought about the Peasant Revolt in 1381. Of course, the power of the upper classes, aided by the courage of Richard II, then only a boy, put down the revolt, but not until the king had promised amnesty and emancipation to the serfs. Death on the scaffold and in the field soon showed the participants how little such promises were worth. The serfs were subdued, but strife between the laborers and employers was not ended. The legislation still reflects the terror and greed of the landowners, for, in spite of all, labor was in demand and had the market at its feet. Legislation forbade "the child of any tiller of the soil to be apprenticed in a town," and the landowners "prayed Richard to ordain 'that no bondman or bondwoman shall place their children at school, as has been done, so as to advance their children in the world by their going into the church.'" But villeinage continued to disappear, and within the next hundred and fifty years it had become "an antiquated thing." The failure of the landowners to again fasten labor to the soil and to fix low wages drove their energies in a new direction. "Sheep farming required fewer hands than tillage, and the scarcity and high price of labor tended to throw more and more land into sheep farms." As personal service died away it became the interest of the lord to unite the small holdings on his estate into larger ones. The evictions consequent upon this course threw many laborers upon the market, and the sheep farms diminished the number required, while the smaller amount of holdings devoted to agriculture increased the price of food. And so it is not surprising that within the course of a comparatively few years, instead of a scarcity there was a glut of labor; that pauperism increased, and social discontent continued; that vagabondage with its dangers to society at large became a difficult problem. Indeed, the poor have always been with us, but those of us who find so much to depress us in these modern days can get new courage by looking back to those old days and can see the real progress which has been made. The whole lower class in England down to the time of Elizabeth stood looking into the face of want. Henry VIII confiscated the monasteries, but put nothing in their place, and in a measure by so doing deprived the poor of some relief from the wealth of the church. But Elizabeth inaugurated a system of poor-laws which, although crude and somewhat hard, still served to ward off some of the social danger. The course of events, however, and the rise of new industries did more to make life for the laborer, the landless man, less bitter. With the discovery of America and the opening of fisheries in these western waters, and the adventurous and buccaneering voyages of Drake and his compeers, came the gradual development of manufacture, and a "more careful and constant cultivation of the land." All these were new and larger avenues for the employment of labor. By this time the laborer had grown entirely away from serfage, had been freed from the terrible grasp of a hopeless future, and the possibility of a degree of comfort and independence had come into existence. We need not linger longer over his early days. The laborer still had his peculiar trials and hardships, but he had a future. From a subject class, the terror as well as necessity of its employers, he has grown to be their equal before the law, and this by his own efforts, aided, of course, by the advance of society and the broader humanity of mankind.
The increase of manufacture brought with it a new danger to the working class as we reach our times, and brought about a state of things which gave rise to trades unions. Manufacture naturally in the beginning was carried on in a small way, but in modern times, especially as we get into this century, the small concerns grew into large ones. Instead of one man or partnership with a comparatively small amount of capital, the corporation or joint-stock company with its large aggregation of capital carries on the business of manufacture and trade. This aggregation of capital has made an entire change in the relation between employer and employee. The corporation came in the line of progress. Consolidation of capital has come to stay, and properly so, but it brought with it dangers, just as every step in advance has done. It was to meet the new dangers to the wage-earners that trades unions came into being, for trades unions and labor unions are really only organizations of labor as corporations are aggregations of capital.
When industrial establishments were small, the owner, whether in trade or manufacture, had practically absolute direction of his business. In the industrial world what corresponds to an unlimited monarchy in the political world has been the system. As establishments grew larger, the autocratic power of the owner passed to the manager acting for the owners. As one writer puts it: "Huge industrial establishments are under the unrestrained control of a single man. At his will they are set in motion; at his will they stand still; at his will capital and labor unite and are fruitful; at his will they are parted and remain barren. Men come and go at his bidding. He knows no superior and recognizes no limitations. He calls an attempt at control 'dictation' and resents it with anger." That is the extreme case, and is industrial despotism. While the results doubtless are good in many cases, and the laborer receives fair and decent treatment in most cases, that is owing to the temperament or prudence and good judgment of the master and not to the system. Such a condition of things is becoming more and more modified. We have reached in many cases a condition which may be said to correspond to a monarchy with constitutional limitations—the master is restrained in the exercise of his power by public opinion, the strength of the workingmen, and in some cases by legal limitations. The organization of boards of arbitration, and the recognition of the right of the employee to a share in the profits, are daily extending. The tendency toward giving the wage-earners a share in the business, some modified form of co-operation, is daily extending. The trend is toward what may be called industrial democracy, just as in the political world real democracy is fast becoming the universal principle, whatever the style of the government may be.
This advance in the industrial world has come about through the agitation and power of labor organizations, of which, as they exist now, trades unions were the early manifestation. The employer, as a rule, looked after his own interests mainly, and the employee alone by himself had to take what he could get and do as he was told. Just as the people, after they sunk into subjection in the earlier days, had little political power as against the nobility until they were strong enough to take it, so the laborer still would be of little account except as a more or less intelligent machine unless he had proved himself a man, with a man's aspirations and a man's energy.
Labor organizations or trades unions came into existence in England. The democratic spirit, the spirit of liberty, the Saxon spirit of independence, which wrested from kings and the nobility all the rights which the common people enjoy, has been doing in the industrial world only what it did in the political world years before.
We may say that trades unions find their prototype in the frith guilds or peace guilds of the Anglo-Saxon. A few words in general about them and their successors and the spirit pervading them, the causes of their existence and decay, will have a bearing on labor organizations, which are like them in "being founded on similar mental faculties and desires and as contemplating similar purposes."
These frith guilds seem to have been associations of neighbors for mutual help and protection. They replaced the older brotherhood of kinsfolk, which had existed among the German races, "by a voluntary association of neighbors for the same purposes of order and self-defense." An isolated existence for a man, even a freeman, was one of danger, especially when the feudal temper of the nobles increased and the Danish incursions broke over England. The ties of kindred had become weakened, and the frith guild took the place of the family. A mutual oath bound the members together, and the monthly guild feast became the substitute for the old gathering round the family hearth. A member could call upon the guild in case of violence or wrong; when charged with crime, the guild answered for him, and when guilty, punished him; when poor, it supported him; and when dead, buried him. When these guilds were located in towns rather than in the country, they inevitably tended in time to combine, and eventually the town passed from a collection of guilds into one large guild, and we have the town guild. The word "town" is used in contradistinction from the word "country," just as we say "town and country," "going to town," and so on. The spirit of independence and freedom, kept alive in our town meetings here, and in our local self-government, has come down to us through those old town guilds and the boroughs of England. It is to the towns of England and not to the country that we owe much of our liberty to-day.
So these guilds in towns, by joining together and making a town guild, became quite strong communities. They made demands upon the crown itself, and took upon themselves the government of the towns where they were located. Their members were the landowners of the town, and the other people who came there to settle, no matter how numerous, had no part in the government. From being democratic in the beginning, as the frith guilds were, the towns became oligarchies.
In the course of time the differences between town and country became more marked. The town guilds began to have less and less to do with agriculture, although at first they were interested in it. The wealth in the town is turned to trade and manufacture, such as there was in those days. So, by the time of the Norman conquest, in 1006, we hear little of town guilds, but in almost every case merchant guilds. The town guild has become a merchant guild, although composed of the same constituency. The commercial spirit has become the ruling spirit of the town.
As time went on and life and property became safer and trade increased, the consequent accumulation of wealth in towns produced important results in the character of these municipal institutions. "In becoming a merchant guild the body of citizens who formed" the government of "the town enlarged their powers of civic legislation by applying them to the control of their internal trade." No longer confining themselves to providing for public order or protection from unjust oppression or dangers from without, they began to legislate for their own immediate advancement and for their own pockets. "It became their especial business to obtain from the crown or from their lords wider commercial privileges, rights of coinage, grants of fairs, and exemptions from tolls; while within the town itself they framed regulations as to the sale and quality of goods, the control of markets, and the recovery of debts." And further, the members of the guild withdrew from the humbler trades to confine themselves to the larger business of commerce or trades requiring large capital, leaving the trades and traffic given up to their poorer neighbors. This ruling class comprised only a part of the inhabitants, only the members of the merchant guild. The great mass of the people, the artisans and the poor, the men without land, the serfs escaped from the country and gaining their freedom in the town, all had no voice in the government whatever. They lived and worked and earned their daily bread practically by permission or at least under the direct control of the merchant guild. From a simple association, the guilds in towns had become the governing body, and a government in the hands of a few at that. From the need of protection on account of individual weakness, the members of the guilds had grown to be in need of repression; and with the demand for repression came the instrument of repression—the craft guild. Against the autocratic power of the merchant guild arose the craft guilds, or associations of workers in the various trades, those trades abandoned by the merchants, and these guilds "soon rose into dangerous rivalry with the original merchant guild of the town."
These craft guilds in the old English towns, in order to attain their objects, considered it necessary to compel the whole body of craftsmen belonging to the trade to join the guild of that craft or trade; and further, that the guild should have legal control over the trade itself—who should be admitted to it, and so forth. "A royal charter was indispensable for these purposes, and over the grant of these charters took place the first struggle with the merchant guild, which had till then solely exercised jurisdiction over trade within the borough." The struggle was a fierce one and long continued, but the spread of the craft guilds went steadily on, and the control of trade passed into their hands. Then the next step—a share in the government of the borough itself—was taken, and the government of the towns passed from an oligarchy into the hands of the middle classes.
The craft guild came into being just as its predecessor had, from the necessity of association for protection, and like it was democratic at first; and, again like it, became in time an oligarchy as narrow as that which it had deposed. The craft guild arose because the artisans and tradesmen had grown to a position where they could recognize the injustice and oppression of the merchant guild, and were strong enough and persistent enough to assert themselves, and as long as the craft guilds were democratic in spirit and were true to the needs for which they were organized they flourished. But with age and success came narrowness and bigotry and opposition to progress. They became monopolies of employment and societies of greedy capitalists, and in England withered away before the growth of the modern vast industrial establishment.
I have ventured to give this general sketch of these guilds because the same spirit and necessities which inspired them brought the trades union into being. The trades union or labor organization was created to protect the laborer and gain for him a better position in life, to raise his standard of living. It is like the old guilds in being subject to the same dangers as they were, and when it proves false to its true objects it will pass away as did the old guilds. It will last only so long as there is a necessity for its existence, as long as it does the work it is born to do. And when it has come to deny freedom, to refuse another's rights, and to repress industry, the seeds of dissolution are already sown.
Trades unions or labor unions arose from the necessity of organization among the laborers or wage-earners if they were to hold their own against the aggregation of capital. The craft guild arose at a time when trading and manufacturing concerns were small, when the interest of both master and workman in a business were alike joined in opposition to the exactions of a superior class—the merchant guild; while the trades union came upon the field to protect the laborer against his employer. Whatever other objects and aims it may have had do not enter into my purposes in this paper. The personal relation which had existed between the master and servant, the employer and his few employees, the manufacturer and his half dozen workmen or apprentices, no longer existed when the workers became scores and hundreds, and the owner of the business was replaced by the manager or superintendent. That personal relation was in some measure a protection for both, but when that disappeared the temptation to gratify owners and stockholders with big dividends became too strong to be overcome. Against organized capital there was absolute need of organized labor, and trades unions and labor unions and such organizations came into existence.
There was no possibility of their existence until the laborer had become intellectually and socially capable of organization, and until the divine spirit of discontent drove him to association with his brother worker. During all the years from the time of his serfdom up to the time these organizations began he had been slowly growing in development and gaining something in political position, but it was not until political power came nearer and nearer to him that he gained the strength to raise his standard of living, to make a stand for himself. He knew the struggle would be a hard one, for everything he gained seemed to be something taken away from those who held themselves above him and better than he.
As a rule, we are very well content to let things alone if we ourselves are fairly comfortable, and especially are we blind to another's ills if the remedy for them is found in a renunciation of part of that which we have always considered our own. There is nothing particularly new in this. We easily can imagine some worthy burgher in the olden time expostulating at the demand of the craft guild even to be allowed to exist, and I do not imagine his language varied much in spirit from the indignant disgust shown by some large employer of labor to-day when he talks of labor unions. Doubtless these unions to-day seem to him to have the same dangerous tendencies which the craft guilds were talked of as having eight hundred years ago.
If there were no wrongs to right, if selfishness did not exist, if there were a real belief in the brotherhood of man, and life were in accordance with that belief, such organizations might not be necessary, or if they existed have other aims; but until all men have an equal chance for self-development, and a chance for something more than a mere existence, labor unions or something to take their place must exist.
And so we stand to-day with labor unions and the labor problem, so called, with us. The laboring class is discontented. Men claim as rights what their fathers would have been glad to get as favors. There are violence and bad blood and waste, and so there have been from the beginning. But there have been also injustice and oppression and greed from the beginning. While we may condemn strongly much of the violence and wrongdoing of labor organizations, we can find many extenuating circumstances. The same spirit of independence, the same desire for equal justice which animated the old guilds of England, and which have made the Englishman and those who have sprung from him the freest as well as most law-abiding people on the earth, are found within the organizations of labor. We in this country hardly can find only danger in the spirit which impels the workingman to resist every encroachment upon his rights, to strive for that better future to which he believes he is entitled. There were many things done in the youth of our history which in our manhood we regret, and I hardly think, as a nation, our own robe is so unspotted that we must draw it round us lest it be soiled by the violence of a perhaps uneducated and inadvisable but still earnest effort after higher and better conditions of life. Let us read and ponder over our histories anew, and with humble hearts try to find a better way both for the laborer and ourselves.
I have said that it was through his organization that the laborer has made the industrial and social advance he certainly has made in the last century. The trades unions, like the guilds before them, had to struggle for a legal existence, and their early days were full of violence. Dr. Brentano, in his work on Trades Unions, says: "They have fought contests quite as fierce as those of the old craftsmen against the patricians, if not fiercer. The history of their sufferings since the end of the eighteenth century, and of the privations endured for their independence, is a real record of heroism." May not we hope with him that now they may cease using the arms of violence which belong to former times and use the legal means which belong to our days?
We can not approve of their violence, but let us not be unduly alarmed by it. If society becomes so ossified in its usages and habits and thinking that a newer and better thought can not get in, a nobler way of living for all be entered upon, it sometimes seems as if in the very nature of things violence must come to rend away the obstructions. I believe that labor organizations are as much the instruments of progress as the town guilds and craft guilds of old. They will do their work, and the world will be the better for it. They tend to make society more democratic industrially as well as politically, as their predecessors did, and therefore better. For what is democracy but a practical recognition of the brotherhood of man? If Christianity amounts to anything, what higher aim should we have than that?
Many students of the problems involved state that in the long run labor still does not receive its full share of the profits; that in order to keep up the standard of living which the wage-earner already has reached he must have a larger reserve fund. In other words, he must be able to save more. To do that and still live as he claims he ought, his share in the profits, his wages, must be larger than now. We can not claim that the standard is too high because admittedly it is higher than ever before. Hon, Carroll D, Wright, in a recent address, says: "Under the iron law of wages as announced by Ricardo, it [the labor question] is a struggle simply to secure barely enough of food and raiment and shelter to preserve the working physical machine, the rule being that wages ought not to be paid over the bare necessities. To-day the standard of living of the ordinary wage receiver involves margins above the iron law of from ten to fifteen per cent, out of which margin is to be found what are now called spiritual necessities, means of leisure, reading, music, recreation, etc, so that the demand of the worker in all civilized countries is for the expansion of this margin, lie feels entitled to this because society has insisted upon educating him, giving him a taste for higher things, making him a social and political factor; in fact, fitting him for membership in a democratic community."
Labor organizations, in spite of much extravagant language and many ill-advised acts, certainly aim at a better condition for the wage-earner. We fail to see the intelligence underlying industrial controversies because progress has been so rapid. Some of the methods of labor organizations are violent and the weapons used are in a great measure strikes and boycotts. That is industrial warfare and is as costly and wasteful and cruel in many ways as any warfare is, but very often these organizations seem to have no other method of making their power felt; no other way of bringing about a needed reform. And we can not say that all strikes have been or are necessarily wrong, except in the same way that all warfare is an evil. The very readiness to strike will effect a reform which a known weakness or lack of courage on the part of the organization would have prevented. Such an authority as John Stuart Mill says that "strikes, therefore, and the trade societies which render strikes possible, are for these various reasons not a mischievous, but, on the contrary, a valuable part of the existing machinery of society." Whether in a particular case a strike or boycott is right or wrong depends upon the facts of that case, and whether we have reached a point where strikes are no longer right, no matter what may have been the case in the past, is another question. Let us hope we are nearer that time, at any rate. It will depend upon the attitude of employers as well as employees.
Out of strikes themselves comes a remedy. Daniel J. Ryan, in his article on Arbitration, records that "for sixteen years the disputes of labor and capital in the rolling mills of England have been settled by arbitration, and it has been an era remarkably free from strikes. The Board of Arbitration for the north of England iron business was, as all efforts of this kind usually are, the outgrowth of a strike." Now, in this part of England before the formation of this board, strikes were chronic. The works in that section recently had 1,913 puddling furnaces—more than in all Pennsylvania, and half as many as in the entire United States.
The limits of this article will not allow a discussion of voluntary or involuntary arbitration, but let me say that in the above case we see that a simple arrangement between the parties changed all the strife to peace. Will society long tolerate a continuance of industrial warfare when it has in its own hands a preventive? For its own protection will it not tell employer and laborer, "You must settle your differences quietly by mutual agreement, or, if you can not, I will settle them for you"? It says this now to the individual. Men and women are not allowed in these days to settle their rights and wrongs by brute force. That method passed away long years ago in civilized communities. And society must continue to suffer from the violence and waste of strikes until it teaches employers and workingmen and itself a higher and better way.
May not it be possible that the outcome will be that associations of wage-earners are to be treated as the equals of the employer? Will not the democratic spirit of the age to come so permeate the industrial as well as the political world that the laborer and the employer will each have a share in the business they together carry on?
I have tried to make a very broad sketch of the change which has taken place in the condition of the laborer, with a consideration of some of the means by which that has come about. No longer is he a serf—no longer even the servant of a ruling class. He at length has risen to a share in the government of his town and country. No longer are laws passed against him specially, but in his favor. The laborer has become free—free to follow along the path of his predecessors, to gain full justice, but not to oppress others. Before the law at least he is the equal of his employer. I have implied at least that he has but followed the spirit which led his older brother of the middle class up from practical subjection to power. The craft guilds of the one, the labor unions of the other, are in the same line as the old town guilds. They all are manifestations of that democratic independence which seems necessary for political freedom. They all imply the capacity for organization as they all have shown its power. Let us believe that, like the old guilds, these labor organizations are helpful parts of the machinery of human progress. They force upon us the fact that there have been and are injustices which must be righted. "We are beginning to learn that we can not depend upon one side alone for our political economy or our facts; that we need an organization strong enough to compel respect in order to protect those who without it would be, as they have been, helpless.
All the smoke and clash of industrial warfare seem terrifying; the innocent victims shock our sense of justice, but it is leading to the perfect peace. The true democracy—the brotherhood of man—is forcing itself upon mankind. If we in our prejudice, our selfishness, our ignorance, defy the signs of its coming, try to prevent its growth, or find only license in liberty, we shall continue to suffer all the ills which an obstruction of progress or a violation of its laws always brings with it. Is it not true that never in the history of the world has there been an agrarian rising, a peasant revolt, a labor war, that back of it we do not find as a main cause the injustice, the oppression, the selfishness of a more powerful class? And will there be perfect peace, perfect prosperity, until the divine harmony—the real brotherhood of man—is the rule of life? Wrong always breeds violence. But out of that violence, when the wrong is made right, comes peace. Massachusetts in her motto declares that "by the sword she seeks peace" and, to use Richard T. Ely's words, "the Prince of Peace proclaimed, 'Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword'; and yet truly was he called the Prince of Peace." Often is war the price of peace. And no one, no class of men, deserve their freedom unless, when all other means fail, they have the courage and energy to pay the price.
Therefore, we will not be alarmed at struggles which in the end will bring about a better condition of life for all. Rather let us try to end those struggles by pushing bravely on toward the end mankind is striving for. We, with such a past as ours, must not be false to the ideal which is our birthright; we should not be incapable of finding the true way. If we will forget our merely partisan strife, our petty jealousies, our class distinctions, and have only one aim, justice for all, an equal chance for self-development for all, whether he be born rich or poor, the ruling spirit of the next century will keep America still true to her high calling, and mankind still will find in her the inspiration to raise the disheartened and lowly of other lands. The truest patriotism is broad enough to help the unfortunate everywhere, and with courage, intelligence, and a faith in true democracy we shall not fail.