SEVENTY YEARS OF LIFE AND LABOR
MY ECONOMIC PHILOSOPHY
The first economic theory that came under my eyes was not calculated to make me think highly of economists. My mind intuitively rejected the iron law of wages, the immutable law of supply and demand, and similar so-called "natural laws." As a matter of fact the laws had no connection with nature or economic forces, nor were they laws but merely theories which sought to justify existing practices. Everywhere those directing industries were seeking to bring about a control that served their purposes. Those who did not participate in determination of policies were treated as industrial spoils. It was revolting to me that human beings should be used without regard to their needs or their aspirations as individuals. I love men and a sort of passion surges in me when I see them treated unjustly or forced to forego freedom in their own lives. As the control built up by holders of capital rested upon strategic economic advantage, I saw no reason why it was not just as practical for employees to mobilize and control their economic power as a counter-move. The force of such economic organization would interpose a protecting barrier against arbitrary employers who failed to understand that those who supplied human labor for industries were human beings, and thus make possible the development of constructive methods.
Organization of wage-earners brought together economic power that could force recognition of human interests. If the employer refused to recognize the needs of the workers, the result was conflict of forces. Until there is acceptance of mutual rights, the labor movement is of necessity a militant movement, and as I have often quoted, "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom." Knowing how much depended upon the virility and the sustained efficiency of our organized economic force, I have vigilantly guarded against moves to curb or restrict economic action.
In my conception, the spirit of militancy expresses sustained consecration to a high purpose. My counsel has consistently been against assuming responsibilities that would introduce any intimation that the purposes of labor were not solely humanitarian. There were many efforts, good in themselves, which labor could help, but I have been jealous that the American labor movement should retain the character of a crusade for human justice. I know men and I love them and I also know that the effort to secure justice for the under-man must be a fight. I also keep myself in fighting trim-mentally and spiritually. My enemies say that I take blows as well as I give them. I never ask quarter nor do I hesitate to attack anyone making proposals subversive of the freedom of workers. I have fought many a fight in support of the principles of voluntary institutions.
My unfailing support of voluntary principles reflects my aversion to any theory of economic fatalism. Through years of study, observation, and work has grown my conviction that economic organization must be based upon an understanding of all factors concerned in production-materials, power, and human workers, and that research holds the key to additional scientific information. Experience has disclosed to me the potency of information and intelligence in directing economic development. I have seen this intelligence in the making.
My span of life includes a series of industrial periods marked by panics, business depression, and wide-spread unemployment followed by a period of recuperation leading gradually to a return of "prosperity," better wages, and general employment. The period of depression was often called a period of so-called overproduction, which was really a period of underconsumption for the people I knew, a period of hard times. When I came to the United States in i863, war-time high prices were developing. I was too young and too new to the country to get much of the meaning of things. But when the crash of 1873 came, I could see the whole industrial structure stagger, shattered by the forces of contraction. The puny trade unions of that day were ground to powder by me national force that seemed above control. Our wages kept on going down until 1877 when we undertook drastic action to stabilize conditions. A period of slow upbuilding followed. Then came the panic of 1893 followed by that of 1907 and the depression of 1921and 1922.
In a country as big and as fertile as ours, with so many willing workers seeking the chance to give service, the periods of unemployment accompanying depression in the business cycle have seemed to me an unnecessary blot upon American institutions, presenting a challenge to all our claims to progress, humanity, and civilization. Unemployment means irrecoverable waste of forces and materials-human as well as economic-not only of production but of all civilization.
When the panic of 1893 crashed down upon us, I was holding a responsible labor position and consequently was in touch with attempts to meet resulting problems. In New York, distress from unemployment was acute.
When late in the summer of i893 abnormal conditions of unemployment became alarming, I wrote Governor Roswell P. Flower, urging him to call a special session of the Legislature to consider the unemployment and to determine upon relief measures. But the Governor-who was a banker-did not decide favorably upon the suggestion and the great industrial state of New York devised no constructive policy with which to meet the emergency.
I suggested to the labor organizations of New York that we arrange an unemployment demonstration to be held in Madison Square Garden. This place was chosen to typify the size of the problem. The meeting was held and an immense crowd gathered. When the speaking began another problem was manifest. Henry Weismann was the first speaker. Weismann was splendidly developed physically, and had a stentorian voice which never modulated whether speaking of human freedom or the death of a fly. He made a brilliant beginning, but only lasted a few minutes. Then Dr. Felix Adler spoke, but not a word was heard. Others had the same fate. The audience waited patiently perhaps because they had no employment elsewhere. When my time came, no one expected to hear me, but without an effort every word of mine rang through the immense building. It reminded me of a mass meeting years before called by the cigarmakers. The Socialists had organized a concerted effort to prevent any speaker from being heard. One man tried to speak, but couldn't be heard. I was standing by him and knowing the impatience of the crowd, I said to him, "Talk or-." "I can't be heard," he replied. "Get away then and let me talk," I rejoined and sweeping him aside I earnestly discussed the issues. It was not ruthlessness or lack of consideration on my part. I was simply too much engrossed with the cause to consider anyone or anything. That Madison Square speech was one of the few in which passion dominated my judgment. I was seething against injustice done to human beings. I deeply resented the conditions of life which permitted children of tender years to be employed in trades and callings, and exemplified in my own life when I was permitted to go to work at a trade when I was a little more than ten years of age. When put to work at that age, I had no understanding of the wrong done to childhood, but the inhumanity of it I have felt more keenly with every year of my life. This realization accounts for the intensity of feeling in all my activities to safeguard the child life of my country and of all the countries of the world.
Next to the intensity of my desire to protect child life was my resentment of unemployment, particularly unemployment in the United States. In such a country with all its resources, richness of its soil, almost boundless areas of its territory, with all the achievements of past ages, utilized in the high development of modern production, that millions of men and women, willing to work, to produce and to give service not only for their own maintenance and those dependent upon them but service to the whole country and to the people of the entire world, were denied the opportunity to give that work and service, was a blight upon our boasted intelligence and civilization.
The factory and mines were there, tools and machinery were at hand, raw materials were waiting to be converted into articles of service, human workers were clamoring for work and opportunity to earn a living, but some blighting power halted industry, and men, women, and children must suffer want. It was brutally stupid.
The whole situation had forced upon me a feeling of outrage. If a blight came as an act of nature or what is termed an act of God, there could be no just cause for criticism or complaint or protest. But in a country such as ours, rich as a nation could be, when large masses of our citizenship were forced to endure hunger because unemployed, my protest knew no bounds.
Such was my state of agonized feeling in my early manhood I would not have hesitated in entering into any under-taking that would bring about a radical change and make amends for a state so horrid in a country of intelligence and civilization.
At that great mass meeting, of the unemployed I indulged myself in an attack upon the conditions, misery, and poverty by which we were surrounded and of which I was at times one of the victims. In the bitterness of my soul, in the course of my speech I rendered with the most dramatic inflections I could command the following lines:
Oh, that a poor man's son as has been said,
Became a convict to earn his bread,
That a poor man's daughter to earn a crust
Became a victim of some rich man's lust.
Oh, angels shut thine eyes,
Let conflagration illumine the outraged skies!
Let red Nemesis burn the hellish clan
And chaos end the slavery of man!
The state of mind of the audience, nearly half of whom were unemployed, was such that at the conclusion of my address I doubt if there was one person who was not on his feet, cheering and shouting his approval. It was a wild scene, there was not one among them but was in an ugly frame of mind. I could not imagine the lengths to which, under the influence due to their own misery and my harangue, they might have gone. The responsibility of my utterance haunted me not only that night but for many a day after.
When I now contemplate the exploitations of child life to satiate greed of exploiters, when I think of the unemployment of millions of willing workers, there is no abatement of my feeling of resentment, but I realize that relief of such conditions will not come by burning the "hellish clan" but by constructive effort and gradual upbuilding. I have tried to impress upon my fellow-workers to organize for self-protection and promotion of their rights and interests and to make these organizations strong and effective.
The same deep sentiment and resentment which the exploitation of child life and imposition of idleness upon millions of people rouse in me I feel too in respect to the demands which have so frequently been made to impose compulsory labor in any form upon the people. As an eleven year old boy in a factory in England, I heard from my elder shopmates the denunciation of slavery in America. I had learned the anti-slavery songs and sang them in resonant tones. When I was brought with my parents and brothers to the United States July 29, 1863, the spirit for the abolition of slavery had already found its lodgment within me. I prepared as a boy to use whatever influence I had that slavery not only be abolished in the United States but never re-established-at least, not without my most emphatic protest no matter where that protest might lead.
During the fall and winter of 1893, there was widespread unemployment such as I had never seen before.
When the convention of the Federation met in Chicago in the fall of 1893, we held our sessions in the old City Hall. When the session of the convention ended for the day, there were hundreds of homeless, workless men seeking refuge in the corridors. When we held evening sessions, as the elevators did not run at night, we had to walk down the stairs very carefully for we had to pick our way over men who were lying on the steps and on the floor with only newspapers for protection. It was a scene that burned into my mind. But the labor unions weathered the storm and industrial standards were not completely overthrown. The unemployment was terrible, but the idea that panics were the result of uncontrollable and unknowable forces was passing.
When the session of the New York Legislature began the winter of i893, I watched its deliberations carefully. Thomas C. Platt, president of the United States Express Company, was then a member of the Senate and controlled the Republican state party machine. When adjournment was approaching, there was no evidence of any constructive thought upon the unemployment problem. Even the appropriation bills carrying funds for public works were unpassed. Now I had no love for Platt and knew he had none for labor-but regardless of this, if Platt could do anything for the unemployed I was willing to use him as an instrumentality. I wrote him, asking that he consider the advisability of enacting legislation to appropriate money for public work, for I reminded him it would be bad policy to add to unemployment by failure to act upon the measure.
As I considered these facts, they seemed to me to indicate the necessity for a sustained policy of wage-increases in order that consumption levels should be maintained commensurate with the increases in production levels, and that credit control should be based upon production needs rather than upon speculative gain.
General stagnation of business which followed the financial storm was terrific, and was manifest in industry, construction, and all employing concerns, which slowed down if they did not stop. Family bread-earners walked the streets. There was an appalling amount of destitution and suffering. All kinds of people were without work. There was a curious money scarcity. There seemed to be plenty of everything but money and confidence or credit. Those of us who had no Wall Street connections were somewhat blindly sure there was a money trust somewhere and that we were its victims. Our whole economic structure was paralyzed. Workingmen all over the country found themselves without work or money. They were helpless in the clutches of some invisible power.
In the West where there had been rapid building of railroads, numbers of men from the East suddenly found themselves adrift. There was nothing to do anywhere, so the men determined to come East. Men traveling the road without money naturally fell into step together. They shared the benefits of their ingenuity as well as their common misfortune. Outwardly, they were bands of homeless vagabonds roaming the country. There was a picturesque element in the situation that lent itself to publicity. The newspapers gave it much space. Someone conceived the idea of utilizing the eastward movement of the unemployed as a national demonstration to focus attention on the need for relief measures.
By some mysterious folk-agreement in all parts of the country, there was a general determination to take the problem to Congress-to present a "petition in boots". Men wanted work and a financial system that would function. They had faith in the power of Congress. Some one of the bands called itself the Army of the Unemployed. The idea caught popular favor. Each group of marchers was called an army and leaders appeared. There were Frey of California, Kelly from the Northwest, Coxey from Ohio. The men who rallied to these standards were not all fanatics, vagrants, or professional hoboes. The men were for the most part earnest, thoughtful men, skilled workmen, and only the minority belonged to the migratory element. There were expert machinists, miners, and practically every kind of craftsman.
As the armies went eastward through the country, their approach was heralded days in advance of their appearance. In some localities they were treated kindly, fed, and given other hospitality. In other places, they were not permitted to enter towns, but were hastened onward by police. The "powers that be" were watching anxiously. If the armies ever broke through the ludicrous interpretation which the press fastened upon them, there were present some of the elements of which revolutions are made.
General Coxey of Ohio who had a specific plan for good roads and the inauguration of a system of long-needed public works, became the central figure of the movement. He had a fine stock farm at Massillon, Ohio. Associated with him was Carl Brown from the Pacific Coast who had married the daughter of General Coxey. I had met Brown in California. He was a man of parts, a big-hearted lover of men, a dreamer and an idealist. Early in the spring, Coxey and Brown were in Indianapolis where headquarters had been established at the Circle House. A mass meeting in Indianapolis was addressed by Debs and Howard of the American Railway Union. The provisional committee had planned for a march of all bands to Washington and a National Labor Congress in that city on July 4, 1894They were soliciting the co-operation of all labor organizations in that Congress. I had several letters from both Brown and Frey asking me to endorse the plan and seeking to show that the Chicago Convention of the A. F. of L. had endorsed the Coxey good-roads plan. I never officially endorsed their program, but I went to Washington to consult with General Coxey and to help him get a hearing. On behalf of his good-roads project I went personally to many Representatives and Senators and urged the right of petition. I held that the unemployed had come to Washington to exercise the rights of free citizens, to present their grievances and ask for redress, and that they had the right to a hearing. I spoke to several divisions of the army camped outside of Washington. At one time when I was speaking to the army, a collection was gathered to relieve the urgent physical needs of the unemployed. I emptied my pockets without a thought as to my own needs. I had to walk back to town and go to my son's house. Then I got supper, stayed all night, and borrowed enough money to take me back to New York. An arrangement was made for a parade and a great open air meeting to be held in the Capitol grounds where Coxey spoke from the steps. A little later a few of the "soldiers" of the unemployed stepped on the grass and were arrested and the army began to melt away. This was the only answer the government gave to an urgent problem which lay at the very foundation of national progress.
Coxey returned to his stock farm. Brown went to Sacramento where he huddled in a shack, working over a flying machine he was perfecting. I met him there during one of my trips and he told me all about his invention. After it was completed he brought it to Washington for a demonstration in order to realize on his work. On that long protracted mission Brown became a well-known figure in the halls of the Capitol and on the streets of Washington where he was a frequent speaker in open-air meetings. The organized labor movement kept on working to alleviate unemployment and to better conditions of employment.
Wage-earners had to bear the consequences of the mismanagement and wrong-doings of others. Though I felt that industry was responsible, there was not at the time sufficient data to establish the case-unemployment attending the period of depression was then considered unavoidable. The theory was repeatedly advanced, that the cause of the situation was to be found in the money question, but I felt sure there was some more fundamental cause. I felt that there was some maladjustment in industry that was responsible. In 1897 I wrote for the Forum:
During the industrial stagnation of the past four years, the organizations of labor have performed a service to the people of our country for which they have never received recognition, and for which, perhaps, they will never receive the gratitude to which they are justly entitled. One of the great causes of this stagnation -if not the greatest cause-was undoubtedly the fact that the productive power of the workers progressed at a greater ratio than their ability-or rather their opportunity-to consume. In other words, there exists in our economic system the evil sometimes called "overproduction" but which might be more correctly termed "underconsumption." For, were the consumptive power of the workers to keep better pace with their productive ability, the anomalies of a people going a-hungered with ever-recurring industrial, commercial, and financial panics, crises, and stagnation-in the midst of plenty -would be unknown.
In 1903 1 noted indications of a recurring period of depression and in my report to the Boston Convention declared it the height of economic unwisdom to curtail the consuming power of the masses, because no industry or country could become great if founded upon poverty. Based upon my conception that wage rates can be used as a stabilizing force, I recommended that the working people should resist any attempt to reduce their wages or increase their hours of work, and embodied that slogan in the parody:
It is better to resist and lose
Than not to resist at all.
A short time after the convention the annual meeting of the National Civil Federation was held. Somehow I felt that that meeting was especially called so that I might have the opportunity of revising the thought which I had recommended to the Boston Convention, and that the hope was entertained that through the influence of my surroundings I would modify my declarations or the declaration of the convention.
With that feeling strong within me, and in resentment of that assumption, in the most emphatic terms I repeated the declaration that labor would resist reductions in wages, let the consequences be what they may. During my talk the scenes that I witnessed in several places and particularly in Chicago came to me vividly and I portrayed them as best I could: the thousands upon thousands of unemployed, hungry workmen, protesting, demanding work instead of charity or the soup houses, and all that damnable situation which brought millions of our people into a state of unemployment, without homes and hungry. To finish I said something like this: "And by the gods, such a condition of affairs shall never be repeated in the United States if I can help in any way to prevent it." With the finishing of this sentence Bishop Potter, who was in the meeting, picked up his hat and hurriedly walked out with a very much flushed face. I learned that he understood that I had blasphemed and taken the name of the Lord in vain.
When the business crisis came in 1907, 1 was prepared to make good use of my experiences. One of the functions of the annual meetings of the National Civic Federation is a dinner which is attended by important employers, big financiers, trade unionists, and many people well known nationally. The dinner furnished an extraordinarily advantageous stage from which to make a declaration for which I wanted national consideration. There were fully four hundred there talking conventionalities, men and women in evening clothes, the women gorgeous in gleaming jewels. Never have I felt more peculiarly alone. I was conscious that I was the spokesman of the "working class" and I didn't care how I startled or shocked the millionaires if I protected my fellows. I was ruthless in what I intended to do. The fire of the revolutionary was burning through me as I rose to make labor's reply to the careful, smug suggestions of retrenchment and wage reductions as the way out of the industrial stagnation. I fairly flung defiance at the buccaneers of industry as I declared, "Labor will not submit to any wage reductions."
That dinner party gasped. On the days that followed Wall Street considered. Wage-earners throughout the country heard the rallying call, and stiffened their backbones. Up and down the country went the slogan, "No wage reductions," like a fiery cross. A stabilizing element was injected into cumulative forces that like witches were stirring the cauldron of panic.
The Carriage and Wagon Drivers of New York were out on strike at that time. Marcus M. Marks was chairman of the Committee on Conciliation of the National Civic Federation and he called the employers and the drivers into conference. I knew of this conference, but I could not participate in it because of my other activities. Mr. Marks was a fairly liberal employer and was always helpful in conciliating and adjusting disputes between employers and unions of workmen, but he was seldom helpful in his own industry.
In the dispute to which I have referred, the union of the drivers had been suspended from the Brotherhood of Teamsters and Stablemen and it was therefore not in direct or indirect affiliation to the A. F. of L. Mr. Marks came to me one evening just at the close of the meeting of the day and said, "Mr. Gompers, I have some interesting information to give you. You know of the conferences which have been held for the purpose of adjusting the differences between the drivers and their employers. Notwithstanding the fact that they are not part of your Federation, with the opening of the proceedings the spokesman for the union announced: 'We will arbitrate everything except wages. Our chief, President Gompers, has declared that we are forbidden to accept any reduction in wages.' "
The dispute between the union and their employers was adjusted by Mr. Marks without any change in the wages of the men.
The result of the 1907 experience convinced me that panics and business depression can be controlled, perhaps avoided, if we know contributing causes. I felt there must be certain fundamental principles of industrial order to which we could cling at such times. But I had to wait many years before I saw a comprehensive effort launched to study periods of depression and to determine principles of intelligent control. That came with the World War aftermath. Again labor opposed wage reductions and was fairly successful in holding normal increases. By this time management had begun to appreciate that maintaining wage levels means maintaining a stable purchasing demand and hence is a stabilizing force. Wage reductions by decreasing demand adds impetus to the trend toward business depression. On the other hand, gradual wage increases tend to absorb increases in production. It is my opinion based upon six decades of experience that the future will bring progressively high wage levels with gradual price decreases. Our financial problems during the transition from war to peace organization were handled by the Federal Reserve Board in such a way as to avoid any financial crash, but the period was ushered in by wide-spread depression and unemployment. In the Unemployment Conference that was called under the leadership of Herbert C. Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, attention was turned to the problem of major consideration-how to organize industry so as to achieve stability of employment.
I went into the conference hopeful that something could be done to promote that spirit of co-operation necessary for working out the problems of industry. The representatives of reaction predominated in the conference and they opposed every suggestion I made with a systematic if not intelligent consistency, characteristic of the "open-shop" movement, then at its height. In the Committee on Manufactures on which I served, I introduced three resolutions which could not be designated as destructively revolutionary. The resolutions advocated: first, uniform system of cost accounting so there might be available comparable bases of production information; second, that all parties accept the challenge implied in the report on the Elimination of Waste in Industry by the Federated American Engineering Societies and join in the practical work of eliminating causes of high production costs in industry; and third, the compilation of unemployment statistics by government agencies.
The employer members of my committee as a unit opposed my proposals. When I saw their attitude, I determined to test them to the limit and I resorted to every rule of parliamentary tactics to try their metal. They defeated my resolutions, but they did not contribute credit to their own cause. They made it impossible for the conference to make recommendation embodying the most enlightened thought on industrial problems. When I contrast industrial conditions of the ten years following the war between the states and the conditions now, I am convinced that tendencies can be controlled in accord with principles developed through experience and study. As our knowledge widens, we shall be able to establish a stable industrial order in which organizations of wage-earners will be an integral part.
At no time in my life have I worked out definitely articulated economic theory. As there has been need for practical action in various fields, I have always squared proposals upon the few fundamental principles that determine all my judgments. I am very frankly a partisan-union man-not a half-hearted advocate who may be swayed either to the one side or the other. I repeat and emphasize the statement, that in so far as the organization of labor in trade unions is concerned, the general policy they pursue, their purposes and aspirations, I am unalterably with them, yea, even to the extent of their errors, their mistakes. If I cannot advocate or defend publicly an error or mistake made, I shall try to find an excuse and apologize for it. I have criticized and will criticize and attack a union to the union itself; endeavor to influence it to avoid error, to rectify a mistake, to undo a wrong, without regard whether they were aimed at a fellow-unionist, a non-member, or an employer. But to the other world, the large world, the world of selfish antagonism to the defenders and protectors of the workmen's rights and interests, the trade unions, I am a union man, and one who even under most adverse, conditions will defend the trade union movement.
My experience has extended over periods in economic development in which the whole nature and organization of industry have been transformed. Within my span of life have come inventions that have been revolutionizing in effect. Electricity both for lighting and power, the telephone, the wireless, the submarine cable, the radio, the transcontinental railroad, aeroplane, electric street cars, internal combustion engine, cold storage, are a few of the changes that I have seen come. Methods of work, methods and agencies of communication, and facilities for travel have brought society so close together that merging of economic interests and activities has been an inevitable result. The consolidation came so gradually that many did not see the trend of development until some of the new trusts were exercising their newly found and rapacious powers. The spring of 1884 gave to New York an inkling of the nature of a packers' trust. Up until that time the meat for the New York market had been prepared either in New York State or New Jersey and there were a number of butcher workmen in New York City. New York had killed weekly from ten to thirteen thousand head of cattle and Chicago only one thousand, but with changes in transportation and in other economic factors the Chicago packers were able to put meat into New York markets at a lower price. The immediate result was the development of the Chicago Packing Trust. New York butcher workmen did not understand the economic meaning of their enforced unemployment and they launched a campaign against the importation of foreign meat. They held a big mass meeting in Cooper Union and asked their fellow-workers to join in boycotting Chicago meat. But the butcher workmen were fighting industrial forces too powerful to be checked by their protest. The economies of the Chicago packing houses and the power of their economic organization soon wiped out small independent firms. On the other hand, the corporation is a method of group ownership accompanying quantity production which in turn necessitates the dividing of work into operations so that groups performed what was formerly the work of an individual. The change brought danger to the individual workers until they learned to protect their individual rights and opportunities through organized activity in groups. The trust was a part of this general movement to associated effort that is a distinctive feature of our present economic organization. The trade union movement is labor's constructive contribution to democratic regulation of large scale production. I believe that industry can devise and operate economic principles of administration that will result in constructive control and continuous progress. So I hold that trusts should not be suppressed, but regulated and helped to develop constructive control. The trust movement came with the development of quantity production. In their infancy these Gargantuan creatures were conscious only of their power and were unrestrained by ethics or experiences. They developed with ruthless disregard of competitors and without understanding or care for the human agents that were necessary in developing the network of creative force necessary to make the economic structure a going machine. The trusts and the large-scale industries generally made the mistake of thinking they could treat employees as impersonally as they did material things. The corporation form of ownership had replaced the system of individual ownership and personal management. Expansion of credit revolutionized methods of financing. The early trust seemed only a devouring monster for those without practical industrial experience.
American spirit rebelled against it as a new form of tyranny and the trust problem became a foremost issue in public discussion. The reformers in state Legislatures and Congress began to discuss legislation to protect the people. Most of the politicians seemed to think that by making a law they could prohibit trusts.
From the first I mistrusted the proposal to take the trust problem into the political field. It seemed to me we could not safely trust policies of repression, and further more, the economic field was competent to deal with policies of regulation. Just what the procedure would be I did not attempt to foretell, but I considered organization of all factors concerned an essential prerequisite to orderly development. Organization would assure opportunity for co-operation in working through the problems that concerned all.
Regardless of anti-trust agitation, consolidation remained the trend. Quite contrary to the prevailing economic dogma that free competition was the necessary basis to industrial progress, the economies and efficiency of consolidation presaged tremendous strides.
When both in transportation and industrial organization there came pooling or merging of interests, the problem of financing the combines made the older financial game seem like child's play. Only central banks were competent to finance the large-scale undertakings, so the control of industry gravitated into the hands of Wall Street. The development seemed to me natural. I believed absolutely that the organized labor movement was the efficient way to protect and to promote the interests of wage-earners. It seemed to me perfectly logical that employers should recognize the relation between organization and orderly development in their business. I did not condone the evil practices which marked the evolution of the trust system (on the contrary I severely condemned them) but I believed the cure for those evils would develop most effectively through voluntary recognition that better practices bring more permanent and more satisfactory progress. I hold that good practices must be self-justifying.
The trust was a phase of the new industrial organization where groups replaced individual effort. Our problem was not to try to prevent a normal development but to find the principles and technique for utilizing group action and group production in furtherance of general welfare. It is a problem to whose solution the groups concerned should jointly contribute. The organization of management, finance, and producing workmen is the way to develop discipline and information within those groups. The next step, to my mind, is co-operation of all the groups with the pooling of information to determine control of the industry. The industry would thus become self-regulated and disciplined while checks interposed by organized consumers would deter non-social tendencies. As my contribution to this development, I have promoted the organization of workers and opposed attempts of politicians to bungle the economic development.
Organization was response to economic forces, and therefore I did not believe that arbitrary limitations especially by law could prevail against it. When the Sherman Anti-Trust Law was proposed, I did not believe it would be effective in curbing trusts, but fearing that attempts would be made to use the law against collective action by wage-earners, I went to several members of Congress and told them my fears. The bill originally introduced by Senator Sherman considered in the debates of 1890 was an anti-monopoly bill intended to restore full and free competition. I was very apprehensive that such a law would be used against labor organizations and I presented this point of view to a number of Senators. Senators Teller, Morgan and Stewart expressed the same point of view in a debate in the Senate. Senator Sherman did not share their apprehension, but in order to avoid confusion accepted a proposal made by Senator George which specifically excluded arrangements, agreements, and combinations between laborers made with a view of lessening the number of hours or increasing their wages. Similar exemptions were provided for persons engaged in horticultural or agricultural pursuits who were seeking to increase the prices of agricultural or horticultural products. The Sherman Anti-Monopoly proposal with the exemption proviso was referred back to the Committee on the Judiciary with instructions to report within twenty days. When the bill was reported at the end of that time, it had been changed from an anti-monopoly to an anti-combination bill. In view of this change the Senators did not believe it necessary to include the labor exemption proviso. Senators George, Hoar and Stewart were sympathetic with the position that there was a fundamental difference between labor organizations and organizations for profit. However, Senator Hoar had so clearly defined in his own mind the fundamental difference between these two organizations that he failed to appreciate the confusion that might be in the minds of others and the measure was finally reported from his committee without the George proviso.
Events soon demonstrated that the law was to be applied to labor unions and that it was not effective in curbing trusts. After the Sherman Anti-Trust Law had been in effect about nine years, a four-day conference on trusts was held in Chicago for the purpose of assembling opinion and information upon the results of the law. In my statement in the conference I declared that the state is not capable of preventing the development or the natural concentration of industry and that all propositions to accomplish that purpose react for the greater injury to wage-earners than to trusts. At another time in expressing myself upon the issue I declared, "I am not going to join the howl against trusts; all I ask is to give us the freedom we want to work out our own salvation and to give industry the same opportunity." Economic law and necessity are stronger than legislation or police power. To my mind only development based on voluntary institutions holds promise of permanent progress, for such development is responsive to developing technology and cultural advance of individuals and group activity.
In addition to proscription of trusts, our government began to develop a system of state regulation of privately owned and operated enterprises-such as railways. To this effort I gave my hearty support and co-operation, but I have resisted unswervingly all proposals to inaugurate government ownership and operation for two reasons: first, because I believe our main dependence lay in individual initiative; and secondly, because I believe the economic field is essentially different from the political and the legal.
I reached this conclusion gradually after discarding proposals to which I temporarily subscribed. Some which I have discarded have not infrequently been suggested again by "Progressives" who dub me "conservative" or even reactionary. My method of evolving my philosophy has been intuitive.
The principles of political freedom worked out in our Republic have been based upon political equality. If the rights of any individual are infringed, he has the right of counsel. But where political conditions touch a man's daily life once, economic conditions will affect it fifty times. To insure economic justice, therefore, I hold that the principle of the right of counsel maintains. By economic counsel I mean an agent expert upon the matters in question selected with the approval of the individual. Thus the economic organization of the workers is basic. This economic organization, in addition to its defensive service, is free to develop constructive functions as soon as it is accepted by the management and its spokesmen admitted to conferences considering various problems in which their work is concerned. This procedure provides a way to utilize the experience and the information of workmen which in turn can be collected and systematized only through organization.
The next step is organization of the shop, thus creating a trade council in which all factors in the industry have representation, and then organization of the whole industry along the same lines. This is a natural development which we see now in the making. Ultimately perhaps, those things which concern all industry may be determined by a national economic body, truly representative, competent to make decisions and to secure compliance, or political regulation must develop a new technique and more competent personnel.
The methods and the agencies for progress in the economic world must be evolved out of economic experience and life. It is a serious mistake to confuse the two fields or to carry the problems of one into the other.
The evident decline of the Legislature in recent years confirms my belief that the economic world must work out its own procedure and principles of order. Trade unions or voluntary associations of wage-earners constitute one of the essential agencies for establishing procedure of control. The development of large-scale production, the increasing authority of science in determining processes, and the more recent investigations of management for the purpose of making it truly scientific, together with the marked tendency toward trade associations, are to me a most gratifying exemplification of my thought that discernment of the essential difference between the economic and the political clarifies the problem of progress.
I have often allowed myself to dream of the possibilities of production if all were free to work unretarded by the existing restraints. The tremendous increase in output, together with sustained advancement in quality or workmanship, would transform standards of material welfare for the whole world. But more important than the material results would be the satisfaction of the higher qualities of men and women.
Several times the plain question has been put to me by members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary: "Mr. Gompers, what can we do to allay the causes of strikes that bring discomfort and financial suffering to all alike?" I have had to answer, "Nothing." My answer has been interpreted as advocating a policy of drift. Quite the contrary to my real thought. Foremost in my mind is to tell the politicians to keep their hands off and thus to preserve voluntary institutions and opportunity for individual and group initiative and leave the way open to deal with problems as the experience and facts of industry shall indicate. I have, with equal emphasis, opposed submitting determination of industrial policies to courts. But it is difficult for lawyers to understand that the most important human justice comes through other agencies than the political. Economic justice will come through the organization of economic agencies, the increasing adjustment of economic relationships in accord with principles evolved by experience, the formulation of material scientific standards, and development of the principles and coordinating functions of management, based upon understanding of human welfare. Just where this sort of endeavor will carry us-who can say? But of this I am certain, it means progress toward a better day. Though frequently impatient with existing wrongs, I am not impatient with what sometimes seems the slow progress of the labor movement.
My patience has rested upon realization of facts, not upon lack of idealism or sentiment. I realized that since the labor movement is a living, sentient thing, growth comes from life within. It can be aided, directed, but not forced. Just as a plant may be cultivated and pruned, cared for in every way, still it cannot be compelled to grow or flower, so the labor movement cannot be handled or computed as material quantities. The degree or extent of organization is a relative term. There is a potential or temporary organization which may become permanent as soon as two men come together and discuss organization. Latent possibilities are quickened and one of the stages that leads to permanent organization exists. So, when a great mass of workers ceases to be indifferent to organization, that is the first indication of organization viewed as evolutionary process. These facts I knew intuitively and have turned them about in my mind during the decades I have been in the movement, but it is an understanding that those outside of the movement rarely grasp.
This shifting and indeterminate line of demarcation between labor and organized labor I have also used for another purpose. Whenever an achievement has been accomplished, I claim it for organized labor. Anything for the benefit of the workers I may claim by emphasizing organized labor. Wherever there is doubt, I let all labor share the responsibility.
I have worked a lifetime for the labor movement and I feel that I know it as few others do. Out of that knowledge is born faith in its destiny and its high service.