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November 19, 1904
RECORD AND GUIDE
^^ â€¢* ESTABUSHEB'S^WARPHaiV^iaeS.
Business Alio Theues Of GEtJER^l lt/TER?si.
PRICE FER YEAR IN ADVANCE SIX DOLLARS
Pablished eVery Saturday
Communications should be addressed to
^ C. W. SWEET, 14-16 Vesey Street, Now YorR
J. T. LINDSET. Buainess Manager Teleplione, Cortlandt 3157
"Entei-ed at tl'te Post Office al Neio Tork, JV. Y., as second-elass matier,"
Vol. LXXIV. November 19, 1904. No. 1914.
The Real Evil.
.WHY LABOR TROUBLES CONTINUE IN THE BUILDING
TRADES IN NEW YORK CITY.
By Theodore Starrett.
"^ HE labor problem is witliout doubt the most important
â– *â– problem that the American nation has to solve. It will
only be solved through the growtn of an enlightened public
opinion, and as a precedent to this the public must be fully
informed. We hear of strikes lil;c those of the mine workers
in Pennsylvania or the beef packers in Chicago, where wages
are low and conditions hard, and our sympathies go out, almost
without exception, to the "down-trodden working man," but
when we come to the building trades, where the trouble seems
to be just as great and indeed almost absolutely irreconcilable,
we learn that wages are higliâ€”the highest that ever were
known in the history of the civilized world, ani nobody is tryÂ¬
ing to cut them down; that work is plentifulâ€”there are not
enough men to do it allâ€”and yet the turmoil of sympathetic
strikes and lockouts grows in violence, and the confusion beÂ¬
comes greater and greater. People wonder what it can all be
about, for it certainly is on the surface the most bewildering
muss that ever was heard of.
A great many people think the unions are to blame for this
muss, and that they will have to be done away with before
industrial peace can come to pass. I say that the unions are not
to blame. They are a necessity to protect the weak against the
rapacity and greed of unscrupulous employers. A well ordered
union like the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers for inÂ¬
stance, is one of the greatest tilings in the world. It is the
union which is unrestrained by any sense of responsibility to the
other members of society that is making ihe trouble, and the
cure will be made by getting a good form oE government tor the
union and not by attempting to suppress it. Legitimate unionÂ¬
ism has a great work to perform in this country and the reÂ¬
forms must be brought about by casting out the corrupt and
perverted element which dominates the unions, just as in matÂ¬
ters of general government the pothouse politician has to be
suppressed before reforms can be accomplished.
To understand the whole question better a few facts should
be stated. The trade union is an ancient institution. It is
descended from the guild of the Middle Ages. The old trades
are the carpenters, the masonsâ€”embracing now bricklayers,
plasterers, stone setters, etc., and the smithsâ€”blacksmiths,
whitesmiths (tinsmiths), goldsmiths, silversmiths and the like.
Modern life has produced new trades which have formed
unions on the lines of the old trades, and of late the labor union,
in emulation of the trade union. Las beeu organized, and graduÂ¬
ally ail those who work for wages are being brought into the
fold of organized labor. The old trades, how-ever, are the buildÂ¬
ing trades and traditionally their work is supposed to be more
or less precarious and their wages are correspondingly higher
than those of their fellow workers. As a matter of fact, howÂ¬
ever, some trades have so few members that fheir work is aa
steady as that of a clerk in a bank.
Out of the 30,000,000 people engaged in gainful occupations
in the United States, 3,000,000 are organized, and of these about
600,000 belong to the building trades in the larger cities. In*
the matter of wages 2.400,000 of the organized worliers have been
able to exact only slight advances in wages, as far as the genÂ¬
eral standard is concerned, although great things have been
accomplished in bringing about stability and preventing the
abuse of the weak. The other GOO.OOO have been able to do more
or less as they please, and the result, as has been stated before,
is the highest scale of wages to be found anywhere in the
But it is not high wages that cause the trouble that we hear
about and wonder at. It is sometoing infinitely worse.. The
abuses that have been perpetrated as a result of certain pracÂ¬
tices on the part of employers in the buiiding trades are the
true cause of the whole trouble.
Trade unionism is indigenous to the large city. The smaller
the city the less there is of it, and when we come to the rural
districts the blight of indifference prevents its growth altogether.
Three great cities of this country are typical of different
phases of trade unionism. San rrancisco is the head center
of labor troubles on the Pacific coast; Chicago Is the center
for the Middle States and New. York is the Eastern center. In
San Francisco the labor element has, until recent days, had
everything its own way, through the fact that there was no orÂ¬
ganized opposition. Its isolation is what made possible the
success of the laborites who, until very recently, had the town
absolutely at their mercy. Chicago, with the help of a demagogÂ¬
ical mayor, was the center for a period of some two years of
virtual anarchy, which spread frcm the comparatively small
body of building mechanics to such an extent that almost every
class of working man was compelledâ€”and is now for that matÂ¬
terâ€”to wear a badge which he gets renewed every month showÂ¬
ing that he belongs to a union and has paid his dues. The tide
has started to recede in that town, as is shown by the fact that
whereas three years ago there were 250,000 people in the city
who were members of unions, iast year the number had shrunk
by 100,000. But in Chicago, great as was the abuse, it was still
a one-sided affair, as tbe employers joined with the public in reÂ¬
sisting the excesses of unionism.
In New York unionism has not made nearly the progress that
it has in other cities, as is evidenced by the fact that it is stili
confined, at least as far as its power to demora.ize is concerned,
to the building trades. But in the building trades of New York
City there is a different factor which has carried the building
industry to a state of confusion and disorganization that is
far worse and infinitely more deplorable than the anarchy of
Chicago or the socialism of San Francisco, and the reason has
been that here the employers and tlie employees are arrayed in
groups for mutual protection and aggression.
In what has been called the golden age of the building busiÂ¬
ness in New York City, not so very long ago, tnere were underÂ¬
standings in connection with almost every building of imÂ¬
portance, especially the buildings for rich owners, whereby the
leading employers in each line would divide up the worlc
These leading employers were generally a small coterie in each
trade and there was plenty to go around. There were no cut
prices, everything was easy and the architects through whom
the work had to be secured were made to believe that the only
way to get their work done properly was to let it to some one of
the "big four" or the "big five" or the "big six" as the case
might be. Then came outside competition, when strange emÂ¬
ployers and strange men started to knock at the door of this
Eden, and it became necessary to squelch them. Treaties were
made with the different trades, and strange to say the emÂ¬
ployers had to arrange to "take care of" their fellow-employers,
the matter of wages or discipline as between master and man
heing an indifferent one, and by means of these treaties any
employer who "misbehaved" was disciplined. Strikes w.ere deÂ¬
clared against the recalcitrant one for no apparent reason at
all. or, if the walking delegate who was the instrument through
whom these things were done condescended to give his reason.