Story type: Essay
THERE’S A GOOD DEAL OF NONSENSE TALKED ON THIS SUBJECT
An honest, well-meaning clergyman talked the other day on labor unions, and wandered out of his depth. As a rule, clergymen, having studied the teachings of Christ, are aware that they ought to be on the side of the workingman. Hence the strongest supporters of the union are found among the clergy.
The mistake of the clergyman whom we mention is discussed here, because it is often made by well-meaning, but narrow-minded, citizens.
He spoke of “the custom union labor has of limiting a day’s work AND OTHER DISHONEST PRACTICES.”
By limiting a day’s work, the reverend gentleman referred to the rule existing in certain unions regulating the maximum day’s labor.
That rule does exist, and sometimes undoubtedly–labor union men not being angels or cherubim–the rule may be pushed to extremes.
But on the whole the rule is necessary, and it works for good.
We shall tell this clergyman and other citizens one special reason for limiting the day’s work.
The contractors want to make all the money they can. When the unions forced them into recognition of certain hours of labor as constituting a day’s work, THAT was looked upon as a dishonest practice. It was felt in the old days that a workman should be only too glad to get out of bed at daybreak and work until dark. Now even the stupidest and most selfish have come to recognize limited hours as a feature of American industry. And the enlightened gladly admit that the well-paid, well-rested, independent worker usually does more in his eight or nine hours than he used to do in his twelve or fourteen.
After the inauguration of the limited-hour day the contractors invented what is known as a “rusher.”
The “rusher” is a young workman, in his prime, marvellously quick in his work as compared with the ordinary, good, capable workman.
On a job of bricklaying, carpentering, or other work, it was customary for the shrewd contractor to hire one or more “rushers.” Nominally the “rusher” was paid regular union wages. But secretly the contractor paid him double wages, or more than double wages. The “rusher” worked at high pressure hour after hour, day after day. The others could not possibly have kept up with him had he worked his fastest. But his instructions were to keep just a little ahead, that the others might struggle and do their best to keep even in their task, in order not to lose their work for apparent idleness. Thus the “rusher,” a man of unusual skill, getting double wages, went along well within his forces, while the others were working themselves to death in order to keep up and not lose their jobs.
The limitation of the day’s output is based originally on the desire to squelch this “rusher” idea, or to put the quietus on the very young and able workman anxious to curry favor with his “boss” by making the pace too hot for the men working beside him.
Our friend, the clergyman, and many others say that it is dishonest to limit the day’s output. But is it dishonest? What is the difference between limiting the DAY’S output and limiting a YEAR’S output?
In the middle of the Summer the clergyman says, “I have worked enough; I ought to go to Europe,” and he goes.
The bricklayer does not criticise the clergyman for limiting his YEAR’S output to forty sermons. He does not say to him, “You are ABLE to preach fifty-two sermons a year. If you preach only forty, you are dishonest and rob your parishioners.”
What business is it of the clergyman’s if the bricklayers, among themselves, decide that it is better for them in the long run to set only a given number of brick per day?
The trouble with some clergymen and many others is that they forget one important thing–namely, THAT THE WORKINGMEN NOW HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY.
When it comes to a question of laying brick, it is no longer the squire or the local clergyman who decides what shall be done. The BRICKLAYER DECIDES WHAT SHALL BE DONE.
And when it comes to carpenter work, the CARPENTER decides what shall constitute a day’s work.
In olden times the clergymen, the lawyers, the rich, the lucky class in general, decided for THEMSELVES what THEY should do, and then they decided for their so-called inferiors what those INFERIORS should do.
Our prosperous class are having a very painful time indeed getting into their minds the fact that such a thing as the right of the majority REALLY EXISTS. And they find it very hard indeed to believe that the doctrine of human equality is to be taken seriously in matters of business.
Labor unions are performing an important educational function when they drive into the heads of these would-be superiors the fact that this nation is becoming actually a republic in which the workingmen shall decide for themselves questions affecting themselves, and in which they shall no longer be guided by the whims or financial interests of would-be “superiors.”
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