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from bad to worse. A study of wages recently made by Basil M. Manly, former Joint Chairman of the United States War Labor Board, reveals the astonishing fact that, with the exception of the worst paid and most unskilled workers, large groups of skilled workers are actually getting less real money, measured in buying power, than they were in 1900. Take the engineers and the conductors, the two best paid groups in the railway field: they received an average of $1,161 and $1,004 respectively in 1900, which had actually dropped in purchasing power, despite the "increases” in the number of dollars received, to $999 and $909 respectively under the existing wage schedules. In other words, because their cost of living increased faster than their pay, the engineers are worse off by $162 and the conductors by $95 than they were in 1900. Similarly with the miners: although their actual money wage had increased from 52c per ton in 1900 to nearly $1.12 a ton in 1923, their real wages had fallen in buying power from 52c per ton to less than 43c per ton in the same period. As Dr. Paul H. Douglas' able study of wages for the American Economic Association concludes: "The purchasing power of full time weekly earnings in 1918 was 29.6 per cent less than in the period from 1890-99."
This matter is of a vital concern to you. It proves, whether we like to admit it or not, that trade unionism alone is not even holding its ground so far as getting better wages is concerned. Until labor organizes co-operatively to control the prices it must pay for bread and meat and shoes and coal, it will continue to enrich the profiteers by centering its energies on merely getting more dollars instead of striving at the same time to get more value out of its dollar. And co-operation is the only weapon which will enable labor to rout the profiteer.
The co-operative movement also insures the worker pure foods and honestly made clothing at actual cost. Co-operation always places quality above price, for in the long run the best is the cheapest. Thus a co-operative dairy in one of our large cities gladly lost $2,000 during a recent milk shortage in order to secure pure, fresh milk for its customers, rather than use the milk powder and other substitutes passed off on the public by some of its competitors. There is absolutely no incentive to adulterate or defraud yourself when you and your fellowworkers supply your wants by co-operation.
In the third place, the co-operative movement demands a decent standard of living for all workers whom it employs. Instead of trying to beat down wages to the lowest possible point, the co-operative enterprise strives to pay the highest wages possible and still meet competition. Thus the milk wagon drivers and dairy employes of Minneapolis, where the Franklin Co operative Creamery is the largest milk distributor, enjoy the best wages and working conditions of any similar dairy employes in the country. In the case of producers' co-operatives, the men themselves decide what wages they are to receive, elect their own manager, and determine their own conditions of labor democratically. Think for a moment of the enormous gain to the American labor movement if wages and working conditions were adjusted on the co-operative basis for all industries!
In the fourth place, the aim of the co-operative movement is to provide homes at cost for workers and people of small means. The co-operative societies of Europe have long cherished the ideal of a year's rent for a week's wages. It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Yet there are whole cities in Europe where not a single house is being put up by real estate speculators or private profit contractors, because the co-operative building guilds have put these profiteers out of business. And what splendid homes these co-operators are building! Not mere shacks or cheap and tawdry tenements, but the very best construction possible, designed to last a hundred years or more. We have already started a similar movement in this country. In a half dozen cities there are now co-operative building guilds organized to put up homes at cost, some of them, as in the case of Milwaukee, with the active financial support of the municipal government.
One of labor's greatest benefits from the co-operative movement is the training for leadership which co-operation gives to the rank and file. Exceptional ability and talent lie buried among the workers because they never have a chance to assert themselves. The co-operative movement, by reason of its democratic control, provides the opportunity for competent men to rise to their rightful level, trains them in business principles, sets them to work serving their fellowmen, and hence develops an army of leaders to guide labor on to a better day.
The co-operative movement proposes to transform our whole industrial order on the basis of service instead of profits. Can't you realize what this will mean to the workers themselves ? It will put a new spirit into industry, make the day's labor a joy instead of a drudgery, and restore to the workman the satisfaction of creative work that made possible the master craftsmanship of the medieval guilds. Herbert Hoover's Commission on Waste and Industry found that American industries are now only 20 per cent efficient. Why? Because men will never release their best efforts simply for money, because millions of workers are sick and weary of the sordid system of grab and greed which animates profit-making industry, because the co-operative ideal, namely that we are in industry to serve our fellowmen, is the only incentive able to enlist the whole-hearted response of the workers.
Co-operation will also give to labor a democratic voice in the conduct of industry. It provides that every worker, no matter how poor or how humble, has an equal voice with the richest and most powerful in determining the destiny of his industry. And this is morally right, for it places manhood above money; it asserts that he who invests his labor and his life has an equal if not superior right to him who merely invests his money in the direction of any enterprise. Co-operation is the essence of the Plumb Plan for the railroads and the American Plan for the mines, by which the rail workers and the coal miners are striving for industrial democracy in these two autocratic industries. Labor will never come in to its own until it conquers industrial autocracy. And here again co-operation is the only safe and sure road to certain victory.
Finally, co-operation will place into the hands of the workers, if they will but use their latent power, control of the nation's credit and banking resources. A little over three years ago the first labor co-operative bank in America opened its doors in Cleveland, with a paid-in capital of $650,000. Today there are twenty-three labor banks stretching across the continent from New York to Spokane, from Cleveland on the Great Lakes to Birmingham in the tropic South, with combined resources exceeding $43,000,000. Even as I speak to you a half dozen other labor co-operative banks are in process of organization.
Do not underestimate the tremendous importance of co-operative banking to the labor movement. It is not a new fad. There are today 65,000 workers' and peasants' banks throughout the world, many of them in successful operation for more than seventy years. Because these banks are organized for service instead of for profit, they do not risk speculative investments, but use their funds for productive purposes. Hence they are far safer than profit-making banks. Their importance lies not merely in the fact that they share their earnings with their depositors, or even that they mobilize the workers' money under their own control rather than entrust it to private bankers to use for purposes hostile to labor. More significant still, co-operative banking gives into the hands of the producing classes the control of vast sums of money and credit power which in turn will enable them to control industry.
Let me give you a few startling figures. The combined resources of 30,178 banks in the United States, according to the U. S. Comptroller of the Currency's Report for 1923, was $54,000,000,000. Of this sum about $50,000,000,000 was contributed by the depositors, either in cash deposits or in profits on past business. In other words, the bankers put up only $1 out of every $13 with which they do business, the depositors and customers of the bank furnishing the balance. Now, why should not the workers and farmers, who constitute the great majority of these depositors, put their deposits in their own co-operative banks, and thus control the greater part of the banking resources of the nation? When once they do this, they will also control industry, for credit is the lifeblood of industry. This is why workers' co-operative banks are the most important development of the decade for American labor unions.
In every city of America workers are taking a keen and eager interest in the co-operative movement. The past few years have seen the remarkable rise of co-operative grocery stores, bakeries, meat markets, coal yards, restaurants and other consumers' enterprises, as well as successful founding of producers' co-operatives for the manufacture of clothes, cigars, clothing and many other products. Is the labor movement in your city looking backward or forward? Is it content merely with the cease less struggle for wages, or has it grasped the dynamic significance of co-operation as the strongest single aid to the labor movement, bringing a richer, happier, more abundant life to the entire community? What are you, as an individual, doing to spread a realization of the value of co-operation among your fellow-workers and your local unions ?
Five years ago a group of five hundred representatives of the leading farm and labor organizations of the nation met in Chicago to form a national co-operative bureau, where workers and farmers could come for reliable advice and guidance. The All American Co-operative Commission was the result of this meeting, officially dedicated as “a movement to encourage and co-ordinate co-operative effort of the producers and consumers of America; to unify action in eliminating waste, speculation and profiteering in the necessities of life; to develop intelligence, mutual understanding, and good will."
Today this Commission, from its headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, is covering the whole nation with a weekly Co-operative News Service, promoting both producers' and consumers' co-operation as well as co-operative banking, and contributing invaluable aid and information to groups of farmers and workers striving to win their economic salvation through the co-operative movement.
I believe that the hour has struck for a great forward step in American co-operation. I believe that the hosts of organized labor are better prepared to lead in this advance than in any other section of the community. I call upon you, my brothers, to throw your united strength behind this movement for the sake of your own welfare, for that of your fellowmen, and for the upbuilding of that world-wide co-operative commonwealth, wherein men shall live as brothers free, inspired by the eternal co-operative ideals of service, of democracy, of social justice, fraternal good will and peace.