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A Neglected Weapon


R. D. Cramer

From an address given frequently to
workers and other audiences during
various labor campaigns.

Some years ago, in an eastern city, a bakery proprietor induced one worker to put in 36-hour shifts. This baker had left his family in the old country and come to this land of opportunity believing that he could soon earn money enough here to bring his family to America too. The proprietor knew this. By offering the man a few cents more to work longer hours he finally succeded in having him work the 36-hour shift. Nature at last rebelled. That sleep which the worker had been denied came when the hand of eternity touched his shoulder and he died on the job. Panic-stricken, the employer did not call an ambulance, he ordered the delivery wagon and the stricken worker was loaded into it. The driver drove the truck into one of the most populous sections of the city. Someone saw the gruesome load that he was driving. In the crowd that collected was an organizer for the Bakers' union; and there before the curious crowds that had swarmed out of the tenements, he held an organization meeting.

He told the throng what had happened. He told them the only protection against such occurrences in the baking industry was to refuse to buy bread that did not bear the union label. He asked every person who would in the future refuse to buy unlabeled bread to raise their hands. Every hand went up. As a result it was only a matter of hours until every baker in that locality was organized and the brutality of the non-union shop was ended.

Today in that community it happens that sometimes the label slips off, or for some reason it does not appear on a loaf of bread baked in a union shop. As a result, that loaf is not sold. Thousands of union labeled loaves of bread will be sold while every loaf without the label is left in the show case. That community knows that the union label means life; that its absence is an indication of death.

This is not a terrible dream that I have related to you. It is not a story from the sordid Congo district. It happened in America as the records of the Bakery and Confectionery Workers' Union will prove, or as Organizer Goldsonte of that organization will tell you as he told me.

Sheer brutality has been ended in some industries through the coming of the union label. In the days before the union in the baking industry men worked as long as they could stand up. They slept in the bakery in order that they might not lose the time consumed in going to and coming from home, even if their pitiful wages should have permitted the luxury of such a thing as home. Empty flour sacks were strewn about the floors of the bakeries in those days, and upon these the workers would sleep, as they fell, from exhaustion. And when they slept so tired were they, they slept a sleep akin to death. The employer would come around and shout in the ears of the sleepers to wake them and get them back on the job. And when this means of awakening failed, as it often did, the brutal employers would roll up papers and light them and hold them against the feet of the bakers until the pain forced them to rise up and go to work again. It was the union that put an end to all this, and the union label has become the emblem of decent working conditions, not only in the bakery industry, but in all others.

Agitation for the purchase of union label products is not something that commenced yesterday. This work has been proceeding for more than half a century. While the Cigar Makers are generally credited with being the first to use the union label in the struggle for better wages and conditions, the history of the labor movement in the United States discloses that in reality the Carpenters were the first to adopt the label. The earliest use of the union label, as far as is known, was made in San Francisco in 1869, by a Carpenters eight-hour league, which furnished a stamp to all planing mills running on the eight-hour plan, so that they would be able to identify the work of the tenhour mills. In 1875 the Cigar Makers union in San Francisco adopted a stamp which it registered as its trade mark. The stamp was issued by the union to employers who did not employ oriental labor.

Stronger and more determined action on behalf of the purchase of union label goods commenced in San Francisco in July, 1881. In that city in 1881 Frank Roney came as a delegate from the Seamen's union to the city central body. Under his leadership, energetic action was taken to organize the unorganized labor, to bring about prison labor reform and, particularly to popularize the anti-Chinese labels of the cigar makers and shoemakers. So that it is evident that the union label is not a doubtful experiment. It is a weapon that for many years has been successfully used by the organized labor movement. The scope of its use has been broadened from the earliest days when it was the distinguished mark between goods made by enslaved, low paid oriental labor until the present day when it is the mark of everything for which labor organization stands as distinguished from the products of the autocratic, non-union, hope-and-life-destroying industries.

The union label is something more than just a piece of printed matter pasted on some product. It is the symbol of democracy in industry. It is the sterling mark signifying that humanity has touched the sordid processes of the factories and the market place, and that the right of the worker as a human being has been given the right of way over the dollar. The union label is a badge of honor for both the employees and employers who have engaged in the manufacture and distribution of the goods which bear it. It is a badge of honor for the workers because it proclaims that they have exhibited the wisdom of organization, have sacrificed and toiled to make life better for themselves and their fellows. It is often a badge of honor for the employer because it signifies that in the amassing of wealth he has at least conceded the right of the workers to a voice in the management of industry, an organized voice to which he listens in behalf of better wages, and higher working and living conditions.

And on the clothes which the worker wears, the food which the worker buys, and on the other products that he purchases, it is an evidence of his loyalty to the cause which he has pledged himself at all times to uphold and defend. Workers who are careful to purchase only union label goods are true not only to themselves; they are faithful to their organization and to humanity. In time of strike and strife pick out the men who stick through the struggle with quiet determination. They may not be eloquent orators. They may seldom take the floor. But you will find them on the firing line as loyally and courageously the last day of the strike as they were the first. Ask them to exhibit the labels on their clothes and you will find with few exceptions that they are workers who have been one hundred per cent faithful to the label. And through that, being loyal and true has become such a habit and such a lasting ideal that to quit the fight is for them impossible.

Some workers are inclined to believe that the label is a thing of little consequence. They are wrong decidedly. It is a badge of loyalty. The worker who will not take the trouble to assist his fellows by purchasing union label goods in many instances will be found unwilling to stand up and continue in the more gruelling contests in which organized labor is often compelled to engage. Too few perhaps realize just how much protection a strong demand for union label goods is to the organizations of the workers. Where there is a constant, urgent demand for union made goods, the merchants conclude that the workers are loyal to their unions, that the members are loyal to each other, that their organizations mean something to them, that they are institutions for whose preservation the workers would make any sacrifice.

When building tradesmen and transportation workers insist upon union label clothes and other union label products, they display a willingness to support organized workers in lines of industry outside their own. This also attracts the attention of the merchant. He concludes that should clothing workers be locked out they would be loyally supported by building tradesmen and transportation workers. These things that the merchant divines from the actions of his customers he talks over with his associates, bankers, factory owners and the like. And to them comes the realization that to attack any branch of organized workers will bring all the organized workers to the aid of those attacked. The effect of this is that the employers of a community, where the demand for union label goods is strong, and consistent, are careful about making attacks on organized labor. They are more inclined to negotiate than to fight because the workers have proved their loyalty to their organizations and their cause, by the use of their buying power.

A demand for union label goods on a large scale by the organized workers has prevented more strikes and lockouts than perhaps is realized. Where this demand has not been developed, where the organized workers have been careless in insisting upon union label products the effect is just the reverse. If workers will not demand the product made by their fellow unionists, employers conclude that they do not think much of their organizations, that they would not put forth much energy or make many sacrifices to maintain them. When they observe the members of one organization refusing to confine their patronage to goods made by members of another organization they conclude that solidarity and sympathy is lacking among the unions, and that one may be attacked without the others coming to its assistance.

Unions in a community that do not patronize the label are viewed by the opponents of organized labor as an army that has lost its discipline, that has become weak and is disintegrating and may be attacked with much hope of success. And while it is undoubtedly true that a strong demand for union labeled goods has prevented labor troubles, a failure to make this demand has also probably encouraged employers to bring on industrial strife.

Many people do not realize that convicts serving time to the state for the disobedience of laws are in many localities sold

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