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The Heart of the Struggle


Samuel Gompers

An Address given under the Aus-
pices of the Student Liberal Club of
Harvard University, Cambridge,

When the request or invitation was extended to me to deliver an address before the Student Liberal Club of Harvard, the suggestion was made that I might address myself to the subject, "What do the workers want?" On the way from New York to Boston, reading a Boston newspaper, I saw that I was advertised to discuss “The case for the closed-shop" and now I am suddenly asked to present the case of the open-shop. May I have your permission to disregard either and all these titles and just talk?

Here we are in the year 1921 in the Republic of the United States, whose land is as fertile and rich as any in the whole world; with a hundred and ten millions of people, the adult part of that number intelligent, energetic, and willing to give and to work and to serve; with all the genius of past ages right at our hands; with machinery and tools and driving power as are possessed by no other nation in the whole world, and yet with more than four million adult men and women unemployed and a population anxious to use and consume. What a waste that is. There is so much need of and cry for production at the hands of labor, and yet labor is unemployed. If there ever was an indictment against the intelligence of our people, the mere statement of fact that in this country of ours there are nearly four millions of people unemployed who are willing to work and who can not find it, now is the time and that is the complaint.

All that the toilers have is their power to labor, to give service, and for that service to receive a reward that shall compensate them for the energy put forward and that will give them the opportunity for a standard of life consistent with and conforming to the American conception of life for a man and citizen of our country.

Organized labor holds as a moral principle that inasmuch as all workers employed reap the advantage and secure the benefits from the efforts, costs, and sacrifices of the organized labor movement, they should become members thereof and bear their part in the duties and obligations of which they are beneficiaries.

The titles “open-shop” and “closed-shop" are both misnomers -both the terminology of the opponents of labor. Incalculable mischief results from general acceptance of wrong definitions in relation to public questions and issues. Not infrequently the public belies its claim to enlightenment by clinging year after year to a falsehood in the face of the proof of falsehood. The effort of hostile employers to break down the union movement through the establishment of non-union shop conditions is a case in point.

Employers hostile to trade unionism long ago gave to the union shop the name "closed shop." They also coined the term "open shop" to describe the kind of shop which it was their aim to operate in opposition to the union shop. There is such a thing as an open shop, but it is not the kind of shop that most employers mean when they say "open shop," and least of all it is the kind of shop that is meant by enemies of labor. The labor movement has time after time defined clearly all these terms. Their misuse continues, and for that reason it may serve some purpose and may break down some small amount of misapprehension if they are defined again.

The union shop is a shop in which there is a definite agreement between the employer and the workers as an organized unit. In union shops non-union workers sometimes are employed, but only when union men can not be had. Most agreements provide that when no union workmen are to be had nonunion workers may be employed, with the proviso that they make application for union membership within a reasonable period of time.

The non-union shop is a shop in which union men are not employed, in which there is no organization of the workers and in which the workers, as a consequence, have no voice in the determination of questions which affect them. In such shops the dictum of the employer is final as to all things and his right of discrimination or discharge for any reason or for no reason is absolute.

The anti-union shop—and that is generally the "open shop” -is a shop in which the employer pursues a militant policy in opposition to organization. It is the shop of the crusading employer, bent upon maintaining industrial autocracy and upon restoring it where trade unionism has broken it down. The kind of shop which certain employers' associations today are endeavoring to establish under the name “open shop" is, in reality, the anti-union shop.

The "open shop" crusade is not what its name implies. It is a crusade against unionism. It is a crusade to break down the organized labor movement and to restore industrial oligarchy. There is no such thing as an "open shop" campaign in America. Every person who has the opportunity to speak or to write, who has the opportunity to convey information and counsel to his fellows, owes it as a duty to truth to expose and condemn this fraud. What there is in America is a campaign on the part of autocratic employers to kill trade unionism in order that non-union shops may be conducted, wherein conditions of labor long since abolished in union shops may obtain without audible protest from silent, powerless workers.

Say our opponents, “Why not stand upon your own sovereignty, your own individuality? Why give away your freedom of choice, your freedom of action and subordinate to the many ?” The fact of the matter is that until the trade union entered the modern industrial world as a factor to be dealt with the workers had not the voice either to protect themselves or to contribute to industry the fruit of their thought. The factory system, the division, subdivision and specialization of labor so that each worker performed one infinitesimal part of the finished article thousands of times each day, the concentration of industry and of wealth into corporations and trusts, made individual action impossible. Disorganization had to give way to organization before there could be any effective channel of communication between employer and worker to replace the individual contact that existed before the factory brought immense numbers of workers into single shops. The individuality which the workers lose when they enter the modern industrial plant is only to be regained when they are associated for their common protection.

It is idle for men to assume that the workers should not or will not associate themselves together for the purpose of protecting and promoting their rights and interests. It is of peculiar interest to find the employers organized in different associations and spending large sums of money for the purpose of protecting their employees in their freedom. History demonstrates no such care of the master for his slave or the baron for his serf. I submit without argument to your own good judgment whether or not the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Erectors' Association, the Chambers of Commerce have launched, and are conducting the campaign for the openshop for the purpose of protecting their employees in their rights not to join a union. The fact of the matter is that there are still living among the employers the typical old Bourbons—those who have forgotten nothing because they have learned nothing. There are some of them who still have the hope that the time is coming when there shall be re-inaugurated and established a condition of serfdom among the great masses of the toilers of America. The men of labor of our country have learned the terms employed by the men who penned those immortal documents, which not only created a new and independent nation, but gave to the world a new meaning of the rights and the status of man, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution of the United States. They are more than glittering generalities. They are living rules of life. They are the creed of America's workers. The time in which the worker was represented by that type of man described as "The Man With the Hoe," with bent back and receding forehead, and all the wrongs of past ages writ upon his brow has gone by and the hostile employers, whoever they may be, may understand that America's workers now stand erect and look the whole world in the face, demanding nothing but justice and satisfied with nothing less.

There are certain inalienable rights which are ours as much as they are those of any other citizen in our country. One of them, in the pursuit of happiness, is aspiration—aspiration for something more and better. I wonder whether there is any among the hostile employers and business men who does not want more yes, right here in Cambridge or in Boston or in any of the other cities of our country. For instance: you may find some man walking the streets. Ask him what he wants more and he will tell you probably that he wants a meal; ask the man who earns $2 a day and he will tell you he wants 25 cents a day more; ask the man who earns $5 a day and he will tell you probably that he wants 50 cents a day more; and then the man who has an income of say $8,000 a year and he will want $10,000; ask the man who has eight or nine hundred thousand dollars and he wants one or two hundred thousand dollars more so as to become a millionaire, and then ask the man who has four hundred or five hundred millions of dollars and if he will tell you the truth he will want the whole world. Now, for the sake of argument, we are not going to quarrel with those men who want so much, but why spend all the bitter antagonism against the poor devils who work and give service to society, a service without which civilization could not exist? Why all the pent-up enmity and bitterness against the men who work when they ask for something more? If I understand the struggle of humanity for a better life, it is that they want more and more and more and still more until a full measure of justice shall have been received by them for their service.

I know something of the historical struggles of the toiling masses of our country and of those of other countries. I have lived to see industrial depressions and panics, so-called. I have seen the pendulum swing both ways—to industrial revivals and activity as well, and I may say this in all earnestness, that it won't do, it bodes no good for the enemies of the bona fide, natural and rational labor movement of America to drive the bargain too hard. The men of labor are in earnest in this movement of ours. They are determined to see to it that as a result of their labor and services they must be regarded as sovereign citizens of our Republic and guaranteed and accorded the rights to which they are entitled under the laws and under the constitution of our Republic.

Apropos of the remarks made by our honored chairman in presenting me to you in reference to the service which I gave, and the service which the American Federation of Labor, the men of the labor movement of America, gave to our country and to our cause during the war-why was that service given? Was it simply because we lived in the United States or was it under the apprehension that we felt that our Republic and its institutions were menaced—that they were in danger and that an autocracy, political in its aspects, was about to overrun the democracies of the world, and that in time unless we resented it, it would reach us and if it did not destroy our Republic, at least would menace it to such a degree as to make it an impotent nation? That war was fought that the peoples of the democratic countries, our own included, might have the full opportunity of self-expression, self-determination and self-development and to maintain our rights as a self-governing people, making mistakes, yes, but our mistakes and which we can correct. The mistakes of a ruler cannot be corrected with the ruler remaining the same size. The struggle was made, the sacrifices given and the victory won—or rather, we are not quite so sure yet—but the menace of being overrun by a political autocrat with all that that meant, that was defeated; and now after making the sacrifices to protect ourselves against a political autocrat we are not going to submit to the domination of industrial autocrats.

We are a democracy, or as near a democracy as any government on the face of the globe. We know of our immense population and industry, our tremendous area of territory: we wonder why the political principles of our government should not be established and maintained in our industrial activities, where the toilers in their organized capacity by men of their own choosing may have an opportunity of meeting with their employers to discuss questions upon which they differ, in which they have divergent interests or views.

My friends, quite apart from the soundness of this position, I want to call attention to the law controlling the political affairs of our lives. Any man charged with an offense, charged with violation of the law, charged in a civil suit, is protected by constitutional guarantee. He has the right to be heard by counsel in any court, before any board, before any executive officer. The right to be heard by counsel is constitutionally guaranteed both in that great instrument of the United States as well as in every constitution of every state in the union. How

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