Page images
PDF
EPUB

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT

CHAPTER I

NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE

LABOR MOVEMENT

Labor movementdefinition.—Every modern industrial country has a labor movement; that is, an organized and continuous effort on the part of wage earners to improve their standards of living over a national area. The outward and visible signs of this movement are trade unions, national federations, strikes, boycotts, lockouts, labor leaders, labor conferences and programs, injunctions, legal battles, prosecutions, co-operative societies, labor and socialist parties, a labor press and labor propaganda, the participation of labor in partisan politics, labor lobbies in legislatures, and labor colleges and educational experiments. Considered as a state of mind, the labor movement is marked by growing sympathy among all crafts, trades, and classes of workers

1

an increasing belief that their cause is, at bottom,

one cause.

The origin of the labor movement. The origin of the labor movement lies in self-defense in attempts of workers to protect themselves against the worst ravages of the industrial system as it proceeded step by step to transform the agricultural or feudal society of the eighteenth century into the urban and industrial society of the twentieth century. Attempts to trace modern labor organization back to the guilds of the middle ages have been vain. Not until the rise

. of the merchant capitalist, the factory system, the growth of great industrial cities, mining, and transportation on a large scale did the modern workingclass movement emerge.

Peculiarities of the American labor movement.--While they have the same origin, the labor move ments of the various modern nations differ in their membership, structure, policies and leadership. The American movement has had a distinct character on account of the peculiar political and economic conditions prevailing in this country. Although in early times we had a great planting aristocracy in the southern states, and a landed aristocracy in New York, feudalism never got a stronghold in America.

There never was a powerful landed nobility and clergy to dispute the growing power of the bourgeoisie and labor.

Our national history therefore had a more purely economic coloring from the start.

« PreviousContinue »