Whenever I raise the point that it is immoral to shut us up in a close room twelve hours a day in the most monotonous and tedious of employment, I am told that we have come to the mills voluntarily and we can leave when we will. Voluntary! Let us look a little at this remarkable form of human freedom. Do we from mere choice leave our fathers' dwellings, the firesides where all of our friends, where too our earliest and fondest recollections cluster, for the factory and the Corporations boarding house? By what charm do these great companies immure human creatures in the bloom of youth and first glow of life within their mills, away from their homes and kindred? A slave too goes voluntarily to his task, but his will is in some manner quickened by the whip of the overseer.
The whip which brings us to Lowell is NECESSITY. We must have money; a father's debts are to be paid, an aged mother to be sup- ported, a brother's ambition to be aided, and so the factories are supplied. Is this to act from free will? When a man is starving he is compelled to pay his neighbor, who happens to have bread, the most exorbitant price for it, and his neighbor may appease his conscience, if conscience he chance to have, by the reflection that it is altogether a voluntary bargain. Is any one such a fool as to suppose that out of six thousand factory girls of Lowell, sixty would be there if they could help it? Everybody knows that it is necessity alone, in some form or other, that takes us to Lowell and keeps us there. Is this freedom? To my mind it is slavery quite as really as any in Turkey or Carolina. It matters little as to the fact of slavery, whether the slave be compelled to his task by the whip of the over- seer or the wages of the Lowell Corporation. In either case it is not free will, leading the laborer to work, but an outward necessity that puts free will out of the question.
— Charles Dana
The American operatives have been discharged from a cotton factory in Cincinnati, and their places filled with Germans, which work for much less than Americans.
Why is it that so many of those for whom we are murdering ourselves by slow degrees to support in idleness and heap up mountain-masses of wealth, look down upon us with such supreme contempt?
And why do they, while through fraud and oppression the live in riotous splendor on our labor, demand that we treat them with humble deference and adoration? ought they not rather to be truly grateful and treat us with kindness and civility?
Let no one object to the terms “fraud and oppression.” Those who consume without producing, by their own personal, useful industry, live on the labor of others; and does each one of us willingly support himself and one or two others? If not, do they not obtain their support through fraud and oppression – robbery?
True, we consent to be robbed, and that for the very good reason that we are compelled to.
The Declaration of Independence says that all have an equal right to life, liberty, &c., but the child of poverty finds the rights practically denied to him. God’s earth is all monopolized, by the agency of money, and not even a spot on the public lands can he use to raise a single potato to support “life.” He can produce nothing for his subsistence without the consent of others, and hence can only live – if he be permitted to live at all – on such terms, and enjoy only so much liberty and happiness as others dictate.
They give us “liberty” to devote half our time to support their lives and ministers to their happiness. And this is demanding quite enough. They are no better entitled to our respect and esteem than if they did not practice such oppression and extortion unless it be on the ground that they are useless idlers; but a watch which would not keep time, or a Bee which makes no honey, might as justly claim more admiration than one which does.
It seems strange that the rich should claim our worship merely because they succeeded in depriving us of the products of our honest industry, but stranger still that it should be so freely granted. It is not time to show enough respect for ourselves to loudly firmly and determinedly demand our just, equal, inalienable rights?
Every man should be guaranteed a permanent home on the earth, the choice of industrial pursuits, the power to limit, at will the hours of labor, an equivalent for what he produces, the best opportunities for education, and freedom in everything.
The System of Wages
We are about to make some very unorthodox remarks, upon the very much eulogized system of wages; or as it is commonly called free labor.
Hired labor marks a peculiar phase of civilization, - a phase in which the sword of the feudal baron has given place to the golden conjuring quill of the merchant and financier.
The tactics of warfare between the aristocracy and the masses, have undergone a complete change; and that very change does most strikingly illustrate how omnipotent mind is becoming, over mere brute force. Men are every where obtaining what measure of success they have, through principles rather than force – in trade, in industry, in finance, in commerce, in government, and we may add, in war and revolution do we find mankind relying for success on superior calculation and mental activity, instead of violence and brute force. And this may serve as a hint to Labor Reformers, as to the nature of the tactics which they must also employ. There must be more and more an embodiment of the fundamental law of labor in its relation to production and consumption. The more speedily and clearly they can see the principles which lie at the basis of their movement, and incorporate them in measures, the sooner will their triumph make glad the sons of men.
We are not at all certain that we may not encounter the pious prejudices of many well meaning individuals for entering our protest and condemnation against the whole system of wages. We shall not be content with any remedial patch work.
The system of competitive wages, must give way to one based on fundamental justice, at least in so far as relates to the industry of chartered corporations. We hold to the sentiments “That what a man produces is his own against the universe” – and that he ought to have his own, no one will deny, not even the man, who the other day, thought us infidels, and disbelievers of the Bible, because we contended that the system of hired-labor was one of injustice and slavery. Although that same individual proceeded to demonstrate our infidelity and the divinity of the wages system, by such texts as “the wages of sin and death,” and “the laborer is worthy of his hire,” yet even he thinks the laborer is entitled to all he earns. But the question is how shall he obtain it? We answer, by associating capital and labor in distribution as well as in production.
Capital every where tends to concentrate into few hands. House-builders, ship-builders, tailors, merchants, mechanics, and manufacturers are distributed, in a regular series, from the millionaire director downward to the salaried overseer, and the wretched, toil-worn day laborer. Competition increases, and the power to withstand its decreases, just in proportion as you descend in the scale.
Year by year do capitalists become proportionably fewer, and their fortunes more princely, whilst laborers multiply indefinitely, - and intense competition, steadily reduces the rate of wages, to the means of bare subsistence. A tri-form monopoly of lands, machinery, and products, defies all resistance has robbed the masses of the right to labor, and is sweeping them to the condition of serfs.
The laboring classes know well that the tide sets with a strong current in that direction. Go into many large machine shops and observe the almost penitentiary regulations – Go to your Lowells and Manchesters, and witness how the day of hideous toil consumes at both ends, the hours of rest, whilst Sunday bells chime out the knell of weary hearts, that go up to make compelled offerings on mammon’s alter, in infernal dissonance with the blasting artillery of enforced sabbatical toil – witness your villainous black-law-corporation’s conspiracy against the rights of labor, and then tell us if the laboring classes are not slaves? Pause and reflect on the famous speech of Mr. Webster, which inculcates the doctrine, that the State must take care of the rich, and let the rich take care of the poor: and remember too that the wages of operatives have fallen off nearly one half under a high tariff, from what they were in 1840 under a low tariff.
Now let no one accuse us of enmity to capitalists, or to incorporation companies. We are only opposed to the existing form of chartered companies, which confers special favor on a class, and a class too, which is vastly able to do without it. We contend that it is manifestly unjust that no counterpoises against the degradation of labor, have ever been written in the charters of corporate bodies – not even that of regulating the hours of labor. Let the Legislature stipulate that in chartered corporations, labor shall be paid directly from the dividends in the proportion from five to seven twelfths of the net income in addition to the guarantee of a minimum and we not only, shall not oppose them, but on the contrary we will advocate their extension. For this would at once blend the interests of capital and labor; and co-operation would take the place of rancorous competition and anarchical industry. There must be effected a reconciliation between the concurrent elements of production, which are labor and capital: and to this end, there must be no more corporation privileges granted to capital, which do not equally insure the interests of labor. We must close this article here, promising however that we have much more to urge under this head.