Solutions of the Labor Problem.

Solutions of the Labor Problem.

Apropos of Labor Day, the Boston Herald printed in its issue of September 6 a collection of proposed solutions of the labor problem, received in response to a question which it had invited certain students and labor leaders to answer. The question was this: How is a just distribution of the products of labor to be obtained? The answers were from two hundred to five hundred words in length; below I give the essence of each:(164 ¶ 1)

George E. McNeill, general organizer of the Federation of Labor:—By a reduction of the hours of labor.(164 ¶ 2)

Edward Atkinson, political economist:—If laborers think themselves inadequately rewarded, they should work for themselves. The scabs should have unions of their own.(164 ¶ 3)

Edward S. Huntington, secretary of the First Nationalist Club:—By the organization of an all-inclusive trust by the laborers.(164 ¶ 4)

Albert Ross (Lynn Boyd Porter), novelist:—No individuals can justly distribute the products of other men’s labor. Hence the State must do it.(164 ¶ 5)

Charles E. Bowers, Nationalist:—By national control and management of industries.(164 ¶ 6)

H. R. Legate, leader of the Third Party:—By public ownership of the means of production and distribution.(164 ¶ 7)

Henry Abrahams, secretary of the Boston Central Labor Union:—Organization of trades; reduction of the hours of labor; co-operation.(164 ¶ 8)

William H. Sayward, secretary of the National Association of Builders:—Absolute justice in distribution is unattainable. Improvement can be made by joint consideration and united action of laborers and employers.(164 ¶ 9)

M. J. Bishop, State worthy foreman, K. of L.:—By organizing and educating the people to demand control of the natural monopolies and the transportation of intelligence, passengers, and freight.(164 ¶ 10)

P. C. Kelly, secretary-treasurer of the State Assembly and D. A. 30, K. of L.:—By the nationalization of mines, railroads, telegraphs, telephones, and the levying of income taxes.(164 ¶ 11)

W. J. Shields, ex-president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners:—The producers should free themselves from private control of all natural monopolies, and substitute government control and management.(164 ¶ 12)

George D. Moulton, Socialist:—By Socialism, to be reached through reduction of the hours of labor and a gradual increase of wages.(164 ¶ 13)

Harry Lloyd, president of the Carpenters’ District Council:—By reduction of the hours of labor, destruction of the wage system, co-operation, profit-sharing, and government ownership of land, mines, and patents.(164 ¶ 14)

Some of the solutions proposed in the foregoing answers are as inadequate as Mrs. Partington’s broom, others were buried by their authors in a flow of sentimentalism, and still others were presented so unsystematically and unscientifically that they could not influence reasoning minds.(164 ¶ 15)

Besides these, however, there were two answers that were analytical, that showed a true conception of the problem, and that made a systematic attempt to meet them. I have no bump of modesty, and so am able to say unblushingly that one of these was written by Edward Bellamy and the other by myself. I give them in full:(164 ¶ 16)

Edward Bellamy, author of Looking Backward and founder of Nationalism:—Workmen will not receive a just proportion of the product of their labor until they receive the whole product. In order to receive the whole product, they must receive the profits which now go to the employers, in addition to their wages. In order to receive the profits which now go to the employers, they must become their own employers. The only way by which they can become their own employers is to assume through their salaried agents the conduct of industry as they have already (in this country) assumed the conduct of political affairs. The president, governor, and mayor do not make a profit on the business of the nation, State, or city, as employers do upon the industries which they manage. These and all other public officials receive salaries only, as agents, the business being conducted for the benefit of the people as the principals.(164 ¶ 17)

There is no more sense in permitting the industrial affairs of this country to be run for private profit than there would be in allowing their political affairs to be so exploited. Our industries are just as properly public business as our politics, and a great deal more important to us all.(164 ¶ 18)

As soon as the people wake up to the realization of this fact, there will be no labor question left. There will be no ground left for a dispute between workmen and capitalists, for every one will be at one and the same time employer and employee.(164 ¶ 19)

Benjamin R. Tucker, Anarchist:—A just distribution of the products of labor is to be obtained by destroying all sources of income except labor. These sources may be summed up in one word,—usury: and the three principal forms of usury are interest, rent, and profit. These all rest upon legal privilege and monopoly, and the way to destroy them is to destroy legal privilege and monopoly. The worst monopoly of all is that of the power to issue money, which power is now restricted to the holders of a certain kind of property,—government bonds and gold and silver. If the holders of all kinds of property were equally privileged to issue money, not as legal tender, but acceptable only on its merits, competition would reduce the rate of discount, and therefore of interest on capital, to the mere cost of banking, which is much less than one per cent. And even this percentage would not be interest, properly speaking, but simply payment for the labor and expense of banking. When money could be had at such a rate and capital bought with it, of course no one would borrow capital at a higher rate. Free competition in banking would thus abolish interest, all rent except ground rent, and all profit on merchandise not enjoying the benefit of some special monopoly.(164 ¶ 20)

In the absence of monopoly of any kind, whatever the merchant makes out of his business is not strictly profit, but the wages of mercantile labor, determined by competition. This wage is what will remain after the abolition of the money monopoly, of all tariffs and taxes on industry and trade, and of all patents and copyrights.(164 ¶ 21)

That form of usury known as ground rent rests on land monopoly; that is, on government protection of land titles not based on personal occupancy and use. If this protection were withdrawn, landlordism would disappear, and ground rent would therefore exist no longer in its monopolistic form, but only in its economic form; in other words, the only existing rent would be the advantage accruing to the owner and occupier from superiority of soil or site.(164 ¶ 22)

The growing diversity of industry, coupled with the greater mobility that will be enjoyed by labor as soon as greater mobility is given to capital by the abolition of the monopolies, will have a string and constant tendency to neutralize the existing inequalities of soil and site, and thus economic rent will gradually approach its vanishing point. Thus the whole ground is covered, and all forms of usury are abolished. All the drains upon labor being stopped, labor will be left in possession of its product, which is the solution of the problem. This solution is that which Anarchism offers.(164 ¶ 23)

The contrast between the robust uprightness and straightforwardness of these two answers and the flaccid incoherence of most of the others emphasizes my constant contention that the labor problem is to be settled between extreme State Socialism and extreme Anarchism, and that the struggle will become clear and direct in proportion as all compromises disappear and leave an open field. When this struggle comes, the weak point in Mr. Bellamy’s position will be located. I point it out in advance. It lies in his enormous assumptions that laborers, in order to receive the profits which now go to the employers, must become their own employers, and that the only way by which they can do this is to assume through their salaried agents the conduct of industry. The Anarchistic solution shows that there is no such must and no such only. When interest, rent, and profit disappear under the influence of free money, free land, and free trade, it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but that wage for their labor which free competition determines. Therefore they need not become their own employers. Perhaps, however, they will prefer to do so. But in that case they need not assume the conduct of industry through their salaried agents. There is another way. Any of them that choose will be enabled through mutual banking to secure means of production whereby to conduct whatever industry they desire. This other way, being the way of liberty, is the better way, and is destined to triumph over Mr. Bellamy’s way, which is the way of authority and coercion.(164 ¶ 24)

I have reserved to the last the only remaining answer among those printed in the Herald, that of Frank K. Foster, editor of the Labor Leader. This, too, I give in full, because of its significance.(164 ¶ 25)

The prime factors making toward the unjust distribution of the products of labor are profits, rent, and interest. In his direct relation to the employer, or buyer of labor,—not necessarily a capitalist,—the laborer has a remedy in every agency that gives him greater equality of bargaining power. The scope of this remedy is limited by the margin of profit on the joint product of the laborer and the captains of industry. In this class of agencies are to be reckoned the trades unions, and their influences of agitation and education. Incidentally, the problems of immigration, of mobility of labor, and of the unwise and selfish competition (between the laborers themselves) for employment, are allied to this branch of the subject. Broadly speaking, in the field of adult labor, the principle of free association may be trusted to supply a remedy that shall adjust the supply of labor to meet the demand, and, by raising wages and regulating conditions, obtain for the laborer his just share of the profits of production. As wage earners, it is with this economic side of the question we have mainly to do.(164 ¶ 26)

The problems of rent and interest are not, in the same sense, class questions, for they affect the man who buys and the man who sells the commodity of labor. The wage earner, as a unit in the productive social system, is concerned, however, in the promotion of those reforms which will lessen the power of monopoly in land and money, and thus make a larger margin of profit upon production to be divided between himself and employer.(164 ¶ 27)

The taxation of land held for speculative purposes to its full market value, the abolition of special privileges granted by the State to bankers, and the repeal of tariff laws taxing the many for the enrichment of the few, are among the more important remedies of this class.(164 ¶ 28)

Absolutely just distribution of the products of labor and absolute freedom from oppression by the possessors of power and pelf is only to be looked for in an ideal social state made up of creatures vastly different from the race in whose veins circulate the blood of old Adam.(164 ¶ 29)

It is surely a reasonable hope that justice and liberty may develop with the increasing years, and to my mind this development may come, not by legislative enactment, but through the broader avenue of the education and upbuilding of the individuals composing our complex civilization.(164 ¶ 30)

This remarkable utterance, in everything except its sentimental remark about unwise and selfish competition and its inconsistent adherence to the single-tax fallacy, is thoroughly Anarchistic, and shows that its author, not long ago a stanch State Socialist, has already accepted the better way of liberty.(164 ¶ 31)