Interolance in the Unions

There are things which one cannot afford to have done for him by proxy. One of these is thinking.

To do away with the mental indolence, to develop the individual’s ability to think and act independently, should be the chief purpose of labor unions. An organization is composed of individuals, and where these are mere noughts, lacking independence of judgment and action, the organization will remain without the least significance to the welfare of the masses.

Unfortunately, of the great majority of the unions, it cannot be said that they appreciate the true purpose of their existence. In most of them concentration of official power, personal ambition and private interest, work toward the very opposite end, paralyzing individual initiative and independence, and turning the membership into a herd of submissive subjects.

Under such conditions it is inevitable that a spirit of petty tyranny and despotism should develop in the official world of the union, exposing the individuals of the rank and file—especially the more rebellious element—to the mercy of the all-powerful walking delegate or similar official.

Of late we have had occasion to hear a good deal of these goings on in the unions: of the growing tyranny of officialdom and the corresponding suppression of the members.

The communication below is one instance out of many similar letters we receive, and whatever the merits of this particular case, it is worth considering as characterizing the anti-social menace of such a spirit in the labor unions.

To the Editor of Mother Earth:

Dear Comrade: I beg you to permit me space in your worthy monthly to voice my protest against the intolerance and shameful tactics of my union. The reason why I am applying to you is because I was refused space in all the so-called radical New York daily and weekly papers. Hence I am compelled to apply to you, and I sincerely hope that I shall meet better fate here.

I am a member of the Capmakers’ Union, Local No. 1, and have been such for the past five years. Am now deprived of my membership for no other reason but that I dared to exercise my right of free speech.

On October 1st went into operation an agreement between the Capmakers’ Union and the bosses, providing that the machines be furnished by the manufacturers. Hitherto the workers had furnished their own machines.

As soon as the new agreement became operative the union officials ordered that all workers owning machines should give them in at the union headquarters, while all those working on borrowed machines should pay an assessment of five dollars. There was considerable anger among the workers when the rule was made known and much murmuring against it. Most of them, however, complied with it, knowing full well that they would lose their jobs and membership if they refused to comply.

My friend Diamond and I refused to give in to what we considered an unjust demand. But the union ordered every manufacturer to withhold five dollars from the wages of each slave he employs.

Such an insult we could no longer bear. We protested and tried to bring our case to the notice of the press, but without success. For this crime charges were brought against me in the union and I was kept out of work for six weeks. No chance was given me to defend myself at the Executive Board. I was absolutely denied the right to express my opinion about the case for fear I would influence the minds of the members.

The charges against me were so confused that during the six weeks that they kept me out of work they had to change them several times. After dragging out the case for six weeks and finding nothing against me, I was allowed to return to work.

Then I demanded a reason for my persecution, and pay for the time that elapsed whereupon I was excluded from the union on January 24 and again deprived of work, so that I am now absolutely unable to earn a living, not only in New York State, but all over the country. The only alternative given me is to scab against my brothers, which is a very unpleasant thing for a man with the least intelligence.

N.B. I wish to remark that I have nothing personally against any of the union officials. The same thing was done to a member whose wife was sick in the hospital, and he unable to pay his dues. He was turned out from the shop.

Yours truly,

M. Becker.