The Progressive Party and Organized Labor, September 1912

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The Progressive Party and Organized Labor.

The great labor disturbances of recent years display the characteristics of social uprisings rather than of technical strikes. The participants are often unorganized and revolt against their entire living conditions with which they have become so utterly disheartened that they join a strike as a general protest. The terms of settlement much more often suggest political phrase than industrial; a "protocol" was the result of the great cloak maker's strike in New York and the general conditions of the trade are now in the hands of "a joint board of sanitary control."

The garment workers' strike of Chicago, involving thousands of men and women and continuing through months of bitter want, long before it was over became a matter of public concern which could not be ignored by the City Council itself. Thousands of babies and children were involved, non-combatants, whose future vitality would be permanently lowered because of the privation to which they were exposed and who were adding to the spread of infantile diseases and the increase in the city's death rate, for which the Department of health was held responsible.

The political implications of industry are all about us, and the progressive party but gathers them up and thrusts them forward into political action when it advocates legislation for industrial wrong, founded upon full publicity. Through periods of strikes and labor disturbances, when the wildest assertions are often made as to the amount of wages paid, the fines imposed and the pace exacted, there is no possible method of securing accurate information, [page 2] because no publicity has been legally required as to such matters in America; although other great nations have been able to secure that "publicity as to wages, hours and conditions of labor" which the progressive party advocates in its platform. It is difficult to estimate the amount of resentment and suffering which might be averted through mere publicity. Such statistics as have been already compiled show, for instance, that more than 15000 men are annually killed in American work accidents, and some 500,000 injured; which is as if "every male in a city of 75,000 were slain every year and every male in a state like Minnesota were wounded or crippled."

At the present moment no one can place the responsibility for this appalling list of accidents, whether they are due to (1) lack of safety and construction of plant, (2) the inadequate safeguarding of machinery, (3) the weariness and inattention caused by long hours of work (4) the too great speed which is required, (5) the inadequate warnings and signal systems (6) lack of instruction to new workers, (7) inadequate factory inspection, so that known defects might have been remedied. Whatever the cause, the economic and social results of the accidents must be borne by the workman alone, although often due to conditions over which he had absolutely no control.

When Trades Unions make an attempt to correct any of these untoward conditions, such as long hours or over speeding -- and more than half of the strikes in the United States are instituted to correct conditions of labor and are not directly concerned with wages -- they are likely to be put into a position of hostility to the entire community, although they may be dealing with abuses which should have been cared for through legislative enactment. [page 3]

This attitude of hostility between Trade Unions and the "fair minded public" has been brought about first because the minority of strikes, unfortunately very conspicuous ones, have exhibited a disregard of "law and order" and secondly because the courts, through an increasing tendency to yield to the panic of the employers have, on occasion declared picketing to be illegal and have often placed other peaceful strikers in the position of law breakers.

Many times, during my long residence in Chicago, I have witnessed half the city filled with bitterness and resentment because injunctions were unfairly used in labor disputes and contempt pushed quite outside its legitimate province. It is a grave situation when a large body of men come to feel that the Courts are against them and are in danger of losing the very habit of trusting to adjudication. At such times because there is no method available for quiet and legal redress, well ordered self-government becomes impossible.

It may a turning in the long road, a change from the repressive attitude of the Government towards Trades Unions into one of [cooperation], when the Progressive Party not only declares for "prohibition of the issuance of injunctions when such injunctions would not apply when no labor disputes exist" but also for the "organization of the workers -- men and women -- as a means of protecting their interests and promoting their progress."

Political and industrial insurgency having joined forces in a well considered program for wider industrial justice, may initiate that [cooperation] between the government and trade Unions which the United States has been so much slower than Europe to adopt. [page 4] In reporting upon a system of insurance in the city of Ghent in which the Town Counsellors [cooperate] with the Trades Unions, our Government Investigator remarks that "the Unions have come to look upon themselves as instruments of general social organization and progress, fulfilling most important functions in the commonwealth, quite apart from their functions as protectors of the working man against the employer." When America shall come to recognize that the gigantic problems arising from the sudden development and concentration of industry, must be solved by the entire people through orderly legislation, then at last will industrial peace be assured.

It is in pursuance of such a policy that the Progressive Party pledges measures of relief to those men who work in shifts of twelve hours with no sense of difference of days, save as they may hear church bells in their sleep on alternate Sunday mornings, if indeed bells can penetrate the sleep of a man exhausted by that eighteen hours of continuous toil which is required of him before he is permitted to make his shift from night work to day work. "An eight hour day in continuous twenty-four hour industries" and "one day's rest in seven for all wage earners" for which the Progressive Party "pledges its members to work unceasingly," means not only freedom from brutalizing toil but a restored family life and leisure to bear a man's part in the common obligations of citizenship.

Because such measures of industrial amelioration will inevitably arouse the opposition of certain vested interests, they can only be made matters for legislative action through the energy of courageous men to whom social wrongs have ever made an urgent appeal and who have become experienced champions for the rights of the people.

There is no doubt that Colonel Roosevelt possesses a unique [page 5] power "to put the longing of multitudes into words that they do not forget and to banish their doubts and fears by the sheer force of his personality and the vital power of his courage"; that no other man in America is so able to gather up the sense of social wrong and direct it into channels of redress, to focus the scattered moral energy of our vast nation and to turn it into practical reform. [page 6] 

To be used for the Ladies Home Journal.