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An essay by Arthur Brisbane

Union Men As Slave Owners

Title:     Union Men As Slave Owners
Author: Arthur Brisbane [More Titles by Brisbane]


Every addition within reason to wages, every reasonable reduction of working hours, must help the whole nation. Working human beings have been looked upon through the ages as slaves, either on an actual slave-owning basis or on an insufficient wage basis--which is about the same thing. Each recognition of the worker's rights moves us a little farther from slave days. Every time a new class earns decent treatment by hard fighting we see increased the number of those who may properly be called men.

The blind employer asks: "Shall men be allowed to fix their own wages?"

OF COURSE they shall. And until they do fix their own wages they are not men at all. The ox does not fix his hours of labor or the quantity of his corn. But the man does. The man controlled like an ox is nearer an ox than a man.

We delight in the efforts of unions. We are advocates of every movement that tends to divide among a still larger class the good things of the world.

But this newspaper is no mere labor union organ. We care more for the welfare of the humblest, non-organized, underpaid, underfed citizen than for the finest, most highly paid, most intelligent mechanic.

The man who is least well off needs our help most. He needs, above all men, some practical PROOF that he lives where men are equal. He should be the object of earnest thought on the part of the five-dollar-a-day man.

It is the five-dollar-a-day man, the able mechanic, whom we address to-day: ----

Many of your thoughts and words, Mr. Five-Dollar Man, are devoted to plutocrats. You are not free from envy. You consider, and with perfect justice, that you do not--even with your five dollars--get your share of the world's good things.

But, for a change to-day, will you look DOWN instead of UP? You work hard at five dollars per day "to fatten in comfort the happy millionaire employer." All right; admitted.

But did you ever think who works hard to fatten YOU?

Did it ever occur to you that you are a plutocrat, and a very numerous and decided plutocrat? Do you ever wonder what you will answer when the time comes for those whom you underpay to demand eight hours and fair wages of YOU?

You keep a servant girl to help your wife. Does she work eight hours a day? No; she works about fourteen, and hears a good deal of grumbling because she does not do better. Does she get union wages? No; she gets about thirty cents a day. Does she get double pay on holidays? Can she put on any substitute if she chooses to wander off for two or three days a week?

The woman who works to make your life comfortable works just as many hours as you can make her work, and she gets just as little pay as you can get her to take. Is that all right? ----

And the servant girl is not the only one. Some farmer's hand works to raise the wheat, the potatoes that you eat. What is he paid? What are his hours? Fifty cents a day, twelve or fourteen hours of work. And your bootmaker in the factory, and the sweat-shop slave who makes your coat, and the long list of other poor devils who work for about one-tenth of your salary. Do you know why you are comparatively well off? Simply because the man for whom YOU work pays you ten times as much as you pay the men and women who work for YOU.

You pay indirectly? True. But what difference does that make? You are well-to-do because you purchase without question the product of men who are really slaves. You have brains, and by combination have FORCED your employer to treat you decently. Yes, and you deserve credit. But you are not fundamentally superior to the other men around you. What are you going to do when they demand treatment as good as yours? What are you going to reply when they class you with the other plutocrats?

You enjoy the work of only ten or twenty underpaid men--that is so. But you are in the same class with the plutocrat who enjoys the profit on the work of ten or twenty thousand men.

Utter disregard of others--where it does not affect your own wages--is your rule, and you know it. What better joke is there than the joke about the union label? How many hats on your rack have union labels in them? How many of you can swear no sweatshop ever saw your clothes? How many of you would apologize for not offering your friend a "union-made" cigar?

It is the nature of man to think earnestly of only one thing at a time. If one pursuit really engrosses his attention he has little time to think of anything else. In the hard struggle for a living the workingman has little time for any thought save for his OWN wage, his OWN stomach, his OWN welfare.

As union men you will continue to struggle for your five dollars a day--restricting apprentices, that others may be shut out from your field; opposing changes threatening you, however beneficial they may be generally.

But as individuals you must THINK. You study, and, being free from the grind of real poverty, you should be less hardened than the unfortunate, and inclined to feel for others.

You have made a good fight against the slavery that used to oppress you. In England you destroyed mills, endured shooting and hanging. All over the world, by hard fighting and wise voting, you have established the fact that the top class of mechanics must no longer be treated as cattle.

Now, what are you going to do for the others who are still cattle? You have demanded in the name of holy justice that others help you. In the same name, what do you propose to do for those still oppressed? Will you use your big voting power for the millions who are still at the bottom?

Will you combine for the benefit of the vast army as you have combined for your OWN benefit?

Or will you wait--as did the employers--to be FORCED into decency? Will you free your own collection of underpaid, overworked slaves, or wait for them to organize and beat you into decency, as your representatives did with your oppressors long ago?

Take a look downward once in a while. Study those below you. Glance over your own little collection of "wage slaves" in your kitchen and wherever your money is spent.

There is a problem there for you when you shall have finished hurrahing for your own eight hours.

[The end]
Arthur Brisbane's essay: Union Men As Slave Owners