way for the establishment of a municipal agency, but the plans were aban-
doned because of the opposition of the unions of that city.
Bogart, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 14:363-64, May, 1900;
Conner, however, states that in 1905 the unions of Michigan as a whole
were not inimical to this movement. Loc. cit., p. 35.
152 REPORT OF THE MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON UNEMPLOYMENT
In Massachusetts, though the unions seemed indifferent in 1893,
Massachusetts, 24th Annual Report of Statistics of Labor, 1893,
they manifested opposition in 1895 because of the fear that such agencies
would be used to secure strike-breakers for the employers.
Massachusetts, Report of Board to Investigate the Subject of the
Unemployed, 1895, Part V, pp. Ix-lxi.
Moreover, President Gompers of the American Federation of Labor has
expressed the fear that such agencies will be used for strike-breaking pur-
poses, and for the distribution of immigrants to take the places of Americans,
and maintains that these agencies are a subtle scheme of the steamship com-
binations and employers' associations to get cheap labor in the United
States; he believes that trade union agencies for migratory labor will be
much more effective than public agencies could be.
S. Gompers, American Federationist, 17:993-95, Nov., '10, and 19:
43-44, Jan., '12.
The commissioners of labor of some states have asked the trade unions
or some of the individual trade unions in regard to legislation that is con-
sidered desirable; the replies should be indicative of whether the trade unions
consider public employment agencies essential. In Iowa in 1903 replies were
secured from 170 unions, representing 46 different occupations, and no demand
for public agencies was made by any of these, though the unions had twice
given their formal endorsement to the public agencies;
Iowa, llth Biennial Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics. 1903-04,
in Missouri in 1901 replies were received from 71 unions, one of which urged
an extension of the state employment agencies;
Missouri, 23d Annual Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics. 1901,
in Colorado in 1899 the commissioner asked 706 individual members whether
they favored or opposed public employment agencies; of these 662 are re-
ported as favoring public agencies, 44 as opposing; but when they were
asked for general expressions of desires for legislation, and no reference
was made to public agencies in the question, only eleven out of 706 men-
Colorado, 7th Biennial Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1899-
1900, pp. 99-124.
In these replies, in which public agencies receive such slight attention,
there are many other demands which have a bearing on unemployment,
either by increasing the demand for labor or by restricting the supply of
workers; such demands are represented by the following: snorter workday,
child labor laws, apprenticeship laws, requirement that railways do all their
repair work in the state, requirement that work on state buildings be per-
formed by citizens of the state, printing text-books in the state, preventing
convicts from learning stone-cutting, etc. Thus it appears that when the
unions have their attention called to the public agencies, they are sometimes
favorable, but do not attribute great importance to such agencies.
On the whole it cannot be stated that there has been any consistent trade
union attitude toward this movement; they have been very active and en-
ergetic in a few cases, and are undoubtedly directly responsible for the
establishment of a few of the agencies. But many of the resolutions and
so-called demands do not have great significance. The most wide-spread
attitude, so far as the evidence justifies a generalization, is that the unions
have been indifferent toward the establishment of such agencies and equally
indifferent in regard to their success. The trade unions have not expected
any assistance for their own members from such agencies, and undoubtedly
would oppose the extension of these agencies to include their own members;
See below, pp. 123-28, 137-38.
REPORT OF THE MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON UNEMPLOYMENT 153
in so far as the unions have manifested a favorable attitude toward public
agencies it has been with the prospect of assisting the unorganized and un-
skilled workers. This friendly attitude is due, first, to sympathy with the
unemployed, partly because of the unemployment itself, and partly because
of the reputed impositions on the unemployed by the private employment
agencies; secondly, to the desire to decrease the number of the unemployed
as much as possible in order to facilitate the operation of their own policies,
for the presence of the unemployed person in the labor market is regarded
as a great hindrance to the securing of the demands of the unions; any
method of decreasing the number of the unemployed, by reducing the poten-
tial competition, would be interpreted as promoting the union program.
On the other hand, opposition to the establishment and maintenance
of such public agencies has been expressed by the trade unions, and is based
on the arguments that public agencies would facilitate immigration and
thereby increase the potential competition, and that in industrial disturbances
such agencies would be a positive menace to the trade union policies by
assisting .employers to secure strike-breakers. In addition there is some
opposition on the ground that the workers should combine for their own pro-
tection, and that the state-care represented in a bureaucratic system, such
as the public employment agencies are considered to exemplify, is degrading.
Consequently, the trade unions are attempting to organize the unskilled
workers and establish co-operative, rather than governmental employment
agencies for them. This plan is an additional incentive to opposition to
the public agencies, since such public agencies would decrease the advantages
to be offered to unskilled workers as a result of organization into unions.
The trade union attitude, in so far as it is indifferent, is not merely the
indifference of the general public, but is due to their emphasis on other
policies for preventing unemployment and for improving conditions of em-
President Gompers has written, "In the prevailing judgment of
trade unionists, the order in which protection to the workers should
come from the state does not bring labor exchanges to the forefront
in this country. . . Before trade unions can devote much time to the
promotion of labor exchanges, they want better factory and mine
inspection, better methods of protection against accidents, a better
system of compensation for accidents, better child-labor laws yea, a
heap of better conditions for the wage-earners at work." American
Federationst, 17:993-95, Nov., '10.
Unions insist on a shorter workday and one of the reasons given for this
is that it will make work for more employes, and hence prevent unemploy-
ment; and there are many other demands, which, according to their theory,
have a much more important bearing on unemployment than do the public
employment agencies such as restriction of immigration and prevention
of child labor. It is not necessary to agree with the validity of this logic
in order to realize its importance in determining the attitude of the unions
toward the establishment of public agencies.
Hourwich seems to have missed the point of the trade union atti-
tude when he states that "organized labor prefers to leave the dis-
tribution of labor in the hands of padroni and employment agents."
Immigration and Labor, p. 147.
Consequently there seems to have been no strong and recognized trade
union attitude that would make it necessary for legislators to consider the
public agencies as supported and favored by the unions.
A study of the accessible facts shows, also, that the employers and the
employers' associations have made no clear demand for public employment
agencies. In fact, Conner states that the most active opponents of the public
employment agencies have been the anti-union employers' associations, the
citizens' industrial associations and the manufacturers' associations.
Conner, loc. cit., p. 88.
154 REPORT OF THE MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON UNEMPLOYMENT
But such associations have by no means been unanimous in their oppo-
sition. The Manufacturers' Association of Baltimore advertised the public
agency of that city by sending to all its members letters announcing the
opening of the agency.
Maryland, 12th Annual Report of Bureau of Statistics, 1903, p. 95.
In some of the public agencies unskilled help is furnished for employers'
Sargent, loc. cit., p. 42.
In two of the Wisconsin agencies and in the municipal agencies in Port-
land, Tacoma and Everett the employers' associations co-operate in the man-
agement of the public agencies. On the other hand the fact that the Evans-
ville, Indiana, Manufacturers' Association opened an employment agency
under their control in that city at the same time the public agency was
opened there might be indicative of opposition.
Indiana, 14th Biennial Report of Department of Statistics, 1911-12,
But the only notable and clear cases of opposition to public agencies by
employers' associations have been in Iowa and Illinois, and both of these
are explicable in view of particular local conditions. In Iowa the employ-
ers opposed the efforts for the establishment of public agencies in 1892 and
1894, but the most ardent advocate and supporter of this movement, and the
one in whose control the agencies, if established, would be placed, was J. R.
Sovereign, Commissioner of the State Bureau of Labor Statistics, who was
at the same time the State Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, and
had published a labor journal for seven years. The Iowa State Manufactur-
ers' Association and the Citizens' Industrial Alliance opposed the estab-
lishment of public agencies in 1906, also; but again they feared that the
agencies would be under the control of the unions of the state, and would
either formally or informally make it impossible for non-union workers to
See letter sent to the members of the Association by the legis-
lative committee of the State Manufacturers' Association, urging op-
position to the proposed law, in Conner, loc. cit., pp. 92-93; Downey,
op. cit, p. 190.
Some of the employers in Illinois, also, opposed the law of 1899, and
assisted in testing its constitutionality; but this law had a provision that
public agencies should not assist employers in times of strike; the principal
objective of the employers in their opposition seemed to be this clause.
Illinois, 6th Annual Report of Free Employment Offices, 1904,
Other employers than those represented in associations have developed
no clear or consistent attitude toward public employment agencies. They
have manifested no characteristic attitude either of opposition or of urgent
See, however, Oklahoma, 1st Annual Report of Department of
Labor, 1908, p. 172; Massachusetts, 24th Annual Report of Statistics
of Labor, 1893, p. 263.
Thus the employers as a whole have made no consistent or active demand
for public agencies. Their attitude has been most generally one of indiffer-
ence, and their replies are indicative of little consideration of the question.
In some cases their hostility is due to two underlying attitudes an opposi-
tion to all extension of state functions except such as promote the interests
of business, and a desire to keep the labor force under their own control, and
to retain the ability to debar union agitators from their employment without
the publicity that would be necessary if formal requests to that effect were
made in patronizing public agencies. Some employers have shown a kindly
and sympathetic interest in these agencies as a means of solving the problem
of unemployment, and a business interest in improving the facilities for
REPORT OF THE MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON UNEMPLOYMENT U5
Farmers have been active in advocating public agencies in a few cases
in which the primary purpose was to assist them in securing agricultural
labor, as in the Kansas agencies, but as a whole the farmers have had no
appreciable effect on the movement.
Conner, loc. cit., p. 11.
In the large, the public employment agencies have resulted from the
work of the commissioners of labor of the different states, who have been
able to succeed in their efforts, not because of a general public demand
or a demand backed by strong and persistent interests, but because of a lack
of general opposition. Some of the commissioners have made frank state-
ments of the individual origination of the public agencies. Mr. David Ross,
Secretary of the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics, stated in regard to the
public agency law of Illinois, "I am pleased to report that that measure
emanated absolutely from the Bureau of Statistics of Labor."
Proceedings of 17th Annual Convention of Officials of Bureaus of
Labor Statistics, 1901, p. 160.
Eight public agencies have been established by these commissioners without
See above, p. 60.
Moreover, the general account of the motivation of the public agencies
reveals the close connection between the public agencies and the commis-
sioners of labor.
See above, pp. 90-101.
The commissioners would have been unable to succeed in their efforts
except for the problem presented by the existence and exploitation of the
unemployed, but so far as agitation and demands for agencies influenced the
legislatures, the commissioners seem to have been primarily the ones to
whom the movement owes its origin and existence.
Because of this lack of a strong, persistent popular demand for the
public agencies, together with the purpose generally inherent in the efforts
to secure such agencies, there has been no sufficient financial support of
the public agencies and no development of methods and technique adequate
to an organization of the labor market. And it has been possible, moreover,
for these agencies to be regarded as opportunities for political appointment^,
which would make their efficient management extremely difficult.
Complaints have frequently been made in regard to the meagre financial
W. M. Leiserson, Compte Rendu de la Conference International
du Chomage, 1910, Vol. II, p. 7; Michigan, 24th Annual Report of
Bureau of Labor, 1907, p. 388.
and the failure of some of the public agencies has been explained as due to
the inadequacies of their resources.
New York, Report of Commission on Unemployment, 1911, pp.
14, 124; Conner, loc. cit., p. S3.
The appropriations for various offices range between $15,856.11, which was
expended by the Boston office in 1911 which is probably the best equipped
agency under public control in the United States to nothing, as was the
case the first year in the Indiana agencies. The appropriations for the Ohio
agencies seem to be typical; in 1910 these agencies expended an average
of $443.25 each, in addition to the salaries of a superintendent and a clerk in
Because of these small appropriations, the public agencies have been
unable to advertise at all, or have advertised only intermittently and scantily;
they have been unable to have business agents conferring with employers;
they have been unable to secure quarters that would permit of separation
of the skilled from the unskilled workers, or even to have adequate tele-
phonic communication with the employers. There has been in most cities
no one man who was a student of the situation, and who had the problem
156 REPORT OF THE MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON UNEMPLOYMENT
of adjusting the agencies to the demands of the situations. The superin-
tendents and clerks have frequently been compelled to do other work than
that for the unemployed, either for the bureau of labor statistics or for the
Moreover, the public agencies have been regarded as political possi-
bilities, and the superintendents have been changed frequently with changes
in political parties, thus preventing a continuity of plans or policies, as
well as a lack of interest in long-time policies. In only three states are
these offices under civil service, and even civil service is not entirely suc-
cessful in eliminating changes for political reasons. In Ohio the changes
in the commissioners of labor in 1892, 1896, 1898 and 1900 were attended
by changes in from two to all of the superintendents of the agencies. These
frequent changes in control prevent consistent development of public agencies
along business lines, and have been largely instrumental in the failure to or-
ganize the labor market.
Both the inadequate financial support and the resulting inadequate
methods and the political connections of the public agencies are the result
of jthe lack of a strong popular demand for the public agencies and of the
purpose for which these agencies were established and conducted.
This survey of the development and activities of the public employment
agency leads to the conclusion that they have not succeeded in organizing
the labor market, they have been local and distinct centers, patronized pri-
marily by the unskilled laborers and domestic servants; they have neither
secured an active co-operation with other public agencies nor with the non-
public agencies, and hence have not become central agencies into which the
others could pour their surplus demands and supplies; they have not se-
cured sufficient information about the labor market to have an appreciable
result on the value of wandering in search of work, and hence have not
been influential in decreasing that custom. There are probably few cities
in the United States in which there are not private agencies doing a more
flourishing business than the public agencies.
This failure to organize the labor market is to be explained by the fact
that they were maintained, not for the purpose .of dealing with the problem
of unemployment, as such, but for the purpose of protecting the unemployed
against the alleged dishonest practices of private employment agencies and of
furnishing institutions in which workers could secure positions without the
hardship of fees. Moreover, there was no clear and insistent demand for
such agencies, consequently no adequate financial support to enable them
to develop methods and a technique adequate to control the distribution of
labor, or to secure definite and continuous information in regard to the
demand or supply in the labor market. They have been political openings
for the party in control, subject to frequent changes, and a continuity of
policies has, thus, been impossible.
Consequently it may be concluded that no factors or forces appear in
this analysis which are inherent in the situation in such a way as to doom any
system of public agencies to failure. The failure of these public agencies
gives no basis for an inference that any public agencies must fail to organ-
ize the labor market. The organization of the labor market is a function
which has been assigned to the public agencies only within recent years; fail-
ure to perform this function previously was due to the fact that a different
problem was presented in the earlier years, and no ideal such as the organi-
zation of the market was essential to the solution of that problem. The
problem of the public agencies has been the protection of the unemployed*
rather than unemployment, as such; failure to solve this larger problem was
the result of the fact that they were not trying to solve it; but there is no
justifiable implication from' this that the problem is insoluble.
REPORT OF THE MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON UNEMPLOYMENT 157
POSSIBILITIES IN THE FUNCTIONING OF PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT
In view of the general failure of public employment agencies in this
country, the question of the possibility of organizing the labor market by
this means is necessarily raised. Is it possible to secure an organization
such as that presented as a standard by the students of unemployment in
view of the situation in which the agencies are to be located? Is the dis-
tribution of employment and of unemployment such as to permit this ideal
program to work out successfully? Is the attitude of the trade unions, the
employers' associations and the other possible patrons of the agencies such
that the general success of the policy seems probable? These problems
are raised particularly with reference to the United States; some indications,
however, of the possibilities may be secured from the operations of the
public employment agencies in other countries, especially in England and
The improvements that have been made in the agencies in some states
and cities are evidence of the possibility of accomplishing more in the re-
duction of unemployment than has ordinarily been accomplished by public
agencies. The lively interest in public employment agencies in recent years
is evidence of an increased popular demand for such institutions, and this
interest will be a more adequate basis for the development of new policies
than has been possible heretofore. This is apparent particularly in the
New York Commission on Unemployment in 1911, the Massachusetts Com-
mission of 1910, the Chicago Commission of 1912, the formation of an Amer-
ican section of the International Association on Unemployment and the re-
organization of the Wisconsin state employment agencies.
These modifications are an evidence and a result of the shifting of the
problem. It is now being inferred that the best method of protecting the un-
employed against the private employment agencies is by statutory regula-
tion and inspection, and the function of the public agencies is shifting to
the problem of unemployment as an industrial maladjustment. This change
in attitude is partly due to a realization of the failure to eliminate the evils
of the private agencies by the competition of public agencies, for they have
generally failed even in that.
Abbott, loc. cit, 14:289-305; Conner, loc. cit, p. 73; Colorado,
12th Annual Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1909-10, p. 14;
Illinois, 10th Biennial Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1898,
p. 130; Illinois, 13th Annual Report of Free Employment Offices,
1911, p. 7; Indiana, 14th Biennial Report of Department of Statistics,
1911-12, pp. 12-13; Kellor, op. cit.; Maryland, 14th Annual Report of
Bureau of Statistics, 1905, p. 175; Massachusetts, Commission to In-
vestigate Employment Offices, 1911, p. 97; Michigan, 1st Annual Re-
port of Department of Labor, 1910, pp. 388-89; ibid., 2nd Annual Re-
port, 1911, p. 47; Nebraska, llth Biennial Report of Bureau of Labor,
1907-08, p. 17; Ohio. 20th Annual Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics,
1896, pp. 405-06; ibid., 21st Annual Report, 1897, p. 12; ibid., 24th An-
nual Report, 1900, pp. 437-41; Washington. 4th Biennial Report of
Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1903-04, pp. 217-54.
Some private agencies even maintained that the public agencies have been
a benefit to them in assisting to form habits of depending on agencies rather
than on personal application for employment, and in draining off the poorer
workers who hamper the private agencies.
Illinois, 13th Annual Report of Free Employment Offices, 1911,
But with the shift in attention from competition with the private agencies
to a more fundamental solution of the problem of unemployment, there
158 REPORT OF THE MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON UNEMPLOYMENT
have been modifications of methods and technique. This is seen particularly
in the new Wisconsin agencies, which have an ideal of securing a virtual
monopoly of placement, not necessarily by eliminating the private agencies,
but by securing a controlled knowledge in regard to the entire labor market
which would eliminate the element of distinctness and separateness of the
centers in the market. Such a system will undoubtedly drive a number of
private agencies out of existence, but that is no more the fundamental pur-
pose than it is to eliminate the previous public agencies which were not
doing the work satisfactorily. The attempt is now being made to secure a
co-ordination of all demands and supplies. Consequently, these new agencies
have not adopted the methods of the private agencies, as the previous public
agencies did, but have developed new methods and new technique. Free
service would not be assumed in such a system, though it might be ac-
cepted because of its presumed value in promoting the efficiency of the
public agencies. Efforts are being made to secure the cooperation of trade