Morris Hillquit.

Socialism in theory and practice online

. (page 16 of 26)
Online LibraryMorris HillquitSocialism in theory and practice → online text (page 16 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

system which produces it, and hence his "practical"
reforms are doomed to failure. The charity worker may
bring temporary relief to a few hundred poor, a mere atom
in the world of poverty, but he cannot check poverty;
the moral crusader may "save the souls" of some fallen
women and men, but as long as the conditions which drive
them into vice and crime remain unchanged, he cannot
stamp out vice or crime; the political reformer may suc-
ceed in a certain campaign, and defeat the corrupt "boss"
or divorce the legislature from the corrupting lobby, but
the next campaign will find a new "boss" at the head
of his party and a new host of capitalist agents in control
of the legislature as long as the industrial conditions
which breed corruption in politics continue. Just as the
middle-class reformers are reactionary and Utopian, the
ideological reformers are, as a rule, superficial and ineffec-
tive, and the socialists can, therefore, gain nothing by a
union with either.

From this analysis of the aims and nature of socialist
reforms it will be readily seen that socialism cannot attach
an equal importance to all the numerous reform measures


agitated in our days. Its relation to each of such measures
depends on the special character of that measure and its
efficiency as a weapon in the class struggle. In the
following chapters we wull endeavor to deal with the
subject from that point of view. For the convenience of
treatment, we will group the most popular reforms under
five main heads, and we will consider the character,
achievements, and role in the socialist program of each
reform group in a separate chapter



Industrial Reform

Under this general title we will include all direct efforts
to improve the present economic conditions of the wage
laborers, to diminish the degree of their exploitation and
to strengthen their position in the struggles with their

The specific movements coming under this head are those
for the improvement of labor conditions and other measures
commonly designated as factory reform; the reduction of
the hours of work, the abolition of child labor, the regula-
tion of woman labor and all other progressive movements
represented by the trade unions and the cooperative so-
cieties of workingmen.

The socialists attach the greatest importance to all
reforms of this character. They realize that the task of
transforming the modern capitalist society into a socialist
commonwealth can be accomplished only by the conscious,
systematic and persevering efforts of a working class
physically, mentally and morally fit for the assumption of
the reins of government, and not by a blind revolt of a
furious and desperate rabble. Every measure calculated
to remove from the workingman some of the cares and
uncertainties of his material existence, to improve his health



and spirits, to give him some measure of leisure, and some
time for thought and study, is bound to enhance his general
intelligence, his interest in social affairs and in the prog-
ress and welfare of his class. The adherents of socialism
principally recruit themselves from among the better
situated classes of the workingmen, and the socialist efforts
to raise the economic level of the working class are an
organic part of the socialist movement, an indispensable
condition of its progress and ultimate triumph.

Factory Reform

The beginnings of factory legislation are to be found in
the classic country of modern capitalism, England, where
Parliament as early as 1802 adopted the bill introduced
by Sir Robert Peel for the protection of the apprentices
employed in cotton mills. The measure was called forth
by the inhuman conditions in the English cotton mills,
into which thousands of orphans and pauper children of
the most tender ages were bound out by the parishes under
the old Elizabethan "Apprenticeship Act," without re-
striction on their hours of labor and without provisions
for their health and education. These unfortunate chil-
dren were forced to work up to fifteen hours a day, and
were crowded in pent-up, unsanitary buildings adjoining the
factory. They were ill-clothed and underfed. They were
growing up under conditions of physical, mental and
moral degeneracy, and it was the menace to the future
of England's laboring population impHed in these con-
ditions which secured the passage of the Peel act.

Viewed from the standpoint of modern conceptions, the
act of 1802 was no great achievement. It Hmited the


workday of the cotton mill apprentices to twelve hours, and
compelled the mill owners to clothe their apprentices and
to give them a certain hmited school instruction. But
the great significance of the act lies in the fact that it was
the first to break down the bourgeois doctrine of non-inter-
ference by the state in the industrial relations of its citizens.
It created the " precedent, " so indispensable to the Anglo-
Saxon mind; it opened the door to factory legislation.
And slowly but steadily the principle of state protection
for factory workers grew in scope and extension. In
England the law of 1802 was followed first by the timid
amendments of 1819, 1825 and 1833, and then by the bolder
measures of the latter half of the last century, until factory
laws became a regular and important function of parlia-
mentary legislation. Starting with the regulation of the
labor of apprenticed children, they gradually extended their
operation to the "free" working children, then to working
women, and finally to all factory workers.

From England the principle of factory legislation spread
to the United States, Germany, France and Switzerland,
and finally it established itself in all industrial countries.

"Looking broadly now to labor legislation as it has
occurred in this country," says Mr. Carroll D. Wright,
speaking of factory laws in the United States, " it may be
well to sum up its general features. Such legislation has
fixed the hours of labor for women and certain minors in
manufacturing establishments; it has adjusted the con-
tracts of labor; it has protected employees by insisting
that all dangerous machinery shall be guarded; ... it
has created boards of factory inspectors, whose powers and
duties have added much to the health and safety of the
operatives; it has in many instances provided for weekly


payments, not only by municipalities, but by corporations;
... it has regulated the employment of prisoners; pro-
tected the employment of children; exempted the wages
of the wife and minor children from attachment; estab-
lished bureaus for statistics of labor; provided for the
ventilation of factories and workshops; established indus-
trial schools and evening schools; provided special trans-
portation by railroads for workingmen ; modified the com-
mon-law rules relative to the liability of employers for
injuries of their employees; fixed the compensation of
railroad corporations for negligently causing the death of
employees, and has provided for their protection against
accident and death." ^

In reading this seemingly large schedule of labor laws it
must, of course, be borne in mind that it enumerates and
combines all principal measures enacted in the different
states of the Union, and that hardly any single state can
boast of a labor code containing them all. On the other
hand, however, it must also not be forgotten that the
United States is one of the backward countries in the
matter of factory legislation, and that many countries of
Europe have gone considerably farther in that direction.

But even in the most advanced countries, factory legisla-
tion is, on the whole, only in its infancy, and its practical
achievements are insignificant compared with what still
remains to be done in order to make the work of the factory
hand tolerable and safe.

The beginnings of factory legislation were thus intro-
duced by the bourgeoisie at a time when the labor move-
ment had hardly attained the power to speak for itself.
The first labor laws were brought about partly as a result

^ "Industrial Evolution of the United States," pp. 291, 292.


of the struggles between the hostile divisions of dominant
classes, each of whom courted the support of the working-
men, but probably to a larger extent as a measure of hygiene
intended to check the physical degeneration of the working
class, whose misery had become so great as to threaten the
future of the nation. And it is very significant that Peel's
pioneer measure in the domain of factory reform was
entitled, "A bill for the preservation of the health and
morals of the apprentices employed in cotton mills."

In some instances, notably in Prussia, the first measures
of protective labor legislation were introduced by the
rulers as a military necessity. "Thus," relates Adolf
Braun, "in an address to Frederick William III in 1836,
it was reported that the factory districts were unable to
furnish their full quota of soldiers for the army. Shortly
thereafter the first Prussian Labor Law, that of March 9,
1839, was enacted. Children under the age of nine years
were excluded from work in factories and mines; chil-
dren under sixteen years were forbidden to work nights or
Sundays or more than 10 hours on workdays." ^

But with the growth of the labor movement and the
general improvements in labor conditions brought about
by it, the dominant classes have no longer any interest in
the protection of the wage workers against the exploita-
tion of their employers, and the task of developing and ex-
tending factory legislation falls entirely on the organized

Shorter Workday

Prior to the development of modern factory industry,
the normal workday of the artisan was one of compara-

* Adolf Braun, "Zum Achtstundentag," Berlin, 1901, p. 14.


tively short duration. Speaking of pre-capitalistic Eng-
land, Thorold Rogers * asserts that it was one of eight
hours, and his assertion is backed by an abundance of

But with the gradual disappearance of the easy-going
artisan of mediaeval times, and the advent of capitalist
production, the length of the workday and intensity of
labor grew steadily, reaching the high-water mark to-
wards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the
nineteenth century. The golden era of machine invention
stimulated production and developed factory industry with
an impetuous suddenness and in immense proportions.
The ready urban workmen were totally insufficient for the
new needs of capitalist industry. Their wives and children
and their rural cousins were called into requisition, and
their hours of labor were advanced to the limits of physical
possibility. At the beginning of the nineteenth century
the ordinary workday of the English factory worker seems
to have been one of from twelve to fifteen hours, and in
seasons of special activity there was no limit to it at all.
The effects of such overwork on the physical, moral and
mental condition of the factory workers were disastrous
in the extreme, and the demand for a reduction of the
workday was practically the first manifestation of the
incipient labor movement in England. The efforts to re-
duce the length of the workday have ever since remained
a cardinal part of the modern labor movement. These
efforts find their expression in the political agitation of the
working-class parties as well as in the struggles of the in-
dustrial labor organizations in their special fields, and in
both domains the labor movement has attained some suc-

^ "Six Centuries of Work and Wages," p. 327.


cess during the last century. In England the first law
limiting the hours of labor to lo per day, was passed in
1847. The law was loosely framed and poorly enforced,
and in 1850 it was superseded by a new bill limiting the
hours of labor to io| on week days and 7I on Saturdays.
This law originally applied to women, children and men
employed in the textile mills only, but its operation was
gradually extended by a series of new enactments to prac-
tically all factory workers. The hours of labor of textile
workers and of children in certain industries were subse-
quendy reduced to 10 per day. In France the workday
of adult males, when working together with women and
children, is limited to 10 hours, otherwise to 12; in Aus-
tria, Germany and Switzerland, the normal workday of
adult male factory workers is fixed at 11 hours by law,
and several states of the American Union have limited the
duration of the normal workday by legal enactment.

Besides these general laws several countries have fixed
a minimum workday of varying length for certain special
classes of workmen, principally those engaged in the more
perilous and taxing occupations and those employed di-
rectly by the government.

These, then, are the rather meager results so far achieved
by this movement in the domain of legislation. But
far larger and more substantial gains have been made
in the same field through the efforts of the industrial
labor organizations in most of the advanced countries of
Europe, Australia and America. In many industries
in those countries, nine-hour and even eight-hour work-
days prevail.

In almost all modern countries the movement of organ-
ized labor to reduce the hours of work has crystallized in


the demand for an eight-hour workday, and the movement
is, therefore, generally known as the eight-hour movement.

The English trade unions seem to have advanced the ideal
of a general eight-hour day for workers of all sexes and
ages as soon as their public activity was made possible by
the repeal of the Combination Laws in 1824; in Australia
an Eight-Hour League was formed in 1856, and a similar
organization was called into life in the United States in
1869 under the leadership of Ira Stewart.

In the English-speaking countries, especially, the eight-
hour movement has assumed large proportions and impor-
tance. " Out of it," says William D. P. Bliss, " has grown
in America a so-called eight-hour philosophy, which is held
by its adherents to be a complete philosophy of the labor
movement and to furnish a program not to be looked at as
simply one plank in a labor program, but as a proposition
complete in itself, including most socialist propositions and
furnishing in its outline a solution of the whole labor ques-
tion." '

A shortening of the hours of labor is a measure of im-
mense importance to the working people, as a factor tend-
ing to improve their general condition of health and to
raise the average duration of their lives. Long hours of
labor are bound to impair the alertness and vigilance of
the worker. It is a well-known fact that accidents occur
most frequently in the industries in which long hours are
the rule, and that they occur with greater frequency towards
the end of the workday than at its beginning. But aside
from accidents the duration of the workday has a very
direct and important bearing on the sickness and mortal-
ity of the working class. Dr. J. Zadek, who has made a

* ''The Encyclopedia of Social Reforms," New York and London,
1898, p. 88.


special study of this aspect of the problem/ relates many
striking instances of the effect of a reduced workday on the
health and life of the workers. Thus, after the lace workers
of Switzerland had succeeded in reducing their workday to
II hours, sickness among the employees decreased by 25
per cent. Up to 1871 the workday of the machine builders
of Great Britain was excessively long, and the average life
of the workers in that trade was 38^ years; in 1872 the
machine builders secured a reduction of the workday to
nine hours, and seventeen years later the average length of
their lives had risen to 48^ years !

The adoption of an eight-hour system of work, it is fur-
ther argued, would benefit the working class and advance
the general cause of human civilization in many ways.
By reducing the hours and quantity of labor of each indi-
vidual, it would necessitate the employment of a larger
number of workingmen to satisfy the demands of produc-
tion. The dread army of unemployed, the source of much
social vice and crime and the cause of much disastrous
competition in the labor market, would thus disappear.
A reduction of the hours of labor would result in a material
increase of wages not only on account of the elimination
of competition between workingmen, but also because it
would raise their standard of living. A short workday
would give to the workingman more leisure, i.e., more time
to live, think and enjoy, and such leisure would necessarily
increase his fondness for home and family life, broaden his
intellectual, social and political interests, and develop in
him greater needs and requirements. And it is the habit-
ual requirements of the workingman, his accustomed stand-
ard of living, that largely determine his wage. A shorter

» "Der Achtstundentag eine gesundheitliche Forderung," Berlin, 1906.


workday would, therefore, also increase the consumptive
powers of the working classes, and thus stimulate industry
and largely remove the causes of periodic overproduction
and underconsumption with the resultant industrial crises
and panics.

The formal resolution adopted by the Boston Eight-
Hour League, and drafted by Ira Stewart, goes so far as to
claim : —

"That less hours mean reducing the profits and fortunes
that are made on labor or its results.

"More knowledge and more capital for the laborer;
the wage system gradually disappearing through higher

The socialists do not concede to the eight-hour movement
all the importance that its most ardent adherents claim for
it. They do not believe that the wage system upon which
the entire present order is built can be abolished by a
gradual reduction of hours and raising of wages, and they
even do not admit that the general introduction of an eight-
hour workday would be effective in solving the problem of
unemployment. The shortening of the hours of labor,
as a rule, results in the greater intensity and productiveness
of labor, and it is the testimony of many writers on the sub-
ject that where a short workday has been introduced, it has
been found that the ordinary workingman, owing to his
better health, larger energy and more cheerful spirits,
could do in eight hours practically as much work as he pre-
viously had done in ten. John Rae,^ himself an employer
of labor and one of the most ardent and persuasive advo-
cates of the eight-hour day, largely bases his argument on
this observation. But the socialists fully adhere to the

' "Eight Hours for Work," London, 1894.


view that a reduced workday would result in an increase
of wages for the other reasons mentioned above, and they
attach the utmost importance to the effect of greater leisure
on the morale and intellect of the working class. Hence
they are among the most active and enthusiastic promoters
of the movement. In countries with a strong trade union
movement they support the eight-hour agitation ; in coun-
tries where the organizations of the trade unions are weaker
they lead the agitation. Every socialist platform invariably
contains the demand for a progressive reduction of the
hours of labor in keeping with the improved methods of
production, and the socialist representatives in parliaments
and other legislative bodies never miss an opportunity to
urge legislation in that direction.

One of the first resolutions adopted by the International
Workingmen's Association, which stood wholly under
socialist influences, at its first regular convention in 1864,
was to the effect that " the limitation of the workday is the
first step in the direction of the emancipation of the working
class," and that "the congress considers in principle that a
workday of eight hours' duration is sufficient." And when
the first of the new series of international socialist con-
gresses convened in Paris in 1889, it reaffirmed the resolu-
tion, and set apart the first day of May of every year for
international labor demonstrations in favor of an eight-
hour workday. "May Day" parades and "eight-hour
demonstrations" have since become prominent features in
the socialist propaganda of Europe and America.

Child Labor

Child labor as an incident of domestic and agricultural
pursuits has probably always existed, but child labor as a


regular and important factor in national industry is an in-
novation, a blossom of the modern capitalist system of pro-
duction. It was the machine that made child labor on a
large scale possible, it was capitalist competition that made
it desirable, and it was capitalist exploitation of the adult
workers that made it inevitable. The worst phases of child
labor are to be found in the classic country of capitalism
and in the classic period of factory development — in
England towards the end of the eighteenth and the begin-
ning of the nineteenth centuries.

Describing the conditions of child labor of that period,
Mr. William F. Willoughby says: —

"Children of all ages, down to three and four, were
found in the hardest and most painful labor, while babes of
six were commonly found in large numbers in many fac-
tories. Labor from 12 to 13 and often 16 hours a day was
the rule. Children had not a moment free, save to snatch
a hasty meal, or sleep as best they could. From earliest
youth they worked to a point of extreme exhaustion, with-
out open-air exercise or any enjoyment whatever, but grew
up, if they survived at all, weak, bloodless, miserable, and
in many cases deformed cripples, and victims of almost
every disease. Drunkenness, debauchery and filth could
not but be the result. Their condition was but the veriest
slavery, and the condition of the serf or negro stood out in
bright contrast to theirs. The mortality was excessive, and
the dread diseases rickets and scrofula passed by but few
in their path. It was among this class that the horror of
hereditary disease had its chief hold, aided as it was by the
repetition and accumulation of the same causes that first
planted its seeds. The reports of all the many investiga-
tions showed that morality was almost unknown. In the



coal mines the condition of the children was even worse.
According to the report of 1842, on child labor, it was
estimated that fully one third of those employed in the coal
mines of England were children under eighteen, and of these
much more than one half were under thirteen. The facts
revealed in this elaborate report of over 2000 pages, devoted
chiefly to child labor in coal mines, would be scarcely
credible if they were not supported by the best of authority,
so fearful was the condition of the children found to be.
Down in the depths of the earth they labored from 14 to 16
hours daily. The coal often lay in seams only 18 inches
deep, and in these children crawled on their hands and feet,
generally naked, and harnessed up by an iron chain and
band around their waists, by which they either dragged
or pushed heavily loaded cars of coal through these narrow
ways. In nearly every case they were driven to work by
the brutal miners, and beaten, and sometimes even killed.
Law did not seem to reach to the depths of a coal pit.
Thus these young infants labored their young lives out as
if condemned to torture for some crime." ^

And John A. Hobson, commenting on these conditions
exclaims : —

"There is no page in the history of our nation so in-
famous as that which tells the details of the unbridled
greed of these pioneers of modern commercialism, feeding
on the misery and degradation of English children." ^

Nor were the conditions in other countries in the periods
of inception of great capitalist production much better.
"In the first decades of the last century," relates Dr.

' William F. Willoughby, "Child Labor," American Economic Asso-
ciation, March, 1890.

^ "Problems of Poverty," London, 1891, p. 184.


Herkner, "children of the most tender ages, some of them
four years old, were made to work in the industrial centers
of the Rhenish provinces, for a daily wage of twopence;
their workday lasted lo, 12 and even 14 hours, and often
they were made to work in the nighttime." ^

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryMorris HillquitSocialism in theory and practice → online text (page 16 of 26)