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And even in Switzerland children of six and seven years
were employed in the spinning mills, working continually
from midnight to noon or from early in the morning till

The evils of child labor early attracted the attention of
the public-spirited men of all countries, and the first efforts
of all factory legislation were invariably directed against
this evil. But the process of legislative reform in this
field has, on the whole, been slow and quite ineffective.
It took the English Parliament fully seventeen years after
the adoption of the Peel law to pass the first act prohibit-
ing the employment of children below a minimum age in
factories, and that age as fixed by the law of 1819, was —
nine years ! The minimum age of child workers in Eng-
land was raised to ten years in 1874, to eleven in 1891, and
at present it is twelve years. Of the other countries of
Europe, some have entirely failed to legislate on the
minimum age of factory workers, and others have fixed
it at so low a point that it accentuates rather than relieves
the horrors of child labor. Thus, in Denmark, the law
forbids the employment of children under ten years. In
Belgium, Italy, Russia, Sweden and Holland the age at
which children are legally set free for factory work is
twelve years, Germany and France do not allow their
children to work in factories before the age of thirteen

* Heinrich Herkner, "Die Arbeiterfrage," 4th Edition, Berlin, 1905,
pp. 24, 25.


years, and Austria and Switzerland before fourteen. In
the United States we are confronted in this, as in every
other domain of social legislation, by 46 different sets of
laws enacted in as many states. The minimum age of
juvenile factory workers varies from twelve to sixteen
years, but fourteen seems to be the favorite point in most

Somewhat more satisfactory results in the field of child-
labor legislation seem to have been achieved in the direc-
tion of limiting the hours of labor of the youthful factory
workers. In England children under fourteen years are only
allowed to be employed half time, and the hours of em-
ployment of children between fourteen and eighteen years
arelimited to 12, with 2 hours' intermission for rest. In Ger-
many the hours of children under fourteen years of age in
factories must not exceed 6 a day, with an intermission of
at least half an hour, and children between fourteen and
sixteen must not work more than 10 hours a day, with one
hour's interval in the middle of the day, and half an hour
in the morning and afternoon. In France children under
sixteen may work 10 hours a day in factories. Sweden
limits the work of children under fourteen to 6 hours,
and under sixteen to 12 hours. In the United States the
hours of labor for children are variously fixed at from 8
to ID per day.

Yet while the legal restrictions on child labor and on
the intensity of its exploitation have thus, on the whole,
been making slow and laborious progress, the evil itself
has been steadily increasing and spreading.

Economically, morally and in every other way, child
labor is one of the heaviest curses upon the working class.
Originating as a last and desperate resort in the effort to


augment the insulTicicnt income of the head of the prole-
tarian family, child labor has proved in the hands of the
capitalists one of the most effective methods for cutting
the wages of the adult workers. Instead of being a help
to his father, the child has become his competitor in the
factory. The wages of the factory children are ludi-
crously low, ranging from 25 or 30 cents a week in some
countries of Europe to about $2.50 per week in the United
States, and the total earnings of the working children are
rarely enough to make up for the losses in wages which
their competition causes to the adult workers.

And the moral cost of child labor to the working class is
incalculable. It robs the working child of all joys and
privileges of childhood, cripples his body, dwarfs his mind,
takes the very life out of him, and threatens to develop a
generation of dull, cheerless and resistless workers.

"The sucking out of the life juice from these helpless
and defenseless creatures, the destruction of all joys of
life right at the threshold of life, the consumption of the
seed of manhood right from the stem — that, more than
anything else, is the sin of the capitalist rule against the
present generation; it is also a criminal interference with
the future!" exclaims the eloquent Rosa Luxemburg,
speaking on the subject of child labor.*

Socialism, which ever strives for the highest physical,
mental and moral development of the working class, and
centers its hopes on the rising generation of workers,
naturally sees in child labor one of the greatest obstacles
to its progress, and combats it by all means at its command.

The socialists favor all legislation for the restriction of

* Quoted by Kate Duncker in "Die Kinderarbeit und ihre Bekamp-
fung," Stuttgart, 1906.


child labor, and consistently support every measure tend-
ing in that direction. But unlike the ideologist champions
of the cause of child labor, who are of late developing con-
siderable activity, especially in the United States and in
England, they realize that the evil cannot be wholly cured
by mere laws for the abolition or limitation of child labor.
The alarming spread of child labor is largely a symptom
of the dire poverty of the working class. It is true that in
some instances children are sent to work by their parents
out of thoughtlessness or cupidity, but these instances
may be safely set down as rare exceptions. As a rule the
parents of the working class feel very keenly the dreadful
sacrifice involved in the offering of their immature and
tender-bodied children on the altar of the profit-grinding
machine, and only the most implacable need will induce
them to do so. Speaking of the beginnings of child work
in the English factories, John Spargo remarks: "To get
children for the cotton mills was not easy at first. Parental
love and pride were ranged against the new system, deny-
ing its demands. Accustomed to the old domestic system,
the association of all members of the family in manufacture
as part of the domestic life, they regarded the new indus-
trial forms with repugnance. It was considered a degra-
dation for a cliild to be sent into the factories, especially
for a girl, whose life would be blasted thereby. The
term 'factory girl' was an insulting epithet. . . . Not
till they were forced by sheer hunger and misery, through
the reduction of wages to the level of starvation, could the
respectable workers be induced to send their children into
the factories." ^

It may be argued that if the workingman be deprived

» "The Bitter Cry of the Children," New York, 1906, pp. 130, 131.


of the earnings of his children by legal enactment, he
would be compelled in the long run to force up his wages
to a higher level, and thus to make up for the impairment
of the family income. And there is certainly much justice
in the argument. But its weakness lies in the proviso —
*'in the long run." Few workingmen's families can stand
a decrease in their meager incomes for any length of time.

Capitalism holds the workers in the grip of a vicious
circle: the poverty of the wage-earning father sends his
child to the factory, and the competition of the child in
the factory increases the father's poverty and makes it
ever harder for him to dispense with the scanty additional
earnings of the child.

To cope effectively with the evil, it is necessary to attack
its very root and source, the poverty of the working class.
The child-labor problem is but one phase of the larger
labor problem and cannot be solved separately.

The socialist demand for greater restriction of child
labor derives its main strength and effectiveness from its
connection with the demands for other industrial reforms
contained in the socialist program.

Woman Labor

In its history, and partly also in its social effects, the
problem of woman labor is somewhat similar to that of
child labor, but its solution presents a different and con-
siderably more complex question.

With the introduction of the machine and of the factory
system, the personal training and physical strength of the
workingman rapidly lost their importance in the process of
production. What the capitalist demanded was cheap


labor rather than skilled labor, and next to the labor of
the child that of the woman was and is the cheapest
commodity in the labor market.

The working woman is in the majority of cases not
called upon to support a family, as is the workingman.
As a rule her earnings are but a subsidiary source of the
family income : her wages are intended only to add some-
what to those of her husband or father. The position of
the working woman in industry is furthermore not as per-
manent as that of the man or even the boy — the woman
often, though by far not as a rule, quits the factory on her
marriage. And finally, the work of the married woman
is not as steady as that of the man ; it is necessarily inter-
rupted by the periods of pregnancy and childbed. The
wants of the working woman are thus comparatively small
and her power of resistance is weak. Women rarely
organize into compact and permanent trade unions, they
seldom strike or revolt, and they are for that reason better
objects of capitalist exploitation than men.

"It is," observes Mr. Hobson, "the general industrial
weakness of the condition of most women workers, and not
a sex prejudice, which prevents them from receiving the
wages which men might get, if the work the women do
were left for male competition alone." ^

In the earlier part of the nineteenth century, the ex-
ploitation of factory women grew so unbridled and their
treatment so brutal that the parliaments and legislatures
of the most advanced countries found themselves impelled
to take official cognizance of the situation, and to attempt
to cure some of the worst evils of woman labor by legis-
lative enactments.

1 ((

Problems of Poverty," p. 158.


The first measure in that direction was the English act
of 1842, which prohibited underground work for women
as well as for children, and that act was followed by several
other measures at long intervals, the effect of which was
to limit and regulate to some extent the labor of women
in industries. Similar laws were also enacted in other
countries, but on the whole these laws are even less radical
and effective than those dealing with child labor.

The wages of women workers were hardly affected by
these measures. They are still much below those of their
male companions in the factories, even though their work
may be equally efficient. Out of 782 instances selected at
random by the United States Commissioner of Labor in
1897, in which men and women worked at the same occu-
pation and performed their work with the same degree of
efficiency, men received greater pay in 595, or 76.1 per
cent of the instances, and their pay in these instances was
50.1 per cent greater than that of the women.

The average wage of the factory woman in the United
States is about $5 per week, while in Great Britain the
working woman earns about 11 shillings per week. But
it must be remembered that these averages are greatly
swelled by the higher pay of women in exceptional posi-
tions, and also that they apply to factory work only. The
female sweatshop and house workers receive much more
wretched pay.

It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that the number
of women employed in the industries is growing steadily
and rapidly. In the United States, in which the woman
engaged in industry was a rare exception at the beginning
of the last century, the number of women engaged in
gainful occupation rose to almost 4,000,000 in 1890. In


France there were 6,382,658 women engaged in the dif-
ferent industries of the country as against 12,061,121 men,
and in Germany the rapid growth of the number of women
engaged in the factories alone is shown by the following
eloquent figures : —

1895 664,116

1899 884,239

1904 1,1 19^713

1905 1,180,894

1906 1,244,964

These figures include the female children. In England
half of the grown-up women are, according to Mr. John
A. Hobson, wage laborers.

The socialists are not opposed to woman labor as such.
They recognize that woman occupies a legitimate and
lasting position in industry and that the growing im-
portance of her role in all spheres of the social, political
and economic life of modern nations is fully in keeping
with the march of social progress. But they combat the
special evils and abuses of woman labor. And these
abuses are many.

The woman, when not burdened with a family of young
children depending on her care and guidance, is just as
fit to work as the man ; but the woman with a large family,
and the woman in a condition of pregnancy, or immediately
after childbirth, has enougii useful and necessary work to
perform at home. Her work in the factory under such
conditions is not a proud assertion of the rights of woman,
but a pitiful and tragic surrender of her maternal duties
and feelings to the cruel exigencies of dire poverty. And
her work under such conditions causes incalculable physi-
cal and moral harm to her and her progeny.


The small pay of the working women, furthermore, con-
stantly tends to drag down the wages of their husbands,
fathers and brothers to an even lower level.

The efforts of the socialists are, therefore, directed
primarily towards raising the wages of the adult male
worker, the father of the workingman family, to a point
where they would be sufficient to meet the necessary re-
quirements of all members of his family, including those of
his young children and their mother. Only thus can the
inhuman evils of forced woman labor be effectively cured.

For the remaining female workers in industry, the social-
ists demand equal pay for equal work, and they strive to
interest the working women in the organizations of the
workingmen, and to secure their cooperation in the strug-
gle for the improvement of the conditions of labor of both

The abuses of woman labor and the exploitation of
child labor are logical and necessary accompaniments of
the competitive system of industry. It lies in the nature
of capitalism to stimulate competition in the labor market
by opposing sex to sex, age to age and nationality to
nationality, and as long as the system endures, its inherent
abuses cannot be entirely removed. Socialism alone
offers a complete cure for the evils of woman and child
labor. But even such imperfect and partial remedies as
may be secured under the present system will be effect-
ive only if obtained in pursuance of a consistent pro-
gram of labor reform in all of its branches and as a
result of a strong and planful movement on the part of
the workers organized industrially and politically.


The Trade Union Movement

In their efforts to secure radical and lasting industrial
reform, and we may add, in their expectations of the ulti-
mate realization of their entire program, the socialists
thus rely not on their own strength, but also on the co-
operation of the industrial organization of the working
class. This industrial organization is represented chiefly
by the trade union movement, and the role of that move-
ment in the progress of industrial reform and the reciprocal
relations between it and the socialist movement, are ques-
tions of large moment in the practical work of socialism.

Trade unionism and socialism have a common origin,
and are both the products and expression of an advanced
stage of the class struggle between capitalism and labor.

In England, France, Italy, Australia and the United
States, the modern trade union movement preceded the
socialist movement; in Germany, Austria and Russia,
the trade unions are largely the creation of socialists, while
in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Holland, both
movements developed almost simultaneously. In the
Anglo-Saxon countries the trade unions have developed
a greater numerical strength than the socialist parties,
while in the countries of continental Europe the reverse
is true. On the whole, however, the total strength of the
two movements is approximately equal, as the following
figures taken from the leading countries will show : * —

' The figures for the trade union membership are taken from the
paper of Louis de Brouckere on Socialism and Trade Unionism sub-
mitted to the Stuttgart International Congress, 1907, and those for tha
socialist vote are largely compiled from the official reports of the various
socialist parties to the same Congress. The Belgian socialist vote has,
since June, 1908, substantially increased. The figures for England,




Socialist Vote

Trade Union

Great Britain













United States



























Stating the proposition in general and broad terms, the
trade unions fight the special and economic battles of the
workingmen, while the Socialist Party represents the gen-
eral interest of the wage earners in the field of politics.
But on closer examination the distinction is by no means
as clear and definite as it seems at first sight.

Every trade union represents primarily the interest of
the employees in its special trade, but under a highly
developed state of factory production the modern trades

Spain and Servia are estimated. Owing to the chaotic electoral system
of Russia the strong socialist vote of that country cannot be estimated.
Neither the socialist vote nor the trade-union strength are fully shown in
the above table, since a number of countries have had to be omitted
from it for lack of sufficient data. The total socialist vote is estimated
as exceeding 10,000,000; the total membership of the trade unions of
the world is about 11,000,000,


and industries have come to be so closely allied and inter-
woven, that the workingmen in any trade can rarely suc-
ceed in their struggles unless they are supported by their
comrades in the allied trades and sometimes by organized
labor as a whole. The growing practice of "sympathy
strikes" is evidence of this fact, and the trade unions
tacitly recognize it by forming local, national; and even
international central bodies for the purpose of cooperation
and mutual support on a large scale. The interests repre-
sented by the whole body of trade unions thus gradually
become the general interests of the working class rather
than the special interests of the employees of particular

With the enlargement of the scope of the trade union
movement, the very character of the movement is trans-
formed : its economic battles partake of the nature of po-
litical struggles.

For the distinction between economic and political ac-
tion is one of degree and method rather than of kind and
substance. The efforts of the organized employees of a
given shop or craft to secure and maintain a reduction of
their hours of labor by the strength of their own organiza-
tion, are classed as economic struggles. The efforts of
the entire organized working class or a specific and uni-
form portion of it to secure and maintain the same reduc-
tion of work hours through legislative enactment, con-
stitute political action. As the trade unions in every
country grow in numbers and power, they pay ever greater
attention to the more general phases of the labor problem
and are thus drawn into ever closer contact with politics.
The trade unions of every advanced country are actively
engaged in the effort to secure legislation for the limitation


of child labor, the regulation of woman labor, the improve-
ment of the employers' liability laws, the safeguarding of
dangerous machinery and for the abatement of the count-
less other evils of modern factory work. And whenever
legislation is threatened which may be detrimental to the
interests of labor or tend to curtail the rights or the effi-
ciency of its organizations, the unions engage in an active
campaign of opposition to such measures.

"The distinction between the industrial and the political
struggles of the proletariat was only temporary," says the
well-known socialist theoretician writing under the no7n
de plume of Parvus; "it was always rather superficial and
often fictitious; with the extension of the scope and power
of the strikes, it disappears entirely. Whoever tries to
exclude politics from the trade unions, must retard the
very development of the trade unions." *

The trade unions of continental Europe fully recognize
this political phase of their movement, and they frankly
ally themselves with the socialist parties of their coun-
tries in all political campaigns. In England the trade
organizations stubbornly maintained the attitude of non-
interference in politics until such time as they found their
very existence menaced by the legislative and judicial
powers of the realm. Then they constituted themselves
into a political Labor Party, which declared for inde-
pendent working-class politics and adopted a radical pro-
gram of political labor reform.

The only large body of trade unions which, at least to\
some extent, still upholds the fiction of political indifference./
is that represented by the American Federation of Labor,
and that fiction is becoming so incongruous as to 'involve

* Parvus, "Der Gewerkschaftliche Kampf," Berlin, 1908.


the organization in the most ludicrous contradictions.
Thus, while a special clause in its constitution prohibits
any affiliation with political parties, and the favorite slogan
of the Federation is "No politics in the union," one of the
principal objects of the organization, as likewise stated in
its constitution, is "to secure national legislation in the
interests of the working people," and every one of its
conventions devotes entire days to the discussion of politi-
cal problems and demands. In the election of 1908, the
Federation unofficially supported the Democratic Party.
The American Federation of Labor is in politics just as
much as are the labor unions of all other countries, but it
is the only large labor body that has failed to organize
q,pd concentrate its forces in one consistent political labor

/party, and prefers to scatter and waste them in the sup-

^pert of the political parties of the employing class.

Another distinction frequently drawn between the trade
union and the socialist movements is that the former stands
for mere improvements of the conditions of labor within

^ the frame of the present system, while the latter strives for
the entire abolition of the wage system. This distinction
is also more imaginary than real.

The object of all trade unions is directly or indirectly
to enhance the worker's share of the product, thus cor-
respondingly decreasing the share of the employer. No
limit is set to this process, and its logical conclusion, at
least in abstract theory, is the entire elimination of the
capitaHst's profits — the socialization of industries. The
only difference between the socialists and the trade union-
ists on the point is that while all of the former clearly

; realize this ultimate goal of the class struggle, many of the
latter do not. But even that is rapidly changing. The


trade unionists of Europe are as a rule permeated with the
philosophy of socialism, and the understanding of that
philosophy gives them a clearer vision of their task and
makes their struggles more effective. In the United States
socialism is making its v^^ay among the trade unionists
slowly but steadily.

Thus the fields of socialism and trade unionism largely
encroach on each other, and the line of demarcation be-
tween the two movements is often blurred. Still it would

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Online LibraryMorris HillquitSocialism in theory and practice → online text (page 17 of 26)