The Story of Civil Liberty in the United States

By Leon Whipple | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI.
CIVIL LIBERTY AND LABOR

THE power which exercises the greatest control over liberty is economic. It often acts through military and political power,--but it at bottom control by those who govern business and credit. That is why the industrial struggle, the "Fifty Years War" of Labor and Capital from 1870 to 1920 involved more numerous and more complex attacks on civil rights than any other conflict in our history. Doubtless, a very small degree of personal liberty has ever been the lot of the wage-worker. But as he gained education and began to organize, he demanded more and more liberty to carry on his struggle for higher wages and better conditions. The record of this conflict would fill volumes; we here outline simply the major facts.

The labor movement has progressed along three lines:-- the trade unions, political activities, and the radical propaganda of a small section.

The bulk of the attacks on the civil liberty of the workers has arisen out of conflicts between the unions and employers. The concrete issues have been the right of labor to organize, to strike, to picket and to boycott. The worker needed all the liberties guaranteed in the constitutions:--freedom of speech and assemblage, with the use of public halls and streets; freedom for propaganda presses; protection from unlawful police and military control; and all the hallowed safeguards of criminal justice in the inevitable prosecutions for the exercise of these rights.

Against the workers were lined up the capitalist--employer combinations creating as the workers declared an "invisible government" superior to the constitutions, that could both

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