History and Functions of Central Labor Unions

By William Maxwell Burke | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV.
POLITICAL ACTION AND SOCIALISM.

EVER since trade unions have existed in the United States, a favorite method of accomplishing reforms of all kinds has been through legislation. Of course the trade unionist is not alone in this, for each separate class in the community attempts to benefit itself through the enactment of laws. Hence we have all degrees of "class" legislation upon city, state, or national statute books. This desire for legislative enactment in behalf of trade unions is seen most clearly in the continued agitation for a shorter work day, from the beginning of the century when the hours of labor were virtually without limit, through the adoption of the ten-hour law to the passage of a special eight-hour law, down to the agitation for a general eight-hour law which cannot be evaded.

Hand in hand with this desire for legislative action goes the method of collective bargaining. One method is not necessarily antagonistic to the other, but often supplementary. Collective bargaining is more costly to the laborer even when it is more effective, and therefore, whenever the result can be accomplished by legislation, the tendency is to adopt that method. This method is almost wholly resorted to in Germany through the independent political action of the workingmen under the name of the Social Democratic Party. This is due partly to the fact that much less liberty of all kinds is given to the German than to the English or the American workman; the demands of the labor party in Ger

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