Adonis Diaries

USA 1912: Dialogue between American Federation of Labor and Socialist party

Posted on: December 1, 2011

USA 1912: Dialogue between American Federation of Labor and Socialist party

In 1912, the workers in the USA were accumulating strikes for better conditions: A worker in major industries received $2.50 for a 12-hour work.  The Republican President William Howard Taft demanded from Congress to create a commission for investigating the working situation.

In May 1914, the commission convoked the Samuel Gompers, president of the Federation of Labor (AFL), and Morris Hillquit, founder of the Socialist party in order to clarify divergences among syndicate movement and socialism. At the time, Eugene Debs was the leading figure of the socialist movement.  What follows is a dialogue between the leading individuals:

Hillquit: Is it your own point of view or of the Federation that workers receive today all the fruits of their labor? Should the function of a syndicate to increase the portion in production meant to be diverted to the workers?

Gompers: It is impossible to compute with precision the part in production that workers should be entitled to.  Fact is, this part is more important today than anytime in history.  The syndicates expect from society to gratify workers for services rendered, services that are at the core of civilized life…

Hillquit: Suppose the workers receive 5% increase next year, would the syndicate be satisfied and would stop their demands?  Should the workers’ movement decline any further conditions before they receive the full share in production, before they are assured of a true social justice…

Gompers: Human nature would respond: No. Workers have the same wishes and desires as any other human being:  They do not relish waiting to be dead before they accede to a better living condition.  Workers want a good life now, and better standard of living for their children…Workers are the ones moving things, they have demands, and are willing to defend their rights with all the power they have.  Workers are using their power in a rational and normal ways to acquiring a higher share of their labor.  Workers are fighting for higher social justice ideals…

Hillquit: In matter of distribution of wealth, aren’t social justice ideals consist of building a system where workers (manual and intellectual), in positions of responsibility or executive jobs, receive the full share of what they produce? Is the Federation of Labor guided by a social philosophy?

Gompers:  A sensible worker prefers to be occupied by current problems and confront them in order to advance: He is not motivated to pursue unattainable dreams.  A sensible worker want to deal with the reality of conditions and not dwell on devising a dream system that might end up the worst nightmare that human mind could invent… The social philosophy of the syndicated worker is guided by the lessons of the past.  The worker want to have a job the less tenuous possible, better working conditions for higher production levels…tomorow should be better than today.  Our social philosophy is to enjoying a better life while still alive…

Hillquit:  In your efforts to improving your life style you must have a precise idea of what is good…In order to determine whether workers conditions improved or deteriorated, you must have a set of criteria to discriminate what is good and what is not satisfactory, would you agree?

Gompers: Do we need a special set of criteria to comprehend that $3 for an 8-hour work is better than $2.50 for a 12-hour work day?  The real danger of agreeing on a program (ideology) is that the moment a program is fixed, all must submit to it: If facts do not correspond to the theory you are inclined to say: “Forget facts…”

Hillquit: In that line of thought, $4 for seven hours work day is a more preferable condition…and once you obtain it, you will be tempted to demand for more…

Gompers: Absolutely.  Workers will resume their struggle for an even higher standard of progress…

Hillquit: You will struggle until the full recognition of the worth of your labor…until complete social justice for the workers and their families…

Gompers: Workers will never cease to fight for a better living condition, today and everyday.  The socialist party determines a horizon for their actions, we don’t…

Hillquit: Thus, the Federation of Labor declares that it is ready to go as far as abolishing the current system of profit and salaries and is working for a total retribution for the product of their labor…

Gompers: You are putting words in my mouth to give the illusion that we converge to the dream world that a few of you socialists have imagined.  Our syndicate will follow the inclination that push humans to reclaim the best working conditions for their today existence.  We are going ahead without any fixed objectives toward better and better working conditions…” End of the dialogue

WWI was declared. The faction of Gompers sided with the US participation in the war activities. The faction of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) split and was faced with government oppressions and repressions for standing against participating in the war.  Gompers’ faction of the American Federation Labor didn’t question the capitalist mechanism system and tried to take advantage of its dynamics.

Fact is, in the last 40 years, wages never caught up with inflation and the workers are far worse in their standard of living. The barbarity of globalization is trailing all sorts of violence committed against workers, and especially in the third world States.  Vast lands are exploited for industrial agriculture while the local people are dying of famine for lack of daily staples…

Note 1: Post inspired by a piece in the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatic (November, 2011)

Note 2:  One of the comments stated: “I don’t know about this meeting, but it came after the terrible conditions of Chicago’s meat packing industry were exposed. The general public was shocked at the unsanitary production and several labor groups arose because of horrid working conditions. See The Jungle, published in 1906”.

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December 2011

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