Labor Problems Of The Twentieth Century -- By: Charles William Eliot

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 061:242 (Apr 1904)
Article: Labor Problems Of The Twentieth Century
Author: Charles William Eliot


Labor Problems Of The Twentieth Century

President Charles William Eliot

[An address given before the Boston Labor-Union to define the author’s attitude on the labor question. This address and his previous one on “The True Mission of Labor-Unions” (published in the Bibliotheca Sacra, for January, 1903, pp. 129-147) furnish two of the most important contributions to the subject that have been made, and are worthy of the permanent preservation which they will receive by being published in our pages.—Ed.]

The opening of the twentieth century has witnessed a remarkable change in the conflict between labor and capital— a change due to the rapid increase in the effective power of large combinations of men. Democracy has made legal these combinations, whether of laborers or of employers; and applied science has made them possible on an immense scale and over great areas. The telegraph, telephone, and quick mail have made it possible to unite thousands of men who live and work in groups scattered all over our broad land, in prompt common action under a few leaders whose headquarters are kept in instant connection with hundreds of thousands of different centers of industrial activity. This secure legal status, which is hardly thirty }^ears old (in England 1871-75), and these means of instant communication, so recent as still to be developing, belong both to workingmen and to employers. The workingmen were the first to utilize them; for till the opening of the twentieth century the organization of employers was very inferior, both in extent and in firmness, to the organization of the employes.

Rise Of Employers’ Associations

In most of the trades and manufactures in this country the employers were so imperfectly organized that, by attacking

one employer, or a few isolated employers, in a trade or manufacturing in which many employers were competing with each other, the labor-union could gradually overcome the whole group by forcing a few at a time to raise wages or shorten hours in fear lest their competitors should capture their business during a strike. It is the frequent sight of this conquest in detail and the mounting demands of organized labor which have finally produced firm associations of employers. The spirit of the numerous employers’ associations, which with characteristic American quickness have been organized within three years, is not always the same. In some of them the prime object seems to be to resist labor-unions; but in most of them the main intention is to discuss with organized labor new demands from either side, to prevent the interruption of production, and, respecting each other’s rights, ...

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