This monograph had its origin in the investigations of American trade-union activities which have engaged the attention of the Economic Seminary of the Johns Hopkins University since October, 1902. It was begun and completed while the author was a graduate student at the University.
The study is based on a survey of the beneficiary activities of national and international trade unions. While no attempt has been made to study in detail the various forms of mutual insurance maintained by local trade unions, frequent references are made thereto, inasmuch as the local activities have usually an important genetic connection with the national. The sources from which information has been secured are the trade-union publications in the Johns Hopkins University collection and important documents at the headquarters of different unions. These have been supplemented by personal interviews with prominent officials and labor leaders.
The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance received, at every stage of the work, from Professor Jacob H. Hollander and Associate Professor George E. Barnett of the Department of Political Economy of the Johns Hopkins University.
The American trade unions have developed beneficiary functions far more slowly than the trade unions of England and Germany. Only since about 1880 has there been any considerable increase in such activities. Prior to that time the national unions with few exceptions paid no benefits. The local unions, here and there, developed beneficiary systems, but these were not continuous nor, in many cases, important.
[Footnote 1: The term “benefit” is used in this monograph to include all forms of mutual insurance other than those directly connected with the enforcement of trade-union rules by collective bargaining. “Strike benefits” and “victimized benefits” are thus without the scope of the study.]
The history of trade-union beneficiary activities in the United States may be roughly divided into three periods. In the first, extending from the beginning of the century to about 1830, the local associations laid great stress on their beneficiary functions. The societies of printers organized from 1794 to 1815 in the most important American cities were typical of the period. In all of them, as far as the extant records show, the beneficiary functions were regarded as equally important with the trade-regulating activities. American trade unionism owed its origin as much to the desire to associate for mutual insurance as to the desire to establish trade rules.
The second period, from 1830 to 1880, was marked by the subordination of beneficiary to trade purposes. The maintenance of a minimum rate and other trade policies came to occupy the foremost place in the program of the local unions. In this period national unions were formed in many trades.