THE LABOR UNION AND THE DEMOCRATIC TRADITION
One other decisive instance of this specialized organization of American activity remains to be considered—that of the labor unions. The power which the unions have obtained in certain industrial centers and the tightness of their organization would have seemed anomalous to the good Jacksonian Democrat. From his point of view the whole American democracy was a kind of labor union whose political constitution provided for a substantially equal division of the products of labor; and if the United States had remained as much of an agricultural community as it was in 1830, the Jacksonian system would have preserved a much higher degree of serviceability.
Except in the case of certain local Granger and Populist movements, the American farmers have never felt the necessity of organization to advance either their economic or their political interests. But when the mechanic or the day-laborer gathered into the cities, he soon discovered that life in a democratic state by no means deprived him of special class interests. No doubt he was at worst paid better than his European analogues, because the demand for labor in a new country was continually outrunning the supply; but on occasions he was, like his employer, threatened with merciless competition. The large and continuous stream of foreign immigrants, whose standards of living were in the beginning lower than those which prevailed in this country, were, particularly in hard times, a constant menace not merely to his advancement, but to the stability of his economic situation; and he began to organize partly for the purpose of protecting himself against such competition. During the past thirty years the work of organization has made enormous strides; and it has been much accelerated by the increasing industrial power of huge corporations. The mechanic and the laborer have come to believe that they must meet organization with organization, and discipline with discipline. Their object in forming trade associations has been militant. Their purpose has been to conquer a larger share of the economic product by aggressive associated action.