While declaring that employers and employees had much in common, the Federation strongly opposed company unions. Employers, it argued, were affiliated with the National Manufacturers’ Association or with similar employers’ organizations; every important industry was now national in scope; and wages and hours, in view of competition with other shops, could not be determined in a single factory, no matter how amicable might be the relations of the company and its workers in that particular plant. For these reasons, the Federation declared company unions and local shop committees inherently weak; it insisted that hours, wages, and other labor standards should be fixed by general trade agreements applicable to all the plants of a given industry, even if subject to local modifications.
At the same time, the Federation, far from deliberately antagonizing employers, sought to enlist their cooeperation and support. It affiliated with the National Civic Federation, an association of business men, financiers, and professional men, founded in 1900 to promote friendly relations in the industrial world. In brief, the American Federation of Labor accepted the modern industrial system and, by organization within it, endeavored to secure certain definite terms and conditions for trade unionists.
THE WIDER RELATIONS OF ORGANIZED LABOR
=The Socialists.=—The trade unionism “pure and simple,” espoused by the American Federation of Labor, seemed to involve at first glance nothing but businesslike negotiations with employers. In practice it did not work out that way. The Federation was only six years old when a new organization, appealing directly for the labor vote—namely, the Socialist Labor Party—nominated a candidate for President, launched into a national campaign, and called upon trade unionists to desert the older parties and enter its fold.
The socialistic idea, introduced into national politics in 1892, had been long in germination. Before the Civil War, a number of reformers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Horace Greeley, and Wendell Phillips, deeply moved by the poverty of the great industrial cities, had earnestly sought relief in the establishment of cooeperative or communistic colonies. They believed that people should go into the country, secure land and tools, own them in common so that no one could profit from exclusive ownership, and produce by common labor the food and clothing necessary for their support. For a time this movement attracted wide interest, but it had little vitality. Nearly all the colonies failed. Selfishness and indolence usually disrupted the best of them.