=Organized Labor and the Public.=—Besides its relations to employers, radicals within its own ranks, and political questions, the Federation had to face responsibilities to the general public. With the passing of time these became heavy and grave. While industries were small and conflicts were local in character, a strike seldom affected anybody but the employer and the employees immediately involved in it. When, however, industries and trade unions became organized on a national scale and a strike could paralyze a basic enterprise like coal mining or railways, the vital interests of all citizens were put in jeopardy. Moreover, as increases in wages and reductions in hours often added directly to the cost of living, the action of the unions affected the well-being of all—the food, clothing, and shelter of the whole people.
For the purpose of meeting the issue raised by this state of affairs, it was suggested that employers and employees should lay their disputes before commissions of arbitration for decision and settlement. President Cleveland, in a message of April 2, 1886, proposed such a method for disposing of industrial controversies, and two years later Congress enacted a voluntary arbitration law applicable to the railways. The principle was extended in 1898 and again in 1913, and under the authority of the federal government many contentions in the railway world were settled by arbitration.
The success of such legislation induced some students of industrial questions to urge that unions and employers should be compelled to submit all disputes to official tribunals of arbitration. Kansas actually passed such a law in 1920. Congress in the Esch-Cummins railway bill of the same year created a federal board of nine members to which all railway controversies, not settled by negotiation, must be submitted. Strikes, however, were not absolutely forbidden. Generally speaking, both employers and employees opposed compulsory adjustments without offering any substitute in case voluntary arbitration should not be accepted by both parties to a dispute.
IMMIGRATION AND AMERICANIZATION
=The Problems of Immigration.=—From its very inception, the American Federation of Labor, like the Knights of Labor before it, was confronted by numerous questions raised by the ever swelling tide of aliens coming to our shores. In its effort to make each trade union all-inclusive, it had to wrestle with a score or more languages. When it succeeded in thoroughly organizing a craft, it often found its purposes defeated by an influx of foreigners ready to work for lower wages and thus undermine the foundations of the union.