“Different Phases of the Labor Question” by Joseph Labadie

…Nothing exists without a cause, and the cause of the labor movement is that labor products have not been justly distributed. This defect in the present industrial system has brought into existence the trades unions, the political labor parties, the socialists, communists, anarchists, single-taxers, etc., the central aim of all being to give to the laborer the full fruits of his toil…

Liberty of the individual should be the guiding principle of all reforms…Individual liberty does not, however, destroy the right of association for the accomplishment of specific objects. The entering freely, voluntarily, into a contract with others to do something is not a curtailment of one’s liberty. You do not give up any rights when you join a society. In the case of a trade union, for example, one does not give up his freedom when he becomes a member, because the object of his joining is to enlarge his sphere of liberty. It is the exemplification of gaining freedom by association. Without his union, the workman is much more the slave of his employer than he is with it.

There is, however, too often an inclination on the part of the ruling power in the union, as well as in other societies, to disregard the letter and the spirit of the contract (which is the constitution), and by superior force or threats compel members to do what they have not contracted to do. This is what every true, intelligent union man should enter his most vigorous protest against, because it is the germ which will in time destroy any society if allowed to grow. The personal responsibility of a vote in a society is not always, in fact it is very rarely, fully appreciated, and this leads to grave abuses. Persons are too prone to cast a vote, especially a secret one, to have the society do acts which they would not do as individuals. This is the weakness of all democracies, and one which to avoid requires a high degree of intelligence, and a fine sense of the rights of others.

It seems to me that those who are desirous of reform should keep these things in mind, namely, that the movement is international, and any attempt to confine it within national boundaries simply retards it; that immigration or the prevention of immigration is no means of reform, and is of no practical benefit to the movement in general; that occupancy and use only must be recognized as a valid title to land; that the monopoly of machinery must be destroyed by the abolition of the patent right system; that the furnishing of a currency, of a medium of exchange, must be left to individuals and associations, taking away from the general governments the monopoly of making the tools of exchange–that, in fact, general governments have no more right to monopolize the making of the tools of trade than they have to monopolize the making of the tools of production; that the true interests of the working and business classes is in the repeal of laws instead of the making of new ones, and that the powers and functions of governments must be reduced as so as to leave the individual a greater degree of freedom and responsibility for his own acts.

The men who form the trades unions in all countries will probably continue to lead in this movement. The trades unions themselves will be powerful factors in accomplishing good results. There is no doubt in my mind that, contrary to the advice of many well-meaning friends of trades unions, the unions to enhance their usefulness will have to restrict their own functions rather than enlarging them, and confine their efforts to economic problems, leaving the political and the social to associations especially formed for carrying on the work peculiar to those two departments of sociology. They must learn the utility of specializing the work to be done, and they may learn from modern industry the power that comes from the division of labor.