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Boycotts And The Limiting Of Products

When free from the taint of monopoly, trade unions, as has been shown,
help rather than hinder the natural forces of distribution. Collective
bargaining is normal, but barring men from a field of employment is
not so. Connected with this undemocratic policy are certain practices
which aim to benefit some laborers at the cost of others, and thus
tend to pervert the distributive process.

Restrictions on the Number of Members in a Trade Union

If a trade
union were altogether a private organization, it might properly
control the number of its own members. Before it is formed all members
of the craft it represents are, of course, non-union workers, and the
aim of the founders is to "unionize the trade"--that is, to enlist, in
the membership of the body, as large a proportion as is possible of
the men already working in the subgroup which the union represents.
From that time on it can fix its own standard of admission, and allow
its membership to increase slowly or rapidly as its interests may seem
to dictate.

How a too Narrow Policy defeats its Own End

Very narrow
restrictions, while they keep men out of the union, attract them to
the trade itself. An extreme scarcity of union labor and the high pay
it signifies causes the establishment of new mills or shops run
altogether by non-union men. If these mills and shops are successful,
the union may later admit their employees to membership; and a series
of successful efforts to produce goods by the aid of unorganized labor
thus interferes with the exclusive policy of unions. The number of
their members grows in spite of efforts to the contrary.

Free Admission to a Trade Equivalent to Free Admission to a

We may recognize as one of the principles in the case that
free admission to the craft itself involves free admission to the
union. When once men are successfully practicing the trade, the union
is eager to include them, though it enlarges its own membership by the

How a Government might prevent a Monopoly of Labor

It is entirely
possible that a government might require trade unions to incorporate
themselves, and might include in the charter a clause requiring the
free admission of qualified members, subject only to such dues as the
reasonable needs of the union might require. That is not an immediate
probability, but the end in view can be attained by making membership
in the trade itself practically free--which means protecting from
violence the men who practice it without joining the union. This is
not difficult where a mill in an isolated place is run altogether by
independent labor, and it is natural that the unions should endeavor,
in other ways than the crudely illegal ones, to prevent the successful
running of such mills. If they run with success, their employees will
have to be attracted into the unions. A measure designed to impede the
running of non-union mills is the boycott. It is a measure which does
not involve force and which is yet of not a little value to workers.

The Nature and Varieties of the Boycott

A boycott is a concurrent
refusal to use or handle certain articles. In its original or negative
form, the boycott enjoins upon workers that they shall let certain
specified articles alone. If they are completed goods, they must not
buy them for consumption; and if they are raw materials, or goods in
the making, they must not do any work upon them or upon any product
into which they enter. They may thus boycott the mantels of a dwelling
house and refuse to put them in position, or, in case they have been
put in position by other workmen, they may, as an extreme measure,
refuse to do further work on the house until they are taken out. A
producers' boycott, such as this, falls in quite a different category
from the direct consumers' boycott, or the refusal to use a completed
article. When a raw material is put under the ban, workers strike if
an employer insists on using it. If the cause of the boycott is some
disagreement between the maker of the raw material and his workmen,
the measure amounts to the threat of a sympathetic strike in aid of
the aggrieved workers. If the cause is the fact that the materials
were made in a non-union shop, the men who thus made them have no
grievance, but the union in the trade to which these men belong has
one. It consists in the mere fact that the non-union men are working
at the trade at all and that their employer is finding a market for
their product. Workers in other trades are called on to aid this union
by a sympathetic strike, either threatened or actually put into
effect. Such a boycott as this may therefore be described as amounting
to a potential or actual sympathetic strike somewhat strategically
planned. If the strike actually comes, it may assist the men in whose
cause it is undertaken; and the principles which govern such a
boycott are those which govern strikes of the sympathetic kind.

Direct Consumers' Boycotts economically Legitimate

The other type
of boycott is a concurrent refusal to buy and use certain consumers'
goods. Legally it has been treated as a conspiracy to injure a
business, but the prohibition has lost its effectiveness, as legal
requirements generally do when they are not in harmony with economic
principles. Of late there has been little disposition to enforce the
law against boycotting, and none whatever to enforce the law when the
boycott carries its point by taking a positive instead of a negative
form. The trade-label movement enjoins on men to bestow their
patronage altogether on employers included within a certain list, and
this involves withdrawing it from others; but the terms of the actual
agreement between the workers involve the direct bestowing of a
benefit and only inferentially the inflicting of an injury. The men do
not, in terms, conspire to injure a particular person's business, but
do band themselves together to help certain other persons' business.
Economic theory has little use for this technical distinction. It is
favorable rather than otherwise to every sort of direct consumers'
boycott, and is particularly favorable to the trade-label movement.
This movement may powerfully assist workers in obtaining normal rates
of pay, and it will not help them to get much more.

The Ground of the Legitimacy of the Boycott

An individual has a
right to bestow his patronage where he pleases, and it is essential to
the action of economic law that he should freely use this right. The
whole fabric of economic society, the action of demand and supply,
the laws of price, wages, etc., rest on this basis. Modern conditions
require that large bodies of individuals should be able concurrently
to exercise a similar right,--that organized labor should bestow its
collective patronage where it wishes. This can be done, of course,
only by controlling individual members, for the trade union does not
buy consumers' goods collectively. If it can thus control its members,
it can use in promoting its cause the extensive patronage at its

Unfavorable Features of the Indirect Boycott

The boycott we have
thus far had in view is a direct confining of union laborers'
patronage to union-made goods. Why this is a thing to be encouraged we
shall presently see. What we have said in favor of it does not apply
to boycotting merchants on all their traffic because they deal in
certain goods. If a brand of soap is proscribed, the workers are
justified in concurrently refusing to use that variety; but it is not
equally legitimate to prevent a merchant, whose function it is to
serve the public, from selling this soap to the customers who want it.
To refuse to buy anything whatsoever from a merchant because he keeps
in his stock a prohibited article, and sells it to a different set of
customers, is interfering, in an unwarranted way, with the freedom of
the merchant and of the other customers. Indirect consumers' boycotts
have little to commend them, but those of the direct kind have very

The Merits of the Trade-label Movement

This appears most clearly
in connection with the trade-label movement. As a result of this
movement union laborers will, as is hoped, buy only union-made goods.
The existence of such a movement in itself implies that there are
goods of the same sort to be had which are not made by union labor.
The shop that is run by the aid of independent labor is the cause of
the existence of the union label. If all the labor in a group were
organized, the label would have no significance. At present the trade
unions offer to an employer a certain amount of patronage as a return
for limiting himself to union men, and so long as the cost of making
his goods is not much increased, the inducement may be sufficient to
make him do it.

The Movement as affected by Extravagant Demands on

Unduly high wages mean, of course, unduly high prices.
Without here taking account of the "ca'-canny" policy, which aims to
make labor inefficient, extravagant wages for efficient labor increase
the cost of goods. This opens the way, as we have seen, for the free
shop and the labor which is willing to sell its product at a cheaper
rate. If union labor then firmly resolves to buy only the goods with
the label, it proposes a heroic measure of self-taxation.

Trade Labels and the Quality of Goods

The experience of the
trade-label movement thus far has been, that in some instances the
label vouches for prices which are high, if quality be considered, or
for a quality which is poor if the prices are the current ones.
Instead of telling the purchaser that the shoes, hats, cigars, etc.,
which bear the label are surely the best that can be had for the
money, the labels are more apt to tell him that the goods are poorer
than others which can be had. In some instances this is not the case,
and the union-made articles are as good and as cheap as others. When
the label stands for a high price or a poor quality, the union fails
to control its members and especially its members' wives. Having the
meager pay of a week to invest, the wife needs to use it where it will
do the most for the family. There is so strong an inducement to buy
goods which are really cheap and good that the trade-label movement
fails whenever loyalty to it means very much of self-taxation.

The Object Lesson of the Consumers' Boycott

Organized labor gives
itself a costly and impressive object lesson when it tries to force
all men of its class to buy the dearer of two similar articles. What
this shows is that the demands of unions must be limited, and that for
the highest success they must be so limited that there shall be no
decisive advantage given to an employer who has a non-union shop. A
marked difference in costs of production will cause the free shop to
grow and the union shop to shrink. A certain moderate difference in
wages there may be, provided always that the union labor is highly
efficient; but more than such a difference there cannot safely be. If
the trade-label movement should be generally successful, that fact
would prove that the demands of trade unions were kept within
reasonable limits.

The Policy of Restricting the Product of Labor

It is a part of the
policy of trade unions to limit the intensity of labor. The term
"ca'-canny" means working at an easy-going pace, which is one of the
methods adopted in order to make work for an excessive number of men.
For some of this the motive is to avoid an undue strain on the
workers. If the employer selects "pacemakers," who have exceptional
ability and endurance, and tries to bring other laborers to their
standard, then the rule of the trade union, which forbids doing more
than a certain amount of work in a day, becomes a remedy for a real
evil--the excessive nervous wear of too strenuous labor. This,
however, by no means proves that the policy as carried out is a good
one. Beyond the relief that comes when undue speeding of machinery and
driving of workers is repressed, it will be impossible to prove that
in the long run there is any good whatsoever in it, and the evil in it
is obvious and deplorable.

"Making Work" as related to Technical Progress

The policy reverses
the effects of progress. That which has caused the return to labor to
grow steadily larger is labor saving or product multiplying, and labor
making and product reducing are the antithesis of this. Enlarging the
product of labor has caused the standard of pay to go steadily upward
and the actual rate to follow it; and the prospect of a future and
perpetual rise in the laborers' standard of living depends almost
entirely on a continuance of this product-multiplying process. A
single man maintaining himself in isolation would gain by everything
that made his efforts fruitful, and society, as a whole, is like such
an isolated man. It gains by means of every effective tool that is
devised and by every bit of added efficiency in the hands that wield

Reversing the Effect of Progress

It follows that undoing such an
improvement and going back to earlier and less productive methods
would reverse the effect of the improvement, which is higher pay for
all; it is restoring the condition in which the product of labor and
its pay were lower. The "ca'-canny" policy--the arbitrary limiting of
what a man is allowed to do--has this effect. It aims to secure a
reduction of output, not by enforcing the use of inferior tools, but
by enforcing the inferior use of the customary tools. The effect, in
the long run, is, and must be, to take something out of the laborers'

The Effect of the Work-making Policy under a Regime of Strong Trade

It is, of course, only a strong trade union that can enforce
such a policy as this. Making one's own work worth but little offers a
large inducement to an employer to hire some one else if he can.
Within limits, the powerful union may prevent him from doing this, and
if for the time being society is patient and tolerant of anarchy,--if
it allows men who are willing to work well in a given field to be
forcibly excluded from it by men who are determined to work ill,--the
policy may be carried to disastrous lengths.

How Static Law thwarts the Work-making Policy

Even strong unions,
as we have seen, succeed in maintaining only a limited difference of
pay between their trade and others. The effort to maintain an
excessive premium on labor of any kind defeats itself by inducing free
labor to break over the barrier that is erected against it. The same
thing happens when we reduce the productive power of organized labor.
If, at a time when the premium that union labor bears above the
non-union kind is at a maximum, the policy of restricting products is
introduced, it so increases the inducement to depend on an independent
working force that there is no resisting it. The palisade which union
labor has built about its field gives way, and other labor comes
freely in. If the ca'-canny policy makes it necessary to pay ten men
for doing five men's work, the union itself will have to give place to
the independent men. No single good word can be said for the ultimate
effect of the policy as carried beyond the moderate limit required by
hygiene. Up to the point at which it will avert undue pressure upon
workers, stop disastrous driving and the early disabling of men, the
effect is so good as amply to justify the reduction of product and pay
which the policy occasions. Beyond that there is nothing whatever to
be said for it, and if it shall become a general and settled policy of
trade unions, it will be a clog upon progress and mean a permanent
loss for every class of laborers.

Notwithstanding all this, it must be true that some motive which can
appeal to reasonable beings impels workers to this policy. No plan of
action, as general as this, can be sustained unless some one, at least
transiently, gains by it. Workers have a tremendous stake in the
success of any plan of action they adopt, and they have every motive
for coming to a right conclusion concerning it. They are in the way of
getting object lessons from every mistaken policy, as its pernicious
effects become apparent, even though some local and transient good
effects also become evident. It is not difficult to see what it has
been that has appealed to so many laborers and induced them
voluntarily to reduce the value of their labor.

A Common Argument against Product Restricting

What is commonly
said of the policy is that it is based on the idea that there is a
definite amount of work of each kind to be done, and that if a man
does half as much as he could do, twice as many men will be employed
to do the whole amount. Nobody who thinks at all actually believes
that the amount of work of a given kind is fixed, no matter how much
is charged for it. If workers on buildings charged from five to ten
dollars a day, there would be fewer houses erected than would be
erected if they charged three dollars; and the same thing is true
everywhere. The amount of labor to be done in any field of employment
varies constantly with changes of cost, and making labor more costly
in a particular department reduces the amount of its product that can
be sold.

A trade union often finds that there are too many workers in its field
to be constantly employed at the rate of pay it establishes. The
result is partially idle labor; the men work intermittently, and
though the high wages they get for a part of their time may compensate
them for idle days or weeks, the idleness which is the effect of the
oversupply is inevitable.

A given number of workers in the group which makes A''' when the wages
are three dollars a day becomes an excessive number when the wages are
five, and even if the high wages do not attract men from without and
make the absolute number of workers greater than before, employment is
not constant. The ca'-canny policy is a transient remedy for this. It
is an effort to avoid the necessity for partial idleness and for the
transferring of laborers to other occupations. All the labor may, for
a time, remain in its present field if it will afflict itself with a
partial paralysis. For a while the demand for the product of the labor
will be sufficient to give more constant employment. Time is required
for the full effect of the product-limiting policy to show itself in a
falling off of the consumption of the goods whose cost is thus
increased. When it comes the evil effect of the policy will appear. If
a union were strong enough to keep a monopoly of its field, in spite
of the greater efficiency of laborers that are free to work in a
normal way, it would be strong enough to maintain much higher pay for
its own members if it limited the number of them and encouraged them
to work efficiently. The strongest conceivable union must lose by
substituting the plan of paralyzing labor for that of restricting the
number of laborers. The union may choose to take the benefit of its
monopolistic power by keeping an unnecessarily large number of men in
constant employment, rather than by getting high wages for efficient
work; but in that case any union but one the strength of which is
maintained in some unnatural way is likely to come to grief by the
great preference it creates for non-union labor. The independent shop
will get the better men at the lower rate of wages, and its products
will occupy the market. The popularity of the plan of work making is
the effect of looking for benefits which are transient rather than
permanent. If it were carried in many trades as far as it already is
in some, it would probably neutralize, even for those who resort to
it, much of the benefit of organization, and work still greater injury
to others.[1]

[1] It will be seen that whether the policy is successful in
giving employment to the partially idle or fails to do so
depends on the amount of reduction in the sale of the goods
which the increased cost of making them entails; and if the
market is highly sensitive to increased cost, the policy may
fail in securing even a transient increase of employment.

The Eight-hour Movement as a Work-making Policy

The effort to
reduce the hours of labor to eight per day has in it so much that is
altogether beneficent that it is not to be put in the same category
with the ca'-canny plan of working. And yet one leading argument in
favor of this reducing of the number of hours of work is identical
with that by which a reduction of the amount accomplished in an hour
is defended. The purpose is to make work and secure the employment of
more workers. What has been said of the other mode of work making
applies here. Reducing the length of the working day cuts down the
product that workers create and the amount that they get. In the main
the loss of product is probably offset by the gain in rest and
enjoyment; but the loss of product, taken by itself alone, is an evil,
and nothing can make it otherwise. If the hours were further reduced,
the loss would be more apparent and the gain from rest and leisure
would be less.

One Sound Argument in Favor of the Greater Productivity of the
Eight-hour Day

There is one reason why the eight-hour day may in a
series of generations prove more permanently productive than a longer
one. It may preserve the laborers' physical vigor and enable them to
keep their employment to a later period in life. The dead line of
sixty might be obliterated.

If what we wanted were to get the utmost we could out of a man in a
single day, we should do it by making him work for twenty-four hours;
after that, for another twenty-four hours, he would be worth very
little. If we expected to make him work for a week, we should probably
shorten the day to eighteen hours. If we expected to employ him for a
month and then to throw him aside, we might possibly get a maximum
product by making him work fourteen hours. If we wanted him for a year
only, possibly a day of twelve hours would insure the utmost he could
do. In a decade he could do more in a ten-hour day, and in a working
lifetime he could probably do more in eight. Forty or fifty years of
continuous work would tell less on his powers and on the amount and
quality of his product.

The Connection between the Restriction of Products and the
Trade-label Movement

Very important is the bearing of these facts
concerning the restriction of laborers' products and the trade-label
movement. If that movement should become more general and effective,
it would bring home to all who should take part in it the effects of
the labor-paralyzing policy. The faithful trade unionist would find
himself paying a full share of the bill which that policy entails on
the public. Ordinary customers can avoid the product whose cost is
enhanced by the trade-union rules; but the unionist must take it and
must make himself and his class the chief subjects of the tax which
enhanced prices impose. It may well be that the pernicious quality of
the general work-making policy will become so evident in any case that
it will be abandoned; and this would be made sure by a rule that
should actually make union labor the chief purchaser of union goods.
Ca'-canny would then mean self-taxation on a scale that no arguments
could make popular.

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