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.