Labor's Attitude to Non-Unionists

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The Painter and Decorator, By Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators, and Paperhangers of America, XXIX, 5 (May, 1915), 215-216.



By Dyer D. Lum

ONE of the chief objects of the enemy in attacking Unionism is to seek to array sympathy on the side of the non-unionist. How shall he be treated? I admit that this is one of the most troublesome questions trade unions have to meet; troublesome only because not squarely met. Let us try to face it frankly. The trade union is fully conscious that its very existence depends upon its ability to enforce the rule—"no working with non-unionists." It sees in this not only the issue of self-protection and continued usefulness, but ideal aims. For this it insists with more pertinacity than ought else, and if needs be is willing to fight for it.

Below the surface of what appears to prejudiced observers to be an unjust and tyrannical practice is an economic foundation. It is the experience of all the great Trade Unions of this and other countries that success never perched upon their banners until they insisted that the position taken by their own advance lines for mutual interests should not be encroached upon by individual bushwhackers. There is no denying the abstract right of a workingman to join, or to decline to join a union, just as there can be no denial of the abstract right of the unionist to work with, or to decline to work with, the non-unionists. But when an attempt is made by social pressure, or otherwise, to compel non-unionists to join the union many good people deprecate it, and pious pulpits and pews are scandalized!

The nature of the internecine conflict demands discipline. First, every union must be not only a camp, but a recruiting station. As only in union lies strength, so no pains should be spared to increase solidarity. Every non-union man should be besought to enroll, its advantages shown, and inducements offered. Speakers, tracts, papers should be generously used. A union that sits down supinely to mere routine work is recreant to its duty. The propaganda of its principles is as imperative a duty as scanning its books for the delinquents its own inaction has rendered indifferent. The struggle is ever on. The exactions of rent, interest, and profits are continually competing to reduce wages, and at any moment the blow may come, and the presence of a host of stragglers, who have been left unheeded to gather on the outskirts, may bring it the sooner.

Second, necessity demands federative unity. The warfare has passed out of the political phase; it is now an economic struggle for position between employer and employed, and the latter, relying solely on their own strength, can not turn a deaf ear to the cries of those engaged on the skirmish line. The old, siren song of political aid from partisan prostitutes no longer divides our ranks. Elections come and go and we are unaffected by hopes resting on pledges unredeemed, or saddened and demoralized by candidates defeated.

Third, discipline demands the ostracism of the camp follower, ever ready to accept the wages organized action has won, yet shrinking from assisting in the effort. On the field of action non-combatants have no place; there is no third line. In the fierce struggle for position the skulker not merely weakens the lines of fellow wage-worker, but also directly or indirectly aids and abets the enemy. He is the curse of the Labor Movement, false to his comrades, false to mutual interests, and a drag to progress. Both before and during a strike union doors should always swing inward to all applicants whom reason or self-interest may convince. But whoever deliberately refuses alliance with organized labor, who from cowardice or selfishness stay without to skulk back over the field, like a ghoul for personal gain, by his or her act becomes an enemy. Your duty toward them will be determined by the exigencies of the situation. As in our Civil War the timid Union man in the South, [216] and the blatant Copperhead in the North, received but little respect from either side, so in the industrial conflict they are despised by those who urge them on, and disowned by their more resolute fellows: "He who is not with us, is against us."

Fourth, our action toward such is dictated more by sorrow than hatred. We may even respect the man who stands aloof from conscientious motives, and alike refuses sympathy to either side, however much we may deplore what we consider his shortsightedness.

Not only self-interest prompts us, but we claim the sympathy of all, not directly interested in our degradation, by the proven fact that union labor is the most intelligent and the best labor. Higher wages bring increased wants, and the ability to gratify these, greater intelligence. Those who flippantly assume that increased wages augment cost correspondingly, unconsciously

assume that ignorant and skilled labor produce the same results; they assume that solidarity does not heighten productive capacity; they assume that union rules have no effect in acquiring a trade efficiently; they assume that the amount to be produced is a 'fixed quantity, a fallacy akin to the wage-fund theory; they assume that the distribution of reward under increased production and higher wants must still leave wages at the level of lower wants, a contradiction in itself.

Every interest save that of exploiting greed, and time-serving and short-sighted cowardice, is thus on the side of the unionist. And with the intelligence of skilled artisans, the conviction of economic possibility, and the strength and fellowship of organization, he approaches the skirmish line of today, knowing that victorious here he will be the better able to meet the, as yet, theoretical requirements of the day after tomorrow.