Protective Unions

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Joshua King Ingalls

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A Number of communications having been addressed to us, i requiring information on the subject of these organizations, no better method of reply was suggested than to prepare an article for the columns of the Univerccelum, and thus give more general circulation, to the thoughts that have, for a length of time, been impressed upon our mind in respect to this question. There seems to be a wide-spread feeling in the community, that this is one of the steps of progress, which may be taken with safety ; as it requires little sacrifice, and results in immediate pecuniary good. There is, then, no uncertainty in the enterprise, and it may be distinctly understood by all friends of reform, that the working and success of the thing is sure, when there is a real harmony among the members, and the transactions are confided to capable and trustworthy hands. No system, of course, can secure success under fraudulent or imbecile management.

With regard to the details of the organization, there is no particular form to be recommended, which will apply to all times and places, nor have we ever seen one which had not, to us, some objectionable feature. The simplest form is best. Where there is no beneficial provision, there should be no voting in or out; but every person who chose to comply with the conditions, (which should be as simple as possible) should be entitled to all the advantages which are enjoyed by any. No fear need be entertained of assimilating discordant materials, for if there is perfect freedom to come and go, only congenial elements will ultimately remain. The only bar should be the retention of the admission fee; and even that, it would be well in certain cases to refund, as no pains should be spared to mete exact justice to the individual, whether in or out of the body ; the tendency in all organizations being to promote the corporative interest, without due regard to personal rights. Provision should also be made to permit indigent persons to trade at the society's price ; at least until they may have saved enough to purchase admission. By purchasing so much cheaper for cash, they would be encouraged and stimulated to the practice of economy, while a system of dearly bought credit, is calculated to produce the opposite results. But in order to give greater distinctness to the points we wish to present, they shall be arranged under specific heads.

1. The design should be simple and distinct. Of course it should be humanitary and not mercenary. To secure with others self-justice, which shall give to the laborer a just equivalent for the compensation he has received for his labor, is not inconsistent with the noblest aim. The advantage is to be ascribed to the results of an organization of the consumers, and not to any power of increase in the little capital, (which should be raised on as equitable principles as possible) to be regarded as a bond of union, rather than as possessing any specific force of its own, to increase or preserve the rewards of industry. No proposition should ever be entertained, however flattering in appearance, which should put the Union under obligation to men, whether members or not, who wish to accommodate it with the use of funds, "for a consideration." This is the fountain of all the evil you are seeking to avert. Be careful of the first step; and let such as are governed by no other principle than a consideration of the "dividends" that may accrue, be taught by

your example, that men nay combine for objects of self-justice, without being miserly. The object also should be one, especially if a trading union. There is no objection to sick benefits, or labor organizations ; but the question is, do they properly belong in a mere commercial association ? The commercial is a distinct group in the scientific association, and should not embrace in itself, other equally important, or more important groups. Undoubtedly they should be kept distinct, however intimate they may become, by embracing the same members, and promoting the same objects. Persons may desire to be guarantied in their trade, who do not wish to be in their health or labor. To have the same fund for trade and benefits, is to put both in jeopardy.

2. The Union must be confined to its legitimate object. It must guarantee exact distribution. It may never assume to itself any powers, or possessions ; and consequently can give no credit nor be allowed to contract any debts. It can justly have no dividends to declare, or favors of any kind to bestow. It is to be objected to any system of union which proposes to employ its own members at labor, that it proposes a wrong, or a perpetuation of wrong; inasmuch as to the laborer belongs the whole product of his industry, a portion of which, the unions have no right to divide among the members, however they may be comparatively benefitted by the arrangement: another supposition would justify any wrong or oppression under heaven, except the very worst. As to secure justice in exchange, it is necessary to organize the consumers, so to secure justice to labor, it is necessary to organize the laborers. Where the trading union has been established on a firm basis, let an Industrial Union be attempted. As many as can, of one trade or employment, should unite their means on a similar plan. Being members of the trading union, they will be enabled to purchase stock at the lowest market prices, and paying cash, and selling for cash, in which they will also be assisted by the other organization, they will require but a small capital. As soon as practicable, other organizations should be formed, especially of farmers, and the more necessary trades. Between these, the commercial association, which will indeed embrace them all, will act as an equitable agent to facilitate the necessary exchanges. Thus in time the true form of organization may be developed ; and while some schemer is dreaming of rearing a " model association," the natural one will have rearer itself. The utmost care must be taken in these industrial associations when reared, to distribute with the most exact justice. Upon this chiefly depends the success of the enterprise. None should be taken into it, or regarded as its friends, who are not willing to award to each the full product of his labor. No more than in the trading union, must any dividend be made, or any premium paid to capital, except what is compelled by actual necessity, in the form of rent, &c, for nothing may justly wrest from Man, the awards of his industry.

3. These organizations are not to be regarded as final. They have in themselves no power to bestow privileges, or to secure us for any length of time against the effects of violated civil and natural right. While the unequal laws continue in force which now exist, and which deny men's rights to labor and to homes; such unions will only serve to put a little farther off the terrible results. The amount saved in trade, will serve as a justification on-the part of the employer to cut down the wages. This system has already been tried in England, not by the operatives, but by the manufacturers, who purchased goods in large quantities, and on certain days and hours, dealt them out to the operatives at cost. The consequence was that thousands of lawless persons flocked to these establishments, which could hire labor twenty-five per cent cheaper than any other establishments, while the operatives were actually better paid than they were any where else.

Men may be associated in labor unions, yet if those having control of the soil and currency are not disposed to give them any thing to do or any place to labor in. except by paying tribute to wealth, the relation of master and slave—employer and employed—of the rich who live on the labor of others, and of the poor who toil for others' gain, will still continue, and grow worse and worse, by the principle that every violation of natural law tends to more and more serious consequences until abandoned.

But as a means of organizing the laboring classes, and of bringing them to a proper conception of the wrongs under which they suffer, in consequence of their own ignorance and estrangement from each other, and the rights which are theirs by nature, these unions are to be regarded with the utmost favor ; nor is there a great probability that, they will be rested in, when they shall have revealed to the masses, what union may do, and what mighty powers they themselves possess. More probably they will be the readier to unite, where they see higher objects to attain, and ask with a bolder front for the restoration of those rights, which society has robbed them of so long. Altogether, Protective Unions are a feature of this latter time, which is most promising to human progress and social reform. Let none fear to engage in them where they are indicated Only submit their direction to able and honest hands, and there is no place where they can fail to succeed. We have never known or heard of any difficulty that was not attributable to culpable neglect or downright dishonesty, and even but a very few cases of that kind. No individual can engage in any business with a tithe of the certainty which appertains to the operations of these unions. Your market is guarantied before you commence, and no greater risk is run than would be by an agent who is merely employed to purchase for another. At the same time, let it be borne in mind, especially by the more advanced, that these are but introductory steps to the great temple of social reform, wherein dwelleth "all righteousness" and Universal harmony.

J. K. I.

  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Protective Unions,” Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher 4, no. 2 (June 9, 1849): 24-25.