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THE CAUSE OF LABOR
CLYDE H. TAVENNER
Clyde Howard Tavenner, well known journalist, served as congressman from the 14th Illinois district from 1913-1917. The following is part of a speech made by him on October 6, 1914, in favor of exempting labor unions from prosecution under the anti-trust law.
[Introduction.-Speaking on October 6th, 1914, in favor of exempting labor unions from prosecution under the anti-trust law, Congressman Clyde H. Tavenner of Illinois said in part:]
Mr. Speaker, I had not intended to speak when I entered this chamber, but as I have listened to the many reasons advanced why labor unions should be exempt from the operation of the law, I feel that the real reason for the exemption has not been stated. Mr. Speaker, there are certain rights which men take along with the right to inhabit the earth. Among those rights, is the right to labor and to enjoy the fruits of that labor. This is more than a so-called vested right in property; it is a natural, inherent right of man. It is as sacred to him as the right of habitation itself. It is a vital to his existence as the breath of life. He must have the right to labor in order to live. And there are certain rights in which man is upheld
in a supreme and absolute defense, and in the defense of which he is sustained even to the taking of life the defense of self, the defense of his person, the defense of his life, the defense of those who by nature are entitled to look to him for protection and I include the defense of the right to labor in order to live, and to support those who are dependent upon him.
Mr. Speaker, there was a time when the laboring man was more independent in the exercise of his right to labor to live than he is today. There was a time when every man could say to his employer, “If you do not wish my services, I will go back to the cross roads, to the village work-shop, and I will make a plow, a wagon, or a carriage. I will employ myself, and I will sell my products for my wages.” But this condition of the laboring man has passed and gone. A great industrial revolution has brought a change and a new order of things. The laboring man as an individual has lost his opportunity to employ himself, his power to claim his right to labor to live. He can only work when others choose to employ him. And when he asks for the employment, the answer comes back and tells him whether or not he can live. The laboring man today finds himself confronted with an organization of employers; he finds himself confronted with a combination of capital; he finds himself confronted with a concentration of industry and control of employmentall standing between him and the right to labor to live and support those dependent upon him.
This is the plight of the individual laboring man today. This is his utter helplessness as a single individual.
Under these new and changed industrial conditions, union is his only remedy, his only relief, his only defense, his only hope. He must have the right to meet organization with organization. He must have the right to meet combination with combination. He must have the right to meet concentration with concentration.
There is a difference between a labor organization and a trust. There is a difference between a labor organization and a combination in restraint of trade. There is a difference between a labor organization and a monopoly of resources of human life. There is a difference between an organization to preserve and safeguard natural inherent rights, and an organization to monopolize and pray upon the vital necessities that sustain life. There is a difference between men organizing for the lawful purpose of securing employment, and to claim the right of all men to labor, to live, and to enjoy the fruits of that labor, and men organized as a trust, a combination in restraint of trade, a monopoly to control the vital resources of human life, the very inception of which is unlawful, the very existence of which is unlawful, and the very object and purpose of which is contrary to law and in violation of the natural inherent right of man to live.
Mr. Speaker: I am one of the youngest Members of Congress, but there is one matter in which I do not yield to the oldest Member, or to any Member, and that is in my respect for the man who labors and by the sweat of his brow, supports the old mother who loves him, or the wife and children who are dependent upon him for their bread.
With the single exception of life itself, labor is the
most necessary requisite to civilization, for without labor, there could be no civilization. Without labor, the earth would be so barren it would be uninhabitable.
But, notwithstanding the fact that all the progress of the human race and all the grandeur of civilization have been due to labor, labor in every clime and in every age, has been the poorest paid, and the least respected.
When the curtain rose on the first dawn of civilization, it revealed labor in the chains of slavery. Historians tell us that practically all the ancient Governments practiced slavery in some form, and it was declared that its origin was divine, the classes usurping to themselves the right to exploit labor to the end that a few might live in idleness and luxury at the expense of the toiling masses. For countless years labor was held subjected, without even the right of marriage and property and without legal and political rights. For centuries the laborer slaves were told they were on level with the beasts of burden, and should be content to serve their lords and masters without complaint.
Beginning in this condition, labor has been working its way up, up, toward the mountain tops of equality, for 5000 years and more. The cause of labor received its greatest stimulus with the proclamation that man was made in the image of God, which blasted forever the blasphemous teaching of those who were exploiting man that he was on level with the beast of the field and had no soul.
Labor has ever made headway on its oppressors, though for centuries its progress was so slow as to be almost impossible of perception. In the last century,
labor has come faster and made more progress than in any thousand years of history. It is going to keep on climbing the mountain until it reaches the very summit.
I will not say, because it is not true, that labor has enough friends in the American Congress today to obtain for it all the reforms that it deserves and that are some day coming to it. It is true, however, that the present Congress has more sincere friends of labor enrolled among its membership than any preceding Congress in the history of the Nation has ever had; and the tribe is increasing. Labor has received at the hands of the present Congress legislation which ten years ago would have been, and was, absolutely impossible. The very atmosphere in the Halls of Congress, with respect to labor legislation, has undergone a most remarkable change, and it is going to change still more. As late as a few years ago, a Member of Congress could not approach the dignity of being a statesman unless he spoke for capital only; to plead the cause of labor was to relegate himself to the class of only a second or third degree statesman. Indeed this feeling has not yet passed from these national legislative chambers, but it is passing. It is inevitable that the feeling that property rights are superior to human rights must pass, and the passing is merely an incident in the march of human progress.
The curtain has descended on the era of greed, and in arising is revealing the beginning of an era of humanity and the brotherhood of man. The day when a Member of Congress need apologize for espousing the cause of labor is gone, and gone forever.