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A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

Viewing the situation as bargainers


capitalism, Marx goes on to say, while it debases the worker, at the same time produces the conditions of his ultimate elevation. Capitalism with its starvation wages and misery makes the workers conscious of their common interests as an exploited class, concentrates them in a limited number of industrial districts, and forces them to organize for a struggle against the exploiters. The struggle is for the complete displacement of the capitalists both in government and industry by the revolutionary labor class. Moreover, capitalism itself renders effective although unintended aid to its enemies by developing the following three tendencies: First, we have the tendency towards the concentration of capital and wealth in the hands of a few of the largest capitalists, which reduces the number of the natural supporters of capitalism. Second, we observe a tendency towards a steady depression of wages and a growing misery of the wage-earning class, which keeps revolutionary ardor alive. And lastly, the inevitable and frequent economic crises under capitalism disorganize it and hasten it on towards destruction. The last and gravest capitalistic industrial crisis will coincide with the social revolution which will bring capitalism to an end. The wage-earning class must under no condition permit itself to be diverted from its revolutionary program into futile attempts to "patch-up" capitalism. The labor struggle must be for the abolition of capitalism.


wage earners have steadily disappointed several generations of Marxians by their refusal to accept the Marxian theory of social development and the Marxian revolutionary goal. In fact, in their thinking, most American wage earners do not start with any general theory of industrial society, but approach the subject as bargainers, desiring to strike the best wage bargain possible. They also have a conception of what the bargain ought to yield them by way of real income, measured in terms of their customary standard of living, in terms of security for the future, and in terms of freedom in the shop or "self-determination." What impresses them is not so much the fact that the employer owns the employment opportunities but that he possesses a high degree of bargaining advantage over them. Viewing the situation as bargainers, they are forced to give their best attention to the menaces they encounter as bargainers, namely, to the competitive menaces; for on these the employer's own advantage as a bargainer rests. Their impulse is therefore not to suppress the employer, but to suppress those competitive menaces, be they convict labor, foreign labor, "green" or untrained workers working on machines, and so forth. To do so they feel they must organize into a union and engage in a "class struggle" against the employer.

It is the employer's purpose to bring in ever lower and lower levels in competition among laborers and depress wages; it is the purpose of the union to eliminate those lower levels and to make them stay eliminated. That brings the union men face to face with the whole matter of industrial control. They have no assurance that the employer will not get the best of them in bargaining unless they themselves possess enough control over the shop and the trade to check him. Hence they will strive for the "recognition" of the union by the employer or the associated employers as an acknowledged part of the government of the shop and the trade. It is essential to note that in struggling for recognition, labor is struggling not for something absolute, as would be a struggle for a complete dispossession of the employer, but for the sort of an end that admits of relative differences and gradations. Industrial control may be divided in varying proportions,[101] reflecting at any one time the relative ratio of bargaining power of the contesting sides. It is labor's aim to continue increasing its bargaining power and with it its share of industrial control, just as it is the employer's aim to maintain a _status quo_ or better. Although this presupposes a continuous struggle, it is not a revolutionary but an "opportunist" struggle.

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