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The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that under the Sherman antitrust law the homes and the little savings of the 186 workingmen belonging to the Danbury Hatters' union may be taken from them to compensate employers threefold for their losses resulting from their opposition to the efforts of workingmen to secure for themselves better standards and conditions of work.
D. E. Loewe and Company of Danbury, Connecticut, refused to comply with the standards and conditions generally obtaining in the trade, secured by trade union action. As a consequence of the company's hostile attitude the men in the employ of the company went on strike. The Hatters, taking up the cause of the strikers, appealed to fellow workers and friends to transfer their patronage from the Loewe hats to hats manufactured by other employers who had conceded the better standards and conditions of labor.
About that time a lawyer without a brief conceived the idea of forming an "Antiboycott Association," and a few labor hating employers were enrolled as members. It was that association which used the D. E. Loewe and Company as a puppet to bring suit in 1903 against the Danbury Hatters on the ground that their efforts to organize the workers engaged in the production of fur hats had resulted in a decrease of the sale of the hats made by D. E. Loewe and Company. Practically 90 per cent of the manufacturers of fur hats had agreed to and had established in their shops the conditions proposed by the United Hatters of North America. Because D. E. Loewe and Company determined upon a shop policy that was contrary to the interests of the workers, the Hatters advised their friends that patronage given to that firm would be given to an opponent of organized labor. Naturally workers whose superior conditions of work, shorter workday and better wages have been secured through organized economic action do not wish to use their patronage to destroy the agency that secured these benefits. So D. E. Loewe and Company lost trade because of the policy they had determined upon and although they voluntarily chose that policy yet they wished to be protected from its consequences and entered suit against the Hatters' union for threefold damages under the Sherman antitrust law.
The United Hatters of North America conduct their business independently, as trade autonomy is guaranteed under the constitution of the American Federation of Labor. In this particular effort to extend organization the A. F. of L. had no part. Neither did it endorse or declare a boycott against D. E. Loewe and Company. In fact neither the Hatters nor their organization made any request for such action by the A. F. of L. The firm D. E. Loewe and Company was never published in the "We Don't Patronize"
list of the AMERICAN FEDERATIONIST, despite the repeated assertions of the courts to the contrary, an assertion reiterated by the Supreme Court in its recent decision.
The court in its decision says:
"It requires more than the blindness of justice not to see that many branches of the United Hatters and the Federation of Labor, to both of which the defendants belong, in pursuance of the plan emanating from headquarters, made use of such lists and of the primary and secondary boycott in every effort to subdue the plaintiffs to their demands."
It requires more than the keenest and minutest microscope to find one word in all the evidence before the court or elsewhere that the "Federation of Labor" (the A. F. of L.) was in any way connected with either the Hatters' strike or the Hatters' boycott of the hats manufactured by D. E. Loewe and Company. Indeed under oath the officers of the A. F. of L. emphatically declared and brought the records of the A. F. of L. into court as proof that at no time was the A. F. of L., its officers or representatives, asked or consulted regarding the strike and the boycott or even knew of their existence. As a matter of fact neither Loewe or any other witness in the case for Loewe ever undertook to dispute that testimony and the record is clear on that point. And yet the Supreme Court declares that "the defendants and other members of the United Hatters caused the A. F. of L. to declare a boycott against the plaintiffs."
The court said:
"The by-laws provide a separate fund to be kept for strikes, lockouts, and agitation for the union label. Members are forbidden to sell non-union hats."
Nowhere in the record of the two trials is there one scintilla of evidence that the members were to sell or forbidden to sell either non-union hats or anything else. The hatmakers were not engaged in selling anything but their labor power and that to employers, and how the court could have asserted that the Hatters were either engaged in or forbidden to sell non-union hats or anything else, is beyond comprehension, but it is upon a par with the misstatement that the A. F. of L. with its then 1,400,000 members were engaged in boycotting the hats manufactured by D. E. Loewe and Company.
The A. F. of L. was never consulted or asked to assent or make a suggestion by the officers of the Hatters' organization, the Hatters or any one else in regard to the suit instituted against the Danbury Hatters. The matter was never made the subject of consideration by the conventions or the officers of the A. F. of L. until the name of the A. F. of L. was brought up in the suit and the Supreme Court of the United States gave its drastic and far-reaching decision that the Sherman antitrust law, intended to apply to control over things, applied also to the human beings who produce those things.
That decision of the highest judicial tribunal confirmed the apprehension of organized labor that the courts of the land under this pernicious judicial theory that labor power is property would deprive workers of industrial freedom and the right to activities promoting their own welfare and would finally seek to destroy labor organizations themselves. There could be no more convincing proof than the decision that the 186 Hatters of Danbury, Connecticut, who tried to secure union wages, standards, and other conditions
of work shall pay $252,000 as the penalty for trying to better their conditions. This last decision of the courts seeks specially to penalize whole-souled co-operation of the members of a trade union as the court said:
"The question is narrowed to the responsibility of the defendants for what was done by the sanction and the procurement of the societies above named."
The decision of the court endeavors to make every member of organized labor feel the danger to his possessions and his personal liberty from normal. and successful trade union activity in promoting better conditions of work.
The United States Supreme Court upholds the decision of the lower court, which holds members of a union responsible for the deeds and decisions of their union and its officers. The court decision declares:
"If they did not know that, they were bound to know the constitutions of their societies, and at least well might be found to have known how the words of those constitutions had been construed in act."
The evidence which was incorporated in the record shows that men were held responsible who had not attended meetings where the strike and boycott were under discussion and that some of the defendants had not been in attendance at the meeting of the union for over twenty years, the union itself absolving all members over 50 years of age from attending union meetings.
The court holds these members responsible for information published in the newspapers:
"The introduction of newspapers, etc. was proper in large part to show publicity in places and directions where the facts were likely to be brought home to the defendants, and also to prove an intended and detrimental consequence of the principal acts, not to speak of ⚫ther grounds."
Fortunately the provisions of the Clayton Act rob the decision of its general application-the 186 members of the Danbury union are those who suffer for the movement.
Such fines are a legal and respectable method of making labor organizations impossible. It was realization of this imminent danger to the very existence of organized labor which determined the A. F. of L. upon its active political policy to secure relief from the judicial application of the Sherman antitrust law. That policy achieved its purpose in the labor sections of the Clayton Antitrust Act; section 6 by its fundamental declaration forbids the application of trust legislation to labor organizations as such, and section 20 secures to workers the legal right to activities for which the Danbury Hatters are sentenced to pay damages. These sections are as follows:
Sec. 6. That the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce. Nothing contained in the antitrust laws shall be construed to forbid the existence and operation of labor, agricultural, or horticultural organizations, instituted for the purposes of mutual help, and not having capital stock or conducted for profit, or to forbid or restrain individual members of such organizations from lawfully carrying out the legitimate objects thereof; nor shall such organizations, or the members thereof be construed to be illegal combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade, under the antitrust laws.
Sec. 20. That no restraining order or injunction shall be granted by any court of the United States, or a judge or the judges thereof, in any case between an employer and employes, or between employers and employes, or between employes, or between persons
employed and persons seeking employment, involving, or growing out of, a dispute concerning terms or conditions of employment, unless necessary to prevent irreparable injury to property, or to a property right of the party making the application, for which injury there is no adequate remedy at law, and such property or property right must be described with particularity in the application, which must be in writing and sworn to by the applicant, or by his agent or attorney.
And no such restraining order or injunction shall prohibit any person or persons, whether single or in concert, from terminating any relation of employment, or from ceasing to perform any work or labor, or from recommending, advising, or persuading others by peaceful means so to do; or from attending at any place where any such person or persons may lawfully be, for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information, or from peacefully persuading any person to work or to abstain from working; or from ceasing to patronize or to employ any party to such dispute, or from recommending, advising, or persuading others by peaceful and lawful means so to do; or from paying or giving to, or withholding from, any person engaged in such dispute, any strike benefits or other moneys or things of value; or from peaceably assembling in a lawful manner, and for lawful purposes; or from doing any act or thing which might lawfully be done in the absence of such dispute by any party thereto; NOR SHALL ANY OF THE ACTS SPECIFIED IN THIS PARAGRAPH BE CONSIDERED OR HELD TO BE VIOLATIONS OF ANY LAW OF THE UNITED STATES.
Two methods have been devised for dealing with the wrongs and injustice that have been imposed upon the workers. Some THE DANGER OF have put their faith in party political action and have SHIFTING DUTIES trusted the solution of labor problems to legislation. Others have based all action upon the principle that free workers must never delegate to outside authority ultimate control over determining conditions and terms of personal relations between employers and employes, but the workers themselves must assume responsibility for their own welfare.
Those who advocate the first method are the parliamentarians who propose to secure reforms through enacting laws to establish desired purposes. The laws must be made by the official lawmakers and enforced by the administrative agents of the state. . The people vitally affected by the legislation have indirect control, if any, over the formulation and enforcement of the regulation. Responsibility for ultimate results is shifted.
Those who advocate the second method are the trade unionists who subordinate political action to economic activity. They hold that the key to industrial freedom, which is real freedom for the working people, is maintenance of strong, virile, resourceful economic organizations, aware of their power and using it most effectively. They hold that unions which let go ultimate control over industrial welfare, stultify initiative, weaken the fighting force of the trade unionists, and hence undermine their power physically, politically and socially.
Events during the past year prove that legislation does not "settle" things, that legislative action not only is not final but increases the difficulties that confront workers in controlling matters affecting their own interests.
The members of the organized labor movement of the state of Washington have been consuming their energies in efforts to have the economic demands, rights, and privileges taken care of by state legislation. But now the President of the Washington State Federation of Labor, Mr. E. P. Marsh, laments the fact that the state now has the most reactionary legislature which
it has seen in years. He states that Labor is unable to take advantage of an unusual oportunity to establish a state system of employment agencies and makes this significant assertion: "We are going to have to fight as well to hold labor legislation now upon the statute books and to make our initiative machinery more workable than it is at present." These exponents of legislative action to secure the demands of workers are finding out that a law secured at one session of the legislature may be absolutely undone at the next and that many vexatious and vicious restrictions may be imposed upon workers by scheming politicians who as office-holders in the legislature are able to follow their own reactionary ideas or are susceptible to the blandishments of the oppressors of Labor.
What the Washington workers have experienced has been the experience of the workers of Massachusetts. Only a few weeks ago Governor Walsh of Massachusetts had the temerity to recommend that the labor laws of Massachusetts be suspended so as to enable the industries to take advantage of the unusual opportunities afforded by the terrible European war. In order to serve the interests of the manufacturers the governor of the state urged the revival of the ancient practice that the Stuart rulers of England exercised under their claim to the divine right of kings.
When necessary and humane laws are threatened with repeal by reactionary legislatures and with suspension by reactionary governors, it is a vain hope to trust the industrial welfare of the wage-earners to legislation. And this has been the experience of the workers of all ages.
Turn the pages of the history of England back to the fourteenth century, when Parliament adopted the policy of fixing wages, hours of labor, and conditions of work by legislative enactment or judicial decree. Nowhere are the facts concerning the Statute of Laborers or the effects of these statutes presented more forcibly or convincingly than in a statement made by Mr. Paul Scharrenberg, Secretary of the California State Federation of Labor, before the joint committee of the Senate and Assembly of the California State Legislature, which had under consideration several bills providing for minimum wage for women. Mr. Scharrenberg brought out clearly the dangers and the difficulties of attempting to regulate by law conditions of work for employes. The English statutes of course fixed maximum standards but Mr. Scharrenberg very properly concluded that there is no difference in principle between fixing maximum and fixing minimum standards.
He showed that England found it impossible to enforce legislative or judicial regulations of wages, hours or conditions of work in opposition to the desires of the workers or the employers. Violations of the Statutes of Laborers led to legislation declaring that a combination to raise wages or reduce hours of labor was a conspiracy. There was extension of the judicial machinery to enforce these laws and punish the "offenders." The powers of the courts were increased. Punishments for violating the laws were made increasingly drastic-but in vain. The economic laws of industry and enlightened self-interest prevailed over every effort to impose restrictions and burdens upon the wage workers. But those restrictions and burdens made progress many fold more difficult-needlessly difficult.