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Union Labor in Peace and War (Classic Reprint)

Union Labor in Peace and War (Classic Reprint)

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Excerpt from Union Labor in Peace and War

The next time you ride home on the car between five-thirty and six, look at the man with the dinner pail across the aisle. His finger nails are not manicured; there are no kid gloves on his hands, his clothing is stained with black oil spots and the odor of perspiration betrays the lack of a shower bath. The j'oung person with the imitation seal scarf and the salary of nine a week tries to avoid contact with him, but aside from her penciled and lifted brow he attracts 110 special attention.

Why should he? His nose, even though it has a black smudge that was not removed by the hasty ablution, is in the middle of his face. He breathes, moves his hands, feet and jaw just like other people, reads his paper, discusses prohibition, the movies, baseball and politics just like you and I. He is made of the same clay, has the same skin, the same elemental hopes, joys, fears, the same bald spot and the same kind of corns as the rest of us. Change his clothes, put him into the hands of a competent barber, and in half an hour you could not tell him apart in a group of our leading citizens.

Yet the man with the dinner pail is a Problem, the biggest problem before us. Multiply him a few million times and he becomes Labor. His stature grows into the sky, his rather commonplace face changes expression, assumes a threatening mien, his relaxed hands contract into gigantic iron fists. As a plain person riding home in a crowded street car between a shop girl and hardware clerk the man with the dinner pail asks for and receives no special treatment; he pays his nickel, takes his transfer, gives up his seat to the woman with the baby and hangs by the strap like any other citizen. But when he becomes a Problem, when he drops his individual capacity and turns into Labor, especially Organized Labor, he loses the aspect of an ordinary citizen.

The change that takes place is analogous to the transformation of the civilian into the soldier. As member of a military force the individual exercises rights and privileges which, performed by a private citizen, would promptly get him into jail. When he dons the uniform and takes the oath, the soldier's status is completely changed. He is removed from the control of the civil authorities; his doings are judged by a special code; his freedom of action is limited; his standard of conduct is radically altered.

A somewhat similar change takes place when the individual ceases to be just a plain worker and, by a process of agglutination, turns into Organized Labor.

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