Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Economic and Social Importance of the Eight-Hour Movement

"That the labor movement is a natural phase of modern society is too obvious for any careful observer of social phenomena and student of economic history to question."

There is nothing more conclusively demonstrated in the history of society than the fact that industrial reform is an inseparable part of social evolution. Activity is the evidence of life and discontent is the first indication of progress. The division of labor, and the specialization of economic functions constantly tend to make a readjustment of industrial and social relations necessary. The concentration of capital and the use of labor-saving and wealth-cheapening methods, which are the indispensable instruments of modern civilization, tend to produce two results. One is the division and concentration of industrial power; the other is the addition and diffusion of social and political power. The first tends to specialize and limit the laborer's economic function, and the latter to generalize and extend his social function. While the first tends to diminish his industrial individuality, the second tends to increase his social and political individuality. Thus, in proportion as the laborer becomes an economic automaton, and loses the power to employ himself, he becomes a social unit, and gains political power over his employer. Therefore, just n proportion as the division of labor, the concentration of capital, and wage conditions increases—which are the infallible evidence of progress—the laborer's social power becomes the chief means of promoting his industrial well-being.

Consequently, the labor movement, which is the organized social force of the laboring class, instead of being a relic of the simple conditions of the past, is an essential part of the complex social institution of the present. It is the natural outcome of the industrial growth of the present century, and can neither be coaxed nor coerced into silence. If wisely directed, it may be made an invaluable aid to progress; if perverted, it may become a perpetual menace to society.

Whether this movement shall become a help or a hindrance to progress, will largely depend upon the treatment it receives at the hands of the intellectual classes. If it is snubbed as an "alien intrusion," and its propositions refused a respectful hearing, it may be expected to incite passion and lead to class warfare. But if it is recognized as a legitimate phase of modern society, and its propositions treated with the careful consideration to which all vital problems are entitled, it may easily become the strong arm of national safety, social peace and progress. It is therefore no longer a question whether or no we shall have a labor movement, but whether by increasing the opportunities for developing the laborer's intelligence, and advancing his material well being, we shall promote social evolution, or whether by opposing the movement, we shall force it along the line of revolution.

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