The value of labor-saving machinery is a subject which we have often discussed in these columns, and we should not now return to it were it not that we sometimes meet the assertion, that the extended use of labor-saving machinery has created a disability on the part of labor to compete with capital. We cannot suppose any one in this enlightened age will claim that anything calculated to constantly put power into the hands of one class, at the expense of another, not to say a very much larger class, could ultimately lead to anything but tyranny on the one hand, and abject servitude on the other. The condition of labor, at the present time, is, we maintain, better, on the whole, than at any previous time in the history of the world. Slavery and serfdom are nearly extinct throughout the civilized world, and if wages be estimated, not in dollars, but in comforts of life received as the reward of industry, they are higher now than at any previous period. Of course, we do not, in this statement, take into account any temporary difference which might be found upon comparing the prices of to-day with ruling prices existing a few years since. What we wish to make plain is, that if a mean be struck, from the commencement of the Christian era to the present time, it will be found that labor has made much greater progress than capitah It will further be found, that the most progress has been made since the introduction of labor-saving machinery, and assert, that such machinery has been a propelling power, not a resistance to be overcome in this progress. The peculiarity of the eff'ect of labor-saving machinery, of greatest importance in a social point of view, as affecting the status of classes, is the local concentration of labor, at the same time that it subdivides it into departments. Few manufactures now exist in which more than a part of the article produced is made by a single operative. In the majority of cases, the thing made passes through many hands before its completion. In order that the one article thus manufactured by the help of many workers can be made economically, it is necessary that the workmen should be brought together. This coming together is an element of social power which labor did not possess before the introduction of labor-saving machinery. The result is association to protect mutual interests, and capital has latterly found it a very difficult matter to usurp undue authority since these associations have fully developed their power. It has enough to do to hold its own. Labor-saving machinery is the only thing that renders cooperation possible in the mechanic arts. This kind of organization is yet destined to play an important part in the history of civilization. If these facts are true, and we think them indisputable, labor has not suffered disability, but, on the contrary, has derived increased power to compete with capital from the use of labor-saving machinery, and those who think otherwise base their opinions, we think, upon a too narrow view of the subject.
This article was originally published with the title "Labor-Saving Machinery and Co-Operative Labor" in Scientific American 21, 10, 153 (September 1869)