Our country is at various periods visited with certain epidemics, which run like wildfire through the veins of the mass of our population, and'are propagated from class to! class with destructive intensity. These epidemics are of a social character, and are generally known among the working classes as " strikes " or combinations of particular trades to raise their wages. Their effects are generally disastrous to all concerned, both employers and employed, and always more hurtful to the latter than the former. Indeed, instances are not rare, if we look to history, in which flourishing communities, and large commercial and trading cities have been irremediably ruined by the insensate conduct of combinations of this kind. An epidemic of this description is now raging in our midst, and " strikes " of all the trades in New York City are now going on. From them we augur no essential benefit, as their proceedings are of too irregular a nature to meet with general success. The ostensible cause put forth is the rise in rent and provisions, which require, it is maintained, a corresponding advance in workmen's wages, and to obtain this end some trades have already struck and others are threatening to do the same. In nearly all cases an indiscriminate rise of 10 or 15 or 20 per cent, has been required, irrespective of the worth of each workman or of the profits ot the employer ; such demands have been, in many instances, resisted, and taking every thing into consideration, it appears to us with much justice. This manner of redressing supposed grievances has doubtless been adopted by th leaders of the movement as the most taking with the mass, who, they naturally suppose will be tickled by such a scheme, where alj are confounded together, the good, bad, and indifferent. Indeed, the fact ot such beinl the case gives the present movement rather the appea-ance ot that of a disorderly multitude than ot organised societies. Trade MOVEments, when carried on in a proper peaceful manner, may be profitable to all concerned, and where there are evils that require to be redressed, no one can complain if the members of a trade unite for that purpose. We have no doubt that such is the case with many trades, and that they labor under grievances in many instances that require remedying. But to succeed in doing so employers mu t b . met in a friendly spirit, and mutual forbearance be manifested on both sides. An indiscriminate rise of IS or 20 per cent, is not likely to be acceded to by employers which would place workmen of different calibre on th same footing, elevating the industrious ar.8 the idle, the skilled and the ignorant rtizan by the same standard. Such a demand; w are quite sure, will never be acceded to of employers generally, for it takes away their right ot free choice, and of giving to everf one according to his supposed merit. A demand ot this kind is equally tyrannical on the workman, for if puts all upon the same footing, and compels the industrious, by striking, to injure himself for the idle—such a system can only end in contusion and defeat. An advance, if such is to be the case, in workmen's wages, ought to be commensurate with the(r abilities, and of this the employer is the best judge ; any plan of so much per cent, is mere fustian, for it is founded upon injustice, ANA1 willnot, we surmise, be acceded to. We would, therefore, counsel our mechanics and others to listen to their better reason, and not to be led away by artful demagogues, who will only use them for their own selfish purposes. Let our workingmen organize into " Trade Societies," if they like, and if they labor under any grievances, let them try to remedy them in a sensible manner ; but as to mass meetings and holiday processions, they will only end in nothing. " A fair day's wages for a fair day's work," is no doubt a goo'd motto, but the two must be proportioned, and no man has a right to a fair day's wages for a bad day's work, and vice versa. On the other hand we would advise employers to consf-der the demands of their workmen in a friend-: ly manner, and to show them the inconsisten- ? cy of what they ask. If they do this, and make IT a rule, as is their interest, to mark out the deserving and raise wages according as workmen show skill and industry, there will be no danger of strikes. But then an employer should not be above his business, he must not trust the management of his shop entirely to any foreman, or expect that another will be as watchful in finding out the deserving as he would himself. Strict justice and even-handed impartiality in giving to every man according to his worth, will be more effectual in preventing strikes than any rise of somuch per cent. No workman is entirely a creature of dollars and cents, and although he works for his daily bread, he most otten has a higher feeling of honor than a prince or an emperor, and any outrage upon justice by the employer, in favoring some more than others, is more conducive to strikes than the rate ofwages. An ILL-governed shop will always be the hot-bed of strikes, whatever be the rate of wages, whether much or little, and the best plan that the employers' can adopt to counteract the efforts of would-be demagogues, is to head the movement themselves. Let them meet their workmen in a fair spirit, treat them all with equal justice, frown down all cabals and intrigues, and they will find that their right influence will be able to render nugatory every attempt to excite disaffection or a disproportionate rise of wages. A contrary course will only serve to engender a hostile feeling, and to draw a line of demarcation that ought never to be seen in a free country between the employer and the employed.
This article was originally published with the title "The Labor Movement" in Scientific American 8, 31, 246 (April 1853)