Brandeis on Big Textile Strike at Lawrence

Brandeis on Big Textile Strike at Lawrence and Industrial Democracy

Bigger Development of Unionism or the Socialistic State Must Come as Solution of the Present Struggle, He Declares


The Lawrence strike is ended, and ended happily. There has been a substantial increase of wages, the increase being largest for those who needed it most.

It is not only Lawrence, but the textile workers of New England who have won by this strike. The increase is also affecting Canadian textile mills. Undoubtedly it will have its influence upon the whole textile industry of America, and probably of the world, in the immediate future.

The conditions disclosed at Lawrence, the existing social injustice and the social dangers of un-American standards of living, will be made manifest to the whole country by the investigators of the United States Bureau of Labor, the correspondents of the press, and eminent magazine writers.

We may be reasonably assured that wages will not hereafter be reduced in the textile industries, and that the changes in wages and conditions will be such as tend to improve the lot of the worker. The social advance so resulting cannot fail to have great influence for the social good.

But the strike has its significance far broader than this. It marks, in a significant way, the beginning of a new era in the relation of employer to employee, of capital to labor.

We have had, and now have in America, an irreconcilable conflict between the political and industrial conditions of the working man. Politically, he is free; industrially he is dependent. We have in most departments of industrial life, side by side, political democracy and industrial absolutism.


I believe this to be perfectly clear: Our working people will not submit much longer to having their condition of life determined by a few people. They will insist upon having some voice in the determination of the conditions under which they shall work and live. To have such part is an essential of liberty.

From the point of view of labor, either one of two things must happen.

We shall have a great development of unionism, of collective bargaining, or we shall have a socialistic state where the people will work for the State and determine conditions by their vote. Either one of those things must happen.

The question is simply whether we are going to maintain our institutions, along with trade unionism, or make socialist state inevitable by permitting collective bargaining to be stamped out of existence.

I want to bring out clearly this point. We have reached the time when the worker must have his part in industry through co-operation, through industrial democracy.

It is obvious that present conditions cannot continue. Either our people will lose their political independence, or they will acquire industrial independence. We cannot exist half free and half slave.

I was talking a short time ago with a representative of one of the large successful industries, where the people are extremely well treated and where they employ 6,000 employees.

He has done everything he could to make the conditions of the laborer just and fair, but he won't have any unionism.

He said to me:

"We have this property here. We can't run the risk of our property being destroyed by these 6,000 men."

"Well," I said to him, "how can the 6,000 men run the risk of being destroyed by you?" That is the whole thing in a nutshell.

The last twenty years, which have witnessed the growth of the trusts and other great business organizations, have marked likewise the growth of industrial absolutism on the part of the employer as against the employee.


From most of the trusts and large businesses, other than the railroads, trade unionism has been excluded. The condition of the steel worker disclosed by the investigation of the United States Bureau of Labor can be adequately explained only by the fact that the workers were not organized.

The great improvement in the condition of the textile workers, which has resulted from the Lawrence strike, will convince the workers of the whole country of the efficacy of the organization.

But it is not only the workers who will thereby be convinced of the value of unionism. Intelligent employers will come to recognize that the interests of capital as well as the interests of labor demand a labor condition under which it is possible for the employer to consider from time to time with an experienced body of men representing labor the problems of the industry.

It also seems reasonably clear now, with the march of progressive ideas and the pervading interests in social and industrial questions, that the political liberty of the people will become more real and not less, and that the worker will appreciate more than ever before the significance of his part in the industrial system.

Today, in most industries, the responsibility of management and of justice to those engaged rests wholly upon the owners of the capital.

It seems almost too clear for argument that no body of men, that no mill managers or directors, however well intentioned and however intelligent, are able wisely and justly to decide as between capital and labor what the treatment of labor should be.

It is difficult enough to decide wisely, and justly, if one is disinterested.

The interested party cannot be properly entrusted with the decisions which directly affect the lives of thousands of other people.

These people themselves must have a voice in determining the conditions under which they are to work and live, and they cannot have an effective part in determining these questions except through an organization.


Obviously, that organization ought to be a permanent one, one which shall at all times keep itself advised as to the conditions of the industry and as to what may in fairness be claimed by the workers in it. It should also be a continuous body, constantly in touch with the problems and possibilities of the industry, that will gradually assume its proper share in the responsibility for its success.

It should therefore, be the strong desire of every employer to encourage the formation of strong unions, and to share with those unions the responsibility of management.

In other words, we must secure as between employer and employees real co-operation, not small profit-sharing, which as ordinarily practiced is little more than a contingent addition to wages, but a sharing of responsibilities, which is the real essence of co-partnership.

And it is in such co-operation only that we may look forward to that advance in the condition of the workingman which is longed for, and which the interests of society demands.

There is an obvious limit to the increase of wages possible under present conditions.

If the profits earned in most manufacturing businesses today was applied to paying only a minimum return upon capital, say 4 per cent., and the balance distributed among the employees, the earnings of the employees would be raised so little as to leave their conditions only slightly better than it is today.

In some businesses called profitable, where labor is a large element in the cost of the product, a 10 per cent. increase in the labor cost would leave practically no return to capital.

Obviously, a 10 per cent. increase in wages would do little for labor, other than relieve immediate necessities. This would leave the great problems of improving the condition of the workingman still unsolved.

What the welfare of the industry and the community demands is a condition of things under which the gains of the industry may be greatly enhanced, so that the condition of labor may become really what it should be in a nation of free men.


To this end the elimination of waste is essential, and the greatest of all wastes is the failure of men to accomplish all that they might.

Today the efficiency of the employee is greatly limited by his discontent, and by the failure to call upon him to exercise the best that is in him.

The best that is in man will be developed only by putting upon him responsibilities, and by raising a man to his true position of a free worker, and differentiating his work most fully from that of the servant or the slave.

It is only through co-operation that such development and efficiency can come, and even then it will come gradually, when the position of the employee is changed to that of partner.

Co-operation between the owners and managers of our great corporations and the thousands of men whom they employ can be rendered possible only through organization of the employees, and their representation through such organization in the businesses of which they form a part.

The main obstacle to the development of trade unionism in America hitherto has been the closed shop, for the American people have been unwilling to run the risk of exchanging the possible tyranny of labor for the existing tyranny of the employer.

The cry for the open shop has, therefore, had the support of public opinion, and trade unionism has made slight, if any, relative advance for many years.

While the closed shop has been thus objectionable, the open shop has not presented an acceptable alternative, because the open shop has involved in most instances the disintegration of the union.

This has been true even where the employer has dealt fairly with the union, and not in secretly discriminating in favor of non-union labor.


Many a workman who rejoices at the benefits obtained for him by the union in an open shop has been unwilling to bear what seemed to him the unnecessary burden of union dues and the restrictions incident to membership in the union, when he got all the advantages whether he belonged to the union or not.

Experience showed, therefore, that the advance in unionism demanded something other than either the closed or the open shop. Some alternative must be found which was consistent with the American demand for freedom and also consistent with the interests of unionism.

It is believed that the solution has been found in the preferential union shop which was introduced in the settlement of the great New York Garment Workers' strike in the Summer of 1910, and which has been in successful operation since. 

Under that system the employer agrees to give the union men the preference in employment, other things being equal , and adequate provision is made for securing the effective enforcement of this agreement.

In the preferential union shop all the advantages of collective bargaining are secured, and at the same time there is protection against the abuses which are apt to result from the monopoly and compulsion incident to the closed shop.

It is obvious that the Lawrence settlement is only an adjustment of a single difficulty. Unless something more is done this great struggle will have resulted simply in letting the future take care of itself, which the future is not apt to do very advantageously to those concerned.

This settlement, to be real valuable socially and industrially, must be followed by some provision which shall avert in the future similar contests. It must be a settlement that shall detect the grievances before they become serious and fester, that shall provide the means for considering from time to time the slight or the serious questions which may arise, and by appropriate consideration prevent or remove abuses, and, what is quite as important, prevent all future misunderstandings.

This result can be attained through organization, and can be attained only by that means, and the organization must be of a character to fully represent the workingmen employed and to secure their full support. In other words, the labor of our mills must be organized.

It is obvious too, that the greatest need of business today is stability.

To secure stability through a strike settlement there must be an assurance of the continuation of the conditions secured by some provision made.

Changes in these conditions will then be wrought through discussion and amicable adjustment, and not through industrial war.

This means, again, that the success of the industry and the welfare of the community can be attained only through a settlement which is followed by some trade agreement, which will bind the employees both of the future as well as the present.

That, of course, necessitates a strong, continuous trade organization.

Under the old conditions, when you had an employer with a few men around him and who he was going to be friends with, and who were going to become employers sometime themselves, you had none of these problems.

Now you have vast numbers dealing with landlordism, where the real owners are away and men managing are in the position of stewards, in the Irish form.

They have to make a good showing, for they have a lot of people depending on them for dividends.

You have a situation which marks a complete evolution of industry, an entirely different situation, and there isn't any way in which the individual worker can get protection except for collective bargaining.

We have in the great industries exactly the situation you have politically in the case of absolutism, an absolute monarch. He may be a benevolent ruler, he may give you an excellent government, but you have no assurance he will not make a terrible mistake.

Absolute monarchy is a fair field, but it has no outlet. That is just the situation in industry, and the more you think of it the more you will see the similarity between the political state and the industrial state.

Everybody has to recognize the abuses the unions have at times been guilty. In my own opinion, a very large part of the abuses of unionism have been due to the fact that up to the present time the unionists have been fighting for their lives.

It has been a struggle for existence, and a very bitter struggle. Time and effort have all been given to living. It has been an unequal contest in a large measure, because the men, in loosely organized masses, have been fighting against huge, powerful, unified bodies of employers.

The struggle has been in many cases a desperate struggle -- hopeless -- where defeat was almost a foregone conclusion. 

The men have not only had their time and all their efforts consumed in a large measure in this struggle for existence, but they have been led to resort to methods which can never succeed and which can never be justified.

Instead of fighting organization, the employer ought to encourage it. They ought at the same time to exact from labor the highest standards, and while they approve organization and aid organization, there ought to be an absolute determination not to submit in any instance to the abuse of power. That rule must be enforced, whether the power be in the labor organization or in the capitalistic organization.

I believe when we do reach that point where the labor union doesn't need to spend all its strength in fighting for mere existence, that we shall then get some constructive work. Then all the effort and all the energy and intelligence now in the labor movement will be applied in pushing it forward.

When labor organizations are fostered and the workingmen share in the management of the business, when they have a share in the responsibility for the success of the business in which they work, you will have a great development of efficiency, partly through the good will, partly through the development of responsibility, partly through the added intelligence which comes through the exercise of one's faculties under responsibility.

With such real co-operation, with such a real co-partnership between capital, the managers and labor, will come a great growth in producing capacity. Then the laboring man can, through the increased productivity of business, attain our ideals of an American standard of living without destroying capital, but, on the contrary, giving to capital all to which it may be justly entitled. That can never be done under present conditions, because if you divide all the profits of industry today among the working people, the capitalists will be poorer, but the working people won't be sufficiently richer to make any material difference in the situation.

(Originally published in the March 17, 1912 edition of The Boston American.) 

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