This is an essay that I wrote for my PS 386 class on the differences between the British and American Labour movements.
"Thank you President Haslam! What a great introduction! I think that you were talking about some other guy, because you definately weren't talking about me." Laughs.
"Greetings, comrades! Before I begin, I would like to thank Her Majesty's Government for allowing us to use this space, and the staff of Lincoln Castle for being so excellent and accomidating. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Ederic Maddock. I am a member of Northern Counties Amalgamated Association of Weavers, and I have come here to speak to you today about my assignment to the United States of America, by President Shackelton, to investigate why the labour movement, which looked like it was going to be as successful in the United States as it was here in Britain, back thirty years ago, in 1880, has since failed.
"Thirty years ago, the labour movements of both Britain and the United States looked very much alike. Both of these fine countries had labour working with, and in, politics. In the United States, this was primarily with the Knights of Labor, and here in Britain, there is our great union, and the Labour Party, a bit later on. In both countries, the people sought to have better and safer working conditions, rights for children, and shorter working days. In short, in both of countries, there was a push toward policies that would not only help those organized in labour seeking to pass them, but rather policies that would benefit all workers. Here in Britain, I would say that this quest has been successful, with the passing of the Golden Formula and the Trade Disputes Bill1. We have achieved our goals. We, the workers, the proletariat, have risen, and have made the world more equitable and just. In the United States, however, it has only gotten worse for labour since the 1880s. Labour has stopped federating, and seeking universalist policies altogether, instead opting for policies that benefit individual unions more2. Further, labour has withdrawn almost entirely from politics, as the leaders of the AFL (known rather ironically as the American Federation of Labor) have taken the position that working through politics is a waste of time3.
"This is why I was given my assignment by President Shackelton, well over a year ago now. He wanted to know why the labour movement in the United States failed so utterly, when here in Britian it has succeeded. So, I hopped on a boat, and sailed across the Atlantic, finding myself in New York City. There, I talked with an old union organizer who was associated with the Knights of Labor, an early American federation of unions, named Daniel Blackstone. Mr. Blackstone told me about the history of the Knights, and how they brought together both skilled and unskilled workers to help each other with strikes and boycotts, but then, additionally, to form labour parties in different states to help pass pro-labour legislation4. However, the judiciary in the United States, along with President Taft, worked together to strike down any and all reforms that the Knights were able to pass, eventually leading people to turn to the aforementioned poorly named American Federation of Labor, which focuses on craft labourers, and works with the existing political system instead of trying to change it fundamentally5. This, I was told by an AFL member named George Chapman.
"A momement ago, I mentioned that the judiciary in the United States struck down the legislation and reforms that the Knights and Labour passed. I understand if this is a confusing idea, as here in Britain, the Parliment is the most powerful part of government. However, in the United States, it is the judiciary that holds the reigns of power. Due to how the American Constitution is set up, the judiciary can rule laws to be valid or not based off of if they act in accordance with the Constitution. They call it judicial review. A helpful process, perhaps, but as I learned through my discussion of the matter with former federal judge Tristan Adams, it was used tyrannically in the United States against labour. Working off of common law, and the Constitution, Adams told me, that both he and most of his compatriots, saw the legislation being passed by the Knights and Labour and affiliated groups and persons, to be part of a conspiracy to deprive business of their capital6—just as happened here, in Britain. However, here in Britain, Parliment has the power7. This is why, we, the workers, were able to organize and pass our reforms and legislation—because we have a system that allows us to do so. At first, we aligned ourselves with the Liberals8, and we had the Golden Formula passed. Eventually, we created our own party, and passed the Trade Disputes Bill, something that would not have been possible in the United States9.
"I have been rather hard on the American Federation of Labor today, and I think that it was a tad unjust of me to do so. After all, the reason that they are not working to seek political gains is because the only political gains that they can make are really within the legislatures of both state and federal government. And, to be frank, that is simply not enough in the United States. In order to truly see political reform in that country, labour will need to replace the judiciary with sympathetic candidates. This means that our brother and sister workers across the pond will have to play the long game, continuing to elect pro-labour candidates, and hopefully presidents, until judicial positions become vacant, and then they can be filled by pro-labour judges. This is what they should do. However, comrades, I do not think that this is going to happen...at least not any time soon.
"I talked with a printer in Washington, a Mr. Horace Vlain, who told me about how it was working as a skilled worker in the United States. Being a craftsman, Mr. Vlain knew that he could not be unceramoniously replaced by any random John on the street. However, unskilled workers could be. This is why Mr. Vlain and his union joined the American Federation of Labor, which focuses on craft workers. Because of the job security granted to them by their education and training, they could work together to gain benefits for their unions and members in a way that was much more efficient, and plausible, than if they had worked with unskilled union workers. This was good for Mr. Vlain, and for many like him. But it also left many in the dust, like Mr. Thomas Wozniak, a Polish immigrant who works in the steel mills, who has had no improvement to his work life with the dominance of the American Federation of Labor's "Voluntarism."
"That, comrades, is what I learned in my assignment to the United States to study her labour movement. While both her and Britian started with a strong mindset for change through politics and for policies that would benefit workers everywhere, the fundamentally different governmental structures in the two countries led to oppossing outcomes. Here, in Britain, Parliment is the most powerful part of government, and being democratic, we were able to use it to pass our legislation and reforms, and thus solidly root social democracy in the hearts and minds of our country. In the United States, however, the judiciary is able to overturn laws that it deems to be "unconstitutional." This, paired with a conservative judiciary, has led to all of the laws and reforms that American labour has passed to be shot down, which then has led to the abandonment of politics by labour, and a fragmented movement, and the rise of the American Federation of Labor and their particularist polcies and tactics. Awful as it is, it does make sense.
"Again, I would like to thank Presient Haslam for having me to speak to you all today, Her Majesty's Government, for allowing us to use Lincoln Castle—is it not a beautiful place?—, the Lincoln Castle staff, and of course, I would like to thank all of you for listening to me. I hope that in the future, American Labour will be able to suceed, like we have, here in Britain."
1Forbath, "Law and the Shaping of Labor Politics," 215.