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SOME VOCATIONAL PROBLEMS
A sane view of industrial problems is a great aid to the young man about to enter his vocation. After becoming a workman or an employer of workmen it is very easy to become antagonistic toward capital or toward labor, according to which position one holds: the laborer very often hears terrible stories about slave-driving practices used by employers, and reads flaming labor papers decrying the crooked dealings of capitalists and legislators. On the other hand if a person associates with the employers he is likely to hear much about laborers who rob their employers by “soldiering” on the job, by wilfully destroying machinery, and by other unfair practices. The young man should understand that most of this suspicion and hatred is unfounded; that most working men do their work as honestly as they know how, and that most employers or capitalists try to be as fair with their employees as they can. The exceptions to the rule are not normal men and women, anymore than thieves and murderers are usual. Of course it is well to be prepared to meet these exceptional cases, but it is wrong to allow the thoughts of them to warp the mind so that the joy and happiness of life is driven out by hatred and suspicion. The present lesson is intended to point out to the young man that industrial conditions are not in the horrible state that radicals may try to make him believe when he enters his vocation.
Capital and Labor
Labor propagandists often boldly declare that labor is the all important consideration in the industrial world, and that labor is fighting capital to a finish. This idea and the opposite one, that capital is the all important item, are contradicted on every hand. Capital is necessary to erect, equip and operate a sugar factory, but capital is useless without laborers to actually carry on the work. The laborer needs capitalists to start up businesses so that he may work and earn a living; the capitalist needs workers to make use of his capital, otherwise the capital would be useless. The Russian Soviets tried to do away with capitalists, but they soon found that their labor was not as valuable as it should be, and that suffering and want were more common than before. Today they are begging capitalists all over the world to invest money with them so that Russia may regain her former prosperity. In America capital and labor very often go together because intelligent workmen invest their savings, or capital, in the industry in which they work; the farmer has his capital invested in the farm which furnishes him labor, and the sugar-factory worker owns stock in the sugar company.
Unions and Labor Trouble
If you were buying a suit of clothes and found the one you liked for sale in two stores at different prices, you would purchase from the merchant who sold cheapest. Because labor is a commodity for purchase the same as a suit of clothes, it sometimes happens that the purchasing price of labor differs considerably. In times when work is slack, persons greatly in need of money are tempted to sell their labor at a great discount. The employer, or purchaser, of the labor is as anxious to secure the best bargain as you would be in getting the suit at lowest price, and so when one person sells his labor cheap, the employer tries to buy other labor at the same price, or, in other words, to lower the wage of his employees. In order to standardize the piece of labor the same as merchants standardize the price of safety razors, guns, and various other articles, working men formed unions, or associations, where everyone agreed not to sell his labor below a certain price. The unions also try to force unfair employers to respect the rights and privileges of his workmen. The unions undoubtedly do much good in helping to establish desirable standards and in checking employers who are too selfish in their dealings; but the unions often act unwisely in demanding high wages and short hours contrary to the prevailing wages in other industries. This brings about strikes with a loss of wages to the worker and a loss of income to the employer, when the latter knows that he cannot continue in the business if wages are raised or the hours shortened. Standard wages over countries as large as the United States tend to give advantage to those living in regions where living ins cheap.
Because most employers sympathize with their helpers and try to give them a square deal, and because most workers prefer to trust to their own judgment and the fairness of their employer about wages and hours of work, the unions do not secure the patronage of the majority of the American workers. In a few trades such as mining, transportation, and the building trades, perhaps a third to a half of the men belong to unions, but of all employees in our country less than a tenth belong to unions.
Within recent years capitalists and employers have attempted to demonstrate their interest in the welfare of their workmen by giving them an opportunity to become part owners in the business, or by giving them a bonus of all the profit made above that necessary to maintain the business. The workmen employed by Henry Ford are well paid and happy in the thought that whatever benefit they can bring to the Ford company, is reflected back to them in their own income. Wage earners who invest their money in the business at which they work very often become better workmen, because, when they learn that their ideas concerning the fabulous profits in business are false, their bitterness toward their employers is seen to be unfounded, and they begin to understand the true relationship between labor and capital.
Government Interest in Vocations
Whatever helps to increase the happiness and contentment of the people is of vital interest to our government. If the working men are discontented and cannot find suitable employment, or if established industries are threatened by outside conditions, the government attempts to smooth out the difficulty. The Department of Labor takes a fatherly interest in every working man in the United States, and would like to make it possible for every worker to find continuous employment at good wages, under good working conditions, and at hours which do not cause excessive exhaustion. When strikes are threatened, this Department tries to learn the real facts in contention, and then settles the difficulty before the trouble begins. The government experts in this Department do not care whether the settlement is in favor of the employer or the employee, but tries to see that all get justice.
The interest of the government in vocations has, in recent years, been demonstrated by its efforts to train young men and women so that they can become high-grade workmen with good wages and satisfactory working conditions. The Smith-Hughes Act, which was passed by Congress in 1917, created funds to assist schools in teaching industrial subjects, and also to aid in the whole question of vocational adjustment. The courses are so arranged that young men or women who have to earn a living may secure their training at night or at special times which do not interfere with the regular work. Hundreds of thousands of ambitious young workers are by this schooling, fitting themselves to leave the unskilled class and thus to become more productive and perhaps better citizens.
In days gone by some employers were very careless about the health and protection of their workmen; but recent legislation is tending to correct this condition,.
1. What are some of the conditions that have led to the disagreements between workmen and their employers?
2. Of what value are labor unions?
3. What are some of the disadvantages of labor unions?
4. What is meant by profit sharing in industry?
5. What companies do you know of that share earnings with the employees?
6. What do you think about employees investing part of their earnings in the company with which they are employed.
7. Discuss some of the ways in which the government is interesting itself in the vocational welfare of the people.
8. Is Smith-Hughes work carried on in your local high school?