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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 74, no. 1914: November 19, 1904

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November 19, 1904 RECORD AND GUIDE >M ^^ •* ESTABUSHEB'S^WARPHaiV^iaeS. ftVoTEDTDRpj^LEIsrAjE.Buildmg ^cKirEcroRE.KouseMoidDrsaifiiiMl, Business Alio Theues Of GEtJER^l lt/TER?si. PRICE FER YEAR IN ADVANCE SIX DOLLARS Pablished eVery Saturday Communications should be addressed to ^ C. W. SWEET, 14-16 Vesey Street, Now YorR J. T. LINDSET. Buainess Manager Teleplione, Cortlandt 3157 "Entei-ed at tl'te Post Office al Neio Tork, JV. Y., as second-elass matier," Vol. LXXIV. November 19, 1904. No. 1914. The Real Evil. .WHY LABOR TROUBLES CONTINUE IN THE BUILDING TRADES IN NEW YORK CITY. By Theodore Starrett. "^ HE labor problem is witliout doubt the most important ■*■ problem that the American nation has to solve. It will only be solved through the growtn of an enlightened public opinion, and as a precedent to this the public must be fully informed. We hear of strikes lil;c those of the mine workers in Pennsylvania or the beef packers in Chicago, where wages are low and conditions hard, and our sympathies go out, almost without exception, to the "down-trodden working man," but when we come to the building trades, where the trouble seems to be just as great and indeed almost absolutely irreconcilable, we learn that wages are higli—the highest that ever were known in the history of the civilized world, ani nobody is try¬ ing to cut them down; that work is plentiful—there are not enough men to do it all—and yet the turmoil of sympathetic strikes and lockouts grows in violence, and the confusion be¬ comes greater and greater. People wonder what it can all be about, for it certainly is on the surface the most bewildering muss that ever was heard of. A great many people think the unions are to blame for this muss, and that they will have to be done away with before industrial peace can come to pass. I say that the unions are not to blame. They are a necessity to protect the weak against the rapacity and greed of unscrupulous employers. A well ordered union like the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers for in¬ stance, is one of the greatest tilings in the world. It is the union which is unrestrained by any sense of responsibility to the other members of society that is making ihe trouble, and the cure will be made by getting a good form oE government tor the union and not by attempting to suppress it. Legitimate union¬ ism has a great work to perform in this country and the re¬ forms must be brought about by casting out the corrupt and perverted element which dominates the unions, just as in mat¬ ters of general government the pothouse politician has to be suppressed before reforms can be accomplished. To understand the whole question better a few facts should be stated. The trade union is an ancient institution. It is descended from the guild of the Middle Ages. The old trades are the carpenters, the masons—embracing now bricklayers, plasterers, stone setters, etc., and the smiths—blacksmiths, whitesmiths (tinsmiths), goldsmiths, silversmiths and the like. Modern life has produced new trades which have formed unions on the lines of the old trades, and of late the labor union, in emulation of the trade union. Las beeu organized, and gradu¬ ally ail those who work for wages are being brought into the fold of organized labor. The old trades, how-ever, are the build¬ ing trades and traditionally their work is supposed to be more or less precarious and their wages are correspondingly higher than those of their fellow workers. As a matter of fact, how¬ ever, some trades have so few members that fheir work is aa steady as that of a clerk in a bank. Out of the 30,000,000 people engaged in gainful occupations in the United States, 3,000,000 are organized, and of these about 600,000 belong to the building trades in the larger cities. In* the matter of wages 2.400,000 of the organized worliers have been able to exact only slight advances in wages, as far as the gen¬ eral standard is concerned, although great things have been accomplished in bringing about stability and preventing the abuse of the weak. The other GOO.OOO have been able to do more or less as they please, and the result, as has been stated before, is the highest scale of wages to be found anywhere in the world. But it is not high wages that cause the trouble that we hear about and wonder at. It is sometoing infinitely worse.. The abuses that have been perpetrated as a result of certain prac¬ tices on the part of employers in the buiiding trades are the true cause of the whole trouble. Trade unionism is indigenous to the large city. The smaller the city the less there is of it, and when we come to the rural districts the blight of indifference prevents its growth altogether. Three great cities of this country are typical of different phases of trade unionism. San rrancisco is the head center of labor troubles on the Pacific coast; Chicago Is the center for the Middle States and New. York is the Eastern center. In San Francisco the labor element has, until recent days, had everything its own way, through the fact that there was no or¬ ganized opposition. Its isolation is what made possible the success of the laborites who, until very recently, had the town absolutely at their mercy. Chicago, with the help of a demagog¬ ical mayor, was the center for a period of some two years of virtual anarchy, which spread frcm the comparatively small body of building mechanics to such an extent that almost every class of working man was compelled—and is now for that mat¬ ter—to wear a badge which he gets renewed every month show¬ ing that he belongs to a union and has paid his dues. The tide has started to recede in that town, as is shown by the fact that whereas three years ago there were 250,000 people in the city who were members of unions, iast year the number had shrunk by 100,000. But in Chicago, great as was the abuse, it was still a one-sided affair, as tbe employers joined with the public in re¬ sisting the excesses of unionism. In New York unionism has not made nearly the progress that it has in other cities, as is evidenced by the fact that it is stili confined, at least as far as its power to demora.ize is concerned, to the building trades. But in the building trades of New York City there is a different factor which has carried the building industry to a state of confusion and disorganization that is far worse and infinitely more deplorable than the anarchy of Chicago or the socialism of San Francisco, and the reason has been that here the employers and tlie employees are arrayed in groups for mutual protection and aggression. In what has been called the golden age of the building busi¬ ness in New York City, not so very long ago, tnere were under¬ standings in connection with almost every building of im¬ portance, especially the buildings for rich owners, whereby the leading employers in each line would divide up the worlc These leading employers were generally a small coterie in each trade and there was plenty to go around. There were no cut prices, everything was easy and the architects through whom the work had to be secured were made to believe that the only way to get their work done properly was to let it to some one of the "big four" or the "big five" or the "big six" as the case might be. Then came outside competition, when strange em¬ ployers and strange men started to knock at the door of this Eden, and it became necessary to squelch them. Treaties were made with the different trades, and strange to say the em¬ ployers had to arrange to "take care of" their fellow-employers, the matter of wages or discipline as between master and man heing an indifferent one, and by means of these treaties any employer who "misbehaved" was disciplined. Strikes w.ere de¬ clared against the recalcitrant one for no apparent reason at all. or, if the walking delegate who was the instrument through whom these things were done condescended to give his reason.