"Trade Unionism in the United States: General Character and Types"

Hoxie, Robert F.
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First Pub. Date
Mar. 1914.
Journal of Political Economy. vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 201-217. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
Pub. Date

1. In all this, unionism is not unique but has obeyed the general law of psychological development.

2. This and succeeding papers on unionism in the United States are intended to be a practical application of the viewpoint and method of study outlined in two papers previously published by the writer in the Journal of Political Economy, "Historical Method v. Historical Narrative," XIV, 9, November, 1906, and "The Trade-Union Point of View," XV, 6, June, 1907.

3. The terms "craft union" and "trade union" are often used interchangeably. The writer prefers to make "trade union" the general inclusive term covering all types of unionism, structural and functional. This is the popular usage.

4. Examination of union constitutions reveals a surprising amount of diversity and much individual variation in the matter of structural units. Some organizations, for example, have sublocals, as in the case of the shop club of the printers and the pit committee of the miners. There may be also units intermediate between the local and the international, such as district councils, state divisions, etc. There are, moreover, such things as auxiliary organizations. It is not intended here to deal with this matter in detail but simply to name the most usual and perhaps the most generally important units connected with the different structural types.

5. These trades unions appear under many different titles. For example, the city federations are known in different localities as Trades Councils, Trades Assemblies, Trades and Labor Councils, Trades and Labor Assemblies, Trades and Labor Unions, Central Trades Councils, Central Labor Unions, Central Labor Councils, Central Federated Unions, Central Trades and Labor Assemblies, Central Trades and Labor Councils, Central Associated Trades Councils, Labor Councils, Joint Labor Councils, United Trades and Labor Assemblies, United Trades and Labor Councils, Federations of Labor, Central Federations of Labor, etc. The state federations also go locally under different titles, and in the United States and Canada there is more than one national trades union, for example, the Women's Trade Union League, and the Canadian Trades and Labor Assembly.

6. Trades unions of the same order are not always strictly or exclusively federations of organic units, and unions of the same order may vary considerably in structural character. For example, some trades unions admit individual members, and there is great variety in the degree of centralization of authority. Nowhere is the pragmatic character of unionism better illustrated than in such structural variations.

7. The coal-mine workers have also subdistrict organizations. The subdistrict seems to be based on a uniformity of industrial conditions, e.g., thickness of veins, character of roof and floor, etc., while the district represents an area within which market conditions are similar. That is to say, unions may have both territorial and industrial divisions or units.

8. The multicraft character of this variety of unionism may be illustrated by the following constitutional quotations:

"The Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers' International Alliance claims jurisdiction over the following work: All metal roofing, the manufacturing, erection, and finishing of metal cornices, metal skylights, metal furniture, metal lockers, hollow metal doors and trim, metal sash and frames, metal ceilings and sidings (both exterior and interior), all sheet metal work in connection with heating and ventilating, furnace and range work, metal jobbing, assortment work, coppersmithing, and all sheet metal work made of No. 10 gauge and lighter; providing, however, this gauge restriction shall not apply to coppersmiths in the working of copper, who shall have jurisdiction over copper of any and all gauges" (Constitution, 1911, Article VI, sec. 2).

"The Amalgamated Association [Amalgamated Glass Workers' International Association of America] shall consist of an unlimited number of local unions composed of trustworthy and industrious glass workers, consisting of the following branches: glass cutters, lead glaziers, metal sash glaziers, prism glaziers, bevelers, silverers, scratch polishers, embossers, engravers, designers, glass painters, draftsmen, sand blast workers, glass chippers, glass mosaic workers, setters, putty glaziers, cementers, benders, flat glass or wheel cutters, glass sign makers, glass packers, plate glass workers, and all wage workers engaged in the production and handling of glass not already affiliated with a national or international union of glass workers" (Constitution, 1905, sec. 3 ).

9. This variety shades into the real industrial federation, an example of which is found in the Mining Department for the American Federation of Labor.

10. It has been strongly urged by a friendly critic, who is most intimately acquainted with the organized labor movement in the United States, that business and uplift unionism are not in reality distinct and independent types, but rather two varieties of one type more comprehensive than either. The argument put forward is that no business union can be found which has not also the uplift in mind and an idealistic viewpoint. It is suggested that this inclusive type might be called bargaining unionism or constructive business unionism.

11. By many it would seem more appropriate to designate the second variety as syndicalist unionism. The name quasi-anarchistic has been chosen, however, because there appears to be as yet little real syndicalism in the United States, and further because quasi-anarchistic is the more inclusive term. It leaves open the opportunity for further subclassification should the conditions warrant.

12. In strict justice it must be stated that there are two general organizations in this country claiming to be known as the Industrial Workers of the World. The first, the parent body, has its headquarters in Chicago; the second, an offshoot, is officially located in Detroit. The latter is a representative of the first revolutionary variant. That is, it advocates political action and supports one of the Socialist parties. In ordinary usage the term I.W.W. applies to the Chicago organization, and when unmodified is to be so understood in these pages.

13. It has been suggested that there is still another functional union type which might be called dependent unionism. It is well known that there are unions whose existence is dependent wholly or in large part upon other unions or upon the employers. Some unions, for example, could not exist except for their labels, which secure a special market among other unionists or union sympathizers for the goods which they turn out. Such unions are sometimes demanded or initiated by the employers, who see in the label a good commercial asset. Again, there are unions instigated and practically dominated by employers, organized and conducted on especially conservative lines with the purpose of combating or displacing independent unionism. We may then, perhaps, be justified in recognizing here a fifth functional type with two subordinate varieties.

14. The writer is also fully alive to the fact that no first attempt at functional analysis of unionism can be regarded as final and will welcome any and all criticism and cooperation that may lead to greater accuracy in this respect.

End of Notes.

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