In the period around 1900, it was fairly common to see the large corporation, or even the monopolitistic trust as a "labor-saving device." In the cooperative movement, in the libertarian wing of the progressive movement, and in no small number of utopian formulations of the period, the "cooperative commonwealth" takes the form of a "peoples' trust." Here is one of the better examples of that tradition, from Samuel Milton Jones, the "anarchist mayor" of Toledo, OH. It comes from the proceedings of the 1899 Chicago Conference on Trusts, at which Benjamin R. Tucker delivered "The Attitude of Anarchism towards Industrial Combinations."
SAMUEL M. JONES.
Mayor of Toledo, Ohio.
I believe in a large programme for society. I believe it to be our duty and privilege in this republic to find a plan big enough to provide for all of the people and I see in the growth of the trust; an indication of the growing social movement toward collectivism. I believe in brotherhood; so do the makers of the trust: They believe in brotherhood for the fellows that are in the trust I believe in the brotherhood of all men. The trust is the Great American Brotherhood (limited). We will yet learn to utilize the trust by amending the title, leaving off the last word.
The trust is preparing the way, showing society the great benefits that may be derived through association in industry and the great economic value of association, both in production and distribution. An invention that lightens the burden of the world's toilers and makes it possible for one man to do the work of twelve is called a "labor-saving machine." Does it matter whether the machine is made of wood and iron or composed of organizations and associations of men? If the result is the same it is a labor-saving machine. In this sense the trust is a labor-saving machine. The fact that the owners of the trust capture all the profit produced by the labor-saving machine does not affect the truth of this statement. That is the peculiar tendency of the modern "captain of industry." Labor-saving machinery made of wood and iron has done very little to lighten the toil of the workers. It has usually resulted in saving labor for those who do not work. Take the case of the sewing machine, one of the greatest of the labor-saving inventions. It ought to bless the world to a far greater extent than it does. All such inventions and combinations should lighten the labor of all, but within two years a committee of investigation of the Massachusetts legislature found women operating seeing machines in Boston sweat-shops twelve hours a day making boys' pants at 19 cents a dozen pairs. Because those women work in this slavish and dehumanizing way their employer, the "captain of industry," and his family were enabled to pass their summers at Nahant and their winters in a big house in the Back Bay.
According to the prevailing conception people who are thus able to live an idle, useless life at the expense of other people's toil are considered the fortunate members of society. I do not think this view, however, is the correct one An idle life is a useless life, whether rich or poor. Indeed, there is reason to believe that if one is idle because of riches there must oh necessity be guilt approaching crime in such possession and resultant idleness.
The triumph of the trust is one of the marvels of the closing years of the nineteenth century; but they are an economic development, strictly in the line of progress and our problem is not how to destroy them, but how to use them for the good of all. Like their prototype the labor-saving machinery constructed of wood and iron, they have come to stay. A labor-saving machine might have great value on account of its producing capacity, but might be so destructive of human life as to make it imperative that it should be so improved that its "saving" power might be utilized without injury to the operative.
Thirty-five years ago T saw a~ mob of teamsters trying to destroy the first pipe line ever built for the transportation of oil. They feared that the pip line was an "attack upon their craft." The movement against the trust rests identically on the same moral basis as the rage of a mob against the pipe line, elevators and labor-saving machinery generally, and I predict that it will have the same result in the end. All the legislation thus far against the trust has been almost as futile as a law against the change in the moon's phases or the ebb and flow of the tides.
We are not going back to the individualistic method of production. We are not going to pull down the department store in order that the people shall sustain fifty small stores in place of the one department store. If that is what we propose, let us continue the principle; destroy the small stores and turn the business over to peddlers. This will be carrying to logical conclusion the senseless objection to the department store and the trust.
What, then, shall we do with the trust, with the continually increasing army of unemployed thrown out by these organizations? I reply, we must organize government (society) in the interest of all, for the good of all, so that we may utilize the economic side of the trust.
We must leave off the word (limited) from the Great American Brotherhood that I have referred to and own and operate the trust for the benefit of the people, as we now own and operate the post-office trust. The profit that accrues to the organizations known as trusts, by reason of the economic production that arises from associating ten or more companies together does not belong to those who compose the trust in any ethical sense. The profit is only made possible because the people are here, the cities are here and the means of transportation and communication are here and available, and this profit that arises from amending the ways of competition is in no just sense the property of those composing the trust.
It belongs to society, and may be properly called the "increment of associated organization." Neither the cities nor the earth have been created for the benefit of the trusts. It is clear that the earth and the "natural opportunities" that have resulted in building cities, highways, railways and commerce were created for the benefit of all alike. Equality of opportunity or brotherhood is the goal toward which the race is struggling, and the trust, while thoroughly selfish in its inspiration, is the expression of the great social spirit now stirring the hearts of the people.
I can see neither sense nor reason in the attempts to destroy the labor-saving machines by legislation, but I see both reason and hope for the American people in the movement that will utilize all kinds of labor-saving machines, including the trusts, for the benefit of the whole people. This can only come about by the process of general education that will bring the classes to understand and practice what the masses now believe in—that is, the brotherhood of industry.
The movement toward municipal ownership, toward public ownership, toward-co-operation of every sort, indicates the channel through which the people are to come into possession of their own. When they are thoroughly enlightened they will simply retake in a perfectly orderly way the properties that have passed out of their hands and become private possessions, usually through the practice of deception and fraud. The people will own and operate their own trust; its name will be the Co-Operative Commonwealth.