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ARTICLE

Legislated Security Is Bondage

SEPTEMBER 01, 1955 by SAMUEL GOMPERS

Excerpts from an address, December 5, 1916,

The “grand old man” of labor—president of the AFL, 1886-1924—warned his union members to look behind the humanitarian slogans used by the advocates of government-guaranteed security

There has never yet come down from any government any substantial improvement in the conditions of the masses of the people, unless it found its own initiative in the mind, the heart, and the courage of the people. Take from the people of our country the source of initiative and the opportunity to aspire and to struggle in order that that aspiration may become a reality, and though you couch your action in any sympathetic terms, it will fail of its purpose and be the undoing of the vital forces that go to make up a virile people. Look over all the world where you will, and see those governments where the features of compulsory benevolence have been established, and you will find the initiative taken from the hearts of the people.

Social insurance cannot even undertake to remove or prevent poverty. It is not fundamental and does not get at the causes of social injustice.

The first step in establishing compulsory social insurance is to divide people into groups, those eligible for benefits and those considered capable of caring for themselves. The division is based upon earning capacity. This governmental regulation must tend to fix the citizens of the country into classes, and a long-established insurance system would tend to make those classes rigid.

Governmental power grows upon that on which it feeds. Give an agency power, and it at once tries to reach out after more. Its effectiveness depends upon increasing power.

Recently a gentleman of the highest standing stated to me that during the time he was in Germany, and in a position to know, German workmen came to him seeking aid to get out of that country to the United States. They told him that by reason of the taxes which they were compelled to pay into compulsory social insurance schemes, they had no money left except for absolute necessities of life, and were unable to secure sufficient funds to come to the United States even in the steerage. He said to me further that in Germany, where compulsory social insurance has been more extensively worked out than in any other country, the workmen of that country, by reason of their property interests in compulsory social insurance, have been compelled to remain in Germany and work under circumstances, wages, hours, and conditions of employment which forced them to endure conditions below standards of a living wage.

Is it not discernible that the payments required of workmen for this compulsory social insurance interfere very materially with mobility of labor, and constitute a very effectual barrier to the workers determining their whole lives?

Industrial freedom exists only when and where wage earners have complete control over their labor power. To delegate control over their labor power to an outside agency takes away from the economic power of those wage earners and creates another agency for power. Whoever has control of this new agency acquires some degree of control over the worker. There is nothing to guarantee control over that agency to employees. It may also be controlled by employers. In other words, giving the government control over industrial relations creates a fulcrum which means great power for an unknown user.

The introduction of compulsory social insurance in cases of sickness, or compulsory social insurance in cases of unemployment, means that the workers must be subject to examinations, investigations, regulations, and limitations. Their activities must be regulated in accordance with the standards set by governmental agencies. To that we shall not stand idly by and give our assent.

Men and women, I trust I may not be sounding my warnings upon the empty air. I hope that they may find a lodgment in the minds and the hearts of my countrymen. I bid you have a care in all these attempts to regulate the personal relations and the normal personal activities of the citizenship of our country ere it be too late.

There is in the minds of many an absence of understanding of the fundamental essentials of freedom. They talk freedom, and yet would have bound upon their wrists the gyves that would tie them to everlasting bondage. And no matter how sympathetic or humanitarian is the gloss over the plan and the scheme, I again bid you beware. We know not when or how this great struggle going on in Europe will terminate, or what it shall mean for the future of those court-tries; but at least let the people of the United States hold their liberties in their own hands, for it may come to pass that our America, the America whose institutions and ideals we so much revere, may be the one nation to hold the beacon light of freedom aloft, and thus aid in relighting the torch, rekindling the heart flame of the world’s liberty.

For a mess of pottage, under the pretense of compulsory social insurance, let us not voluntarily surrender the fundamental principles of liberty and freedom, the hope of the Republic of the United States, the leader and teacher to the world of the significance of this great anthem chorus of humanity—liberty! []


 

The American Dream

Essential to a successful labor party is a well-developed class consciousness, a unity of purpose among the laborers. Now if it is possible—or what is more important, if the laborer himself thinks it is—to climb to a higher economic level, he will not want to unite with the members of his present class to wage political warfare against the other classes. The American laborer is quite apt to find no fault with the capitalist as such for the very good reason that he dreams of becoming a capitalist himself sometime. It is only when he has resigned himself to permanent membership in his own class that he is able to feel class consciousness.

Cummins and De Vyver, “The Labor Problem In The United States”

But in fact, they thought, virtue is not advanced by written laws but by the habits of every-day life; for the majority of men tend to assimilate the manners and morals amid which they have been reared. Furthermore, they held that where there is a multitude of specific laws, it is a sign that the state is badly governed; for it is in the attempt to build up dikes against the spread of crime that men in such a state feel constrained to multiply the laws. Those who are rightly governed, on the other hand, do not need to fill their porticoes with written statutes, but only to cherish justice in their souls; for it is not by legislation, but by morals, that states are well directed, since men who are badly reared will venture to transgress even laws which are drawn up with minute exactness, whereas those who are well brought up will be willing to respect even a simple code.

Isocrates, “Areopagiticus” (Circa 355 B.C.)

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September 1955

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