Mary E. Marcy

Organize with the Unemployed:
A New Way to Fight

(October 1914)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 15 No. 4, October 1914, pp. 177–178.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WHAT would happen if we awoke tomorrow morning to find there were ten per cent more jobs than there were working men and women? Think of it! One hundred jobs for every ninety men! We would not be going around looking for work at the old wage scale, would we? And we would not need to.

We would see the employers outbidding each other for men, offering shorter hours and higher pay in order to get workers to run the shops and factories, and we would throw back our shoulders and look the jobs over and pretty nearly dictate our terms to the boss.

Now, by organizing with the men out of work, we can bring about just this happy state of affairs.

The employers of labor are absolutely dependent on the unemployed to keep down wages. If there were no men or women to take our jobs, we could demand shorter hours and higher pay – in fact, we could soon demand so much that there would be no profits left for the bosses. Then nobody would be able to use the mines and the railroads, the shops and the land for the purpose of making big dividends by exploiting the working class.

Today the capitalist, or employing class, owns all the great tools, or machines, by which things are produced. The employing class owns the land, the mills, the mines and the factories. They own the railroads and the shops. They own these things and want to own these things – not for the purpose of raising food for people to eat, or building houses for them to live in, or making clothes for them to wear. They own these things for the purpose of robbing the working class – for the sake of profits.

There would be no profits for the employer if all the shoe workers in a factory got $2,000 in wages when they made $2,000 worth of shoes. If steel mill workers secured $10,000 in pay for making ten thousand dollars’ worth of steel rails, the steel mill would be unable to send any dividends over to Scotland to Mr. Carnegie. The men who did the work would get the full value of their product and there would be no rake-off for the useless capitalist.

No profit-grabber would care to own a steel mill or a shoe factory under such conditions. They would have to go to work in the mill or factory alongside you and me.

We are today unable to name the price at which we will sell our strength, or our brains, to the boss because there are scores of unemployed men and women who are offering their brains and muscles at just enough to live on. If we demand higher wages or shorter hours, they will undersell us and get the jobs.

This is how the employers use the unemployed to keep our wages down; and it is by keeping wages down that they are able to draw profits from the shops and mills.

The employers need the unemployed in order to make profits almost as much as they need workers. It is time we recognized this fact and organized with them ourselves. We need the unemployed just as vitally as the bosses do. But all these years we have struggled to hold our jobs, to raise or maintain wages, to secure shorter hours, without taking any account of the thousands of “laid-off” workers who need those jobs just as much as we do.

We call these men scabs when hunger drives them to take our jobs at lower wages, and we even beat them up and drive them out of cities and treat them like our bitterest enemies, all because their need is so great that they are driven to take our jobs at lower wages, to keep from starving.

Can you blame a man whose wife is sick and whose children are crying for food when he goes to work on your job for a dollar a week less than you are getting? You may find yourself in the same fix week after next.

Would you lower the wage scale and take another man’s job in order to pay for a doctor when your wife’s new baby is coming? Or would you let her lie in some dingy tenement, uncared for and die? What would you do?

This is the position many of our unemployed comrades find themselves in every day in the year and it is this fear of death and starvation and suffering that forces them to take somebody’s job at almost any price.

Now, I do not see how we are ever going to materially raise wages or benefit any very large portion of the working class so long as there is an army of desperately hungry men and women willing and anxious to take our jobs for lower.

Consider the situation of our craft union friends. Some of them are organized in so close and exclusive a union that they charge foreign applicants for membership $1,000 for initiation fees, as do the glass blowers. Other unions have closed their books and are refusing all new members. Still others limit the number of apprentices who are permitted to learn their trade – in order to continue a monopoly of laborers in their own particular craft. These policies do not help the working class at all. And these craft unions are even unable to give jobs to their own members. There sure always thousands of members of the most exclusive craft unions who are out of work.

I know scores of skilled union men who do not have steady work six months in the year. And some of them scab when there is great need at home.

The point we have to recognize is that the man who was “laid off” yesterday and who is looking for work is precisely the same kind of a human being as you and I.

We workers have been accustomed to regard him as a most undesirable member of society. We have generally shunned him and held on to our jobs more tightly when we saw him come around. But he can always turn to this boss or that boss and, if he is efficient and will work for low enough wages, he can nearly always cut us out of a job. That is how the boss uses the out-of-works against us and against themselves.

Is there any union in the world organized or in the process of organization – for the purpose of co-operating or uniting with, or aiding and finding jobs for the unemployed? If there is I have never heard of it. And until you join with the out-of-works, who need your jobs today, you are never going to be able to help yourself or the working class to any great extent.

What prevents you from demanding higher wages today? You know and I know it is the men who are forced to seek your jobs. The boss can lay you off and put them on at any time.

You are always competing for jobs with the unemployed whether you realize it or not. And you must stop competing with them and begin to realize your need of them and their need of you. We must organize and co-operate with the out-of-works against the employing class.

We must stand by the unemployed in order to have them stand by us. When one of the shops closes down, let the men in the other shops unite, to share with their out-of-work comrades instead of turning their backs upon them, with the distinct understanding that no one will go to work at less than the prevailing wage scale.

Isn’t it better for a hundred employed men to support ten comrades who are “laid off” than it is to let hunger drive them into your own jobs at lower wages?

Already it is the working class that partially supports the unemployed. But we have not done enough to keep them from being forced to take our jobs and to lower the wage scale. Much that we have given has been done grudgingly and half-heartedly. Thousands of unemployed are compelled to sleep in barracks, in jails and in parks. Thousands who apply at the municipal soup kitchens are turned away hungry every night and still others have been driven from cities at the point of guns.

If the men and women on the jobs would support their unemployed comrades for one month with the understanding that nobody should go to work for less than the prevailing rate of wages – those on the jobs would be in a position to dictate new terms to their employers. They could demand shorter hours – which would, give work to some of those who were unemployed.

Or they could enforce a five-work-day week and force the bosses to employ those who were out of work the other day. The men on the jobs would not long need to share their wages with the unemployed. Soon they would be in a position to share their labors also.

Remember that as soon as we begin to control the supply of workers or labor power we can shorten hours and raise wages. And the only way we can control the number of applicants for jobs is by uniting with the unemployed.

Hitherto everybody has despised the unemployed except the boss. Now that we realize how much the employers need and use them, perhaps we will be wise enough to rob the enemy of his biggest gun. We need the co-operation of our out-of-work comrades and hereafter we must organize with them to present a united front against the boss.

Private Ownership

The employing class desires to own factories, shops, mills and mines – only because they can force the workers to make profits for them in these shops or mills. The only reason a steel mill brings a big price in Wall Street is because it is a great dividend payer. The moment a railroad stops earning profits it becomes a drug on the market.

When we begin to organize with the unemployed in order to control the supply of the workers’ laboring power, we begin to sound the doom of the whole profit system. For as soon as we are partially able to regulate the number of workers for the various jobs, we will begin to gain strength to shorten hours, to raise wages and to put the unemployed to work.

And all this will eat steadily into the profits of the employing class, until the working class shall become strong enough to take the value of its product and the profit system, of robbery and of wages, shall come to an end.

Working men on the job, unite with your unemployed comrades; control your joint labor power, absorb the profits of the boss and the world is yours!

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Last updated on 18 July 2022