The Class Struggle and Unionism

The issue expressed in the superscription of this essay is very actual and concrete in the life of God’s children in our day. Many of the readers of the Standard Bearer come face to face with this problem in the maintenance of their homes and in the earning of their livelihood. Due to the modern industrial world, the individual and his liberties are constantly being swallowed up by the interests of the class in which he providentially finds himself. The liberties of private property, and business and small industries are being curtailed on every hand. The class-struggle and unionism is a living, throbbing issue not only in our private lives, but it is inherent in the world-wide conflict now raging on the face of all the globe.

Consequently the burning question in the heart of God’s children today is: What attitude must be assume toward, and what position must we take toward this world conflict; the conflict between the classes, as it reveals itself in the phenomena of unionism. Life is one. The international conflict of nations with their respective aims, is but a broader manifestation of the conflict of the classes within the nation. In these circumstances one needs to retain the scriptural perspective to maintain his spiritual equilibrium.

In view of the stupendous issues involved in this question under consideration one hesitates to write. But our calling as the salt of the earth, and light of the world is clear, and we have no other choice. The line must be drawn properly, that is, consistent with the law of God, and thus in accordance with the worthiness of our high Christian calling.

Upon attempting to study the question under consideration we discovered that there were many and involved questions which called for answers, were one to do justice to the subject. Far be it from us to pretend that such will do. If our essay can provoke some fruitful thought along these lines the writer considers the goal of these efforts attained.

Let us look at the subject somewhat more closely.

The first question to be answered is: what is the class-struggle?

To answer this question properly a word about the “classes” in our modern industrial technological society is first in order. In general it can be said that modern society divides itself into two classes, to wit, those who own property making a profit and those who don’t. The dividing factor in our modern society is not the social distinction, but solely the economic factor. Those in possession of industrial capital we will designate as the “Privileged Class” and the laboring class as the “Proletariat Class.” These two classes have always existed. The position of the proletariat was somewhat different in the time of ancient Rome. They were regarded at that time as contributing nothing to society and the state but offspring; they were the lower classes, the peasantry. In the modern socialistic use they are the wage-workers collectively, regarded as the creators of wealth. It is but proper to bear in mind, that this latter is the argument of the modern proletarian class in the class struggle. Of this more will be said presently, the “more-value theory.”

We said that fundamentally there were but two classes in the modern industrial society. However the line of demarcation between these two is not sharply defined. There is a gradual descending scale. But as far as the “struggle” is concerned the matter boils down to these classes.

In “Moral Man and Immoral Society” Reinhold Niebuhr writes the following on this matter: “There will be minor distinctions, however, within these groups which tend to obscure the major division (the “haves” and the “have-nots,” G.L.) when viewed under certain perspectives. Thus landholders may have interests which diverge from, and social policies which conflict with, those of the owners of industrial capital until the moment of crisis (think of the present war situation and the united (?) front of the nation, G.L.) when all property is under attack or until the two types of property and ownership merge. Industrial workers may find their proletarian class bifurcated (divided into two branches, G.L.) and the more privileged skilled workers may not on all occasions make common cause with the unskilled,” p. 115.

Not all people fall sharply into these classes we quote. There is quite a large class standing between the owners of industrial capital and the laboring class. Writes Niebuhr in idem p. 115: “The class standing between the owners and the workers, composed of professional people, clerks, small retailers and bureaucrats, is ambiguous in membership and social outlook. . . .Modern economic classes are. . . .less sharply defined than the social classes of the Middle Ages. The forces of a technological civilization, which gives classes organ of cohesion and self-expression, also tend to confuse the economic circumstances which create class distinctions, with an endless variety of differentiated function and corresponding differences of privilege.”

It is of importance here to notice what natural organic position the believers in Christ Jesus occupy in this modern social economic set-up. Scripture teaches that God’s people are the poor in the world, chosen to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Some may belong to the middle class enumerated above. But the general rule is that the church is composed of working laboring men. In fact, this is not shame, for Scripture enjoins the believers to work with their hands, Eph. 4:28. However, as we shall see that this puts the believers as to their natural organic position in the camp of the proletariat.

That which is known as the “class struggle” in our modern era is the struggle between these two classes. In this struggle it can be said, that the proletariat challenge the right of the privileged class to the percentage of the profit of their industrial capital. It is the contention of the proletariat that labor should equally share the profits of industry with capital. Hence, Labor is on the offensive in this struggle, and Capital on the defensive. And the Privileged Class has prestige and power by virtue of their economic position. The struggle between the two classes can be said to be as old as mankind. But it has never here-to-fore assumed the proportions of our day.

What may be the occasion of this? It is due to the modern technological industrial world. Labor is brought closer together by the industrial world, than ever before. Before the modern machine age, men worked for individual owners of capital. The contact between labor and capital was direct and personal. Now this is gone. One now works for a corporation of stock holders and this corporation functions through a board and president. The interest of the corporation is solely financial profits, and not the interests of the laboring men. Labor feels this, and rebels. They see that it is through their energy and efforts that the raw materials acquire greater value. Take for example an automobile. The raw materials entering into it are not worth $900.00. It might be worth but one tenth of this amount. What gave it its value. The present form and usefulness which it received in the hands of labor. Thus many examples to prove this point could be cited. But this will suffice.

Now who is it that reaps the lion’s share of these profits? Labor through whose hands it acquires this value? No, the owners of industrial capital! And so the modern industrial world gives impetus to the struggle of the classes for economic privilege and all that this entails.

Another element brings the consciousness of mere financial profit to the foreground. It is the fact that the modern worker does not really make any one commodity as an individual. Modern technology and mass production has revolutionized the “Village Blacksmith” of the days of the poet. At that time the laborer really could see the fruits of his individual efforts. He could be a craftsman and take pride in the product of his labors. There was more than mere “paycheck” to work for. The blacksmith in the days of yore could take pride in the fruits of his efforts. This loss of pride in the actual commodity has accentuated the struggle for equal distribution of the profits of industry.

That this last is true is not difficult to prove. Ask any number of people what they do, and they will tell you: “We work in the factory” or “we work for General Motors.” The individual is but a small cog in the industrial machine of man power.

Out of this modern complex of the class-struggle is born what today is known as “Unionism”. The collectiveness of labor has become the machine for its collective efforts in the struggle with the Privileged Class. It is the modern laborer organized into a corporation to bargain with capital as a corporation. As such it has the protection and recognition of the government. The C.I.O. and A.F. of L. has legal recognition, and are potent agencies of labor in the class struggle with the owners of industrial capital.

In order to give our evaluation of Unionism and all that it stands for, we must first evaluate the “class- struggle.” Is this class struggle in its philosophy a matter of God’s justice? No, God is not in the thoughts at all. Man is the measure of all things. The motive is not love the “neighbor as thy self,” but it is purely selfish interest. This social philosophy has nothing in common with Christian ethics laid down on moral law. Oh, they may speak of the altruistic utilitarian ethics of the “greatest good for the greatest number,” but that is because they belong to this greatest number. The moment these preachers of the “greatest good for the greatest number” are with the privileged class they are for capital to all practical extent.

The Christian cannot bring this utilitarian principle in line with love for the neighbor. Our chief objection cannot be against the tactics employed by the unions in their strikes, boycotts, etc. If this be all the objection we have, we can join with orderly unions (if such there are). To our mind therefore the question of the Christian attitude toward unionism is fundamentally the same as toward the Christian’s place in the class-struggle.

To make this position clear, would require more space that is at our disposal at this time. If the editor of the Standard Bearer wishes probably at some future day, we can write on that question under a separate heading. But let it be understood, that we are convinced that the question of unionism may never be discussed disjoined from the broader question of the class-struggle with its social philosophies.