1900: Would Christ Belong to a Labor Union?


At the end of Cortland Meyer’s 1900 novel Would Christ Belong to a Labor Union? or Henry Fielding’s Dream (here), the title charactera working man and staunch trade unionist—has a dream of what it would be like to own and run a factory according to Christian principles:

After two years of hardest toil and almost rigid exemplification of the principles of his Christian life, Henry Fielding stood in the presence of all his employees, to say :

“The plan which has been adopted here so far will be continued. We will meet every six months, and talk over the interests of this business, because its welfare concerns you just as much as it does me. I propose that you shall have your just share of its profits. I shall not hold any selfish secret from you. I am not only willing, but desirous, that you shall know the condition of the business, and that you shall pass your opinion concerning the share which you think you should receive.

“The risk is mine, the plan and strain are mine, and I am confident that you will recognize all this. I am willing to trust you, and when I cannot, I must cease to conduct the business. I take you into my confidence, and I want you to call this your business. I do not believe much in some kinds of co-operation. Most all of the attempts in calculating and mathematical methods have failed ; but I do believe in this kind of co-operation, and it is a vital part of my Christianity. If I cannot do business right, I will not do it at all. If I cannot do it as a Christian, I will not do, it at all. If I cannot do it with your love, and deepest interest and satisfaction, I do not wish to do it at all. The little money that is in it is of minor and trivial importance. Of what value is money, when it rests in the selfish hand, or is the treasure of a slave-holder ? Money is only good to invest in other lives, and in eternal interests. That is the way I look at this business. It is the best channel for mutual helpfulness.

“If you have any grievance, don’t hold it, and increase it, but come right to me, and we will talk it over as brother men should.

“Shall you continue to have your union ? Yes. Make it just as valuable as you possibly can. Protect yourselves, and your fellow man. Protect your skill ; secure the best legislation. Make the union an educational factor. Increase its power for good. Give the needy in it a share in your prosperity. Look after the sick and the sorrowing. Do not lose sight of the great object of your organization. I am not afraid of it. It is a friend to my factory, if we do as I have suggested, and as I have agreed to do by you. Mutual understanding and mutual sympathy is our salvation.”

See also Futility Closet Podcast Episode 107: Arthur Nash and the Golden Rule: “In 1919, Ohio businessman Arthur Nash decided to run his clothing factory according to the Golden Rule and treat his workers the way he’d want to be treated himself.”

Image: François Lafon: The Son of the Carpenter (1896)

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