The Single Tax and the Labor Movement
Peter Alexander Speek
[A Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin, No. 878,
1917, pp. 109-120]
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE ASSEMBLY DISTRICTS
In the local organizations of the new party the organizing process
and educational work went on. Almost every district organization had
its debating club, and rooms provided with books and papers, while
picnics and excursions gave the members and their families opportunity
Henry George was quite optimistic about the future of the party. He
stated that while the other parties were decaying, the United Labor
party had the advantage
"of having a clear principle and a definite idea.
The land question, which is another name for the labor question, has
gotten so far into discussion that it will go forward now by its own
momentum, gathering like a snowball."
What the conditions were, how the work was done, and what
developments took place in the assembly districts, may be seen in the
reports of the Standard and the Leader for the months
of July and August, 1887. In the eighth, tenth and fourteenth assembly
district organizations, an open split between the Singletaxers and the
Socialists actually occurred as a result of the ruling of McMackin.
In the eighth district, Hugo Vogt was chairman. At a meeting on
August 5, a delegate to the County General Committee moved that the
chair of the district organization be declared vacant, as Hugo Vogt,
its occupant, was a member of the Socialist Labor party. Hugo Vogt
explained that the ruling of Mc-Mackin
"was directed not only against the members of the
Socialist Labor party, but against Socialists in general, for the
purpose of getting rid of them, as many voters seemed to have a
prejudice against Socialism, and in order to gain those votes it was
proposed to drive the Socialists from the party."
The motion to depose Hugo Vogt was voted down by a vote of
forty-seven to five. The delegates to the County General and Executive
Committees were instructed, "each and all, as a unit, to demand
the reconsideration of the decision against the Socialists as unjust
and calculated to destroy the party.''
When the Executive Committee of the eighth assembly district met on
August 12 to transact some routine business, it found in the rooms of
the organization a number of members who had been invited by postal
cards to attend a ''special meeting" of the organization.
Chairman Hugo Vogt declared that Lavener, financial secretary of the
organization, who had signed the invitation cards, had no right to
call a special meeting. Lavener answered that Hugo Vogt and many
others were no more members of the United Labor party, as they
belonged to the Socialist Labor party. Vogt was then asked by a member
to make a ruling on the right of the members of the Socialist Labor
party to participate in the proceedings of the organization. The
chairman ruled that they had such right. "William P. Rogers
appealed from the decision of the chair, but the chair was sustained
by a large majority. Lavener then called upon all members,
non-Socialists, to follow him to another hall. He attempted to take
the records of the organization, but was prevented from doing so. The
struggle for the records was followed by disorder in the room. Lavener
summoned help from the nearest police station, but before the police
arrived, order was restored. Lavener was again refused the records.
Then Bogert with his followers, twenty-six members, retired. They
assembled in another place and elected a new set of officers and
delegates to the coming state convention.
Thus were elected two sets of delegates: the one consisting of the
Socialists and elected by a regular meeting of the assembly district
organization, before the ruling of McMackin; the other consisting of
the Singletaxers and elected by a "bolting" section of the
organization, after the ruling of McMackin.
The organization of the tenth assembly district was rapidly
extending. August M. Mayer was chairman. At a meeting on July 27, was
read the resolution of the County Executive Committee declaring that
membership in the Socialist Labor party did not disqualify a citizen
for membership in the United Labor party. Chairman Mayer said that he
would consult the County General Committee on the question, and
pending a decision of that body he would retire from the chair.
On August 6 a special meeting was called by Chairman Mayer. He asked
all members of the Socialist Labor party to leave the hall. Nobody
moved, but loud protests were heard from every side of the hall. A
member made a motion to elect another chairman, which August Mayer
ignored. Another member then asked whether or not all transactions in
which any member of the Socialist Labor party had taken part were
unconstitutional, and therefore null and void, adding that if this
were so, the constitution of the party was null and void also, as
members of the Socialist Labor party had assisted in drawing it up and
other members of that party had voted for it. August Mayer answered
that McMackin had only decided against the illegality of the business
transacted by the tenth assembly district organization at their last
two meetings. Herzberg, Walter, Lange, and Shevich asked for the
floor, but they were declared out of order by the chairman. Reinhard
Meyer thereupon demanded that the vice-chairman should preside. Then
the chairman, August Mayer, declared that if the Socialists did not
leave the hall within five minutes, he and his friends would leave
instead. When the five minutes were over August Mayer and his
followers, eighteen in number, left the hall. Vice-Chairman Goldsmith
took the chair. The places of the officers who had just left the hall
were declared vacant; among them were three delegates to the County
The vote declaring August Mayor's office vacant was unanimous,
fifty-eight members voting in the affirmative. Thereupon new officers
of the organization were elected. The resolution of the eighth
assembly district organization protesting against McMackin's ruling
was indorsed unanimously.
Meanwhile August Mayer and his friends met in Brecht's bowling alleys
and, in their turn, declared vacant the seats of the officers, elected
by what they termed the ''Socialist Organization," including the
delegates to the central organizations of the party and the delegates
to the state convention. New officers and delegates to the state
convention were elected.
Thus appeared in the tenth assembly district, as in the eighth, two
sets of delegates. Delegates to the state convention were elected in
the fourteenth assembly district. At a meeting on August 8, a
communication was received from the eighth assembly district,
consisting of resolutions denouncing the County General Committee.
Chairman Murray ruled that the resolutions should not be read. George
Block appealed from the decision of the chair. The chair was sustained
by a vote of forty-two to twenty-three, and the Socialists left the
The next business of this meeting was the election of delegates to
the state convention, as the delegates of the county general
committee, before elected, were Socialists, and could not, according
to the decision, be members of the party. The election of new
delegates was made a special order for a meeting on August ll.
The bolting Socialist faction assembled in another hall, declared
that they represented the fourteenth assembly district organization of
the party, and elected Francis Schaider chairman and G. H. Koenig
secretary. George Block stated that there was
"apparently a movement on foot to reduce the United
Labor party to a middle class tax reform party.
to find fault with the word "labor," and is apparently
using the labor organization of this state to further his pet
scheme. I should not be a bit surprised to see George and his party
one of these days in cooperation with the Democratic party. The
object of the Socialists is not to force any Socialist ideas on the
United Labor party. What they want is to guard the working people
against being defrauded and misled by any scheme entirely foreign to
their interests. George fears the Socialists on that account, and
for that reason he was anxious to have them excommunicated."
The meeting decided that the election of new delegates to the
convention was illegal, as the delegates had actually and regularly
been elected by the assembly district before the ruling of McMackin.
At the meeting on August 11, in the presence of a number of
sympathizers with the Socialists, there occurred a lively discussion
on the split caused by the ruling of McMackin.
Phillip Duckfield said that the whole thing was in the interest of
Henry George and his land theories. There was no labor question about
the whole business.
The second set of delegates to the state convention was then elected.
Thus appeared also in the fourteenth district two sets of delegates;
the one consisting of the Socialists, elected regularly before the
ruling of McMackin, the other elected also regularly, but after the
ruling. McCabe moved that the delegates be instructed to adhere to the
Clarendon Hall platform. Murphy presented a resolution that the
delegates be ordered to vote for a constitution for the United Labor
party that would enable Socialists to join the party. Dealing proposed
to instruct the delegates to fight by "tooth and nail" every
effort that might be made to change the name of the United Labor
party. Shaider said that the delegates should at least adhere, to the
retention of the word "labor" in the party's name. All these
resolutions and suggestions were adopted by the meeting.
At the last meeting before the state convention, on August 15, the
Socialist faction adopted a resolution declaring that their delegates,
if rejected by the convention, should withdraw, together with their
friends, as a protest against the action of the convention.
In brief, the twenty-four assembly district organizations of the
United Labor party in the city of New York differed in their attitude
toward the conflict between the Singletaxers and the Socialists as
follows: Ten assembly district organizations, 1, 6, 9, 12, 17, 18, 19,
20, 22, and 24, protested against the ousting of the Socialists from
the United Labor party; seven, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 16 and 23, approved the
ousting of the Socialists; four, 11, 13, 15 and 21, did not express
their attitude toward the conflict; three, 8, 10 and 14, had an open
split between the Singletaxers and the Socialists, resulting in the
election of two sets of delegates from each of those districts.
The majority of the assembly district organizations adopted
resolutions and instructions emphasizing the labor side of the
movement -- the difference in interests between labor and capital --
defending the party's name with the term "labor" in it, and
strongly favoring the Clarendon Hall Platform for the reasons that
organized labor, having been united on it, had made a very successful
political campaign the fall before, and that there were rumors current
that Henry George and his followers were planning to leave out the
labor demands from the new platform. These rumors had some visible
ground in the opposition of the "George men" to the word "labor"
in the party's name, and in their desire to get rid of the Socialists
in the party. The assembly district organizations strongly emphasized,
among other labor demands, the shortening of the working day.
Such was the situation in the assembly district organizations before
the state convention.
With reference to the conflict between the Singletaxers and the
Socialists, the locals, as shown above, were divided almost into equal
groups: the one protesting against the ruling of McMackin and the
other, slightly smaller, approving it. However, the division does not
indicate that the former were in favor of Socialism and the latter in
favor of the Singletax theory. Only a small number of those protesting
were Socialists, consciously opposing the singletax; while the greater
part of them protested solely because they did not want any split in
the ranks of organized labor and did not want to lose the assistance
of the energetic and active Socialists, many of whom were influential
leaders in the trade unions. Among those who approved the decision of
McMackin, only a small number were converted Singletaxers. Most of
them sided with Henry George because he was a very popular man, under
whose leadership organized labor was united and who had conducted the
successful political campaign of the previous fall.
THE ATTITUDE OF THE CENTRAL LABOR UNION
Section 10 of the Central Labor Union met on August 9. Delegates were
present from the Progressive Musical Union No. 1, the International
Millwrights' and Millers' Union, and the German Coopers' Union No. 1.
By a two-thirds vote a resolution was adopted in which it was stated
"this section of the Central Labor Union regards the
action of the County General Committee as a deplorable mistake, and
it calls upon the organized workingmen of this city to protest
against their action, and insist that the United Labor party should
remain a labor party and maintain its labor character, as
originally intended by the Central Labor Union."
The Central Labor Union itself was in a peculiar position. It was
afraid to take sides in this controversy which would result, in a
split in its own ranks. At a meeting on August 7, delegate Edward W.
Pinkelstone, of the Barbers', opened his speech by referring to the
fact that the previous fall the Central Labor Union decided to go into
independent politics. The mere mention of the term "politics"
resulted in a motion to deprive the delegate of the privileges of the
floor. This motion was followed by such disorder that Delegate
Finkelstone could no longer continue his speech, and the meeting had
to be adjourned.
At the regular weekly meeting of the Central Labor Union on August
14, the Cigarmakers' International Union No. 10 reported that their
delegates were instructed to request the Central Labor Union to bring
peace and harmony in the United Labor party. Food Produce Section No.
6 sent a resolution condemning the action of the United Labor party in
excommunicating the Socialists. The chair ruled the resolution out of
order, inasmuch as there was no request attached. An appeal from the
decision of the chair was made. The chair was sustained by a vote of
sixty-three against fifty-three. Somewhat later the discussion was
reopened and this time the chair was sustained by a tie vote.
The great number of the trade unions, including the Central Labor
Union itself, did not take sides in the political controversy between
the Singletaxers and the Socialists because they did not want "to
meddle with politics" and were afraid of a split in their own
ranks. The trade unions which did express their attitude were divided
in very nearly the same proportion and for the same reasons as the
assembly district organizations of the party.
Just how many labor union organizations protested against the
decision of McMackin is not known. S. E. Shevich stated, at the
Syracuse convention, that there were twelve labor-union organizations,
representing 17,000 workingmen, which protested. His opponent, August
W. Mayer, denied this, stating that if there were so many
protesting unions, there were the building trades unions, representing
over 40,000 men, which approved the decision of McMackin.
Considering the fact that the German branches of the building trades
voted separately to protest, and that the building trades participated
in the making up of the above-mentioned tie vote of the Central Labor
Union, it may be safely concluded that the labor unions which
definitely expressed their attitude toward the conflict were divided
in the proportion before stated.
THE ATTITUDE OF THE LABOR LEADERS
In the middle of July the
Leader published a series of interviews with the various labor
leaders on political action, on the United Labor party, on its
platform, and on the relations between the Singletaxers and the
James B. Quinn, master workman of District Assembly 49, Knights of
Labor, advocated unity in the labor movement. In his opinion, the
shortening of hours of labor should be the first step toward the
solution of the problem of the wage-system. In reference to the
singletax issue, he stated that a labor party cannot be built upon one
Samuel Gompers, president of the Federation of Trades, said that the
labor movement, to succeed politically, must work for tangible
results; that the ultimate end of the labor movement was the abolition
of the wage-system; that George's theory of land taxation did not
promise present reform, nor an ultimate solution; that the mere
taxation of land values could not settle the questions between capital
and labor; that the aim of capital had been to make the worker a
constantly greater producer ; whereas the aim of the labor movement
was to make him also a greater consumer; that the most important thing
of all was, firstly, the reduction of the hours of labor so that
machinery might be in fact what it was in name -- "labor saving;"
secondly, prohibition of the employment of children under fourteen
years of age; thirdly, restriction and regulation of female labor."
Henry Emrich, secretary of the International Furniture Workers'
Union, thought that the Syracuse platform ought to contain (1)
nationalization of land; (2) nationalization of instruments of labor;
and (3) all practical labor demands, among which the shortening of
hours of labor was the "first and foremost demand." He was
opposed to converting all taxes into one tax on land values. "Other
capital ought also to share the-burden of taxation."
Edward Finkelstone of the Barbers' Protective Union was in favor of
the governmental control of monopolies. Among the labor demands he
considered the shortening of hours of labor most important because "this,
for us, is the question."
THE ATTITUDE OF THE SOCIALIST LABOR PARTY
The New York section of the Socialist Labor party held a mass meeting
on August 7. Henry George, McMackin, and McGlynn were invited to
participate in the discussion on the relations between the Socialists
and the United Labor party. They declined on the ground that the
meeting was called by a political organization other than the United
A resolution against the expulsion of the Socialists from the United
Labor party was adopted. In support of this resolution the following
arguments were set forth: The Socialists had never forced their
doctrines upon the party; they had adopted its platform and would
stand on it; they wanted a labor party which would be capable of
knitting all the elements of organized labor together for the purpose
of satisfying their immediate and practical demands as a class in the
struggle against capital; the Socialist Labor party was not a
political organization in the sense of the clause of the constitution
of the United Labor party. It was further stated that the leaders
of the United Labor party had feared that the Socialists might stir up
discontent by their criticism of Henry George's land theory, and that
Henry George desired to make the middle or shop-keeping class the
mainstay of his party.
The National Executive Committee of the Socialist Labor party sent
out an appeal to trade unions in which it stated that Henry George was
pushing into the foreground his one-sided land and tax scheme, his
special hobby, which "contemptuously throws aside the wage
question that brought him to the front."
ATTITUDE OF THE LEADER,/H3>
Leader strongly refuted the rumors that the Socialists were
trying to capture the United Labor party. It wrote in an editorial
entitled "Idle Talk":
"All that talk of the 'boodle' papers about the
Socialists 'capturing* this and 'sitting down' on that, about the
United Labor party being 'tied hand and foot,' and the 'George men'
being 'nowhere' -- all because a few men known as Socialists were in
some Assembly Districts elected by a majority of voters as delegates
to the Syracuse Convention -- is as malicious as it is ludicrous.
is but natural that in voting for delegates to the Syracuse
Convention they should select men holding the same views as they do
on social economic Questions. But these men have not the slightest
intention of 'capturing' anything or 'sitting down' on anybody."
In another editorial entitled "What is behind it" the Leader
blamed the press of the old parties for trying to split the United
Labor party by attacking the Socialists, "resisting every effort
that has been and still is being made to warp the political movement
of Labor into a channel in which the very name and spirit of Labor
will be regarded as too 'narrow.' "
The Leader, being opposed to an open split in the United
Labor party, proposed the following compromise:
- Declaration by the Socialist Labor party, as it has already
done in a resolution adopted last Saturday at a meeting of the New
York section, that it is not a political party as against a bona
fide labor party.
- Reconsideration of the McMackin decision.
- Investigation of the election of delegates in the districts
where election is contested.
THE ATTITUDE OF HENRY GEORGE
After the ruling of McMackin, Henry George and his followers had
taken a decided stand against the Socialists in the United Labor
party. To quote Henry George:
"The platform to be adopted by the United Labor
party convention at Syracuse should firmly and clearly define the
position of the party with relation to Socialism. This is rendered
necessary by the organized endeavor of the State or German
Socialists to impress their peculiar views upon the party -- an
endeavor that has become so notorious that any disposition to evade
the issue, whether or not the United Labor party indorse these
views, would give its enemies a specious pretext to make the charge
that it does."
McGlynn had similar views upon the conflict.
LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS IN OTHER COUNTIES
Kings (Brooklyn) County organizations of the new party began their
actual preparations for the state convention at Syracuse on July 18.
Meetings at which the delegates to the County Convention were elected,
took place on the evening of that day all over the city of Brooklyn."
The County Convention was held on July 21.
Almost all of the assembly district organizations in Brooklyn
emphasized in their resolutions the labor side of the movement and
demanded the adoption of the Clarendon Hall Platform as the "only
platform which contained a sufficient definition of the strained
relations between labor and capital," and on which ''United
Labor could stand." The 29th Ward did not consider the
Socialist Labor party "to be a political body, but only an
organization of propaganda."
The Kings County elected thirty-six delegates and as many
alternates-three delegates from each assembly district.
The organizations of the United Labor party in the other counties of
the state were not very strong; some existed on paper only. Besides
the regular organizations there appeared quite a number of the Land
and Labor Clubs. The other counties elected thirty-five delegates and
twenty-five alternates all told, to the state convention at Syracuse.
This was the condition of the United Labor party in the state of New
York before the state convention at Syracuse on August 17, 1887, the
preparations for which resulted in an open split between the
Singletaxers and the Socialists. This split, in turn, led to a
cleavage in the ranks of the party -- the members of organized labor.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Leader, July 2, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 6, 1887,
- Ibid., and the Standard,
Aug. 13, 1887, p. 1.
- Standard, Aug. 20,
1887, p. 3.
- Standard, Aug. 13,
1887, p. 1.
- Leader, Aug. 12, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 12, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 8, 1887,
- Appendix IV.
- Leader, Aug. 10, 1887,
- Standard, Aug. 13,
1887, p. 1.
- Standard, Aug. 20,
1887, p. 3.
- Leader, August 18,
1887, p. 1, col. 1.
- Public, Nov. 17, 1911,
- Leader, July 25, 1887,
- Leader, July 25, 1887,
- Ibid., July 27, 1887,
- In the preamble of the party
it was stated that it was "chiefly a propagandist party."
Leader, Aug. 12, 1887, p. 2.
- Standard, Aug. 13,
1887, p. 1.
- Standard, Aug. 13,
1887, p. 1.
- Leader, July 28, 1887,
- Leader, Aug. 8, 1887,
- The Leader, Aug. 10,
1887, p. 2.
- The Leader, Aug. 4,
1887, p. 1.
- The Leader, July 19,
1887, p. 2.
- Leader, Aug. 4, 1887,
- Ibid., Aug. 5, 1887,
- Ibid., Aug. 10, 1887,