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Tightline Johnson and Efficiency
By WILLIAM AKERS
ORMALCY and me came to some hard blows as to prospects for interior decoration during the
during the late onslaught. It was mostly a coming winter.
running fight. The strategy used in various “Ed,” says I, “I'm still poor but honest. Likeattempts to sling a double roll onto a sizeable meal wise, that is the same condition the wobs is in. ticket should have won an honorable mention. This Yet it sticks in my mind that through the operation line of tactics, however, is still listed under the head of the union and some displays of solidarity a lot of “Unremunerative Pursuits" by the income tax of us are a damn sight richer than we were during collectors.
them notable days up in B. C. on the Canadian After a mosquito season up in the New Porcupine Northern. galena prospect holes of the Hudson Bay country "Maybe we haven't exactly become bloated aristoI followed the geese down and drew up in Cleveland, crats like you yourself now, but our habits is Ohio, just at the time that President Harding took
changin' right along. For instance, it is becomin' his nineteenth vacation in a new golfing suit. stylish with a lot of us birds to take to T-bone
Cleveland is not exactly a logging center nor a steaks instead of the regulation choice between pig place for prospectors to hang out in. But, thinks I, knuckles, liver and onions, or cremated spuds, all "Tightline Johnson, a genuine American of
vulcanized with grease from the same cook shack Scotch-Irish-Norwegian extraction, should see America first,” so I ambled up Euclid Avenue from the
“The old rations of coffee that would float a well known Cuyahoga River with both eyes peeled.
horseshoe, and doughnuts that would sink a mudAt Ninth street I stood watching ten policemen
scow, is passé these days. We wobs are striving after guarantee the safe passage of a limousine straight
the higher life. ahead with no turns, when who should walk up on
“We have took a lot of our burdens to the boss one end of a two-bit cigar but my old Tilicum on
these last long years, Sonny, and let him carry 'em. a British Columbia construction job.
For instance, the well known crumb hatcheries of “Tightline Johnson! You Damned Old Bum, You!
olden days are not so numerous on the skidroad How in hell did you come to blow in this burg?
around Seattle. Maybe some other places have not How are the wobs? When did you leave the North Pole?"
yet abolished the balloons, but they were on their These and similar sentiments enlivened the air
way when I last heard from civilization." and amused the populace.
“Come on along,” says Ed, with the same old grin It was Ed Rumbo, the Polish kid that I had fished that had decorated his face when I used to get out of a rock fall in a tunnel up on the Grand
eloquent on the grub subject years before. “I am Trunk Pacific ten years ago. He was a bright lad running a little building job here in Cleveland just and had taken in all the language I poured out
at present and have to get back on the works. about social progress and labor organization in them
Come on over to the shanty for awhile and we'll by-gone days. But he had a peculiar slant even
see if we can't dope out something of immediate then. Maybe it was because he had gone to a
value to your future." technical school and was always doping out some We hikes up the street and turns into an alley engineering feature or other. Anyway, the rotten leading up to one of the biggest building jobs I conditions and the petty meannesses of the boss ever seen. In the office shack Ed and me goes into never seemed to get his goat in a personal way. the little private room with a name on the door He got excited about all this stuff because it was “Mr. Rumbo.” My old friend Ed was the superin“inefficient.” We used to call him “Efficiency Ed.” tendent on the job.
I remember when I fished him out from under We loaded up the old corncobs and chatters away the punky caps and posts that had been responsible most of an hour. It was the first time that I ever for the cave-in. He said, “Christ! Sticking in those talked that long to a superintendent without him rotten timbers is a hell of a poor policy. It don't havin' some murderous designs on my life or liberty, pay. It ain't efficient!" And him alive only be- Ed's viewpoint was this: cause of a hundred to one chance!
“The worst trouble with the capitalist system is It ain't no exaggeration to say that I was glad that it don't give a guy a chance to find proper to see this lad. Bein' out in that northern brush expression for his instincts, even though he wants country all summer and not havin' kept in touch to be a good willing slave and knuckle up to a job. with things in general, I was somewhat concerned When you boil all of your propaganda down to a
nutshell your demands seem to me to be for a "I pat myself on the back at this modest admission greater share in life as it can be lived, of course of yours. My hairy chest sticks out so far that if keeping a weather eye open for the day when the I had any vest on it would be buttonless from now whole works can be reorganized on a more efficient For you must not forget that your early trainbasis.
ing at my hands had a lot to do with your ideas. “Your way," continued Ed, “may be the only “It is tough on the world that for the last ten right way. It may be that when I take a job like years you have been out of reach of superior eduthis, and because of my ability to handle the engi- cators like myself. Think what you might have made neering features of this job in a way that no one of such opportunities, my boy, if I had only been else can do, that I am retarding your work. But I at your elbow. don't think so. Here is my system: I have dis- “But I have to agree with you in one thing. covered by actual experience that the best way to Every reform that the boss installs against his will handle men is to co-operate with them instead of seems to be profitable for him. When they put try to drive them. Especially on these big build- blankets in the camps on the coast they proceeded ing jobs is this true. It don't count much to be to get more service out of the men during the first able to drive a crew of men here. What counts few days of labor. A man that has carried load is to have each section and unit of the job work that a jackass would refuse, hoofing it all day up together with the other units. Job co-ordination to one of those camps, is in no mood to go out and will get more speed and efficiency on this job than knock down a forest with his mighty muscles next any other factor.
morning. "A lazy guy like yourself, Tightline, may be more "Clean sheets and spring beds revive a tired valuable as an employe than two goofs that are worker, and the boss gets the benefit. Now suppose scared to death of the boss and hop around brain- that we encouraged the lumber barons to install lessly trying to bull everything through. The guy neat little cottages in these camps, and even went that takes it easy and schemes out a dozen ways so far with our natural urges as to get married to make the machinery do the work for him is to some misguided young female with long blond twice as efficient as the lickspittle type of plug who hair or bobbed brunette locks, the boss would comgoes off his nut if the boss pokes his head around mence to make a profit from this arrangement right the corner.
away! "Because I learned a lot about human nature and “The boss has the human instinct of greed, plus class consciousness I can get results with less fric- obedience to habits. Even though it would pay him tion than most of the superintendents on such jobs. better to see that every instinct of the workers on But, Tightline, I am of the opinion that over and the job was given a chance to express itself in a above the class consciousness of labor there is some- normal and helpful way, he is so damned reactionary thing else just as big and more stable, and that is that he wouldn't do it. the human instincts. Capitalist management don't “For instance, high wages may knock a hole in consider the human instincts, and that is why it is the pockets of some of your contractors. But the largely inefficient.”
boys that get the high wages and the bigger return This ain't exactly the way he put it up, but it's can build a home of their own, and so the contractor the way I remember it. I naturally tore into these gets more work in the long run. So it goes all the remarks. I agreed with most of his stuff, but I way through. Every time we take a crack at the took it up where he left off.
boss for more pork chops and other things he sneaks “One of the instincts of this human animal,” says around and gets some benefit out of it. But the I, “is hunger. When a plug gets hungry he wants way to get these benefits for ourselves is by the to eat, and if he isn't being fed because of the route of the lass struggle, and not by turning into operation of another human instinct, greed, which a cigar puffin' superintendent. is one of the main endowments of the capitalist “Furthermore," says I, “I am impatient of having make-up, why, then right there is where two instincts a flork of plugs on hand to keep sneakin' around are workin' in opposite directions, and human nature appropriatin' the benefit from every improvement ain't goin' to agree with itself. In other words, the that I force them to make in my own conditions. old class struggle may have a basis in our human Do you think that it is a law of the universe that instincts, but it is based on the economic conditions I have to go out and fight for my own interests of the present system.
with a lowbred class of Babbitts, and worse, every “Ed," I continued, "the only way to arrange for time I want to improve my own conditions? Do you a normal and sensible expression of the instincts think that this same document provides that every is to fix things in this world so that we can all have time I give the boss a wallop and make him come a go at expression. Maybe you can fix up a job across with some things for my benefit, that it should so that it is better arranged for the men and they only make him better off in the long run? have a better chance on it than on others, but you "Exploitation is the natural born child of capisays a minute ago that you were the only one. talism. To get rid of one, the other has to go."
food to keep him alive, then I'll say we are on the right road.”
While this is biting, it is not accurate criticism. The aim is not one of reduction, but of destruction. Not an alteration in, but an extermination of, the farmer's status. It is not a question of increasing tenantry or peonage, but of driving the farmer into the factory, there to compete with the industrial worker of the city. That was England's achievement in the great industrial revolution of two hundred years ago. It looks as if it would be the U. S. achievement in the greater industrial revolution now confronting it and the world. Even now, it is claimed by no less an authority than Barnes himself that the automobile, motion picture, electrical and chemical industries “are maintained by the release of workers from agricultural and other pursuits."
Depopulation of Farms The trend from the farm to the city has been much discussed before this. But never has it appeared as the result of a deliberate policy. And never has it been combated as such, as is now the
EARS ago we used to hear a great deal about
the American farmer. He was the basis of de
mocracy, the backbone of the country. Unlike the peasant of Europe, he had no overlord, but was free and independent. Owning and operating his own small freehold he was the great individualist and conservative, a strong bulwark against socialism or any other theory of collective ownership of land and industry. He was the upstanding refutation of the latter and its eternal repudiation.
Today we still hear a great deal about John Farmer. But it is no longer eulogistic. In fact, his friends of yore are now “bawling" him out. They talk about sacrificing him and his farming to big industry and big centralized cities. They also say that he is about twenty-five per cent too numerous. And they no longer consider his small occupancy of the land a permanent feature, but an undesirable one that should be ended. As for his sterling individualism and staunch conservatism, with their deadly enmity to socialism—well, that's overlooked. He's doomed; that's all.
It is an interesting, nay, a stupendous revolution that has taken place in the attitude towards farmers and farming. Its profundity will only be realized in years to come. But some of its deep significance and far-reaching consequences can be glimpsed even now.
England's Choice The first peep was given by Henry C. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, in a recent address to the Chicago Credit Men's Association. Discussing whether this country is to be an essentially agricultural or industrial nation, Wallace referred to England and the crisis industrial development forced on it about two hundred years ago. “In that crisis," said Wallace, “England decided to sacrifice agriculture to industry and history has proved the wisdom of the choice."
Here we have the first intimation of a program of agricultural sacrifice. Its practical application has elicited the following comment, as it were, from Julius H. Barnes, president of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce:
"If the purpose of the government and bankers is to reduce the farmer to the level of the old world peasants, with a hut to live in and just enough
Farm population steadily tends to decrease, despite increases in other directions. During our last twenty-year period the number of farms has increased twelve per cent, acreage of improved land, twenty-one per cent, and yield of staple crops from thirty-six to sixty-seven per cent. Yet during the last ten years, from 1910 to 1920, the number of agricultural workers decreased 1,700,000, or fourteen per cent. This, it is claimed, is due to the increased use of machinery and implements, valued at fifty per cent, for the same period.
According to statistics, the farming population grows even more disproportionate to the rest of the population. That is, the farmers are being dwarfed into a relatively minor position in American life. They are no longer the preponderating element.
From 1890 to 1910 the farm population of the United States dropped from fifty-six to forty-five per cent of the total. In 1920 it had shrunk to forty per cent and is still shrinking. It is further estimated that the income of the farm population is only about seventeen per cent of the total instead of forty per cent as formerly. There are more
workers in factories than on farms today, with a their command the purpose of the International relatively larger income.
Usurers and Junkers.” This steady decline in farm percentages is held Since that was written the Farmers' National by some of the former friends of the farmer to be Council was warned March, 1923, against “a scheme beneficial. Among these are the Hearst papers. to discourage farming in the United States and These former valiant organs of middle class in- reduce land produce to home requirements.” The terests, that used to "roast” the "plunder bund," council further states that “AN INCREASING in the interests of the farmer, are now actively NUMBER OF FARMERS, POSSIBLY A MILLION trying to make it appear that the farm policies of AND A HALF, WILL BE FORCED OFF THE the "bund" are for the benefit of all. George Hin- FARMS WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR.” This is man, Hearst writer on financial and economic topics, confirmed by a student of conditions in the South. decries the campaign against big centralized cities He contends that the trend there is to compel the which has grown out of the farm depopulation big insurance companies to reorganize cotton culmovement. Curiously enough, he, too, like Wallace, tivation on a corporation basis, in order to protect cites England, saying:
their mortgage investments. This will mean the “An English economist writes that without her death of both tenantry and peonage, wherever inlarger cities and industries Great Britain could sup- troduced. Over seven hundred thousand farmers port only 15,000,000 population instead of 45,000,- have already left the farms of the Southland. With 000 as now. In other words, 30,000,000 would have the new organization of cotton growing under way, to move out."
this number will greatly increase, possibly double Hinman concludes, “The progress of today is in- or treble. dustrial progress. . . . The big cities and their in- Farm production and marketing tend further to dustries have got to grow if the nation grows. become more stabilized under the auspices of coOtherwise we stand still.”
operatives, which are dominated by wealthy farmers
and bankers in agricultural centers. They make The Blessings of Imperialistic Capitalism
farm investments more attractive, and have already Of course, there's another side to this question.
had such success as to enlist big capital and to secure They hold up England, too; but as a terrible
the benefits of federal farm credits, to the detriwarning. There's our eloquent and poetic friend,
ment of the small farmer. Covington Hall! He cried out against following the “wisdom” of England! He says it's folly and
Educate the Farmers worse than criminal! Referring to the results of Evidently, the tendency to farm depopulation has this policy he declares: “Two-thirds of the British
oniy begun. Further, judging from the inherent people live on or below the line of poverty. .. conditions tending to bring it about, it is irresistible. It was to hold her monopoly of machines and trade The farmer will increasingly be forced off the farm that England strained every nerve to become 'mis- into the city. He will increasingly cease to be the tress of the sea' and to hold 'dominion over palm bulwark of capitalism against socialism. What we and pine.' . This is why England has warred should do is to point out to him his inevitable fate with the United States, France and Germany so and prepare him for his destiny as a wage slave; ruthlessly—to save her monopoly of the trade of lest embittered by his loss of status as a small propthe world. ... Hitch our 110,000,000 people to erty-owner, he become embittered against the organ. labor-saving machines, turn the flood-tide of their ized labor movement and turns against it, to the products into the markets of the world, and in less
further degradation of all concerned. This has althan a twelve-month, the factories of the United ready occurred in Detroit's building industries; for States will begin to shut down and the cry of 'over- instance, where ex-farmers, fed on capitalist propaproduction' will be heard from every office in the ganda that "the exactions of labor unions tend to land."
ruin the farmers," have become scabs because of the There we have it-greater industrial slums and anti-labor unionism thus instilled. hells of poverty, aggressive imperialism, war and
This should be our cue: Make the inevitable clear "over-production" leading to tremendous panics and
to the farmer, before, and not after the fact, and unemployed crises,—such is the "wisdom” of Eng
he will likely be your friend when it occurs. land that the United States has set out to follow,
will respect both your foresight and your interest. under the policy of its industrial-financial overlords.
As for the rest of the problem, let capitalismi In fact, this policy is already well under way. It is
take care of that. Increasing poverty, imperialism. more than historic analogy or prophesy; it is a con
war, over-production, such as Hall predicts, aptemporaneous fact.
parently are unavoidable, and will shake the present What are we going to do about it?
system to its very foundations and lead to its final Covington Hall would call a halt to this policy.
overthrow. Amid such conditions, industrial unionHe sees an American imperialism and militarism rampant, as there is an English one, "unless the ism, with its program of social reconstruction and farmers and workers cease their foolish factional
vision of the workers' commonwealth, will be the struggles, unite, and resist with all the power at best way out.