A Report on Vocational Training in Chicago and in Other Cities

Chapter 4: Attitude of Organized Labor in Chicago and in Other Cities

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The very favorable attitude exhibited by the Chicago Federation of Labor on the question of industrial education under public auspices [see pages 74-80] should dispel all misgivings as to the possibility of serious hostility on the part of organized labor in Chicago to carefully considered provisions for industrial education in the public schools, provisions which recognize the interests of labor and arrange for the representation of labor in the conduct of such schools. Indeed, it is safe to assume, from these results and from the experience of other cities, that organized labor in Chicago would readily cooperate in an intelligent way with the public-school authorities. This is still further indicated by the cooperation already given by unions of carpenters and masons in Chicago with the Apprentice Schools in operation since 1901.

In general it may be said that abundant evidence[1] exists to show that organized labor throughout the country is not hostile to industrial education of the right kind. Labor is opposed to industrial schools conducted for private profit and providing narrow and superficial training, and to those controlled by employers and conducted solely for the employers' interests and in opposition to labor's interest. But to public schools which seek the cooperation of organized labor and employers alike, and take both into full confidence, which provide thorough and practical all-around instruction, organized labor is not only not opposed but gives its strong approval and cooperation.

In the case of all industrial schools in other cities visited by the committee's representative[2], special effort was made to find out from the school authorities what attitude was taken toward the

(74) schools by organized labor in the community. In only one case was any opposition reported, and that was in connection with a private school largely supported by employers' associations. Nor is the attitude of organized labor in these cities a purely negative one, resulting from lack of information or interest, for, in the case of practically all the public industrial schools visited, labor bodies are either represented on advisory committees, or have considered plans and curricula submitted by the authorities for criticism and advice. In Boston an official investigation of industrial schools, covering a week's time, was made by a representative of the Massachusetts State Branch of the American Federation of Labor, and a most favorable report was returned.

Attitude of the Chicago Federation of Labor

The following account of the attitude of the Chicago Federation of Labor is taken from the report of its Committee on Schools. Since the total membership of the Chicago Federation is about 225.000[3], and since 52.8 per cent of the 214 affiliated local unions answered the committee's questions, the results may be said to represent the attitude of more[4] than 118,800 members.[5] In the committee's letter to the affiliated unions special attention was called to the fact that the questions referred to public schools, which were designed not to turn out finished mechanics, but to lay a foundation and to give " all-around " training which will make rapid advancement possible when actual trade work is begun.

The Committee on Schools of the Chicago Federation of Labor sent the following three questions to the 214 affiliated unions:

1. Do you favor a public industrial or preparatory trade school which would endeavor to reach boys and girls between fourteen and sixteen, that now leave the common school in very large numbers before graduation? Such a school would not teach a trade, but would give a wide acquaintance with materials and fundamental industrial processes,


together with drawing and shop mathematics, with the object of giving a better preparation for entering the industries at sixteen and better opportunities for subsequent advancement?

2. Do you favor public trade schools for boys and girls between sixteen and eighteen, that would give two years of practical training, together with drawing and mathematics, provided the graduates of such schools should serve two years more as apprentices or improvers?

3. Do you favor public evening industrial schools giving instruction as indicated in questions 1 and 2, and furnishing also supplemental trade education for those already at work in the trades during the day?

Questions 1 and 2 are the same questions, word for word, that were sent by the New York State Department of Labor to 2,451 unions in the State of New York.[6] A comparison can therefore be made, on these two questions, between the attitude of organized labor in Chicago and the attitude of organized labor in the State of New York.

In the letter sent by the Committee to the Chicago local unions, quotations were made from the Report on Industrial Education by the American Federation of Labor, a copy of which was sent to each local union. A second and a third letter were sent to those local unions which did not reply to the first or second letter. In the second and third letters no reference was made to the report of the American Federation of Labor. In all, 117 replies were received which represent 54 per cent of the total number of affiliated local unions. Four of the unions replying did not answer the questions.

The following table shows the number of replies received to each question, the number answering "yes," the number answering " no," and the per cent answering "yes":

Table 19 -- Replies from Chicago Unions
Number replying Number answering Per cent "Yes"
"Yes" No
Question 1 111 92 19 82.8
Question 2 112 88 24 78.5
Question 3 112 97 15 86.6
Total 335 227 58 82.6

Table 20 gives the replies to questions 1 and 2 from New York State unions, and Table 21 compares these replies with the replies from Chicago unions to the same two questions.


Table 20. -- Replies From New York Unions
No. of unions replying Number answering[7] Per cent "Yes"
"Yes" No
Question 1 1,877 1,523 354 81.1
Question 2 1,877 1,303 574 69.4
Total 3,754 2,826 928 75.2


Table 21. -- Comparison of Replies From Chicago Unions With Replies from New York State Unions
Number answering
Chicago N.Y. State Unions
Question 1 82.8 81.1
Question 2 78.5 69.4
Total 80.7 75.2

The per cent answering "Yes" is in each case greater for the Chicago unions than for the New York State unions. This is probably explained in part by the influence on the Chicago unions of the favorable attitude expressed by the American Federation of Labor in its Report on Industrial Education, a copy of which was sent to the Chicago unions.

Attitude of skilled workmen

The attitude of the skilled workman on the question of industrial training is, of course, of special importance, because his interests are more directly affected by such training, than are those of the unskilled workman.

On the basis of skill the replies from Chicago unions may- be classified, more or less accurately, into 77 replies from unions in skilled occupations, and 36 from unions in unskilled occupations. Analysis of the total number of "No's" received shows that all but 4 came from unions in the skilled occupations, as set forth in the following table.


Table 22. -- Number of Unions Answering "No" [8]
Skilled Occupations Unskilled Occupations
Question 1 15 4
Question 2 20 4
Question 3 11 4
Total 46 12

The results in Table 22 are what one would naturally expect - that the opposition which is shown by organized labor to industrial schools should come mainly from the skilled occupations. The replies also show, however, that about 80 per cent of the unions in the skilled occupations answered "Yes" to question 1, about 74 per cent answered "Yes" to question 2, and about 83 per cent to question 3.

The attitude of the carpenters and joiners may be of special importance because of their interest in the Apprentice Schools for carpenters conducted by the public-school authorities. Of the nine carpenters' unions replying, two were not sufficiently interested to answer the questions, one way- or the other. Of the remaining seven, all answered " Yes " to question 3 ; all but one answered " Yes " to question 1, and all but two answered " Yes " to question 2.

Comments of individual unions

The letter addressed to the local unions contained the statement that the Committee on Schools of the Chicago Federation of Labor would welcome any suggestions or comments which the local union cared to make on any- of the questions or on the general subject. In response to this statement a number of very intelligent and discriminating comments were received All of the comments which seemed to have significance are here quoted, regardless of which side of the question is favored.

Thirty-four quotations in all are given. The comments are arranged in groups, each group being more or less homogeneous. Special attention is called to the comments in group VI, which refer to the status of trade-school graduates and-to the importance of securing State legislation regulating apprenticeship conditions.


Q. 1, 2, 3. Yes; we are always glad to see the boys and girls get the chance to help themselves.

Q. 1, 2, 3. Yes; if you make all-around mechanics of them, not specialists.

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Q. 1. Yes; provided it would not be made an excuse for trying " fads " on the children.

Q. 2, 3. Yes; provided cultural studies be not eliminated from the course of study, and that these schools be conducted in the same buildings and in connection with the common school.

Q. 1. No; because it would make for enslavement of children.

Q. 1. No; we favor a high-school education for all children.

Q. 2. Yes; provided such education is included in high-school course.


Q. 3. Yes; but would it be fair to require the tired youngsters to study after perhaps a big day's work?

Q. 3. If the -youngsters work during the day it would do them little good to attend evening schools.

Q. 3. No; they work too many hours as it is.


Q. 1, 2, 3. Your communication in reference to Industrial Education did not seem to appeal to our local and same was ordered received and filed at one of our large meetings. It seems as though the workers do not care to take up such matters unless some effect of same concerns them, directly injuring them in following their trade.

Q. 1, 2, 3. Regarding enclosed folder, beg to say the carpenters of this local are not interested in this question, as they have a school of their own in which all apprentices must go three months every year. This goes to show anyway that they are in favor of industrial schools to a certain extent.

Q. 1, 2, 3. We are somewhat embarrassed to fully comprehend the real purpose of the proposition. We realize that some kind of system should be adopted whereby the workers of our community would have equal opportunity to give their children such education as will compensate them equivalently for their outlay. The question of a school for boys and girls between the ages of sixteen and eighteen seems somewhat beyond the possibility of the workman to afford. On this question our suggestion would be to have it along the lines of municipal ownership.

Q. 1, 2, 3. 1 do not think many of us have much knowledge of the subject. and so give you the opinion for what it is worth.

Q. 1, 2, 3. These questions were endorsed by our local, but knowledge of the subject seems limited.


Q. 1. Yes. Q. 2, 3. Yes; provided the teachers of the various crafts had worked at least three years as journeymen at the crafts they taught; otherwise, no.

Q. 2. Yes; if under supervision of mechanics affiliated with labor unions.

Q. 1, 2, 3. Not until we voters can have representatives on the school board

Q. 1. Yes; provided organized labor has voting majority in Board of Education.


Q. 1, 2. No; because the interests would see to it that no education would be given to the pupils along trades-union lines.

Q. 1, 2, 3. No; for the reason that such an institution would be simply placing organized labor in greater jeopardy than at present; for you must realize that it would not be possible to instill any of the principles of unionism into such students-in fact, even the mention of such ideas would meet with the strongest of opposition; therefore we would urge action against the establishment of such a public institution.

Would suggest the establishment of schools on such lines by the international bodies of the different trades-the same to be so conducted as to permit of evening sessions, and no doubt but what they would be attended by a class of students who really would have a desire to learn a trade and become proficient in it.


Q. 1, 2, 3. Yes; provided these schools are conducted for the benefit of boys and girls only, and not to be used as a profit system for somebody else.

Q. 2. Yes; provided it is not made a breeding bed for scabs.

Q. 1, 2, 3. We believe that the industrial school will develop into a recruiting station for the unfair employer.

Q. 1, 2. Do not favor this kind of school because it would cause an over-production of skilled mechanics.

Q. 1, 2, 3. No. We do not think it advisable to use public money to play into the hand of the manufacturers. Those whose children would be able to attend a free trade school, as a rule, are also able to pay for that instruction.

Q. 2. No. We believe it unwise to permit school boards to establish trade schools, because if a certain kind of men, interested in a certain kind of employment, obtained control of the schools, our schools would simply- be used to turn out a surplus of labor for the trades in which certain employers sought to cheapen labor,


Q. 2. Yes; but would make the term apprenticeship three years, to conform to the present laws of organizations making the apprenticeship end at age of twenty-one years.

Q. 2. No; all graduates should serve their full time under regulated union laws.

Q. 3. Yes; to those holding membership in a recognized union.

Q. 2. No; blacksmiths rule that an apprentice must serve four consecutive years at practical work.

Q. 2. No; because we have found it detrimental to our apprentice system, which requires four years of practical training.

Q. 2. Yes; provided that no employer shall employ them as full-fled.ed craftsmen, such to be prohibited by an act of legislature.

Q. 1, 2. We do not believe that the present laws are such as to make public trade schools giving instructions, as set forth in questions 1 and 2, advisable from an organization point of view. It is worthy of note that every

(80) branch of industry so supplied by schools is over-run with student workmen, little or no organization. small wages, etc.

On the other hand, if an approved apprentice term can be enforced, making such term a necessity by law, before entering the trades, we believe that much good would result from such teaching as set forth in question 1, enforcing said term to protect labor organizations in case of strike or lockout, when there would be a great temptation for the bosses to work these near-mechanics.

We urge careful consideration before disposing of this matter, as it is a subject of vast importance to union labor movement.

Attitude of labor leaders in Chicago

In addition to the above report of the Chicago Federation of Labor, the following specific statements of labor's attitude, taken from articles by three of Chicago's citizens prominent in the ranks of labor, will be of interest.

1. By Luke Grant. Labor Editor, Chicago Record-Herald.[9]

The specialization of industry is rapidly dehumanizing the worker. When he makes a certain part of a machine he does not in his mind see a picture of the finished product, as did the all-around mechanic in the days before we had specialization in industry.

You who have not had the actual experience cannot appreciate the real pleasure it gives a workman to look at a piece of work he has done well. He takes as much pleasure in looking at a piece of perfect mechanical work as the painter does in admiring a fine picture, or the writer does in reading a good book. This is a phase of the problem which should have attention, as well as the phase dealing with increased productivity. If it does not, we will in the near future have a class of workers mentally and morally deficient, and a class of work that will not stand in competition in the markets of the world.

This forms what I mean by the "human side" of the problem. If industrial education and trade schools will serve to give the boy that thorough and complete knowledge of the trade, which he is denied in the modern factory and workshop, I am satisfied you will find no opposition on the part of the wage-earner. You will receive his hearty cooperation and support, for the skilled mechanic cannot help feeling a pang as he sees his trade disappearing.

Let us unite to do all in our power to lessen the cost of production, but let us not forget that if we cheapen product at the expense of the health and mental view of our workers, the ends will not justify the means.


   2. By W. B. Prescott, Secretary, International Typographical Union Commission on Supplemental Trade Education, Chicago [10]

For employing printers to say they would thoroughly " teach " a boy the trade was largely a figure of speech; with few exceptions they could not if they would, as they lacked the facilities. The boy would be turned over to a foreman or superintendent, who is always harassed with demands that he reduce the cost of production, and who in turn is ever urging those under him to greater effort or devising plans to meet the insistent demand for an increased output.

In these circumstances it is not surprising that the foreman's chief desire is not to teach the boy the trade, but to discover how he can be used most profitably. If the boy shows special aptness for some simple operation, his " apprenticeship " too often consists in doing that one thing. If he acquires a general knowledge of the trade, it is as best he may by the rule of thumb.

This system has been producing so-called specialists, and some are inclined to say it is all right in an age of specialists, as they point to this lawyer or that physician or financier who has had unbounded success by following a specialty in his profession. They forget that the physician is first well grounded in the principles and practice of medicine, and the attorney in the principles of law-, before selecting their specialties. That general knowledge is of great assistance to them. The workman trained in the manner just described may be a specialist at his trade, but it is because that one operation is the extent of his knowledge of his vocation. In the highly specialized trades the dread dead line, or age limit, is placed at an early year, and precarious employment is the rule. Not being transferable from one class of work to another, this kind of "specialist" is the victim of the greatest blight that can come athwart a wage-earner's life-unsteady employment. While the old apprenticeship system was decaying the quality of the printed page was improving. The improvement is due in great measure to the influence of commercial artists who design work to the last detail, which the artisan copies with more or less fidelity. This precludes even the most capable compositors exercising their ingenuity or skill, thereby reducing them to the grade of mere copyists, which is fatal to the development of originality or mental growth.

The International Typographical Union has been included in the general denunciation of trade unions for being opposed to technical education. Frankly, it is opposed to many of the schemes being fostered under the cloak of trade education. It is opposed to educational efforts that are more intent on making money for their promoters than on benefiting the scholars. It is also opposed to schools that graduate inferior workmen. The typographical union holds it to be folly to erect special machinery to entice men or boys to take up trades that are already overcrowded. In short, the union contends-and it knows-that there is no dearth of mechanics and artisans, but the great army of them are not as skillful as is desirable. This is not their fault, nor that of their employers, but of industrialism. In helping


  these to better things, the union believes it is subserving the interests of the individual, the craft and society, and that is why the union printers of the United States and Canada are spending approximately $15,000 a year to advance the interests of supplemental trade education.

   3. By John Fitzpatrick, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor.[11]

I am in favor generally of industrial education. I believe that all trades can be taught, and consider that the aim of the trade school should be to give the best preparatory and practical education possible.

The question as to how far the trade schools can give preparation for the trade can only be determined by experience.

I would have all trade schools open to all-sex, creed, color or nationality should not debar any one. I favor preparatory trade-school work under public auspices, but do not favor trade schools conducted by manufacturing concerns. I deprecate certain schools now organized; referring in this to correspondence and other trade schools, which cannot give practical education, and because of this deceive both the student and the employer.

The American Federation of Labor

The following quotation from the Report on Industrial Education, by the American Federation of Labor, also throws light on labor's attitude.

We believe that as much attention should be given to the proper education of those who are at work in our industries as is now given to those who prepare to enter professional and managerial careers, simply to balance justice and make it necessary to give to the wage-earning classes and the common industries such equivalent as we can for what the present schools are doing for the wealthier classes, as well as for the professional and managing vocations.

Our movement in advocating industrial education protests most emphatically against the elimination from our public school system of any line of learning now taught Education, technically or industrially, must be supplementary to and in connection with our modern school system. That for which our movement stands will tend to make better workers of our future citizens, better citizens of our future workers.


  1. Report on Industrial Education, American Federation of Labor; Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics, New York State, 1908, Part I; Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, January, 1909; Dean: The Worker and the State; Bulletin No.6, National Society for Promotion of Industrial Education.
  2. See Chapter VI and VII.
  3. Statement of a member of the Federation Committee.
  4. In the opinion of a member of the Federation Committee, the replies received were from the larger affiliated local unions.
  5. In practically all cases the answers were obtained by a vote of the local union, or by action of a special committee. The letters sent by the Federation Committee were stamped with the official seal of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and the replies received were stamped with the official seal of the affiliated local unions. The Committee on Schools acted under a resolution of the Federation authorizing the investigation. The results were reported, as here given, to the Federation in meeting assembled, and were accepted by unanimous vote and ordered published. The report, therefore, represents the official action of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
  6. Report of Bureau of Labor Statistics, New York State, 1908, Part I.
  7. The numbers classified m the New York report as " qualified yes " and "qualified no " are here counted as " yes " and " no," respectively, to correspond with the classification used for the Chicago replies.
  8. The unions regarded as in skilled occupations, in Table 22, are: bakers and confectioners, blacksmiths and helpers, carpenters and joiners, carriage and wagon workers, cigarmakers, ropers, gardeners and florists, garmentworkers, lithographers, painters and decorators, photoengravers, piano workers, printers, pressmen (printing), sheet-metal workers, tailors, watch-case engravers, two joint councils or assemblies, and one unknown union. The unions regarded as in unskilled occupations are: bartenders, beer bottlers, mailers, lake semen and switchmen.
  9. Taken from Bulletin No. 8, National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education.
  10. Taken from The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, January, 1909.
  11. Taken from Bulletin No. 3, National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education.

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