Industrial Conspiracies

Originally posted by Clarence Darrow:

I feel very grateful to you for the warmth and earnestness of your reception. It makes me feel sure that I am amongst friends. If I had to be tried again, I would not mind taking a change of venue to Portland; although I think I can get along where I am without much difficulty.

The subject for tonight's talk was not chosen by me but was chosen for me. I don't know who chose it, nor just what they expected me to say but there is not much in a name and I suppose what I say tonight would be just about the same under any title that anybody saw fit to give.

I am told that I am going to talk about "Industrial Conspiracies."
I ought to know something about them. And I won't tell you all I know tonight, but I will tell you some things that I know tonight.

The conspiracy laws, you know, are very old. As one prominent labouring man said on the witness stand down in Los Angeles a few weeks ago when they asked him if he was not under indictment and what for.

He said he was under indictment for the charge they always made against working men when they hadn't done anything:

And that is the charge they always make. It is the one they have always made against everybody when they wanted them, and particularly against working men, because they want them oftener than they do anybody else.

When they want a working man for anything excepting work they want him for conspiracy.
And the greatest conspiracy that is possible for a working man to be guilty of is not to work —a conspiracy the other fellows are always guilty of.

The conspiracy laws are very old.
They were very much in favour in the Star Chamber days in England.

If any king or ruler wanted to get rid of someone, and that someone had not done anything, they indicted him for what he was thinking about; that is, for conspiracy; and under it they could prove anything that he ever said or did and anything that anybody else ever said or did to prove what he was thinking about; and therefore that he was guilty.

And, of course, if anybody was thinking, it was a conspiracy against the king; for you can't think without thinking against a king. The trouble is most people don't think. And therefore they are not guilty of conspiracy.

The conspiracy laws in England were especially used against working men and in the early days, not much more than a hundred years ago, for one working man to go to another and suggest that he ask for higher wages was a conspiracy, punishable by imprisonment.

For a few men to come together and form a labour organization in England was a conspiracy. It is not here. Even the employer is willing to let you form labour organizations, if you don't do anything but pass resolutions.

But the formation of unions in the early days in England was a conspiracy and so they used to meet in the forests and in the rocks and in the caves and waste places and hide their records in the earth where the informers and detectives and Burnes' men of those days could not get hold of them.

It used to be a crime for a working man to leave the county without the consent of the employer; and they never gave their consent. They were bought and sold with the land. Some of them are now.

It reached that pass in England after labour unions were formed, that anything they did was a conspiracy, and to belong to one was practically a criminal offence.

These laws were not made by Parliament; of course they were not made by the people. No law was ever made by the people; they are made for the people; and it does not matter whether the people have a right to vote or not, they never make the laws.

These laws, however, were made by judges, the same officials who make the laws in the United States today. We send men to the Legislature to make law but they don't make them.

I don't care who makes a law, if you will let me interpret it.

I would be willing to let the Steel Trust make a law if they would let me tell what it meant after they got it made. That has been the job of the judges, and that is the reason the powerful interests of the world always want the courts.

They let you have the members of the Legislature, and the Aldermen and the Constable, if they can have the judges.

Plenty more where that came from on Project Gutenberg.


One thought on “Conspiracies

  1. This bit is prescient:A few men control what is left of the forests, a few men and a few great corporations have taken the earth, what is good of it.They have left the arid lands, the desert and the mountains which nobody can use, —the desert for sand heaps and the mountains for scenery. They are now taxing the people to build reservoirs so that the desert will blossom; and after it begins to blossom, they will take that.And even if they didn't own the land, they own all the ways there are of getting to it and they are able to take from the farmer just so much of his grain as they see fit to take and so far as the farmer is concerned, I wish they would take it all, because he always has been against the interests of every man that toils, including himself.And they are able to say to the working man engaged in industry just how much of his product they will take and from him they take just enough to leave him alive. They have got to leave him alive, or he can't work and they have got to leave him enough strength and ambition to propagate his species or the rich people can't get their work done in the next generation. And that is all that they are bound to leave him.They own the rail-roads, the mills, the factories, and all the tools and implements of trade and commerce and the working man has only one thing to sell. That is his labour, his life; and he has to sell that to the highest bidder.There are only a few of these men who own the earth and all of its fullness. There are millions and millions of the people who do the work, and if you can keep these millions and millions disorganized and competing with each other, they will keep wages down themselves without any help from the bosses.On the other hand, there are so few men who own the earth and the tools that they find it perfectly easy to combine with each other and regulate the price of their products and they have learned better than to compete.There is no way for the wit of man to make and interpret any law which will ever set them to competing again. They have managed to control the price of their products and charge what they see fit and all they need is to buy their raw material in the open markets of the world as cheaply as they can and labour is the principal raw material that they use. So of course they want free trade in labour and protection in commodities; and they have always had it and our wise Americans that are the marvel of the day, including the working people, have cheerfully given them protection in the commodities that they sell and free trade in the labour which they buy.And they thought by protecting the Steel Trust, so there can't be any foreign competition, that it will make the Steel Trust so rich that they can afford to pay high prices to their working men. It is one thing to make a man rich enough so he can afford to pay high wages; it is another thing to make him pay.So the employer and the capitalist have combined in all industry, and they fix the price to suit themselves and insist that the working man shall come to them individually and unorganised and compete with each other for a day's labour, so they can buy labour at the smallest cost and if, perchance, there are not working men enough here, they want the ports of the world opened so they can draw on China or Japan or any other country on the face of the earth, and get working men there to work for them at the smallest price.

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