Modern labor unions are the direct results of overpopulation. There are too many workmen, and the price of labor must, therefore go down, unless they "corner" the market by uniting to work for only such high wages as would be given if there were few laborers and great demand for them. The South African diamond mines are managed on the same principle. So many diamonds were produced that the price would have gone down had the mining companies not formed a "union" to "corner" the market. They now keep immense numbers of diamonds idle in their vaults, refusing to sell unless at the price to be obtained if there were few diamonds and great demand. They have driven out all "non-union" miners by buying in all the mines. Likewise, there are too many workmen produced, and they must combine to force up wages, only in this case it is a struggle for existence, while in the diamond case it is a struggle for wealth. No wonder union workmen on strike often try to kill non-union competitors, for it is what our savage ancestors had to do to all outside of their "union" or "clan," if these outsiders attempted to compete by poaching on the clan's hunting ground. It has been extermination or migration, and will remain so until there are no surplus workmen, which may never be.
There is an actual need of idle labor, as we have already mentioned in the case of harvesting the big crops planted by machinery. As the overcrowding has always existed, every enterprise is undertaken with the certainty of obtaining the necessary workmen. If a mill had to shut down every now and then because certain classes of labor were unobtainable, no one would build mills. "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" was said to the laborers in the market place 2,000 years ago. They still crowd the market places. The massing of the unemployed is a modern phenomenon due to the same causes as massing of population in cities. Formerly each village had its unemployed in the "market places" waiting for work, which had to be in the immediate vicinity. At present they can go immense distances, and as soon as the work is finished they return to the modern "market places," but transportation is not yet cheap enough, for we find huge masses of idle labor in the cities while crops rot in the fields because farmers can not get help to harvest them.
All trades, then, are overcrowded. We hear this now as we did in our youth, and as our grandfathers before us. Indeed, the same story is read in all ancient literature when there were but a few people on earth compared to the present numbers.
The professions, too, are overcrowded, and always will be, because there are more men than places, a struggle for existence, and the best at the top. There is always room at the top - never at the bottom of the ladder, where the incompetent stagnate.
Charles Booth* states that the "modern system of industry will not work without some unemployed margin, some reserve of labor," and "for long periods of time large stagnant pools of adult effective labor power must lie rotting in the bodies of their owners, unable to become productive of any form of wealth, because they cannot get access to the material of production," while "facing them in equal idleness are unemployed or underemployed masses of land and capital, mills, mines, etc., which, taken in conjunction with this labor power, are theoretically competent to produce wealth for the satisfaction of human wants".