Mayday, Mayday: Capital and Labor (1907)

Labor is of divine origin, and no man should be ashamed that he is a workman. . . . We are a country of millionaires and beggars, and between these two extremes of society, there is a chasm so wide that no power under our present system of selfishness and private greed can bridge it.

The reverend William Schuler Harris’ Capital and Labor (1907) frames its titular subjects as locked in a perennial struggle, “dating back to the time when the Egyptians laid the lash upon their slaves”. Writing in the early twentieth century, Harris is skeptical of the “orator [who] frequently soars into ecstasies over the privileges of the American workers”, for he sees how the labor force is suffering under the “galling yoke” of trusts and monopolies. Substitute those scourges of the Gilded Age with unfettered multinational conglomerates and something similar holds true today. The author’s list of obstacles facing workers are as relevant now as they were more than a century ago: the needs of “civilized life” increase more rapidly than wages; the skilled worker remains at the mercy of a boss; and her “sacrifices and sufferings” serve to further “the unlimited and unearned wealth of the rich”. Jobs bleed into the weekend, robbing workers of “the Sabbath rest”; economic inequality affects our “prospects of old age”; the wealthy are “indifferent” to the sufferings of the lower classes; “political corruption is on the increase”; “the Capitalists and the great corporations have generally been able to secure legislation in their favor”; and automation provides no new jobs when we are “superseded by the machine that takes [our] place”.

Cover of the bookScroll through the whole page to download all images before printing.

How are we to fight the tentacles of capitalist exploitation, which regrow, hydra-like, with greater fortitude at every setback? Harris is bullish on labor unions, which he believes are “the most natural and effective method of reaching the desired end”, supportive of “temperate anarchists”, who will one day be praised for “arousing the masses against the oppressions under which they suffered”, and disdainful of “nihilists” for their “lawlessness and Godlessness”. While pickets, strikes, and legislative reform all earn measured praise in these pages, as does a plan to “Christianize the Capitalist”, his most sustained discussion is reserved for socialism. Harris believes that “thoughtful men are rapidly clearing their minds of the prejudice that they have held against Socialism” — a sentiment that feels, with hindsight, more than a little optimistic. He preaches the merits of nationalizing utilities, railroads, communication networks, and food manufacturers, and believes that a Christian socialist form of political economy will soon triumph worldwide, supplying “every human being with ample food, clothing, shelter and education”. There will be universal healthcare, a comfortable retirement at sixty years old, and an elimination of capitalism’s wasteful practices. His treatise ends with a vision of the future, one we are perhaps still waiting for:

When the war is over, and the din of battle no longer disturbs a peace-loving people, what will be the opinion of that fortunate generation as it reviews the past? It will most naturally regard our present Capitalistic system as the second of the Dark Ages in which day and night mingled in strange confusion. . . . The question arises from the murmuring masses of today, “Will humanity ever be free?”

Below you will find illustrations by Paul Krafft for Capital and Labor. A worker prunes the rosebuds of a monopolist, the personifications of vice and graft steer the nation’s motorcar off a cliff, and, in the most chilling image, skulls are stacked high to form an obelisk in memory of “the victims who were crushed under capitalism”.

RightsUnderlying Work RightsPD U.S.  /  PD 50 Years
Digital Copy Rights


  • No associated rights statement on Internet Archive
  • Internet Archive has CC BY-NC-SA default which this might fall under
  • We offer this info as guidance only