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The Workingman’s Ten Commandments

Although publicists for late nineteenth-century corporations celebrated their “efficiency” and the “science” of management, their employees did not always join the celebration. What looked like careful and disciplined management from one perspective might be viewed as petty tyranny from below. Some workers directed their anger to the very top of the corporations. An anonymous author, writing in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen’s Monthly Magazine in 1878, claimed that these “ten commandments” were "written down in the Statute-Books of Railroad Officials and idle Monopolists, and Jay Gould Aristocrats."

First Commandment.—I am thy lord and master, who has brought thee off and out of British bondage into a land where there are free institutions and equal rights given to all—black, red and white men.

Second Commandment.—Thou shalt have no other master besides myself, and do as I bid you do; for I am rich, and give you as much wages as I please.

Third Commandment.—Thou shalt not bow down to any other master, and not belong to trades' unions, or lecture on the principles of the working party, or do anything contrary to my wish or command, for, if you do, I will call on the military.

Fourth Commandment.—Thou shalt not serve any other master, or work for any more pay than I give: for I am jealous master. I will have you discharged on the least provocation, and half starve your wife and children, and have you punished as a communist, and not treat you as an American citizen, but as a tramp and a vagabond.

Fifth Commandment.—Thou shalt not call me any other name but sir and master: for I am a rich man and have piles of money, and therefore you are my slave, for I own your body and soul. Six days you must labor and do all I bid, or I will give you another reduction. If you murmur or growl I will make you work also part of the night: for I am all-powerful, and I can use the law to suit myself.

Sixth Commandment.—Thou shalt honor my money-bags, and also my high social standing in society. Then thy days shall be long on earth and in my employment, which I give thee with my usual blessing of long hours and small pay. So says thy master.

Seventh Commandment.—Thou shall not incite riots with intent to kill. If you do, I will have you arrested and make you give bonds for three thousand dollars and promise of good behavior in the future.

Eighth Commandment.—Thou shalt not strike for any higher wages, so as to be able to make an honest living, and keep your children from begging, and make you eat bread and water three times a day—that’s good enough for a greasy and ignorant mechanic, or a dirty, black miner.

Ninth Commandment.—Thou shalt not steal or commit any other nuisance, for I will find you guilty and have you punished; for I am mighty and my name is Capital, Capital.

Tenth Commandment.—Thou shalt not covet my money, or own a house or lot, for if you do I will have it sold by the sheriff and own it myself and shall say “hands off;” and I will say to the Government, you must protect me in all my undertakings, for I am mighty, and my name is Capital—0! Capital.

Source: Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen’s Monthly Magazine II (December 1877): 15–16.