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A Craft Unionist Rewrites the Ten Commandments

The moral code of craft unionism was part of a larger system of late nineteenth-century working-class values that went well beyond behavior on the job. Moreover, those values drew upon other deeply held moral beliefs, particularly those growing out of religion. In “Labor’s Decalogue,” G. Edmonston, the first president of the United Brotherhood ofCarpenters and Joiners, offered a new twist on the biblical Ten Commandments. Edmonston’s novel set of “rules” for workers found its way into a variety of labor publications, including an issue of the Florida Labor Journal on May 13, 1903. While this document revealed the indebtedness of craft culture to universalist religious ideas, it also reflected the exclusive nature of craft work (members of craft unions in this era were overwhelmingly white and male).


Thou shalt join a union of thy craft and have no other unions before it.


The meetings thereof thou shalt attend and pay thy tithes with regularity. Thou shalt not appeal from the decisions of the chair in a captious spirit.


Thou shalt not take thy neighbor’s job.


Thou shalt not labor more than eight hours for one day’s work, nor on the Sabbath, except as provided in the law.


Thou shalt not hire out thy offspring of tender years. “Poverty and shame shall be unto him that refuseth instruction to his children.”


Clothe not the wife of thy bosom in mean apparel lest it be a testimony against thee.


Thou shalt not live in a hovel, or feed on the husk that the swine doth eat. Take thou not alms from the unrighteous.


Waste not thy substance in riotous living, but place thy shekels in a good building association and borrow not. Therein lieth the secret of success.


Honor the female sex, for on this rock rests the strength of the nation.


Mind your own business.

Source: G. Edmonston, the first President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. The Florida Labor Journal, II (13 May 1903): 1.