Hobos and Tramps

a floating labor army

Here are to be found the men who have tried and failed, the men who cannot hold jobs -- the plumber apprentice who could not become a journeyman, and the plumber journeyman too clumsy and dull to retain employment; switchmen who throw trains, clerks who cannot balance books, blacksmiths who lame horses, lawyers who cannot plead; in short, the failures of every trade and profession, and failures many of them in divers trades and professions. Failure is writ large, and in their wretchedness they bear the stamp of social disapprobation. Common work, any kind of work, wherever or however they can obtain it, is their portion.
Jack London
What is casual labor?
A hobo is not a steady worker, but he earns most of what he spends. (anderson)
A migratory worker is a man without a country. By nature of his work, he is deprived of the ballot and when not at work he is liable to arrest for vagrancy and trespassing.(anderson) The American hobo was a pioneer: wherever there were new mining camps, oil booms, new towns, or natural disasters, the free and unattached cadre of single, able bodied young men were there to do that work. (anderson)
There being more men than there is work for men, a surplus labor army inevitably results. The surplus labor army is an economic necessity; without it the present construction of society would fall to pieces. Into the surplus labor army are herded the mediocre, the inefficient, the unfit, and those incapable of satisfying the industrial needs of the system. (135, London)
The "road" is one of the safety valves through which the waste of the social organism is given off. And being given off constitutes the negative function of the tramp. Society, as present organized, makes much waste of human life. This waste must be eliminated. Chloroform or electrocution would be a simple, merciful solution of this problem of elimination ; but the ruling ethics, while permitting the human waste, will not permit a humane elimination of that waste. This paradox demonstrates the irreconcilability of theoretical ethics and industrial need. (135, London)

Just before the opening of the great harvests of Kansas, I reached Kansas City. Ten thousand men had congregated there in anticipation of work. The season was late and the harvest would not begin for a week or ten days. The men must be right at hand. While all of them could be classed as homeless, migratory wage-earners, they were not all penniless by any means. Only a small percentage of them were without actual means of subsistence, although there were probably a thousand of really penniless men in Kansas City when I reached there, men who must beg, or steal, to make existence possible. (71, Brown)

Coming from the chop-house we went to an employment office, where we read upon the blackboard:
"Wanted -- Fifty men in Oklahoma, $1.35 a day, free shipment."
We stepped inside for further information and found that the board would be three dollars and a half a week. The boy studied for a moment and then said:
"Let's go."
"You go," I replied, "you are strong enough for the work, but I'm not. I may meet you down that way when the harvest opens."
"I think I will go," he replied. "It's hard work, ten hours a day, and if I lose two days out of the week by bad weather or sickness or a hundred other reasons, or buy a few things I've got to have, I will be in debt to the company at the end of the week. But it's better than to stay here and beg or starve. Some fellows can 'mooch' but that's one thing I've never got low enough to do, and I hope I never will. It's only a bare existence there, but as you say, the harvest will soon be open, I'll go." (73, Brown)
Much of the migratory farm workers were hobos. Workers heard about jobs or acquired them through the employment agencies on the main stem. Then the railroad took them out; Hobos, or large groups of single, and or unattached and willing men, went out west to build the railroads. Many of their jobs were things like: