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Mr. Edmond Kelly shows how the principle
acts--"Where there is a minimum wage of $4 a day the workman can no
longer choose to do only $3 worth of work and be paid accordingly, but
he must earn $4 or else cease from work, at least in that particular
trade, locality, or establishment."[254] The result is that the highest
skilled workmen obtain steady employment through the union, while the
less skilled are penalized by underemployment. The unions have equalized
daily wages, but the employer has replied by making employment and
therefore annual wages all the more unequal, and many of the workers may
have lost more than they gained. Whereas if each man could secure an
equal share of work, he might be paid according to his efficiency and
yet be far better off than now. But the only way to secure an equal
amount of work for all is through a union where all have an equal voice
and where the union is strong enough to have a say as to who is to be
employed.

It is this tendency either automatically or intentionally actually to
injure unskilled labor, that has led men like Mann and Debs and Haywood
to their severe criticism of the present policies of the unions, and
even affords some ground for Tolstoi's classification of well-paid
artisans, electricians, and mechanics among the exploiters of unskilled
labor. In the days of serfdom, the great writer said, "Only one class
were slave owners; all classes, except the most numerous one--consisting
of peasants who have too little land, laborers, and workingmen--are
slave-owners now." The master class, Tolstoi says, to-day includes, not
only "nobles, merchants, officials, manufacturers, professors, teachers,
authors, musicians, painters, rich peasants, and the rich men's
servants," but also "well-paid artisans, electricians, mechanics," etc.

Mr. Mann thus defines the attitude of this new unionism to the old:--


"It is well known that in Britain, as elsewhere, there is only a
minority of the workers organized; of the ten millions of men
eligible for industrial organization only one fourth are members of
trade unions; naturally these are, in the main, the skilled
workers, who have associated together with a view to maintaining
for themselves the advantage accruing to skilled workers, when
definite restrictions are placed upon the numbers able to enter and
remain in the trades.

"We have had experience enough to know that the difficulties of
maintaining a ring fence around an occupation, which secures to
those inside the fence special advantages, are rapidly increasing,
and in a growing number of instances, the fence has been entirely
broken down by changes in the methods of production. We know,
further, that ... the majority of trade unionists still remain
_sectionally isolated_, powerless to act except in single'
sectional bodies, and incapable of approaching each other and
merging and amalgamating forces for common action. _This it is that
is responsible for the modern practice of entering into lengthy
agreements between employers and workers. Sectional trade unions
being incapable of offensive action, and gradually giving way
before the persistent power of the better organized capitalist
class, they fall back upon agreements for periods of from two to
five years, during which time they undertake that no demands shall
be made._" (My italics.)


The industrialists, therefore, advocate the termination of all wage
agreements simultaneously and at short intervals or even at will (like
tenancies at will, or call loans). They claim that employers are
practically free to terminate _existing agreements_ whenever they
please, as they can always find grounds for dismissing individuals or
for temporarily shutting down their works or for otherwise
discriminating against active unionists or varying the terms of a
contract before its expiration. But it is in America that the policy of
no agreements, or agreements at will is most advanced. In Great Britain
it is thought that agreements for one year and all ending on the same
day may lead to the same results. If there is a central organization
with power to call strikes on the part of any combination of unions, and
the large majority of the workers are organized, it is held that the new
unionism will soon prove irresistible, even if agreements in this form
are retained.

The recent strikes have not only been stimulated by this gospel and led
by its chief representatives, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, and others, but
from the very first they have been an actual application of the new idea
and have marked a long step towards the complete reorganization of the
British unions. They were started with the seamen's strike in June, when
the dockers in many places struck in sympathy, at the same time adding
demands of their own. When the seamen won their strike, they refused to
go back to work at several points, against the advice of their
conservative officials, until the dockers received what they were
striking for. With the dockers were involved teamsters, and these from
the first had agreed to support one another, for _they were both
connected with Mr. Mann's "National Transport Workers' Federation_." And
the railway strike was largely due to the fact that the railway unions
decided at least _to co÷perate_ with this federation. The dockers had
remained on strike at Liverpool in sympathy with the railway porters who
had struck in the first instance to aid the dockers, and at the first
strike conference of the railway union officials, forty-one being
present, it was voted unanimously "that the union was determined not to
settle the dispute with the companies unless the lockout imposed upon
their co-workers because of their support of the railroad men at
Liverpool and elsewhere is removed and all the men reinstated."

There can be little doubt that the railway strike would neither have
taken place at the critical time it did, nor have gone as far as it
went, except for this new and concerted action which embraced even the
least skilled and least organized classes of labor.

Accompanying this movement toward common action, "solidarity" of labor,
and more and more general strikes, was the closely related reaction
against existing agreements--on the ground that they cripple the unions'
power of effective industrial warfare. For several years there had been
a simultaneous movement on the part of the "State Socialist" government
towards compulsory arbitration, and among the unions against any
interference on the part of a government over which they have little or
no control--the railway strike being directed, according to the
unionists, as much against the government as against the railways. For
many years the government, represented by Mr. Lloyd George or Mr.
Winston Churchill, had acted as arbitrator in every great industrial
conflict, and had secured many minor concessions for the unions. As long
as no critical conflict occurred that might materially weaken either the
government or the capitalist or employing classes as a whole, this
policy worked well. It was only by a railway strike, or perhaps by a
seamen's or miners' strike that it could be put to a real test. By the
settlement of the threatened railway strike of 1907 the employees had
gained very little, and had _voluntarily_ left the final power to decide
disputes in the hands of government arbitrators. A conservative
Labourite, Mr. J. R. MacDonald, writing late in 1910, said:--


"We held at the time that the agreement which Mr. Bell accepted on
behalf of the Railway Servants would not work. It was a surrender.
The railway directors were consulted for days; they were allowed to
alter the terms of agreement at their own sweet will, and when they
agreed, the men's representatives were asked to go to the Board of
Trade and were told that they could not alter a comma, could not
sleep over the proposal, could not confer with any one about it,
had to accept it there and then. In a moment of weakness they
accepted. An agreement come to in such a way was not likely to be
of any use to the men."[255]


Nevertheless, this extremely important settlement was accepted by the
union. Mr. Churchill did not know how to restrain his enthusiasm for
unions that were so good as to fall in so obediently with his political
plans. "They are not mere visionaries or dreamers," says Churchill,
"weaving airy Utopias out of tobacco smoke. They are not political
adventurers who are eager to remodel the world by rule of thumb, who are
proposing to make the infinite complexities of scientific civilization
and the multitudinous phenomena of great cities conform to a few
barbarous formulas which any moderately intelligent parrot could repeat
in a fortnight. The fortunes of trade unions are interwoven with the
industries they serve. The more highly organized trade unions are, the
more clearly they recognize their responsibilities."[256]

By 1911 the whole situation was completely reversed. Over less important
bodies of capitalists and employers than the railways, the government
had power and a will to exercise its power. The railways, however, are
practically a function of government--absolutely indispensable if it is
to retain its other powers _undiminished_. It was for this reason that
little if any governmental force was used against them, and the
agreement of 1907 came to be of even less value to the men than
agreements made in other industries. When the chorus of union complaints
continued to swell, and the men asked the government to bring pressure
on the railways, at least to meet their committee, it acknowledged
itself either unable or unwilling to take any effective action unless to
renew the offer to appoint another royal commission, essentially of the
same character as that of 1907 except that it should be smaller and
should act more speedily. This still meant that the third member of the
board was to be appointed by a government, in which experience had
taught the workers they could have no confidence--_at least in its
dealings with the powerful railways_.

In view of this inherent weakness of the government, or its hostility to
the new and aggressive unionism, or perhaps a combination of both, the
unions had no recourse other than a direct agreement or a strike.



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Keywords: strikes, either, officials, classes, unionism, accepted, unionists, employers, churchill, industrial
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