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the refusal of the railways to meet the men left no alternative other
than the strike, and at the same time showed that they did not much fear
that the unions could strike with success. It was no longer a question
of the justice or injustice, truth or untruth, of the unions' claims.
The railways, in a perfectly practical and businesslike spirit,
questioned the power of the unions, by means of a strike, to cause them
sufficient damage to make it profitable even to meet their
representatives--without the presence of a government representative,
who, they had learned by experience, would in all probability take a
position with which they would be satisfied. Mr. Asquith's offer, then,
to submit the "correctness" of the unions' statements and the
"soundness" of their contentions to a tribunal, was entirely beside the
point. The representatives of the railways were sure to give such a
tribunal to understand, however diplomatically and insidiously, that the
unions were without that power, which alone, in the minds of "practical"
men, can justify any considerable demand, such as the settlement of all
questions through the representatives of the men (the recognition of the

Doubtless the railways had refused to meet the union representatives
until they felt assured that the government's position would on the
whole be satisfactory to them. The government's real attitude was made
plain when, after the refusal of the unions practically to leave their
whole livelihood and future in its hands, as in 1907, it used this as a
pretext for taking sides against them--not by prohibiting the strike,
but by limiting more and more narrowly the scope it was to be allowed to

The government loudly protested its impartiality, and gave very powerful
and plausible arguments for interference. But the laborers feel that the
right not to work is as essential as life itself, and all that
distinguishes them essentially from slaves, and that no argument
whatever is valid against it. Let us look at a few of the government

The government, said the Premier, was perfectly impartial in regard to
the merits of the various points of dispute. The government had regard
exclusively for _the interests of the public_, and having regard for
those interests they could not allow the paralysis of the railway
systems throughout the country, and would have to take the necessary
steps to prevent such paralysis.

The representatives of the unions replied by a public statement, in
which they declared that this was an "unwarrantable threat" and an
attempt to put the responsibility for the suspension of work on the

"We consider the statement made in behalf of his Majesty's
government, _an unwarrantable threat_ uttered against the railroad
workers who for years have made repeated applications to the Board
of Trade and also to Parliament to consider the advisability of
amending the conciliation board scheme of 1907.... And further it
shows a failure of the Board of Trade to amend its own scheme, and
also of the railroad companies to give an impartial and fair
interpretation of such schemes.... And inasmuch as this joint
meeting has already urged the employers to meet us with a view to
discussing the whole position and which, if agreed to by them,
would in our opinion have settled the matter, _we therefore refuse
to accept the responsibility the government has attempted to throw
upon us_, and further respectfully but firmly ask his Majesty's
government whether the responsibility of the railroad companies is
in any degree less than that of other employers of labor."

In other words, there is and can be no law compelling men to labor, and
no matter what the consequences of their refusal to work, it is a matter
that concerns the workers themselves more than all other persons.

Mr. Winston Churchill made a more detailed statement. He said that "the
government was taking all necessary steps to make sure that the _food
supply as well as fuel and other essentials_ should not be interrupted
on the railways or at the ports."

"All services vital to the community should be maintained, and the
government would see to that, not because they were on the side
either of the employers or the workmen, but because they were bound
to protect the public from the danger that a general arrest of
industry would entail." He continued:--

"The means whereby the people of this land live are highly
artificial, and a serious breakdown would lead to starvation among
a great number of poorer people. Not the well-to-do would suffer,
but the poor of the great cities and those dependent upon them, who
would be quite helpless if the machinery by which they are fed--_on
which they are dependent for wages_--was thrown out of gear.

"The government believes that the arrangements made for working the
lines of communication, and for the maintenance of order, will
prove effective; but, if not, other measures of even larger scope
will be taken promptly. It must be clearly understood that there is
no escape from these facts, and, as they affect the supply of food
for the people, and _the safety of the country, they are far more
important than anything else_."

To this the railway workers answered that it is to protect their own
food that they strike, and that food is as important to them as to
others, that practically all those who are dependent on wages are
willing to undergo the last degree of suffering to preserve the right
to strike, that the means of livelihood of this majority are no whit
less important than the "safety" of the rest of the country. Moreover,
if the government is allowed to use military or other means to aid the
railways to transport food, fuel, and other things, more or less
essential, it prevents that very "paralysis" which is the necessary
object of every strike. Industrial warfare of this critical kind must
indeed be costly to the whole community, often endangering health and
even life itself, but the workers are almost unanimous in believing that
a few days or weeks of this, repeated only after years of interval,
costs far less in life and health than the low wages paid to labor year
after year and generation after generation. _They demand the right to
strike unhampered by any government in which capitalistic or other than
wage-earning classes predominate._ Only when the government falls into
the hands of a group of wholly non-capitalist classes--of which wage
earners form the majority--will they expect it to grant such rights and
conditions as are sufficient to compensate them for parting with any
element of the right to strike.

The great British strike, then, had a double significance. It showed the
tremendously increased strength of labor when every class of workers is
organized and all are united together, and it showed an increasing
unwillingness to allow separate agreements to stand in the way of
general strikes.

The strength of the strikers in the British upheaval of 1911,
however, has been grossly exaggerated on both sides. There is no
doubt that the aggressive action came from the masses of the
workers, as their leaders held them back in nearly every instance.
There is no question that the various unions co÷perated more than
usual, that vast masses of the unskilled were for the first time
organized, and that these features won the strikes. The advance was
remarkable--but we can only measure the level reached if we realize
the point from which the start was made. As a matter of fact, the
unskilled labor of Great Britain until 1911 was probably worse paid
and less organized than that of any great manufacturing
country--and the advance made by no means brings it to the level of
the United States.

Since the great dock strike of 1886, led by John Burns and Tom
Mann, unskilled labor has tried in vain to organize effectively
unions like those of the seamen and railway servants, the majority
of whose members were neither of the least skilled nor of the most
skilled classes, had an uphill fight, and were only able to
organize a part of the workers. Five dollars a week was considered
such a high and satisfactory wage by the wholly unskilled (dockers,
etc.) that it was often made the basis of their demands. The Board
of Trade Report shows that 400,000 railwaymen, including the most
skilled, had from 1899 to 1909 an average weekly wage varying from
$6.35 to $6.60 per week. The railway union found that of a quarter
of a million men 39 per cent got less than $5 a week, and 89 per
cent less than $7.50. Seamen at Liverpool received from $20 to
$32.50 a month.

If then the Liverpool sailors received an increase of $2.50 a
month, while the wages of other strikers were raised on the average
about 20 per cent, what must we conclude? Undoubtedly the gain was
worth all the labor and sacrifice it cost. But it must be
remembered, first, that these wages are still markedly inferior to
those of this country in spite of its hordes of foreign labor; and
second, that the increase is little if any above the rise in the
cost of living in recent years, and will undoubtedly soon be
overtaken by a further rise. The great steamship lines increased
their rates on account of the strike almost the same week that it
was concluded, and the railway companies gave in only when the
government consented that they should raise their rates. But the
larger part of the consumers are workingmen, and their cost of
living is thus rising more rapidly than ever _on account of the
strikes_. Finally, the unions of the unskilled are as a rule not
yet recognized by their employers, while the railway union is
probably as completely at the mercy of the government as ever.

In a word, _the point reached_ is by no means very advanced; on the
other hand, _the material gain made_ in view of the former
backwardness of the railwaymen, seamen, and dockers is highly
important for England, while the methods employed, the movement
having originated from below, and having been sustained against
conservative leaders (only a few radicals like Tom Mann and Ben
Tillett being trusted), is of world-wide significance.

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Keywords: strikes, skilled, statement, necessary, people, regard, paralysis, having, dependent, responsibility
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