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About Strikes


H. H. Broach

An argument made before a legisla-
tive committee considering anti-
strike legislation.

After listening to the able presentation made by the opposing gentleman, one would almost feel that men like to lay down their tools and go out on strike. But those who have gone through strikes in the dead of winter and witnessed the pain and suffering of strikers and their familes, well know that men get no pleasure out of striking. It's no fun, I assure you, for men who have nothing else in view, who face cold and hunger, to give up their jobs and go out on strike not knowing when, if ever, they shall return to work.

It's the striker who does the suffering, and I can honestly tell this committee that no body of men dislike strikes more, no body of men has done as much to prevent strikes as have the much misrepresented and misunderstood labor unions. It's true that they often strike, but it's usually when conditions become wholly unsatisfactory or intolerable; trade unionists strike because they feel there are other things worse than even strikes -a demoralized, a degraded, cowardly group of workers afraid to protest their wrongs, and speak back to an unreasonable, dictatorial employer. They strike because they feel there is no other way out. But as bad as a strike may seem, in spite of the suffering it often brings, I want bluntly to say that it is an agency of progress—an agency of progress, because you have never heard of a strike for poorer conditions or lower wages. You have never heard of a strike to lengthen working hours, to inaugurate child labor or to revive the brutal institutions of yesterday; nor have you ever heard of an industry which reduced the hours of labor or raised wages until a strike or threatened strike compelled such action. None of the forces of good, neither the churches or any other, have ever attacked greed until the striking workers themselves had blazed the trail through the wilderness of indifference.

Of course, ill-advised strikes have occurred the same as ill-advised acts have been accomplished by the government, the same as ill-advised decisions have been rendered by courts; but every strike that has occurred had for its aim some achievement in the direction of progress; and you will never be able to prevent strikes so long as men hope and struggle and long for better things, and until some other equally effective method has been found for making progress.

With your consent I might remind you, as Mr. Gompers has often reminded others, that it was the strike in the anthracite coal fields that released those miners from 30 years of slavery; that resulted in the terrific expose, and subsequent salutary award, rendered by President Roosevelt's commission; that strike took thousands of children from the mines, put them in schools and provided them with the air and sunshine of freedom. In the needle trades it was the strike that wiped out the sweat shops and gave those workers their first opportunity to enjoy rest, sunshine and recreation. You may turn, if you will, to the struggles made in every industry in this country, and you will find that it was always the strike, or a threatened strike, that caused the unfolding and development of a better and brighter era.

Now many people have been led to believe that if there were no unions there would be no strikes, but exactly the reverse has often proved to be the case. Some of the most disastrous labor conflicts we have had were those in Colorado, West Virginia and in the coal mines of Michigan among men who were totally unorganized. And you are never told a thing about the other kinds of strikes, about the strikes of the lawyers who refuse to handle certain cases unless their terms are met; about the strikes of the doctors who refuse to operate unless they are paid their price; or about the business men who strike against and boycott and bitterly condemn the man who sells his goods at a cheaper rate; about the strikes of employers against the workers—the lockouts or the closed factory door. And when bankers withhold credit for a higher rate of interest they are considered patriots, but when union men withhold their labor for a little higher rate of pay, they are branded disloyal and there is a mad rush to you men—the law-makers—to pass laws forbidding strikes.

It might seem rude of me to say it, but we never have to defend the right of working men to strike, outside of the places like this and in outside conferences of open-shop advocates. This is because out-and-out ownership of men has been rather unpopular since the Civil War-except with a few; and I want honestly to say to you men that you simply cannot now chain men to their jobs; that compulsory arbitration is an idle dream. It's a cheat and a fraud, and you can no more make it succeed than you can arrest the movement of the sun or stop the flow of the waters; but you can do something toward making strikes unnecessary, something can be done to remove the causes of strikes. Now you are not the only men who have been pondering over this question. The leaders of New Zealand, Australia, and other countries have been grappling with the same problem for many years. Some 25 years ago the law-makers of Australia and New Zealand believed that the problem could be solved in the same way that has been proposed in this and other states——through compulsory arbitration. In those countries they set up courts and provided heavy penalties for all who refused to accept the awards handed down; and in spite of all this, they found that it not only failed to satisfy either the employers or the workers, but utterly failed to prevent strikes and lockouts. So they have abandoned the scheme entirely. They have learned that compulsory arbitration is utter nonsense, and one of the biggest frauds ever known. In this connection, Prime Minister Hughes of Australia, in March, 1920, summed up the case in this way:

I confess that I have no remedy at hand. This House has been a laboratory of industrial experiments. I listened to Alfred Deakin introduce the arbitration bill in a most glowing speech; but years have passed and this perfect piece of legislation has turned out to be, despite every kind of minister in office, the most inefficient and hopelessly futile effort to solve industrial questions that was ever turned out of the laboratory of any industrial workshop. It is a court, the approach to which is marked by barbed wire entanglements. It has been frequently necessary to strike in order to get into the court, which was designed to prevent industrial strife. Law-abiding unions which had been waiting patiently have then been pushed aside, and the others have gone in and come out full to replension.

In December, 1920, Mr. Dorr E. Felt, President of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, had this to say while addressing the National Association of Employment Managers :

In studying the Industrial history of England, I am rather discouraged respecting much that has been advocated for instant compulsory arbitration. I am very well acquainted with Mr. George S. Beeby, Minister of Labor for New South Wales, Australia, where labor legislation has been carried further than in any other place in the world, involving a complete system of wages, boards and courts for the settlement of industrial strife instituted and now in operation since 1901. Mr. Beeby is the author of the present law. He tells me that instead of reducing industrial strife, under laws which forbid strikes, industrial strife and strikes have increased. In fact, the time lost on account of industrial disputes in New South Wales was six times as great in 1917 as in 1913.

In one of our recent bills in Congress, there was a proposition to forbid strikes on the part of public employes—in this case railroad employes. I

am not in favor of that, because the experience
with such laws in Europe has been a failure. It is
a good deal like plugging up a volcano-sooner
or later you have an explosion that is greater than
anything that would have happened had the vent
been open all the time.

After the Black Death—The Great Plague, I think was in 1347—there was a great scarcity of labor, something similar to the present. Laws were passed forbidding labor organizations and strikes. The first one was passed in 1351. It didn't do the work, so from time to time more severe laws and penalties were enacted, until they finally got to the point where those that struck were worked in chain gangs, and some were branded with hot irons. I have never found a case where laws forbidding strikes were effective. In the early middle ages under conditions of extreme ignorance and serfdom, it seemed to work for a time, but in the end it always failed.

The Norwegian government has also proved to its satisfaction that compulsory arbitration does not work. For a brief time it gave promise of effecting some settlements. Then occurred what has always occurred—the machinery became clogged, employers forced open rupture from petty disputes with the deliberate purposes of delaying adjustments. The government then scrapped the whole scheme and restored direct negotiation between the workers and their employers.

Now let me make brief reference to what has happened in one of our own states that has been trying to make compulsory arbitration work, and then I shall close. Here is a statement made February 11, by Fred W. Knapp, who has been State Auditor in Kansas for the past four years, and who belongs to the same political party as Governor Allen.

The Industrial Court should be abolished. It has been given a fair trial and has proven absolutely worthless in dealing with industrial disputes. It has been the center of an internal war since its organization and has done more to fester hatred, disorder and disagreement than all the other disturbing elements combined. Its underlying principle may be an ideal subject for a chautauqua lecture, but its practical operation in Kansas has proven it to be a football, and an item of expense to the tune of more than $100,000 annually.

So, in closing, gentlemen, we submit that the proposed law is not only impossible in principle but that it is wholly unworkable. Our opponents say that it will work, but we remind you that proposals of this same character were the laws of England more than 300 years ago and they did not work; decisions were handed down stating what the wages and rations of workers should be, and the employers were forbidden to pay more than what the decisions called for. When the workers attempted to disregard the decisions they were flogged and branded with red hot irons and often hanged to the gibbet. But all this could not hold men back; then, as now, they refuse to be hand-cuffed to their jobs.

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