The recent death of James Farley
, the notorious American strike breaker, calls to mind the function of the blackleg in capitalist society, and also one of the principle reasons strikes so frequently, instead of benefiting the workers, actually worsens their position.
In the first place it is, of course, understood that the efforts of workers in Trade Unions, fighting the masters with their only weapon, the strike, in order to sell their labour power to the best possible advantage, is only a necessary part of capitalism, and does not aim at emancipating the workers from wage-slavery.
When a strike occurs the only way the workmen can bring it to a successful issue is by completely or partially paralysing the particular industry concerned, or, for that matter, many industries, and so compelling the masters to capitulate. But the whole record of Trade Unionism has shown in this respect an almost complete failure. When we look for the reason of this failure we generally find it to be due to the fact that, although the Trade Unionists have all, in particular cases, come out on strike, the masters have been able to utilise other labour to keep the concern going until the strike had been tided over and the men forced to submit.
The weapon the masters beat the workers with is the most efficient weapon ever used by the dominators of human society—a weapon that could only be brought to perfection under capitalism. This weapon is starvation, which the masters can do wield through their control of the food supply. Workers with their wives and children must have food in order to live, and the only way to obtain food short of capturing the political machinery, is to work for a master.
As the capitalists are not out merely to injure the workers, but to make as much profit as possible, their first act is to weigh up the gains or losses likely to be incurred through their giving way or holding out. If the masters consider the demands of their employees to be hardly worth involving themselves in the trouble and inconvenience of a prolonged strike over, they will accede to their workers' demands. But if they think the inconvenience of a fight outweighed by what they will lose by departing from the old conditions, then they will not hesitate to fight.
When a strike is declared the first act of the masters is to try and obtain other workers in place of the strikers, because if this can be done the strike must automatically collapse after a very short time, as starvation will soon compel the workers to submit. To obtain blacklegs is usually fairly easy, because capitalism by producing an immense army of unemployed, has the material ready to hand. Men who are watching wives and children dying of slow starvation, who have tramped the streets for weeks in the hopeless quest for a job, make just the right material for a scab-hunter, although in the last resort the masters can frequently fall back upon the armed forces to act as blacklegs, as they showed at Liverpool and other places a year or two ago.
This was where Farley came as a boon and a blessing to the American capitalists. Having had some experience of strikes, and being a particularly unprincipled ruffian, he saw how he could make a fortune (which he soon did) by putting into the employers' hands the means of crushing the workers' industrial movements.
He provided the masters with a stock of professional strike breakers, specially picked men whom he sent to any part of the country at any moment, to undertake any work. By means of these any industry could be kept going until such time as the strikers were exhausted and wished to be taken back.
Where professional strike-breakers were not obtainable the blacklegs were generally imported from some other part of the country, and it was in this way that the strikers were so badly hit after the fight, for when the strike was settled the blacklegs were still kept on, and only a limited number of the strikers were taken back.
Very much the same thing occurs in England in similar circumstances, as witness the dock strike of a year ago. A representative of the "Daily News and Leader," after a visit to Dockland, made the following statement (26.6.13):
"The distress in Canning Town is acute and wide-spread, and it is largely because the strike enabled the P.L.A. and shipowners to increase their margin of surplus labour. Where already there were two men for each job in the docks, a thousand more have come to live, to compete for the same amount of work."
To sum the matter up, the chances of even a section of the workers improving their position under capitalism is therefore seen to be practically nil—the weapons of the masters are too powerful and too easily brought into operation. The condition of the working class gets steadily worse with each succeeding year, and Trade Union action at its best (as Karl Marx points out in "Value , Price and Profit") can only act as a brake on the downward movement of that condition. It therefore behoves the workers to give up these vain fancies and time-wasting views, and to organise with us in the Socialist Party to get control of the political machinery and the armed forces of the nation, for the purpose of abolishing the wages system, and then the blackleg, like Othello, will find his occupation gone.