From the January 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard
After repeated unsuccessful efforts to gain redress for some of their grievances, the Railwaymen, sick of the fraudulent Conciliation Boards, have, as a gage of defiance to the unholy crew who boss the N. Eastern system, once more resorted to the weapon of the strike.
The ostensible cause of the trouble was the insolent attempt of the masters to victimise a man against whom they had a grudge, but the real cause was a bitter resentment against the sinister attempt of the capitalists to regulate the leisure, as well as the working hours, of their men.
As is always the case when the working man chafes against the chains of his slavery, the paid liars of the Liberal and Tory Press have indulged in an orgy of insinuation and vituperation. The "Standard," shrieking in simulated indignation, declared it “a strike for the right to get drunk”; the "Pall Mall Gazette," anxious to contribute its quota of dirt, purloined the war whoop of the "Standard” ; the “Daily Mirror’’ mirrored its own dirty soul in a filthy cartoon; the "Daily Mail," aping the characteristics of its lord and master, asked in a tone of unctuous hypocrisy, "Do the trade unions of this country stand up for the right to get drunk ? "
The Liberal Press, not to be outdone in the use of the muck-rake, rose equally to the occasion, asserting that the strikers were “practically fighting for the right of the railway workers to endanger the safety of the public," and so on.
In every case the suggestion was that the men were blatantly in the wrong; that they knew they were wrong, and were simply trying to bluff through it; that an irresponsible mob were determined to upset everything until the right to get drunk was conceded; and that they had chosen one of the busiest times of the year to irritate and annoy a long-suffering public as much as possible.
We are not concerned here as to whether a man may get drunk or not. What we are concerned with is, first the sham pretence of safe-guarding the interests of the public offered by the railway company, as an excuse for their summary action in regard to Knox, and secondly the lesson to be learned from this latest manifestation of industrial unrest.
We are always told, on the occasion of a big strike, that the "public" must be considered. In the railway strike of ’11, in the Transport Workers’ strikes and during the Miners' strike, the capitalist Press at once struck this note, and used it to smash the men. It is always the "public" that have to be considered, and never the men on strike; and if one thinks for a moment one will find it a pretence reeking with hypocrisy. and deadly dangerous to the working class.
Why should we consider the “public" ? When have they ever considered us? When we were bullied and browbeaten, when we toiled in dangerous occupations, suffering daily loss of life and limb, when we sold the last stick and our little ones cried to us for bread, did the "public" help us? Did they think of us? Did they try ever so little to visualise for themselves our daily lives, or weigh in impartial scales our statements and our demands? Did they not, on the contrary, prejudge us from the statements of our enemies, and lose no opportunity to sneer at our attempts to improve our position? Why, then, should we consider the public about which the unclean Press is so deeply concerned, and which is in reality the master class itself, with its myriad soulless, toadying legal, political, and clerical hacks.
The real public, the 15 millions of workers, are never considered at all. If it is true that the railway magnates are so deeply concerned with safeguarding the interest of the real (as distinct from the newspaper) public, why don't they make a start with their own employees? One can see how little the railway capitalists are concerned to safeguard the interest of that large section of the real public it has under its immediate control, when one considers the number of preventable "accidents" which occur amongst railway employees. These have averaged nearly 500 (fatal) per annum during the last ten years, while the number of non-fatal "accidents" increased from 13,642 in 1902 to 27,848 in 1911.
It is common knowledge that this increase is due to the worsening of the conditions under which this dangerous occupation is carried on, and the murderous method of coupling and uncoupling. For over twenty years the railway companies have had at their disposal an automatic coupling which would reduce almost to zero the accidents under this heading, but they prefer to murder men wholesale rather than minimise their blood-stained profits.
Again, the net profits of the railway companies during 1910 were £47,356,000, and in 1911 they increased by another 1½ millions. During the time the wages paid by the fifteen principle companies to all their employees was £23,425,000 annually, so that while they publish figures showing that they can only pay a dividend of some 3½ per cent. (omitting the fact that this is on inflated capital), yet the actual rate at which the workers are robbed in this industry is 200 per cent. And yet when the men kick against the pricks the liars of modern journalism denounce them and use every weapon they can invent for the purpose of injuring their cause.
Another aspect of this matter is that, in spite of the spirit of comradeship and determination, the men have lost. They lost because. not having gained the knowledge they should have gained from the experiences of 1907 and 1911, they allowed the bosses of Unity House, the "leaders" who always lead to disaster, to take the conduct of affairs out of their heads. These “leaders,” annoyed that their requests had not been complied with, declared to the capitalist Press that the strike was "unauthorised and unrecognised," and while giving this information to the men's enemies (who naturally at once used it) they and their local understudies met in solemn conclave, and refused to give the men any information until the "settlement" was reached, when once again it was found that the men had been handed over to the masters bound and helpless.
True there was a Pyrrhic victory over the reinstatement of Knot, but that the men were thus justified in their action only completed the victory of the masters.
Let us look at the strange document the men's "leaders" have bound them to observe.
Clause 3 binds the men "to work amicably with and not molest non-strikers." Here you have officials paid to defend the principles of Trade Unionism, deliberately betraying them by insisting upon amicable working relations with the very men who render futile the efforts of other men to improve their position.
Clause 4 is even more dastardly. In this the "leaders" have deliberately agreed, without the slightest reference to the men themselves, to allow the company to penalise the men a week's pay for defending a cause that was admittedly just. Moreover, not content with this, they actually proceed to insult the men, telling then that they should not strike without giving legal notice to the company, refusing strike pay for the period of the struggle, and giving their personal undertaking that they will use their influence to prevent the men from striking. In a word, they agreed to every insult formulated by the masters, mindful of nothing else than humbling those who had dared to strike without their permission. If this is not one of the foulest betrayals in the history of Trade Unionism, then words have no meaning.
And this is the thing called a "settlement." No wonder the General Secretary of the A.S.R.S. expressed himself "greatly satisfied"! No wonder the men declared they were "sold again"!
How long are the men going to stand it? Are they going to take this kind of thing lying down? We hope and believe not. But while this is our hope, while we welcome every manifestation of antagonism by the workers against those who exploit them, yet we would ask them to remember that decisive victory does not lie in the direction of strikes, whether sectional, spasmodic, or general—the masters are for too powerful for that. For the forces placed in their hands by industrial development, the terrible army of the unemployed, the power of a menial Press, and the whole might of the armed State, always at their disposal if required, places strict limits upon the success of the strike. The weapon of the strike may gain a concession here and there, but not only is the advantage soon counteracted by the operation of economic development, but the strike itself never seriously jeopardises for one moment the system of exploitation, tyranny, slavery, and oppression pressing so heavily on the world’s workers to-day.
What, therefore, the railwaymen and all other workers must do if they hope for freedom, is to understand their position, to obtain a clear knowledge of the forces that keep them in slavery. When they understand this, when to this knowledge there is allied the determination to wrest from the hands of the masters the power which alone enables them to rule and mould men's lives to their own unholy purpose—the political power—then will the necessity for the strike cease, for the cause will have vanished.
And that cause, against which the workers must show a united purpose and a pitiless determination, is the domination of one class, an idle, useless, and vicious class, and the consequent degradation, poverty, and servitude of the useful workers.