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THE LABOR STRIKES AT HOME., Issue 8004, 5 September 1889
THE LABOR STRIKES AT HOME.
The very meagre and sensational character of the cablegrams informing us of the strike of the dock laborers in London renders it impossible to form a correct idea of the causes of difference between them and the dock companies. The main question is, no doubt, the rate of wages; but apparently there are other points in dispute which have not been definitely stated. It is unfortunate that differences between employers and employed cannot be settled without the irritating resort to strikes; a system which, while inflicting loss and inconvenience to the capitalist, brings inevitable privation and misery upon the strikers and their families. Already we read of women and chi'dren going from house to house begging bread; and if this be the case at the beginning of a strike, the longer settlement is delayed the more widespread and intense the poverty and destitution. Those who have seen in England processions of men out of work, inviting public sympathy by parading the streets of large manufacturing towns or seaports day after day and week after week, can realise the consequences of even a partial cessation of labor. In the first instance they induce a certain amount of public sympathy and support; but, as time goes on and their appeals continue, help is gradually withheld, until at last they are compelled to come to terms or starve.
But in the case of the dock laborers the consequences are more widely spread than through -the stoppage of a woollen or a cotton mill. Their refusal to work entails compulsory idleness and loss on many others apparently independent of and outside their sphere of labor. Ships require to be discharged and reloaded, and certain classes of cargo, if remaining on board, deteriorate and perish, while the commerce of the world is rudely interrupted. Thus the dock laborers refusal to work may be felt, not only throughout Great Britain, but in every country in the world. Yet it can scarcely be said that they are masters of the situation or that their success is assured. Dock companies hold a peculiar position in regard to such matters. Their property is of a class that cannot be injured through disuse for even a lengthened period, nor materially lessened in value by competition with other ports. Their revenue may- suffer to some extent as a company, but the loss will be barely felt by individual shareholders. They therefore are in an unassailable position comparatively with the laborers, who are more like men leading a forlorn hope. We deprecate on social and rational grounds a low rate of wages. "We agree with M'Culloch, an excellent authority in economic science, who said, more than thirty years ago: "The opinion that a low "rate of wages is advantageous "has been frequently advocated, "but we are firmly persuaded " that there is none more completely " destitute o£ foundation. If the con- " dition of the laborers be depressed, "the prosperity of the other classes " can rest on no solid foundation. " They always form the bulk of every "society, and wherever their wages " are low they must of necessity live "on coarse and scanty fare. Men " placed under such circumstances are " without motives to be industrious; "and, instead of activity and enter- " prise, we have sloth, ignorance, and " improvidence. The examples of such " individuals, or bodies of individuals, " as submit quietly to have their wages " reduced, and who are content if they "get only mere necessaries, should "never be held up for public imita"tion. . . . The best interests of
"society require that the rate of "wages should be elevated as " high as possible that a taste for com- " forts and enjoyments should be " widely diffased, and, if possible, engrafted into the character." One feature in this present strike is worthy of notice: thus far there has been but slight disorder. Only a very few years ago such a movement would have been marked by riot, and, perhaps, lootiug and bloodshed. How far this orderly demeanor is due to improved education it is hard to say. It should be noted, however, that the demand is for higher wages; not, as M'Culloch puts it, resistance to a reduction. Nor should the proceedings of the dock companies pass without some notice. It does not appear that they are altogether opposed; to conceding something. They have had offers from foreigners to do the, work of the strikers at considerably iower wages than the men ask, and have refused to employ them. But the fact of a number of Belgians offering their services on such terms points significantly to the condition of laborers on the Continent of Europe. Some years ago no such competition with English unskilled labor was heard of: the rapid and cheap means of international communication has rendered it possible. A newerawith regard tolaborhas thus been initiated, and the condition of the industrial classes in the leading States of Europe is becoming a question of vital importance, if the position of English laborers is to be improved. In an article on " The Eight Hours Question" in the 'Nineteenth Century' for July this impediment to the amelioration of the condition of the working classes in England is ably discussed. The writer says: " When "every possible allowance has been "made, it must be confessed that
" there would be a considerable danger " in any sudden reduction of the hours "of labor. There are, however, two "ways of proceeding safely. Either "we can enter into negotiations with "foreign Governments and try to " induce them to legislate pari passu " with us, or we can proceed at once to " commence a series of gradual reforms. " By proceeding gradually Ave should be " able to ascertain, as we went along, " how far the development of machinery "and other economies in production "made up for the reduction in the " hours of labor, and to regulate our "pace accordingly." Although this passage has no direct bearing upon the strike itself, we quote it as pointing to the possibility of competition arising from the differences of conditions in the labor markets of Europe. From the nature of the case, combination on the part of the dock laborers in .he form of a union is impossible. Thay are not " skilled workmen," for even clerks can take their place and fulfil their duties; and, moreover, there is no reason to believe that the strike has extended to other ports than London. Continuing to quote from the article referred to, the writer says that the reduction of the hours of labor, in which is involved the maintenance of a fair rate of wages, is " not merely ".a national, but an international "one. For industrial purposes, Eng"land, France, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States really "form one country, and neither "hostile tariffs nor disguised bounties " can destroy their solidarity. Whatever affects one affects all." We infer from some statements that reduction of the hours of labor is one of the demands of the dock laborers, and while we wish them success we ar,e quite prepared to hear of their failure. They have evidently the sympathy of trades unions throughout the Empire, and liberal subscriptions have been sent from the Australasian Colonies; but, distributed among the hundred thousand or more men and their families who require help, they will go but a short way towards their sustenance, and working men already heavily taxed cannot afford to tax themselves to their own impoverishment and those dependent upon their labor.
THE LABOR STRIKES AT HOME., Issue 8004, 5 September 1889
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