Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

engagements; men who have promised to work to the end of the week must of course do so; they are not free till their promise is performed. Again, nobody should be allowed suddenly to stop work in a way endangering other people. Enginedrivers and guards in America sometimes strike when a train is halfway on its journey, and leave the passengers to get to the next town as they best can. This is little better than manslaughter. Neither the owners nor the workmen in gasworks, waterworks, or any other establishment on which the public depends for necessaries of life, should be allowed suddenly to stop work without notice. The safety of the public is the first consideration. The law ought therefore to punish those who make such strikes.

51. The General Effect of Strikes. There is not space in this little work to argue the matter out in detail, but I have not the least doubt that strikes, on the whole, produce a dead loss of wages to those who strike, and to many others. I believe that if there had not been a strike during the last thirty years, wages would now be higher in general than they are, and an immense amount of loss and privation would also have been saved. It has, in fact, been shown by Dr. John Watts of Manchester, in his “ Catechism of Wages and Capital,” that even a successful strike usually occasions loss. He has said, "Allowing for accidental stoppages, there will not be in the most regular trades above fifty working weeks in the year, and one week will therefore represent two per cent. of the year. If a strike for four per cent. rise on wages succeeds in a fortnight, it will take twelve months' work at the improved rate to make up for the lost fortnight; and if a strike for eight per cent. lasts four weeks, the workmen will be none the richer at the end of twelve months; so that it frequently happens that, even when a strike succeeds, another revision of wages takes place before the last loss is made up; a successful strike is, therefore, like a suc

one.

cessful lawsuit-only less ruinous than an unsuccessful

If we remember that a large proportion of strikes are unsuccessful, in which case of course there is simple loss to every one concerned ; that when successful, the rise of wages might probably have been gradually obtained without a strike; that the loss by strikes is not restricted to the simple loss of wages, but that there is also injury to the employers' business and capital, which is sure to injure the men also in the end; it is impossible to doubt that the nett result of strikes is a dead loss. The conclusion to which I come is that, as a general rule, to strike is an act of folly.

52. Intimidation in Strikes. Those who strike work have no right to prevent other workmen from coming and taking their places. If there are unemployed people, able and willing to work at the lower wages, it is for the benefit of everybody, excepting the strikers, that they should be employed. It is a question of supply and demand. The employer, generally speaking, is right in getting work done at the lowest possible cost; and, if there is a supply of labour forthcoming at lower rates of wages, it would not be wise of him to pay higher rates.

But it is unfortunately common for those who strike to endeavour to persuade or even frighten workmen from coming to take their places. This is as much as to claim a right to the trade of a particular place, which no law and no principle gives to them. A strike is only proper and legal as long as it is entirely voluntary on the part of all concerned in refusing to work. When a striker begins to threaten or in any way prevent other people from working as they like, he commits a crime, by interfering with their proper liberty, and at the same time injuring the public. Men are free to refuse to labour, but it is absolutely necessary to maintain at the same time the freedom of other men to labour if they like. The same considerations, of course, apply to lockouts; no employer who locks out his workmen has any right to intimidate, or in any way to oblige other employers to do the same. No doubt voluntary agreements are made between employers, and lockouts are jointly arranged, just as extensive strikes are arranged beforehand. If any employers were to go beyond this and threaten to injure other employers if they did not join in the lockout, they should be severely punished. But such a case seldom or never occurs. Thus, strikes and lockouts are proper only as mere trials, to ascertain whether labour will be forthcoming at a certain rate of wages, or under certain conditions.

If the workmen in a trade are persuaded that their wages are too low, then a strike will show whether it is the case

or not; if their employers find themselves unable to get equally good workmen at the same wages, they will have to offer more; but if equally good can be got at the old rate, then it is a proof that the strikers made a mistake. Their wages were as good as the state of trade warranted. It is all a matter of bargain, and of supply and demand. Those who strike work are in the position of those who, having a stock of goods, refuse to sell it, hoping to get a better price. If they make a mistake, they must suffer for it, and those who choose to sell their goods in the meantime will have the benefit. But it is plain that it would never do to allow one holder of goods to intimidate and prevent other holders from selling to the public. It is worthy of consideration whether even voluntary combinations of dealers should not be prohibited, because they are often little better than conspiracies to rob the public. The good of consumers, that is, of the whole people, is what we must always look to, and this is best secured when men act freely and compete with each other to sell things at the cheapest rates.

5.3. Trades-Union Monopolies. It cannot be denied that, in certain trades, the men may succeed to some extent in keeping their wages above the natural level by union. Wages, like the prices of goods, are

governed by the laws of supply and demand. Accordingly, if the number of hat-makers can be kept down it reduces the number of hats that can be made, raises their prices, and enables the hat-makers to demand higher wages than they otherwise could do. Many unions try thus to limit production by refusing to admit more than a fixed number of apprentices, and by declining to work with any man who has not been brought up to the trade. It is probable that, where a trade is a small one, and the union powerful, there may be some success. The trade becomes a monopoly, and gets higher wages by making other people pay dearer for the goods they produce. They raisė a tax from the rest of the nation, including all the workmen of other trades. This is a thoroughly selfish and injurious thing, and the laws ought by all reasonable means to discourage such monopolies. Moreover, monopoly is extremely hurtful in the long run to the working classes, because all the trades try to imitate those which are successful. Finding that the hatters have a strong union, the shoemakers, the tailors, and the seamstresses try to make similar unions, and to restrict the numbers employed. If they could succeed in doing so, the result would be absurd; they would all be trying to grow richer by beggaring each other. As I have pointed out in the Logic Primer (section 177, p. 117), this is a logical fallacy, arising from the confusion between a general and a collective term. Because any trade separately considered may grow richer by taxing other trades, it does not follow that all trades taken together, and doing the same thing, can grow richer.

No doubt, working men think that, when their wages are raised, the increase comes out of the pockets of their employers. But this is usually a complete mistake; their employers would not carry on business unless they could raise the prices of their goods, and thus get back from purchasers the increased sum which

they pay in wages. They will even want a little more to recompense them for the risk of dealing with workmen who strike at intervals, and thus interrupt business. It is the consumers of goods who ultimately pay the increased wages, and though wealthy people no doubt pay a part of the cost, it is mainly the working people who contribute to the higher wages of some of their own class.

The general result of trades-union monopolies to the working people themselves is altogether disastrous. If one in a hundred, or one in a thousand is benefited, the remainder are grievously injured. The restrictions upon work which they set up tend to keep men from doing that which they are ready and willing to do. The lucky fatten at the cost of those whom they shut out in want of work, and the strikes and interruptions of trade, occasioned by efforts to keep up monopolies, diminish the produce distributed as wages.

54. Professional Trades-Unions. We often hear the proceedings of trades-unions upheld on the ground that lawyers, doctors, and other professional men have their societies, Inns of Court, or other unions, which are no better than trades-unions. This is what may be called a tu quoque (thou also) argument. “We may form unions because you form unions.” It is a poor kind of argument at best; one man acting unwisely is no excuse for another doing so likewise. I am quite willing to allow that many of the rules of barristers and solicitors are no better than those of trades-unions. That a barrister must begin to be a barrister by eating certain dinners; that he must never take a fee under a certain amount; that he must never communicate with a client except through a solicitor; that a senior counsel must always have a junior; and most of the rules of the so-called etiquette are clearly intended to raise the profits of the legal profession. Many things of this kind want reform. But, on the other hand, these unions avoid many of the faults of trades-unions. There is no limit to the number of

« ZurückWeiter »