Paragraph on the Use and Abuse of Strikes

Outline:

  • Helplessness of the single workman.
  • Trades Unions and collective bargaining.
  • The strike their weapon.
  • Good produced by strikes.
  • Evils produced by strikes.

Strikes are the outcome of our modern industrial system. They came into fashion in the present age of steam-driven machinery and large factories. The rate of wages, like the prices of good, was fixed by the law of supply and demand, under a system of free competition. But the competition between master and man, while it might be free, was by no means fair. A single workman, with no land to fall back on, and his two hands and his skill as his only capital (wealth), was no match for a rich employer or company. If he did not like the wage offered, he lost his job; for there were plenty to take his place. He must accept the low wage or starve.

It was the workmen themselves who solved the problem, on the principle of co-operation. Each single stick could easily be broken; but sticks tied in a bundle could not. While the single workman was helpless, a united body of workmen in one trade might be successful. So Trade Unions came into existence, and established the principle of “Collective bargaining”. This meant that the employers in a certain trade had to deal with the united body of workmen in that trade in matters of wages, hours of work, etc.

The Trades Unions’ weapon is the “strike”. A strike is the refusal of an organized body of workmen to continue their work except on certain conditions. The members of a union contribute to a “strike fund” out of their wages, so that they can live while the strike continues. When master refuse to listen to their requests for better wages or shorter hours, the workmen “down tools” and leaves work; or, more often, the mere threat of a strike will be sufficient.

There is no doubt that Trades Unions, armed with this powerful weapon, the strike, have lifted the working classes to a higher level, and secured for them better wages, shorter hours, healthier conditions, and a measure of independence. The lot of the working classes in England today is a great deal better than it was eighty years ago.

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But there are evils and dangers connected with strikes. Even when they are successful, they cause a lot of suffering to the workmen and their families. They do great damage to trade and industry and cause much inconvenience to the public. When they fail, they make matters worse than before. The best way is to settle all industrial disputes by arbitration.

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