Paragraph on Strikes and Trade Unionism

Outline:

  • A strike is an organised act of disobedience by workers others who are subject to discipline.
  • Originally illegal but in most countries.
  • Strikes are bad if wrongly managed; Paralyse trade.
  • Out of place in educational institutions.

During the nineteenth century, labour had few rights in Europe. The industry was in private hands, and the governments of the day represented the interests of employers’ never of the workers. In Britain, workers were underpaid and overworked and had no rights. A man could be given an excessive amount of work to do or could be dismissed without notice. There was no appeal. But even then, strikes did take place, when abuses grew so bad that workers rose in a body and refused to work. Since they had no organization or trade union funds then, their strikes were illegal; and without trade funds to give “strike pay”, they were often starved into submission. But often the employers found the courage of the men carry them through weeks of starvation for the sake of principle, and they had to grant some of the worker’s demands in order to get them back into the industry.

Gradually the right to strike, in certain circumstances, came to be admitted. The governments of the day in Britain, especially the Labour governments or those containing a large Labour party, were forced to grant torthe workers the right to have their own associations or trade unions. The unions represented the workers, colleced funds from them by weekly subscriptions, and organised their complaints and requests and placed them before government. Now if there are complaints about pay or hours, or other working conditions, the men have the power to have those submitted to the government through their trade union leaders. The government usually order an inquiry, and go fully into the points raised. If the dispute is one between private employers and their workers, then the government appoint arbitrators, who try to arrive at a compromise and effect a settlement. After this if there is still no concession that is acceptable, the men can, through their leaders, give three week’s notice that they will go on strike in support of their claims. Such a strike is perfectly legal.

At the present day, there are many strikes which are quite illegal in British industry. Men launch strikes against the advice of their trade union leaders; they do it without three weeks’ notice, and often on grounds which are political and have no connection with their working conditions. Dockers’ strike in London was organised by Communist agents for political purposes. Such strikes are illegal. Trade unions and their rights, as we know them in England, do not exist in Russia. There the so-called trade unions are branches of the party which rules the country, and are rather designed to keep the men disciplined and under control than to help them to assert their rights. In this, sub-continent the trade union movement has grown considerably, and the workers are represented. They will not be able to have the same powers as the British trade unions until there is a great increase in literacy. The poor and struggling workers cannot be exposed to agitators and political agents yet; their feelings are too easily aroused by unscrupulous persons. It is the government which must accept the task of seeing that they are properly paid and that their house and working conditions are correct. Gradually growth of trade union power will come, along with social and political enlightenment.

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Strikes in colleges are difficult to understand. The idea of strike in the universities of the west would create amusement, as being something too ridiculous to discuss. It would be like striking against one’s own parents. Bad mismanagement on the part of a principal or teacher is rare; if it does happen, there is always a legal and dignified remedy. But a strike in a college never achieved anything, but has always harmed the honour and reputation of both college and students. When a tiger is shot, it sometimes bites savagely at the injured part of its own body. That is a strange thing to do; but it is quite as sensible as it is for students to strike against themselves.

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