THE AVERTED POLICE STRIKE.
WE are unable to accept the argument that servants of the State ought upon no occasion to strike. The Fighting Services ought not, first, because they voluntarily pledged themselves by oath not to do it ; and secondly, because, by the obvious conditions of their service, a strike of soldiers or sailors involves such terrible consequences that it can be regarded only as an attack upon the life of the State, which is, morally as well as legally, treason. The very existence of the word " mutiny," and the horror with which it is regarded in all countries, and. that by good soldiers as well as good officers, proves that the distinction not only exists, but is thoroughly comprehended. Civil Servants, however, who do not surrender their liberty for the safety of the State have, we must maintain, a right, if they are discontented, to quit its service, and even to combine to make their protests effectual. But, on the other hand, the servants of the State undoubtedly are more bound to con- sider its interests and safety and honour when they act, than the servants of individual employers. They owe duty to the community, as all other citizens do ; and while they have a right to protest effectually against injustice, they have no right to injure the commonwealth for their own selfish advantage, or to place it in a position injurious to its safety or honour. If an army able to control the State—say a French army, for example—extorted double pay, either by force or by refusing to resist an invasion, it would be an army of traitors, and nothing better ; and under the same circumstances, the same conduct in Civil Servants deserves the same reproach. Suppose, for example, that all employs connected with the water-supply of a great city are discontented, they have a right, after fair warning, and in a legal manner, to throw up their employment. But if merely to obtain pay above market-rate they rely on their power of poisoning the city by depriving it of water, and strike so suddenly that they cannot be replaced, they become enemies of the community, are morally bad, and may justifiably be punished in any way adequate to the motive and result of their action. Nobody would doubt that, if they poisoned the water with drugs ; and. the sudden refusal of supply would be nearly as injurious to the public health. The refusal of water is, of course, an extreme case, and might, under quite imaginable conditions, justify extreme remedies ; but the argument applies, though with less force, to the police case. The Police of London, if discontented, have a right to go, and to combine to go- lf that is refused by opinion, they must be re-enlisted on other terms than the present—but they have no right to strike, that is, to depart so suddenly as to expose the safety of the Metropolis to risk. We say they have no right, not because they are bound to remain policemen, for they are not bound, but because they are bound to act as good citizens, or at least as non-dangerous citizens ; and if they strike suddenly, they are not so acting. Every one would acknowledge that, if they sud- denly, in the middle of the night, forced open the doors of all rich shops and banks, and left them open ; and a strike might be in its consequences precisely that. We do not say it would be. Civilised society, when thrown back on its natural defences, usually develops unexpected force ; and in London, an offer of ten shillings a day would in twenty-four hours bring out twenty thousand stalwart men, uniformed in flannel shirts, and quite equal to the police in all but knowledge and. self-restraint. Still, there might be twenty-four hours either of serious trouble, all Alsatia disgorging itself, or of bloody repression ; and neither policemen nor any other body of citizens can have a right to inflict such a danger on the community.
We cannot even conceive a sound. answer to this argument, which applies to all indispensable functionaries in different degrees ; and. of course its corollary is equally clear. The State or the community which limits the freedom of any body of functionaries, should take especial care that they have no removable grievances. It should hear them patiently, remove them quickly, and consider the partial loss of liberty in the pay. Whether this is done quite sufficiently in the case of the Metropolitan Police, whose work is exceedingly onerous, responsible, and dangerous to health, we cannot quite decide. Most employers would say that, all circumstances, and especially the pensions, being taken into consideration, the men were fairly paid. They begin on 24s. a week, and rise to 30s. in eight years ; are employed without breaks, have good prospects of promotion to much better allowances, and retire before they are fifty in pecuniary security for life. That seems liberal, and if they are compared with labourers, it is most liberal ; but then, is that comparison a fair one ? The men say ' No !' that they are picked persons both as- regards character and physique ; that they rapidly cease to be half-skilled; and that when they know their work, they ought to be paid as much as skilled men can earn else- where. So they are, when the pensions are fairly counted „ but the men, while still young, do not count them quite fairly. Englishmen of the working class have not yet caught that extreme fear of the future which on the Continent makes the smallest pension an object of passionate desire, and even railway servants, as we all recently saw, shy at secure pensions offered in lieu of cash. down. The younger men want more wages now, as a set- off to great present discomforts from exposure, long hours,. and fatigue, and think that upon this subject they do not get quite the " consideration " to which their faithful service entitles them. The experts can judge better than we as to the facts, one of which is that every vacancy in the Police is instantly filled ; but if strikes are forbidden, the argument for considerate treatment becomes an exceedingly strong one. There are no better men in the country than the majority of policemen, and if a place in the Force becomes a prize for a good class of workmen, that is, within reasonable limits as to cost, an advantage to the com- munit7. After all, we do not want roughs in uniform as policemen, but decent, strong, self-restrained men, who. can check a mob without brutality, and. fight burglars without reckoning the difference of arms ; and. for a,. special article of that sort, employers, especially if they are supposed to have bottomless purses—an absurdity in. this ease, but an absurdity fully believed in the labour market—always have to pay. The case of the police is not so good as that of the postmen, who, con- sidering their severe and incessant work, and their con- stant custody of valuables, are distinctly underpaid ; but they deserve liberal and, if we may use that much-abused word, which every faddist in the country seems intent on degrading, even " sympathetic " treatment.
The more, however, that we press this point, the more do we approve the most determined action for the main- tenance of discipline. No body of citizens, even if it has grievances, has any right to assail the State ; and a police force which strikes, does to all intents and purposes assail the State or the Municipality. They use an argument which is simply force, and to force there should be immovable resistance. Sir Edward Bradford is entirely- right in dismissing strikers, and would be right if he had to dismiss half the men who guard the Metropolis. It is his duty, as it is that of the State, to guard the freedom of the community ; and the community, if it is to be coerced in that style, loses its freedom almost as much as if it fell into the hands of its own soldiers. It is terror that is applied to it ; and terror can be employed to secure any end, an extra pound a week, for instance, just as well as an extra three shillings. The community is ruined if it yields to compulsion of that sort, and. pays, not because it is just to pay, or even because it is kindly to pay, but because it must. It loses heart, and the sense that, be the democracy as absolute as it may, it still must govern its own minorities or submit to be enslaved. Universal suffrage is not liberty, if the soldiers alone give effectual orders ; and the tyranny of a civilian service is just 92 bad in kind, though it is less in degree and not so dramatic in form. There is nothing for the community to do when a. service revolts except to accept the challenge ; but all the same it is just, as well as wise, to see with patient as well as intelligent eyes, that the service has no rightful cause to, rebel.