THE TRUE DANGER OF STRIKES. To THE EDITOR OF THE
SIR,—The present lock-out in the iron trades is in many respects bewildering to those who have studied these struggles most care- fully. There is one point, however, which I believe to be quite clear, and which the masters would do well to bear in mind, and that is, that each one of these lock-outs in the last 15 years has had the effect of enormously strengthening the union of the men in the particular trade. I will take two cases as examples, in which the men were beaten on the special issues at least as thoroughly as the ironmasters can hope to beat their men in the lock-out now going on.
The great lock-out of the engineers and machinists was (so far as I know) the first case in which the present tactics were followed on both sides. The men tried to localize the struggle by refusing to work in one establishment only. The masters replied by shut- ting up all the workshops in the Manchester and London dis- tricts. Well, Sir, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, &c., went into that contest with 11,829 members. At the end of the 5 months' battle they had lost upwards of 2,000 members, and almost the whole of their reserve fund, while the sub- scriptions of the remaining members" svere greatly in arrear. It was believed even by their friends that confidence in the organization and management of the Amalgamated Society was so shaken that it would never recover its power or be able to carry out its views. How stand the facts ? Within eighteen months the numbers stood as high as before the lock-out. In three years they stood at 12,553, and from that time to this have steadily increased at an average of about 2,000 a year. The last published report for 1863 gives the numbers at 26,058. The society at the time of the lock-out had 121 branches, all in the United Kingdom, and all but 13 in England. In the very year of the lock-out 8 new branches were added, in the next year (still one of great depression) 12 more. And so it has gone on, till we find that in 1863 there were 262 branches, of which 5 were in the Australias, 1 in New Zealand, 4 in Canada, 1 at Malta, and 5 in the United States. In the same year, notwithstanding an expenditure of 52,000/. and upwards, in allowances to members out of work, sick, or suffering from accident, or in funeral benefit, and 10,000/. for other objects, the reserve fund stood at 67,410/. In the last year the progress has been quite as marked.
The other example I would take shall be the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners. The facts of the dispute between Messrs. Kelk and Lucas and their men which led to the lock-out in the building trade are probably familiar to most of your readers, as they happened so recently and excited so much attention. Here, again, the men were supposed to be beaten, but the defeat only acted as a stimulus to the frociety, as the following figures will show:—
Those who wish to follow out the subject may easi y do so, as the reports of trades' societies are no longer hard to obtain. I believe that any such inquiry will end in the conviction that in every skilled trade in England this process of amalgamation is going on rapidly, and that a great strike or lock-out, no matter which side is in the right, no matter whether the men gain their point or are beaten, only stimulates the process.
I have no doubt whatever myself that in a few years we shall see a solidarite; not only in each branch of skilled workmen in their respective trades, but between the trades. Is there any chance of the masters being able to meet this state of things in the long run? I believe not. They cannot combine as the men do. They may win this year and the next by combination, but their unions cannot cohere while they have to compete against each other in the markets.
They threaten that they will take their capital out of the trades and employ it elsewhere. But that threat has long ceased to frighten their men, who see that even in the trades where the strife has been fiercest (in engineering, building, and mining) no works are shut up, while many new ones are opened yearly. The iron and coal are under, the factories and plants which have cost millions are upon, English soil, and cannot take themselves off. The houses must be built here, in London, Manchester, &c.
On the other hand, the men find that while capital is less sensitive than they had supposed labour is more so. They can get to new fields for a sum which every skilled artisan can easily command. I would just call attention to the fact above stated as to the Amalgamated Engineers' Society. They have actually belted the World with their branches, and have set statesmen an example of the sort of union or alliance which ought to exist between all English- speaking folk—which will, I trust, exist before long. Many persons I know, say they will only find themselves worse off abroad, especially in Australia. I can furnish a curious piece of evidence on this point. After the great lock-out of the engineers a friend of mine supplied funds by which upwards of forty members of the Amalgamated Society emigrated to Australia (the founders of the Australian and New Zealand branches). I managed the business, and have been in communication with the men ever since. They have repaid the whole advance with interest long since. One of them is a member of the Colonial Parliament, several more are partners in large establishments, in short, the few amongst them who have taken to the diggings, some four or five, are the only ones who are not very far better off than any of their fellow members who have stayed at home. I own I look with great dread on the turn our civil war without fire-arms is taking. Unless some change comes there will soon be a constant and ever-increasing drain of the picked men from this country, and we shall be left with the drunkards and the idlers.
And what change can mend matters? Arbitration may possibly do for a time, though the difficulties of enforcing awards, of dis- covering a satisfactory tribunal, are, so far as the attempt has hitherto gone, almost insuperable. In any case it will only be an armed truce. The fact is that the old relation of master and man is gone hopelessI7, whether we like it or not. The men will never be content until they have a share of profits, and some voice in the internal management of the workshops. Unless they can get these two rights, as they hold them to be, they will through much blundering struggle into co-operative societies for production as well as consumption. The masters must in Short consent to become constitutional instead of absolute sovereigns, di they will have republican institutions rapidly springing up and
Funds In hand.
Men- bars. FnndsFunds. . rti
Dates. Net increase of Bmnehes, Members, and Funds.
Dec.,1860 „ 1861 „ 1882
„ 1863 „ 1884
20 618 82 250 33 949 53 1718 81 9279 A B. d. 821. 8 2i 593 12 Oi 849 8 10 2042 11. 3 4568 10 04
Dee., 1881 „ 1862 „ 1363 „ 1864 e. d.
272 8 10 255 18 91 1193 2 5 2523 18 91
12 6 15 28
shouldering them out. I do not write at all as an advocate of trades' societies ; I believe them to be simply a necessity, like standing armies; they are often intolerably stupid and tyrannical, but we might as well try to stop the tide of the Atlantic as put them down, or seriously weaken them. Therefore I could wish that masters in general would follow the example of "Messrs. Briggs and Son (Limited)," Messrs. Crossley and others, and so win the battle by yielding, and lay down sure foundations for confidence and peace in their workshops, which would bring in their train the gratitude of the whole nation, and a trade such as the mind of man has never yet conceived. —Yours, &c., THOMAS HUGHES.