SOCIAL WAR IN THE NORTH. T HE question between masters and
men in the Building Trade is simply one of the just and expedient use on either side of the power acquired by the legal and legitimate practice of combination. We noticed last week an instance in which the masters were using this power most oppressively, and this week we must notice another in which the men have, all circumstances considered, succeeded in surpassing the masters in injustice and folly. It was a difficult task, for the discharge-note is the device of a thorough absolutist, of some one who with opportunities would be a successful slave-driver, but the men, we greatly fear, have succeeded in their at- tempt to outdo even that act of despotism. The facts are few and clear, but we must premise that our account of them does not rest upon the simple statement of the sufferer, truthful as his story on the face of it appears to be. It has been investi- gated by Mr. Vernon Lushington, one of the staunchest, most acute, and most sympathizing friends of the workman, and with the exception of some statements about "passing bad work," to which we shall again refer, and on which neither he nor we can give a trustworthy opinion, the story is, in his judgment, true.
Mr. Bramall, eminent Contractor of the Midland Counties, and a person apparently of considerable will, sense of justice, and popularity among workmen, had taken a contract for building the new Assize Court of Manchester for 100,0001. He executed it to the satisfaction of his employers, of the labourers, and of all persons who, understanding building, have looked at the edifice since its rather hasty completion. Ile was not, however, himself quite content, and consequently on taking the contract for a similar amount for the new county gaol thought he would do the brickwork himself, and instead of employing his old foreman, a very popular man, he engaged another person, perhaps cheaper, perhaps more obedient, perhaps less self-sufficient, named Kettle. Kettle was a Union man, and nobody objected officially to the change, though there may have been an under-current of comment, until Kettle, in an evil hour for his employer, raised an out- alder named Mylady, of whose ability he knew a good deal, to be gangleader of the labourers or unskilled bricklayers. This seemed to the men an infraction of Union rules. Under those regulations it is open to the master to dismiss everybody down to the last man in a gang, re-admit them next day, and so make the last arrival gangleader, but it is not open to him to make an outsider or new comer gangleader out of his turn. He may be the ablest bricklayer in the world, but bricklaying is a "service," a covenanted service, a covenanted service with traditions, and the labourers with some reason are as savage at supercession as Indian civilians or English general officers would be. They struck, but the Union Committee, with an im- perfect but still visible sense of justice, said they had no business to strike till the matter had been investigated, ordered them back to work, suspended Mylady till their decision, and summoned Kettle. That though an odd was not an unjust procedure, except towards Mylady. Kettle had agreed to certain rules, and if he chose to break them the Union had as much right to investigate his conduct as a club has to investigate charges of ungentlemanly behaviour, or a Church meeting to inquire into the slips of those who are weak enough to subject them- selves to discipline. Kettle, however, having apparently an idea that he was as regarded non-Unionists a free man, refused to allow of Mylady's suspension even for half a day, and did more, suggested that barrowmen could bring bricks better than hodmen, and he should engage some, and try that ex- periment. Hereupon the Union decreed that "he be -removed from the new prison, and debarred entering Mr. Bramall's employ until the same was completed," i. e., dismissed him from his employ, with which they had nothing to do, instead of from the Union of which they were justly rulers.
Moreover, they ordered Mr. Bramall to pay wages for the time—a day or two—occupied in the dispute. This was oppressive enough, but still except as to the extent of the punishment not absolutely unjust. Kettle was a Union man, and as such bound either to accept the Union ver- dict or to give notice of withdrawal from the Union, but the next proceeding overstepped the bounds of equity alto- gether. Mr. Bramall not being a Union man declined to dismiss his foreman or pay for the wasted time, and then the Union Committee declared war. They withdrew their own men, bribed others who were engaged, beat an outsider within an inch of his life, drew away all the joiners from another contract of Mr. Bram.all's, and finally concentrated their wrath upon an absolutely innocent individual. This was Mr. Alfred Waterhouse, architect of the gaol, who was at first so completely the men's friend in the matter that he recommended Mr. Brainall to give way, advised the magistrates that he had broken the custom of the trade, and urged both contractor and men to submit the case to the award of the Bench, who found the money for the works. The men agreed, and the Union, after some discussion, agreed too, —the only good point in their case,—but the negotiation broke down on a mere point of form, which may for aught we know have been the master's fault, although certainly not his interest. The works therefore were suspended, and Mr. Bramall commenced to employ non-Unionist bricklayers. Pressed by Mr. Waterhouse, who was quite angry at his stubbornness, and the magistrates, he began to offer very high wages indeed, 50 per cent. above the average, and attracted a good many wandering hands, and in this way it seemed possible that his contract might be completed. Had it been so the power of the Union Committee would have received a severe blow, and its members in desperation resolved to strike as they thought at the keystone of the arch. They signified to Mr. Waterhouse, the architect, that unless he dismissed Kettle, who was not in his employ, all works upon which he was employed should stop, a threat exactly equivalent to the men of a printing-office telling the editor of a newspaper that unless he dismissed a foreman not paid by him he should mite no more. They, moreover, charged him with "passing" bad work in order to support Mr. Bramall, a charge which Mr. Waterhouse denies, but which, it seems to us, on a balance of probabilities may be thus far true. Mr. Waterhouse clearly did not pass bad work,—first, because he says he did not, secondly, because he offered to submit the work to inspection, and thirdly, because it was against his interest to do it, but we think he may have passed work quite good, but more slovenly in "finish" than the Union work usually is. Those bodies do give the preference to the beat hands, though they will not allow those hands to put out all their strength. The temptation to pass roughly-finished walls would be great in- deed, and the men may thus far be right as to the work, with which they had precisely as much to do as printers have with the false syllogisms of the author whose manuscript they are setting up. Mr. Waterhouse, who must have a wonderful command of temper, first remonstrated, then held a personal interview with the Committee of the Union, and finally offered rather than delay so many works to hand them over to some other architect, an instance of deliberate sacrifice of self to duty done in a quiet way which we hope, though we never heard of Mr. Waterhouse before, that the builders in the Midland Counties will not be ready to overlook. Even this last offer was rejected. The Union would have nothing but Kettle's dismissal, and if not that then the ruin of Mr. Waterhouse, who qua Kettle was a by- stander. Anyhow a scapegoat they would have, and there 80 far as we know the matter rests.
The moral of this little story is obvious. The men are per- petrating in an exaggerated form the precise injustice which the masters have resolved to attempt. The masters have assumed the power on any breach of their rules to punish the offender with the suspension of any means of obtaining a livelihood anywhere. The men have done just the same, with the difference that instead of punishing the offender they have punished a bystander guilty of sympathizing with him, have done the very thing which they consider evil when done by political despots,—punished an opinion as if it were a crime. It is difficult to imagine the tyranny of man over man carried to a greater extreme than in their successive decisions. First the Union men punish the gangmaster for rising too quickly, an injustice to his actual subordinates which would have justified them in resigning, but in nothing further ; then they demand the dismissal of the foreman for not obeying their order to suspend the gang- master who rose too quickly ; then they try to fine the con- tractor who refused to dismiss the foreman who declined to suspend the gangmaster who rose too quickly; and finally they ruin the architect who sympathizes with but condemns the contractor who refused to dismiss the foreman who declined to suspend the gangmaster who rose too quickly. This is the very gamut of tyranny,—the very scale played by Austria in Hungary, rising from the imprisonment of a rebel to the flog- ging of a countess suspected of sheltering a gentleman who was suspected of sympathizing with rebels. It is the very wan- tonness of irresponsible power, a declaration of social war so bitter and deadly that the combatants care not what innocent persons they shoot down in the nzaie. They pay no more heed to the proportion of guilt than do the soldiers, inflicting death as the punishment not of resistance but merely of being in the way. Indeed if there is any difference it is in the weight of the punishment decreed against the inno- cent; Kettle, who really broke a rule he had agreed to sub- mit to, was only sentenced to dismissal from one work; Mr. Bramall, who helped him to break it, was subjected to an intolerable fine ; Mr. Waterhouse, who sympathized with Mr. Braman, was discharged from all his employments ; and the non-Union workman, who had done nothing at all of any kind except take honest wages for fair work, was beaten nearly to death. Combination is a great power, but we warn the Union that no combination of a class ever yet beat society, and that they are tempting society to defy justice and moderation as they themselves do, and to declare war on them. Parliament will not re-enact the old combination laws, but it will most decidedly put a stop to the employment of com- bination as a means of inspiring physical terror. They have a right, subject to the ordinary rules of morality and the rights of individual workmen, to withdraw their men, but they have no right whatever to beat other men not under their control, and if the existing laws are not sharp enough to stop that practice new laws must. We have supported the cause of the Unions for years, but we warn their managers that if they cannot put a stop to this kind of crime decent men will be demanding a law against social Thuggee a great deal sharper than any they have ever yet had to face, and they will find that conspiracy to beat a man within an inch of his life can be punished as easily and as sharply as any other form of subornation to murder. We ended our last article by advis- ing the workmen how to strike, we end this by advising the masters to subscribe for all their regular hands to the Govern- ment Annuity Office, and so deprive the Unions of their only legitimate source of power. With three hundred men in his employ well paid, and with annuities secure as long as they behave well, Mr. Braman would have been beyond punish- ments inflicted because he declined to be unjustly ordered to punish unjustly a man who had refused to dismiss unjustly a labourer who had been somewhat unjustly promoted.