TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE IRISH RAILWAY STRIKE. THE latest railway strike is in many ways the most instructive of all the recent labour disturbances. It began with a cause which has nothing whatever to do with the railway service. Some timber firm in Dublin had a dispute with their workpeople. What the dispute was the public certainly has not learned, and it is more than prob- able that most of the Irish railway servants share the ignorance of the public. It is even possible that the two railwaymen who began the strike were themselves abso- lutely ignorant of the rights and wrongs of the cause they chose to champion. These two men refused to handle timber consigned to the railway by the firm in question. The railway manager naturally pointed out that a railway company is a common carrier and cannot possibly pick and choose what goods it will carry. The men persisted in their refusal and persuaded their fellows to leave their work. The cry was instantly taken up over a large portion of the railway service in Ireland, and at a meeting of Irish railwaymen a resolution was passed declaring that the men would not degrade their manhood by handling " blackleg " goods. This position has been endorsed by the general executive of the A.S.R.S., who on Thursday night declared a general strike on Irish railways.
It is extremely difficult to understand how any sane body of men living in a civilized community can seriously take up such an attitude. It is the very reverse of the whole principle on which public interference with private quarrels necessarily proceeds in orderly communities. In order to prevent private quarrels from leading to actual warfare every civilized nation gives an opportunity to the parties to have their quarrel authoritatively settled in a Court of Law, and the whole organized police and military forces of the community can if necessary be employed to enforce the judgment of the Court. By this means, which seems simple to us to-day, though it took some centuries to evolve, the area of private quarrels is diminished and the general peace is secured. The new trade union movement entirely reverses this process. Directly a private quarrel occurs, provided only it is a quarrel between an employer and a wage-earner, the trade unions aim at extending the area of this quarrel till it may embrace the whole nation. No attempt is made to judge the question on its merits. The mere fact that one of the parties is an employer and the other a wage-earner is sufficient in the eyes of the modern trade unionist to justify him in stopping national services and inflicting widespread ruin on his fellow citizens. It is impossible to estimate the loss in which Ireland will be involved in consequence of the railwaymen's interference in this trumpery timber dispute. Take one fact alone. Normally forty or fifty trains a day are dispatched from Holyhead carrying Irish produce to the great towns of England. This traffic has suddenly ceased, and the Irish farmers who supplied the produce are without any warning and without rhyme or reason deprived of the opportunity of carrying on a. legitimate business. Those who are working, as many farmers necessarily are working, on a narrow margin of profit may be absolutely ruined by this sudden interruption to their sales. In addition there has been wholesale destruction of valuable commodities, for large quantities of produce, including live fowls, have been left to perish on deserted railway platforms.
This dramatic illustration from across St. George's Chan- nel of what are the consequences of the claims put forward by modern trade unionists ought to bring home to every thoughtful Englishman, to whatever class he belongs, the extreme seriousness of the present situation. As Mr. Osborne has pointed out in a very valuable article in " Constitution Papers," to which we referred last week, the trouble on the railways began with the capture of the A.S.R.S. by the Socialist Party. That capture was part of a well-thought-out policy deliberately planned by members of the Fabian Society and of the I.L.P. The object in view was to utilize the trade union organization for political purposes. Not only did this involve, as Mr. Richard Bell and Mr. Osborne found, the intolerable tyranny of compelling trade unionists to submerge their political convictions, but also it meant the complete inversion of the very principle upon which trade unionism is based. For a trade union is essentially an organization of persons engaged in a particular industry for the advancement of their common interests in that industry. It is not a society for the general benefit of the working classes as a whole, and constantly we find one trade union at war with another—the Boilermakers, for example, quarrelling with the Engineers. Even in one industry where there are grades of workmen, as in the railway service, different trade unions emphasize their different interests, and the various railway unions which were momentarily allied in the recent railway strike have frequently been engaged in sparring with one another. Trade unionism, in a word, is poles apart from the collectivism which Socialists preach. It may perhaps best be described as a form of co-operative individualism, the men in each trade co-operating together as against the world. To divert such an organization from its primary purposes and to use it as a tool for collectivist Socialism was a triumph of successful wire- pulling. But scarcely had this feat been accomplished before the evils resulting from such an abuse of the function of trade unions began to be experienced.
Hitherto the nation as a whole has perhaps not fully appreciated this aspect of the question. It has been led aside by the quite disconnected consideration of the hard lot of many of the underpaid members of the community, and people otherwise level-headed have half- condoned the excesses of modern trade unionism on the ground that something must be done to help the poor. The first answer is that the methods of the modem trade unionist, instead of helping the poor to a greater share of the world's wealth, are diminishing the volume of wealth that has to be shared ; and the second answer is that if the facts be examined in detail it will be found that the motive force behind the recent railway strikes, both in England and in Ireland, has been, not a desire to improve the position of the worst-paid workmen, but an ambition to extend the power of the leaders of the trade unions. This has been brought out very clearly by the late strike. The real cause of the strike was the deter- mination of the Socialist leaders of the unions to secure recognition. The strike itself was only brought to an end by the partial recognition which was involved in the meeting between two of the railway managers and the labour leaders. What the union leaders really want is power to coerce the railway companies and power to coerce all the men employed by those companies. So far as the advocacy of improved conditions for the railway servants helps to secure the numerical strength of the union, and thus to bring them nearer to their ultimate ambition, the union leaders advocate improved con- ditions; but wherever an improvement 'in the condition of the men would militate against the popularity of the union, the union leaders are out against it. Again and again it has been given in evidence before the Royal Commission that the directors had offered concessions in the way of pensions and bonuses which would have distinctly bettered the position of the individual railway worker, but the trade unions had opposed these improve- ments because they would have made the men realize that the unions were not essential to their individual advancement.
We cannot even begin to understand the problems underlying the phrase " labour unrest " which is now on everyone's lips until it is realized that the interests of the trade unions as organizations under present conditions are divergent from the interests of the individual workmen. What the individual workman cares about is his pay and conditions of service. What the trade unions care for is the attainment of dictatorial power to be used, as occasion offers, for the advancement of the Socialist cause. In this context we are glad to note the words of warning of Mr. Snowden, whose honesty in dealing with the minimum wage question in the cotton trade we commented on last week. Writing in the current issue of the Christian Commonwealth Mr. Snowden observes that Syndicalism, which is the doctrine of labour force against capital force, " can never do more than sow tares among the wheat which has been planted by wise men who know that the social problem can only be solved by a slow and painful process of change, and that it will not be by the setting of class against class that advancement will be made, but by the co-operation of men and women of all classes whose moral senses have been developed. The idea that the social millennium is going to be established by one great dramatic act by the workers, acting under the fanaticism of revolutionary fervour, is the most ridiculous one which ever entered into the mind of man. It is an idea which at times in past history has possessed earnest and pure-souled men ; but the bloodiest pages of history bear testimony to the futility of attempting to force conditions for which neither the times nor the people are prepared."