LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
[Letters of the length of one of our leading paragraphs are often more read, and therefore more effective, than those which fill treble the space.] A LEAGUE OF GOOD CITIZENS.
rro THE EDITOR 07 THE " SPECTATOR."1 Sni,—Your recent article on a League of Good Citizens came at the right moment. Although throughout this coal stoppage the man in the street has refused to allow himself to be in- timidated by the sabre rattling or other "splendid gestures " of the leaders of the Triple Alliance and Council of Action, at the back of his -mind there has been a feeling of doubt as to how far he and his could have carried on in the event of a general down tools on the part of organized labour. Mr. Will Thorne, M.P., said in a recent speech at Leeds : " Even the Middle Classes Union could not march into the pits; if they did they would damn well fall to the bottom, and an inexperienced winder would soon settle their fate." Perhaps; but the men who had to dig parades and parapet, mine and counter-mine under German gas and shell fire, were in the main men who until six months previously had never handled spade or pick in their lives. Quite possibly the doctor who has to carry through an operation that means life or death eould manipu- late the winding machine in a coal shaft, but his eft-hour shift would have to be deducted from his time available for operating on the miner's wife or relieving his ailing child.
May I leave Mr. William Thorns at that and briefly comment on your admirable article?
We want a body of citizens organized to-stand for majority rights against minority tyranny. Their organization must be democratic, built up from the bottom. It must not be financed either wholly or in part by federated capital, whether intess national or British. It must not be bound to the chariot Wheels of any statesman or political party. It must be pre- pared to place itself unreservedly at the disposal of the Govern- ment when and if that Government le out to break the embargo or raise tire blockade of the direct actionist, but it -must also be equipped to act alone should that Government from motives of policy, expediency, or something worse, decide, as did Giolitti's Government in Italy, to stand aside and allow the citizen and the direct actionist to fight the issue out.
Something more than two years ago I was one of those who were instrumental in starting -under the name of the Middle Classes Union a movement to organize for its self-preservation the great hitherto inarticulate middle interest which between the upper and nether millstones of federated capital and organized labour, with the Government bureaucrat to direct the mill and hasten the operation, was very surely being ground down and squeezed out of the body politic. Frankly, we aimed then at political action pure and simple. To the Liberal doctor and the Conservative squire, to the Radical draper and Tory blacksmith, who hitherto in the same little community had voted two one way and two the other, and so had been regularly disregarded by each and any Party leader when once they had recorded their votes, we suggested a group- ing on political but non-party lines for the preservation of essentially mutual interests and liberties. We had then—we have now—no quarrel with the great Trade Union movement; but the formation of the Triple Alliance, threats of the Council of Action, railway strikes, coal stoppages, gas strikes, tram hold-ups taught us that however much we must deplore having to come into conflict with the forces of organized labour, Vigilance Committees prepared to take over entirely or come to the assistance of the local authority when a service essential to the community was threatened without time being allowed for reflection or arbitration, must he an integral part of our programme. One of our five declared objects reads as follows:- " To organize the mass of taxpaying citizens for self-defence in the event of the suspension from other than legitimate causes of -essential public utility services, e.g., transport food supply, heating, lighting, &c."
The Middle Classes Union (why is there no adequate trans- lation of proletariate.and bourgeois?) has something over three hundred branches scattered up and down the country with memberships that run from 3,000 in some cases to a couple of hundred in others. Every member on joining is asked to fill up a card stating what service, if any, he or she will be prepared to undertake should there be a hold-up of an essential public utility service.
Had the Triple Alliance functioned a few weeks back, these three hundred branches were going to do their best, and would where numerically weak have, at any rate, formed nuclei round which the citizen could have rallied, but we ought to be able to do much more. A union like ours, dependent on the 2s. 6d. subscription of its members, with its hands full of political and municipal work, cannot afford the skilful whole-time organizer or the paid local secretary, who alone can make successful a broad and universally applied scheme such as you have out- lined. The thing must be done now if it is to be done at all, and if the Spectator agrees that our Vigilance Movement is founded on the right lines, and will appeal on our behalf to its large circle of readers, I believe that the obstacles which are holding us back at the moment will be easily overcome.—I am, &c., J. R. FREIMAN NEWMAN, M.P., Chairman of the Middle Classes- Union. General Buildings, Aldwych, W.C. 2.