AN INQUIRY INTO PEACEFUL PICKETING.
ik.FTER all the turmoil of the recent strike of trans- port workers one fact clearly emerges, namely, the necessity for a prompt and thorough inquiry into the question of what is called peaceful picketing. The first thing is to ascertain the facts. The trade unionists con- tend that picketing as at present practised is really peaceful, with the exception of some occasional and un- authorized acts of violence. Mr. Asquith in the reply which he made to a. deputation of chambers of commerce of the kingdom appeared to share this opinion, for he stated that there had been much less violence and disturbance in connexion with trade disputes in recent years than there used to be twenty years ago. An answer was promptly given by one of the members of the deputation, Mr. Baird, who said that lie thought the probable reason was that those who were anxious and willing to work wore so intimidated nowadays that they dared not work at all. . Certainly, so far as it is possible to gather the reality of facts from the newspaper reports, this explanation seems to be justified. If workmen are so terrorized that they dare not even attempt to defy the trade unions, then it is perfectly possible for a union to carry on a strike with all the appearance of peacefulness and legality, though in real fact a large number of men would be only too willing to work if they dared to do so. In fairness to the unions we must, of course, admit that there is another possible explanation. It may be that opinion is so unanimous among working men in favour of upholding their union, even when they do not agree with it, that intimidation is neither required nor practised. It may be so, but certainly the published facts present another appearance. Take, for example, some of the cases reported from the police courts on one day alone. First, we have two men charged with intimidating a man named Dove with a view to preventing him from going to work. In this case Dove, a ship's fireman, defended himself by shooting one of his assailants in the foot with a revolver, and was separately charged for that offence. A remand was granted in both cases, and we do not venture to suggest on which side justice lay ; but it is fairly obvious that if a. workman who is a non-unionist goes about carry- ing a revolver to protect himself he, at any rate, must expect the possibility of violent treatment at the hands of the unionists. Among other cases are the following. A gas stoker was fined 45 for pulling a lad of nineteen, who was driving his father's horse, off the van. He struck the lad several blows and dragged him to the ground, where he was repeatedly kicked. It is interesting to note that in this case the victim was assisted by a small boy in the crowd, who gave him a belt with which he defended himself. In another case a policeman, who entered the court lame and with his bead bandaged, deposed that he had been assaulted in a crowd ; that he fell to the ground and was kicked on the head by two men, one of whom also struck him across the back with a stick. This case was committed for trial. In another case a, labourer was sent to twenty-one days' imprisonment for pulling a carman off his van.
These are samples of the cases which have occurred frequently in recent strikes. If the trade unionists, as they assert, really condemn these gross acts of violence it is a pity that they do not make their condemnation public. So far as we have been able to see, after. following very carefully the speeches of trade-union leaders for several weeks past, on no single occasion . has any. leader emphatically condemned the use of violence. On the other hand, men like Mr. Tillett have gone very far indeed towards openly inciting workmen to use violent methods, to gain their ends. There is therefore a strong prtma facie case for the view that intimidation is covertly. recog- nized by trade-union leaders as a weapon for carrying. out their objects. If that be so it is the bounden duty ot the m State to take steps to put a stop to a for of interference with the liberty of the subject which no man dares openly to justify. On this point Mr. Asquith, in reply to the deputation above referred to, was as clear and as emphatic as he is always able to be when he chooses. He deprecated, "not only on general grounds, but in the interests of labour, any form of intimidation of any kind," and he was evidently not a little impressed with the suggestion that picketing should be restricted to a limited number of pickets, who should wear badges so that they might be identified. This, we may add, is a proposal put forward in a Bill which has been drafted by the British Constitution Association with the valuable aid of their assistant secretary, Mr. W. V. Osborne, the hero of the famous Osborne Judg- ment. The proposal made is that in no circumstances should more than two pickets be allowed ; that they should wear badges ; and that they should only attend at the place of work and not at the home of the workman. This latter provision is extremely important. It is comparatively easy for the police, if they receive adequate encouragement from their Parliamentary superiors, to give protection to work- men in factory or in workshop. It is almost impossible to give adequate protection to every workman in his own home, and it is clear that a militant trade unionist—if we may borrow an adjective from another connexion—is able to exert the strongest pressure upon men who only ask to be left to earn their living in peace. Stories reach us of the way in which working men's wives are threatened by strikers, and their gardens, to which perhaps they have devoted half a year of the labour of love, are trampled down in one night and utterly ruined as a hint to the workman that he must obey the orders of the union. Even if, as Mr. Asquith suggested, there are subtler forms of pressure still more effective than these gross methods of intimidation that is no reason why the State should permit the grosser forms to flourish unchecked. In this connexion there is a very significant letter in the Times from Sir Robert Anderson, who speaks with the authority of long experience as head of the Detective Department of the London Police Force. He declares categorically that the police are hampered in their duties by orders from the Home Office inspired by political motives. " I speak with knowledge when I say that the work- ing officers of the Force are becoming demoralized. To any one who knows the men of the Metropolitan Police the facts make it as clear as light that they are afraid to act, believing that if they do their duty they may incur Home Office censure instead of, as in former days, receiving commendation and rewards." • This is a very serious charge, and the mere fact that it should be made by a man with Sir Robert Anderson's record is alone sufficient ground for the immediate institu- tion of a thorough inquiry into the whole matter. We want to get at the facts ; we want to know whether trade unions do, as on the surface appears, deliberately en- courage acts of intimidation in order to enforce their will ; we want to know whether the acts of violence which do occur are the results of a definite policy or whether they are the mere casual outbreaks of irre- sponsible men who have, in effect, lost control of themselves as they see the end for which they have struck slipping from them. Still more is it necessary to ascertain whether the comparative peacefulness of some modern strikes is due to the voluntary acquiescence of large masses of the workpeople in the policy of their leaders, Or whether it is the result of a terrorism so complete that only the most courageous individuals dare to defy the union. These are facts which can be ascertained, and which ought to be ascertained, without delay. If the Government declines to institute the necessary inquiry the public will draw its own conclusions. Already there is a widespread suspicion that a section of the Cabinet is more concerned to maintain the favourable opinion of the Labour leaders in the House of Commons than to enforce the King's peace. Mr. Asquith obviously does not himself belong to that section, but unfortunately since he became Premier he has more than once let it appear that his considered judgment may easily be upset by pressure from his colleagues. Who those colleagues are the public has a shrewd suspicion. It is for them to clear themselves even in their own interests. They have made the mistake, common with politicians, of imagining that the opinion of some organized group of politicians such as the Labour Party in the House of Com- mons necessarily represents the mass of the people in the country. We are convinced that in every class of English society there is a vast body, both of men and women, who attach supreme importance to obedience to the law, and if Mr. McKenna could make a private tour, like Haroun-al- Raschid of old, through some of the poorest slums of the East End he would hear himself there bitterly denounced for the tenderness he has shown both to Suffragettes and to Labour leaders.
As to the view of picketing sometimes—we devoutly trust not usually—held among trade unionists, we desire to draw the attention of our readers to a letter from a trade unionist published in our columns under the heading "The Liberty to Work." The last sentence, so far as we can see, is intended to mean that trade unionists, though they may regret the necessity, will "condone much" if the object is to keep up wages. We venture to say that in the end this will prove an unsure founda- tion for the cause of labour. No cause based on a, negation of morality and liberty will finally succeed. Cruelty, injustice, and willingness to assert that evil means may be condoned by good ends always bring failure in their train.