THE LABOUR WAR IN AMERICA. H ARDLY anything is so interesting
and even exciting to European politicians as the fury with which the Labour War is waged in the United States. It is so entirely contrary to all preconceived ideas upon the sub- ject, so amazing an object-lesson. The American work- men earn high wages and ought to be able to save ; they are not only free, but in many States hold the balance of power at the elections ; they are unfettered by any laws against combination, and unrestrained by any pressure ' from the directing classes ; they are all educated in a way, —that is, they have all passed through what we call Board-schools, and they all obtain food more cheap and more plentiful than the majority of our workmen. They ought, by all d priori reasoning, to be able to settle the Labour question,—that is, the just division of profit between labour and capital,—by calm and resolute bargain- ing, a method, again, which suits the national temper and the national way of doing business. Yet of all labourers in the world, except the Sicilians, who live under almost maddening conditions, the American workmen are the most furious. The moment there is any collision between them and their employers, they spring at once to arms, threaten or even murder managers, declare an active war on all who remain at work, fight the police where there are any and the armed posses called out by the Sheriffs, and deliberately inflict on the public all the injury and inconvenience in their power. On the other hand, the employers are as hard as iron, reject compromise with an obstinacy hardly known in Europe outside Spain—where, we fancy, there is always real fear that society may be upset —hire bands of armed-men under different titles, and exert their whole influence with the State Governments, and even the Central Government, to procure the support of what is really military force. The strikes are, in fact, small civil wars. Mr. Stead, in the Contemporary Review of July, has published a ghastly record of " incidents " occurring in the labour struggles of the last few months, which could not be rivalled by the incidents of all the European countries westward of the Vistula if they were put together. Murder succeeds murder,' and outrage outrage, till the bewildered student asks if ho is reading of life in the greatest of Republics or of life in some quarter-civilised State like Corea or Uganda. Those who attack use revolvers, and those who defend rifles ; neither appear to have either fear of law or confidence in law, while up to a point the out- side public looks on with a kind of half - amused indifference, which is to our minds the worst feature in the whole series of transactions. The great newspapers in the centres record events with accuracy and vigour, but leave them almost without comment, as our journals leave police reports. If a popular man is murdered, it is true the " citizens " begin to stir, and form what in Europe we should call "flying columns," with a wonderful apti- tude for battle, which has been lost on this side of the water perhaps too completely ; but we have not heard that the inhuman wretches who flung .dynamite down a shaft to blow up blacklegs, and killed ten or eleven of them, have been hung, or even hunted out of the com- munity, while this sort of thing is so frequent as almost to escape report. In May of this year, says Mr. Stead, quoting a local authority :—" Nine hundred miners started at midnight of the 23rd for Stickle Hollow to attack the Washington Coal and Coke Company's works. Several contingents joined them, making altogether 2,000 men with bands, guns, and clubs. Waited for the men to come up from the mines, and as they appeared, they summoned. them to quit work. As they were doing this, the deputies appeared from ambush behind. a car, and poured a volley into the midst of the strikers. They fled, but were pursued by continuous volleys from the deputies, who seventy-five. Five strikers were shot dead, and several wounded. Deputies say the strikers also fired.— At Fairchance the Frick Company have manned their pit with armed deputies.—At Lad, Ill., 400 drunken armed strikers seized Burlington freight train and came on to Spring Valley towards La Salle. Six companies of troops marched out to capture train. They had their sides bulging' with ball-cartridge. Dispersed the strikers, capturing three prisoners. Police report that the strikers have thousands of pounds of dynamite. Mine owners unable to account for fully ten tons. None of the local papers publish the news, the La Salle Tribune saying that if anything appeared reflecting upon the foreign element they would be blown up with dynamite. Governor Altgeld all day receiving telegrams for troops, arms, and ammunition." In the railway strike which was at its height on Tuesday, the strikers have deliberately set themselves to coerce the public, who are of course entirely innocent of offence, and have at last so roused. opinion that the President has been compelled to descend into the field.
This affair is a notable one because the revolt has not been caused by oppression. The Pullman Com- pany are accused, justly or unjustly, by their men of underpaying them, and they accordingly struck work, as they had a perfect right to do. They would, however, have been comparatively powerless, as they could be replaced with ease ; but their comrades on thirty-two railroads took up their quarrel, and instead of banning the Pullman-cars, as reasonable men would have done, stopped all trains on the systems which em- ployed those cars. Hundreds of passengers were left at small stations where it was difficult to procure even food ; more than thirty thousand bullocks destined to be eaten in Chicago were left outside to be pastured wherever their owners could buy permission, and the mighty city itself was threatened with semi-starvation, milk for the children in particular being nearly unprocurable. The Governor of Illinois did his best, but his militia were practically beaten ; and at last the Judges in Chicago having declared that the stoppage of trains was illegal—there is some stringent general Act protecting the conveyance of mails—the President ordered the regular troops of the Union to secure safe transit for the trains. That order, enormous as the territory covered is, is probably final, for the Government at Washington could not allow its regular to be defeated, and could of course, if pushed to its ultimate resources, call out forces which the whole population of the States affected could not resist for a week. There is not, we need scarcely say, the smallest sign that they wish to resist. On the contrary, the people unconnected with the strike are evidently on the side of order, and were by the last accounts slowly strengthening the Sheriffs' hands, bands of armed citizens placing themselves at these officers' disposal ; but what a picture of raging unreason the whole scene presents ! The men on strike, the few Pullmaners excepted, have no grievance, and do not plead any. The losses to the community, and especially to the railway shareholders, must exceed the whole value of the Pullman cars, while the suffering caused to passengers and intending passengers, to the poor of Chicago, and to the thousands of families involved in the strike itself, must be beyond calculation. The instant resort to violence too, the legends which will be spread of collisions between the Sheriffs and the strikers, and the repeated local victories of the latter; must tend to destroy the reverence for law, which in a country almost without police or soldiers is not only the best, but for the period which elapses between the first riots and the waking up of the central Government, the only protection of society. Every one of these little wars must leave behind it a crop of personal feuds, an intensification of class-bitternesses, and a diffused sense that trade-quarrels can only be settled by appeals to force too well organised for the central Government to interfere.
What is the real cause of all this savagery, which is utterly opposed not only to the European notion of American institutions, but to the real American character, which, though it has capacity for furious passion in it, is essentially grave and sweet ? Part of it is due no doubt to the presence of multitudes of Slays, who in insur- rection always betray a certain ferocity, and Southern Italians, who are hardly European in their defective self- control ; but there are Americans in these risings, too, and what is their provocation ? Mr. Stead says they are all fifty years behind us, and are passing through the phase of ferocity which marked our own Trade-Unionism before the anti-combination laws were swept away ; but that does not explain much. There are no anti-combination laws in the 'Union ; the people, so far as they are native born, are educated in a way, and there is nothing visible, at least to foreign eyes, to make them specially ferocious. They are not the descendants of the mean whites of the South, whose position in reference to the slaves, combined with the tinge of disgrace which adhered to manual labour, rendered them almost of necessity savage with the world. We cannot but think that the true cause is the defective organisation alike of American institutions and of American opinion. The habit of dispensing with police and soldiers outside the cities throws the Americans back upon self-defence, and the habit of self-defence in a land where arms are habitually carried, soon engenders a tendency towards 'violence, and a disregard for human life. The citizens who defend order kill and wound just as readily as those who are attacking it, the police even in the cities using clubs and revolvers with a readiness which in Europe would produce an insurrection. We should be very sorry .to trust our own strikers if there were no police to restrain them at once, and no soldiers in the back- ground, and our strikers do not carry arms, and if they kill anybody, rouse a horror which they feel just as keenly as the onlookers. And then—and this is the root of the ,matter—opinion within the Union is far feebler than in Europe. Its weight is crushing when it is felt, but then it is usually not felt by the whole community. It is divided off into compartments by the State system and the Municipal system, till every local majority, even if it be only the majority of workers in one Company's employ, feels as if, as regards opinion, it was a law to itself. The strikers feel, till the State or Washington moves, as Mr. Morley feels when he has a public meeting before him,—as if the world was on their side, and approving their acts. No one dares to condemn them audibly. The local Press is silent or applausive, the local pulpits pass the subject by, and the distant comments, often severe enough, are rendered inaudible by the distance. Control, in fact, whether from force or from opinion, is slow, feeble, and insufficient, and the workmen, stimu- lating each other, commit themselves to war before either force or opinion can be put fairly into motion. We believe that is the true explanation, though there is probably also some other connected with the economics of these disputes; and if it is so, the Americans have the remedy in their own hands. They can create a police if they like ; not, indeed, like our own, the distances being too great, and wages too high, but still an efficient mobile police with two or three central depots in each State to be at the disposal of the Governor " for the enforcement of the laws." A very small standing army of that kind in each State would double the effective power of the Sheriffs, and, above all, enable them to act rapidly, even in a cause which is locally unpopular. There is nothing whatever in a Republic which necessarily makes its Executive weak. The means of putting down riot, whether in France or Switzerland, are far more perfect than in England, and disorder is repressed by force, or rather prevented by a show of force, in those Republics in a way which, in many of our own mining districts, is still not possible. This is, we feel convinced, the first necessity of America if either Lynch-law or strike wars are to be effectually put down, though of course the final cure can come only from a reinvigoration of opinion. When murder by a mob is felt in America to be a murder, and forbidding to work is held to be as " mean" as any other form of stealing, the Labour struggle will be divested of all its incidents of savagery, and a strike will be what it should be, a refusal to work for the profit of others till a fair share of the gain returns to the man who does half the work of earning it.