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The Inefficiency of Strikes:
Is There Not a Better Way? (S560: 1899)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Printed on page 105 of The Labour Annual, 1899. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S560.htm

    Has not the time come when the workers should cease to employ so rude, inefficient, and wasteful a method of improving their condition as by means of STRIKES? In most cases a strike effects little or nothing of a permanent nature, nothing but what may be lost within a year or two, nothing that tends to raise the whole body of the workers in any country. The strike may have been an essential weapon in the past--perhaps the only weapon the worker possessed. Now, however, all the higher grades of workers are better educated, better organised, and have higher ideals. They have learnt the benefits of co-operation and of union; they have accumulated funds which may be reckoned by millions; and to waste those funds in keeping thousands and tens of thousands of men idle during a strike is one of those economic and social blunders which, in their effects, are often worse than crimes. Instead of keeping men idle for months, in order to obtain a small and perhaps temporary advance in wages or reduction of working hours, would it not be wiser to adopt a totally different method, one which would be much more dreaded by the employers, because it would tend to produce a permanent, instead of a temporary, rise of wages. That method is, competition with the employers instead of strikes against them; and it is to be effected by saving and accumulating all the money now spent in keeping men idle, and, as occasion arises, using it for the purpose of acquiring shops and tools by which the unemployed in each trade may be gradually absorbed and kept at work. Then, step by step, wage-earners would be withdrawn from employers' shops or factories to work in those of their union. Even if, at first, some of these shops were not able to pay full rates of wages, still the men would earn something instead of nothing, and they could hardly earn less than the usual pay during a strike.

    Of course this could not be done all at once, but only step by step; each step, however, rendering the next step easier. The great thing is, to adopt the principle of never spending money in keeping men idle when it is by any means possible to keep them at work. The larger trade unions could probably carry out this method themselves after a few years' preparation, but to work it effectively a federation of unions would be needed; and when the need was clearly seen, this would soon be effected.

    I venture to submit for the consideration of the workers that the principle of action here advocated is the only sound one. It alone tends in the direction of enabling them to become their own employers; while every step they take on this road, by withdrawing labour of all kinds from the cruel competition which compels men, and women, and children to work for the barest living rather than actually to starve, would inevitably raise the minimum as well as the maximum wage, and thus permanently benefit the whole body of their fellow-workers.

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