RECENT LABOR STRIKES.

RECENT LABOR STRIKES.

THE strike of the street car conductors and drivers in this city last week and of 9000 employees on the Western railroads, known as the Gould system, indicate that the organization of labor in this country has reached a degree of perfection never before attained. This has been rendered necessary by the numerous aggressions upon the rights of labor made by the great corporations of the country, that are so greedy in accumulating wealth that their employees have been reduced to starvation wages. The policy of these corporations seems to have been to get the greatest amount of labor out of their employees at the least possible cost, and the aggressive attitude and arbitrary conduct assumed by the managers of these corporations have driven labor to the verge of desperation. For many years the laboring men have seen the rich growing richer and the poor poorer,” until forbearance ceased to be a virtue. Their resistance to these encroachments heretofore, when taking the form of strikes, have too often failed because of their lack of organization. But the strikes just terminated or now pending show that the working men have improved the dull times of the last few years by perfecting their organization to such a degree that the orders issued by the executive committee of the Knights of Labor are implicitly obeyed by thousands upon thousands of workingmen. In this city when the order was given to “ tie up,” every car was run into the stables, and not a driver, conductor or stableman could be found to do a stroke of work in order to keep them running. As a result, for nearly the whole of one busy day not a street car was running in New York, and on seven lines in Brooklyn traffic was also entirely suspended. The police were powerless, and the strikers had their own way. Managers of the roads had no alternative but to accede to the demands of the laboring men. As these demands were reasonable, and as no violence was indulged in by the strikers, public sympathy was in their favor from the first, and there was general rejoicing when they triumphed. One effect of this thorough organization of labor is seen in the control that is exercised by the leaders over the men on strike; but for such organization New York city would last week have been a scene of riot and bloodshed, but the orders from the executive committee were simply to stop work and not to disturb property in any way. As a consequence, there was no disturbance, and but for the absence of the street cars in the city it would not have been known that a labor demonstration of immense proportions was in progress. The same conditions have marked the strike of the employees of the Gould system of railroads. The men simply decline to work until their grievances are redressed, but in no’way have they indulged in or countenanced the destruction of property or street disturbances. This very thorough organization of labor in the different trades, most of which are represented in the central organization known as the Knights of Labor, introduces a new and powerful factor in the commercial and industrial conditions of the country. What it may ultimately lead to time alone can tell. The indications, however, are that there is an impending conflict between labor and capital that cannot much longer be delayed. In the face of thorough organization, employing capital is virtually at the mercy of its employees. So long as the demands of the latter are reasonable and just, the sympathy of the general public will be with them, and will sustain them in all reasonable efforts to improve their condition. A grave responsibility, however, rests upon the men controlling the Knights of Labor. Thus far they have shown themselves to be possessed of diplomatic and executive ability of a high order, and not inclined to make unreasonable demands, while, at the same time, they have shown a readiness to make concessions and to meet the employing classes at least half way in adjusting difficulties between them. They claim that one of their objects is to reduce the hours of labor for the purpose of providing employment for more men, thousands of whom are now idle. They have expressed a willingness to accept a reduction of payment for the men employed, proportioned to the reduction of the hours of service, thus making opportunity for the employment of more men. This is certainly to be commended, as is anything that will furnish employment to the great army of unemployed. The great corporations of the country, which derive all their rights from the people, are largely to blame for having brought about this contention between labor and capital. They have persistently ignored the rights of the people and devoted themselves to self-aggrandizement, resorting to many questionable and absolutely dishonest means to enrich themselves, while denying to their employees such consideration as is due to every human being. They have over-worked them, underpaid them, treated them with the greatest harshness and handled them as though they were so many machines instead of men of flesh and blood, having all the attributes of humanity. Out of these great corporations have sprung the majority of our millionaires, whose ostentatious display of suddenly accumulated wealth has tended greatly to aggravate and drive to desperation the men whose toil was the stepping-stone to their wealth. The most successful means thus far adopted for the settlement of the controversies between labor apd capital have been arbitration. In the case of the street car controversies, Commissioner O’Donnell came upon the scene and, in his individual capacity, had the confidence of both sides, and in a very short time succeeded in reaching an agreement between the railway managers and their employees that was satisfactory to both, and the men at once resumed work. They have asked for similar arbitration in the Western railway strike, and the probability is that it will be granted and a settlement of the difficulty arranged. These labor organizations should bear in mind the fact that these railroad corporations have become public institutions, necessary for the transaction of the industrial and commercial business of the country, and that to a certain extent their employees are in the public service. So long as they confine their protests against oppression to simply refusing to work they will be sustained by the public, but if they resort to rioting or to the destruction of property, or adopt means of intimidation, there will come a reaction, public sentiment will be changed and become adverse to them, and without the moral support of the public the strikers can scarcely hope for’ success. They may temporarily gain their point, but an outraged public will remember the wrongs done, and, in its own good time, will have its redress. The situation is a delicate one at present, and must be treated with judgment and discretion or serious trouble will result. When laboring men and mechanics in private employ enter upon a strike, the conditions to be considered are very different from those where corporations are the alleged oppressors. It is necessary where strikes occur in our great industries that the strikers should consider all questions impartially, and strive to see matters from the employer’s standpoint as well as from their own. In no other way can justice be secured. The great principles of supply and demand control all our industrial enterprises, while over-production and excessive competition are factors that go far to establish the commercial value of the products of industry. These points are too apt to be ignored by laboring men when brought in conflict with their employers, and they fail to recognize all the conditions necessary to convert their labor into money. It has of late years been a frequent occurrence that factories and mills have been kept running without profit to their owners, simply for the purpose of keeping their hands employed and giving them an equivalent in money for their labor and skill. Employers are as much entitled to compensation for their time and for the capital placed at risk, as are the workingmen to pay for their labor. If the latter become unreasonable in their demands, or oppressive in the methods adopted to enforce them, their demonstrations are doomed to ultimate failure. When all questions that may arise are submitted to arbitration, the necessity for strikes will have been largely overcome. All great demonstrations tend to increase the danger from fires. Strikes, like those on the railroads referred to, tend to produce street disorders and possible riots, leading to the destruction of property. When the passions of men become ungovernable, as is always likely to be the case in times of excitement, there is no predicting the lengths they may go to. At the time of the Pittsburgh railroad riots, the incendiary torch was applied, and millions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed. All labor demonstrations tend to disturb the order and quiet of the community, and the greatest vigilance is called for to prevent disaster. They impose additional labor upon the police, and firemen as well, for the latter must be constantly on the alert day and night lest a fire gets under headway and leads to a conflagration. Every disturbance of the public equilibrium imposes burdens upon the guardians of the public interests.

No posts to display