King Coal/Book IV/Chapter 14
Hal raised his arms as a signal for silence.
"Boys," he cried, "they've kidnapped our committee. They think they'll break our strike that way--but they'll find they've made a mistake!"
"They will! Right you are!" roared a score of voices.
"They forget that we've got a union. Hurrah for our North Valley union!"
"Hurrah! Hurrah!" The cry echoed to the canyon-walls.
"And hurrah for the big union that will back us--the United Mine-Workers of America!"
Again the yell rang out; again and again. "Hurrah for the union! Hurrah for the United Mine-Workers!" A big American miner, Ferris, was in the front of the throng, and his voice beat in Hal's ears like a steam-siren.
"Boys," Hal resumed, when at last he could be heard, "use your brains a moment. I warned you they would try to provoke you! They would like nothing better than to start a scrap here, and get a chance to smash our union! Don't forget that, boys, if they can make you fight, they'll smash the union, and the union is our only hope!"
Again came the cry: "Hurrah for the union!" Hal let them shout it in twenty languages, until they were satisfied.
"Now, boys," he went on, at last, "they've shipped out our committee. They may ship me out in the same way--"
"No, they won't!" shouted voices in the crowd. And there was a bellow of rage from Ferris. "Let them try it! We'll burn them in their beds!"
"But they _can_ ship me out!" argued Hal. "You _know_ they can beat us at that game! They can call on the sheriff, they can get the soldiers, if necessary! We can't oppose them by force--they can turn out every man, woman and child in the village, if they choose. What we have to get clear is that even that won't crush our union! Nor the big union outside, that will be backing us! We can hold out, and make them take us back in the end!"
Some of Hal's friends, seeing what he was trying to do, came to his support. "No fighting! No violence! Stand by the union!" And he went on to drive the lesson home; even though the company might evict them, the big union of the four hundred and fifty thousand mine-workers of the country would feed them, it would call out the rest of the workers in the district in sympathy. So the bosses, who thought to starve and cow them into submission, would find their mines lying permanently idle. They would be forced to give way, and the tactics of solidarity would triumph.
So Hal went on, recalling the things Olson had told him, and putting them into practice. He saw hope in their faces again, dispelling the mood of resentment and rage.
"Now, boys," said he, "I'm going in to see the superintendent for you. I'll be your committee, since they've shipped out the rest."
The steam-siren of Ferris bellowed again: "You're the boy! Joe Smith!"
"All right, men--now mind what I say! I'll see the super, and then I'll go down to Pedro, where there'll be some officers of the United Mine-workers this morning. I'll tell them the situation, and ask them to back you. That's what you want, is it?"
That was what they wanted. "Big union!"
"All right. I'll do the best I can for you, and I'll find some way to get word to you. And meantime you stand firm. The bosses will tell you lies, they'll try to deceive you, they'll send spies and trouble-makers among you--but you hold fast, and wait for the big union."
Hal stood looking at the cheering crowd. He had time to note some of the faces upturned to him. Pitiful, toil-worn faces they were, each making its separate appeal, telling its individual story of deprivation and defeat. Once more they were transfigured, shining with that wonderful new light which he had seen for the first time the previous evening. It had been crushed for a moment, but it flamed up again; it would never die in the hearts of men--once they had learned the power it gave. Nothing Hal had yet seen moved him so much as this new birth of enthusiasm. A beautiful, a terrible thing it was!
Hal looked at his brother, to see how he had been moved. What he saw on his brother's face was satisfaction, boundless relief. The matter had turned out all right! Hal was coming away!
Hal turned again to the men; somehow, after his glance at Edward, they seemed more pitiful than ever. For Edward typified the power they were facing--the unseeing, uncomprehending power that meant to crush them. The possibility of failure was revealed to Hal in a flash of emotion, overwhelming him. He saw them as they would be, when no leader was at hand to make speeches to them. He saw them waiting, their life-long habit of obedience striving to reassert itself; a thousand fears besetting them, a thousand rumours preying upon them--wild beasts set on them by their cunning enemies. They would suffer, not merely for themselves, but for their wives and children--the very same pangs of dread that Hal suffered when he thought of one old man up in Western City, whose doctors had warned him to avoid excitement.
If they stood firm, if they kept their bargain with their leader, they would be evicted from their homes, they would face the cold of the coming winter, they would face hunger and the black-list. And he, meantime--what would he be doing? What was his part of the bargain? He would interview the superintendent for them, he would turn them over to the "big union"--and then he would go off to his own life of ease and pleasure. To eat grilled steaks and hot rolls in a perfectly appointed club, with suave and softly-moving servitors at his beck! To dance at the country club with exquisite creatures of chiffon and satin, of perfume and sweet smiles and careless, happy charms! No, it was too easy! He might call that his duty to his father and brother, but he would know in his heart that it was treason to life; it was the devil, taking him onto a high mountain and showing him all the kingdoms of the earth!
Moved by a sudden impulse, Hal raised his hands once more. "Boys," he said, "we understand each other now. You'll not go back to work till the big union tells you. And I, for my part, will stand by you. Your cause is my cause, I'll go on fighting for you till you have your rights, till you can live and work as men! Is that right?"
"That's right! That's right!"
"Very good, then--we'll swear to it!" And Hal raised his hands, and the men raised theirs, and amid a storm of shouts, and a frantic waving of caps, he made them the pledge which he knew would bind his own conscience. He made it deliberately, there in his brother's presence. This was no mere charge on a trench, it was enlisting for a war! But even in that moment of fervour, Hal would have been frightened had he realised the period of that enlistment, the years of weary and desperate conflict to which he was pledging his life.