Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/1053

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branches, in favour of a stoppage may be required before the sanction of the central executive is granted. Some unions in their rules draw a distinction between strikes to enforce new conditions (e.g. a rise of wages, a restriction of hours or of overtime) and strikes to oppose the introduction of new conditions by the employers, greater freedom being allowed to the local members in the case of “defensive” than of “offensive” strikes.

Sometimes also the executive committee, while refusing their official sanction to a strike, and declining to allow the funds of the society to be used to support the strikers, may tacitly permit a local committee to take what action it pleases and to collect funds for the purpose. Some strong unions, however, especially those which have entered into general agreements with employers' associations, not only refuse financial support to an unauthorized strike, but even expel from their society strikers who refuse to obey their order to return to work. The Boilermakers' and Iron Shipbuilders' Union has more than once taken drastic action of this kind, even to the extent of fining or superseding recalcitrant members and officials. In 1899 the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, which is a party to an agreement with the Employers' Federation (known as the “Terms of Settlement”) was fined £300 by the umpire under that agreement for failing to expel or to induce to return to work certain of their members who took part in a strike contrary to the provisions of the agreement. It sometimes happens, however, that the central committee of a trade union is not strong enough to withhold financial support even from an unauthorized strike.[1]

When a strike has been authorized by the executive, the conduct of it is frequently entrusted to a “strike committee,” appointed ad hoc, one reason being that a strike of any considerable dimensions often affects members of several unions, so that the common action necessary in a conflict with employers can only be attained by a committee representing all the societies involved. A strike committee has often no power to draw on the funds of the unions represented, each of which pays dispute pay in accordance with its rules to its own members, the financial power of the strike committee being limited to the support of non-unionists out of any funds available for the purpose, or the collection and administration of funds in case of the exhaustion of the resources of any of the unions represented.

The financial support of a local or sectional strike imposes but little strain on the resources of a large society, but where a considerable proportion of the members are affected it is usual for a union to replenish its funds by imposing a “levy” or special contribution on members remaining at work. During the engineering dispute of 1897-1898 the levies imposed by the Amalgamated Society of Engineers rose to 2s. 6d. per week, and one of the main objects of the federated employers was to diminish the revenue obtained from this source by enlarging the area of the dispute.

When there is no regular provision for the financial support of strikers, or when this provision is exhausted, the strike leaders have a much more difficult task in preventing the return to work of some of their followers; and it is in these cases that intimidation and violence are most to be apprehended. In all strikes, however, except in the few cases in which the whole of the workmen in the trade are in the union, and the skill required is such that no new labour can enter the trade during the dispute, there is the possibility of the strikers being replaced by other labour, and the efforts of the strike organizers are largely directed to the prevention of this by all means in their power. The chief method employed has generally been that known as “picketing,” viz. the placing of members of the union to watch the approaches to the works or factories affected, to give information as to the strike to any workmen who attempt to enter, and to endeavour to dissuade them from accepting employment.

Other methods of preventing workmen from taking the place of strikers may also be adopted or attempted, ranging from the publication of information in leaflets or otherwise as to the existence of a dispute, or appeals to workmen to avoid the works affected, to systematic annoyance or intimidation of workmen who take or retain employment during a stoppage by threats or by actual violence and outrage.

The methods adopted by strikers and strike organizers naturally suggest the counter measures adopted by employers. To break down the resistance of a body of work-people supplied with a weekly strike allowance by a powerful trade union employers sometimes have recourse to some method of mutual indemnification by which the financially weaker of their number are temporarily subsidized by the stronger, whether through the machinery of a permanent employers' association or of an emergency committee. Employers' associations being usually composed of much smaller numbers than trade unions, are, as a rule, able to act in concert with greater secrecy and less formality than is possible in a workmen's union. Apart from any financial support which employers may guarantee their colleagues when attacked by a trade union, they have in some cases formed or aided organizations for the systematic provision of a reserve of “free labourers” available to replace men on strike. By “free labourers” is meant not necessarily non-unionist, but labourers pledged to work amicably with others whether members of a union or not. The Shipping Federation, an organization of shipowners and shipowners' associations which was formed in 1890 to combat the strikes than prevalent Free Labour. among seamen, arranged a system of shipping offices at which seamen could be engaged who were prepared to give a pledge that they would work with non-unionists. They also opened similar offices for shore labourers in some ports. Other independent agencies exist for supplying employers with labour during a dispute. It is not uncommon, in disputes in which there is any apprehension of intimidation or violence, for employers to board and lodge the imported work-people. Another method on which employers in recent years showed an increased tendency to rely was the institution of legal proceedings to restrain individual strikers or the union to which they belong from taking wrongful action injurious to their business. This led to the passage of the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 legalizing several forms of action by strikers which the courts had declared illegal (see below). There has been no attempt in England to induce the courts to restrain bodies of work-people from striking by injunction, as has been frequently done in American strikes affecting inter-state commerce. In many disputes the attitude of public opinion is of some importance in determining the results, and accordingly both sides frequently issue statements or manifestoes giving their versions of the difference, and in other ways (e.g. by an offer of arbitration) one party or the other endeavours to enlist public opinion on its side.

Public Action with regard to Strikes and Lock-outs.

Though the majority of labour disputes have little importance for third parties, stoppages of this kind sometimes acquire a special interest for the general public either by reason of the large number of work-people whose livelihood is affected, or of their indirect effects on employment in kindred trades, or of the danger and inconvenience that may be caused to the public, or of the fear that industry may be diverted abroad, or that a breach of the peace may be caused by attempts on the part of the strikers to coerce persons outside their combinations. For these and other reasons, strikes and lock-outs are usually regarded as a class of disputes in which legislative interference has more justification than in the case of other kinds of industrial and commercial differences.

Legislative action, with the view of providing alternative methods of adjusting labour difficulties, is discussed in the article Arbitration and Conciliation. It is there shown that in New Zealand, New South Wales, Western Australia, the commonwealth of Australia and Canada (for certain industries) alternative methods have been made compulsory, but there are indications that the great majority of employers

  1. Noteworthy in this respect was the strike of boilermakers on the Tyne in 1910, in defiance of their executive.