50 Years ago:Right to strike

Patrick Neary has been released after spending six weeks in prison. He was the leader of the recent seamen’s strike, and was sent to jail because he did not comply with a court order which told him (in effect) to give up ail connection with the strike. Some newspapers have claimed that he was imprisoned not because he was a striker, but because he disobeyed the court order. This is to reject the substance and catch at the shadow. The reason Neary went to jail was because he had been elected chairman of the strike committee, and had therefore emerged as the figurehead of the strike. The shipping companies wanted to remind the seamen of the Merchant Shipping Act, under which any striking seaman can be sent to jail. As far as the mass of strikers were concerned, the companies were perhaps afraid of having them ail sent to jail, for fear of repercussions: and so decided to call in the state machine (which after all they maintain to look after their interests) only against one man, the figurehead, Neary. Therefore Neary has had to endure for six weeks the vile indignities which are the lot of anyone in jail, because he took part in a strike and was elected chairman of the committee which ran it.

And what happened to the protests which we might have expected? The last war (our leaders told us) was fought to defend democratic freedoms. The right to withhold labour is a central democratic freedom. The alternative— sending men to jail because they refuse to work on the terms offered them by the capitalists—is slavery. But our ruling class had no objection to Neary’s sentence. Their newspapers applauded it. Let us remember this the next time our rulers want our help to ” fight for freedom and democracy.”

(from News in Review, Socialist Standard, November 1960)

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