The Lobby correspondent of the London “Daily News‘’ on Sept. 13th made the following significant statement:
French Strike of 1910.There are grounds for saying that some of the Ministers who are in favour of the compulsory organisation of the manhood of the country have been influenced by the history of the national railway strike in France in 1910. They believe that in case of a serious strike in this country imperilling the national safety, the power of calling up the men as soldiers would break the strike. This was what happened in France in 1910: By Oct 11 the national railway strike was general, the food supply of Paris was gravely threatened, and the whole of the country disorganised. On Oct. 13 the ringleaders were arrested under the Railway Traffic Law of 1845, and at the instance of M. Briand, the Prime Minister, 130,000 of the railway servants were put under mobilisation orders for a period of three week’s training.
The action of the French Government in calling out the railwaymen in their capacity of reservists had a double effect. It appealed to the sense of patriotism and of military discipline which animates the majority of Frenchmen, and it gave those men who returned as reservists to their work on the railway, an assurance of protection against the violence of strike pickets, and a sense of solidarity with their comrades of the active Army in full uniform who were guarding the railway stations, signals, and points. By these means the strike was broken, and on October 18 the railwaymen were ordered back to work by their own Strike Committee.
The matter of tho French strike was dealt within the “Socialist Standard” at the time and the moral of the necessity for the capture of political power by the workers was driven home, but in the present connection it is to be noted ; that the mobilisation order of 1910 was utilised to break a strike in time of peace. Clearly, then, the utility of compulsion to the ruling class is not confined to the period of war. It is as well, therefore, not to overlook the permanent consequences of conscription when analysing the motives behind the compulsory service “conspiracy.” It is, indeed, almost unthinkable that our rulers would let such a splendid opportunity as the present war slip by for making us more completely n nation of serfs.
Munition workers are already subjected to forced labour. Their work in accelerated to the point of exhaustion. .They are fined for losing a few hours. They are punished if they seek better terms and forbidden to change their employer without a certificate of permission. And they ore abused by “labour lenders,” by cabinet ministers and by journalists as slackers and worse, although they are the only portion of the nation who are actually doing the war work. The employers are not punished. The members of the idle class are not controlled or penalised. Not at all. The compulsion, the hardships, the punishments and the abuse are concentrated upon the working class who have nevertheless no share in the ordering of their industry.
The facts are so plain and the class nature of the governmental activities is so obvious that it is quite unnecessary to say more here under this particular head. Every workman who exercises his intelligence upon the statements of Ministers, of so-called labour leaders and of journalists, and ponders the findings of the munitions courts, can see a far more damning case against the ruling class in this matter than could be baldly stated. And after all is there not something of similar import in the whole history of the war?
We have long known the hollowness of much of the so-called Socialist movement in Germany, in France, and in this country ; yet such as it was all the governments have been mortally afraid of it. A prominent German statesman once said that there was a certain cure for the Socialist movement, and that was war! Prominent men in other countries have said similar things. It is part of the creed of re-action. Undoubtedly the German democratic movement in particular was most imposing, and appeared truly formidable to its ruling class. The French movement also was growing and threatening. In Russia it could only be kept under by the most violent measures of repression. In this country it was sought to emasculate the proletarian menace by absorbing its pretended leaders into the governmental party. In France this policy hud been very thoroughly carried out as the Millerands, the Briands and the Vivianis still testify. And does not this obvious capitalist fear of the working class suggest a possible reason for war, supplementary to the ordinary one of direct commercial interest ?
In France, England and Germany the workers were swept off their feel in a wave of patriotism and became an easy prey to the intrigues of the capitalist class. Russia, seemingly, continued its brutal repression simply in order to obviate any violent break with the traditions of its government. In all the belligerent countries the workers are expected, nay, compelled, to sacrifice on the altar of their master’s country all the poor concessions which industrial necessity had enabled them to win. In this sea-girt isle tho hardly won rights of labour are being rapidly annulled.
The soaring cost of living, the destruction of trade union conditions of labour, the speeding up of work, the forced labour and the menace of compulsory military service, all tend irresistibly to crush working class conditions of existence out of recognition, Even some patriotic workers are beginning to ask whether “victory” may not be too dearly bought if it is to be purchased only with the sacrifice of all the poor liberties for which their fathers fought, and at the cost of everything which to them had appeared to make working-class life barely tolerable now.
After the war the old conditions will be restored, they tell us; but who believes it? The so-called national necessities which are the pretext for the present measures will be obviously still more imperative after the war. Our masters are insistently urging the workers (with whom saving is too often a crime against the mind and body of themselves and their dependents) to put money by for the awful times that will inevitably follow the war. In view of these hard times to come what chance will there be for the restoration of pre-war conditions of labour? In any case is it not a foregone conclusion that capitalist greed and armed power will effectually bar the way ?
Although we may dimly perceive the golden gleams amidst the dark and thundrous clouds of the future, it would be folly to deny that the immediate prospect is gloomy indeed. Hemmed in by penalties and virtually gagged and bound, the free expression of opinion is rendered impossible for the present. But the seething discontent is not stilled, nor is it rendered innocuous by being denied an outlet. As they sow the wind they shall reap the whirlwind.
Many a man this day is troubled by a burning thought set alight in him by the flaming hoardings of murderous association. He sees the workers of the world being crushed to death or to worse than death between the exploitation and oppression of the ruling caste and the savage massacre of warfare. But what shall I say, he reflects, what must I say to my children years hence when they ask me, “What did you do, daddy, in the great war?” Shall I have to confess in sadness that during this great attack upon the toilers, that in this tragic episode in the class war I have failed to play a man’s part?