J. Bruce Glasier

Socialism and Strikes


MANIFESTLY, then, the problem now before the workers is not how they can best strive by combination, and if need be by strikes, to compel their masters to give them an increase of wages or a reduction of hours; but rather how they can soonest and best obtain possession of all the wealth, and avail themselves of all the leisure which their own industry entitles them to. And it is surely equally clear that they never can gain these except by undoing the power of their masters altogether, by themselves regaining possession of the land and other instruments of industry which have been cultivated or created by their own and their forefathers’ intelligence and toil.

In other words, the workers must strike, if they would strike with enduring results, not against the effects of monopoly, hut against monopoly itself; not against the conditions which their masters impose upon them, but against the power of their masters to impose conditions at all.

And how can this be done? Only by, it is obvious, exercising their sovereignty as the PEOPLE, and declaring void all the legal claims and customs by which their masters hold possession of their wealth and dominion over the workers’ lives. By, in fact, asserting their own just right and actual might over the spurious rights and fictitious might of those who have appropriated the land and capital of the country. For it is only in the name of and by the assumed consent of the people that their intolerable privileges are preserved by the legal statutes and the power of the military and police; and so soon as the people choose, they can in their own name, and of their own will, revoke these statutes; and, if need be, which is not likely, call upcn the military and police to give effect to their decrees, or, what would be more effectual, disband these discredited agents of law and order altogether.

Thus we see that it is by combining and striking politically as the People against the system of monopoly itself, rather than by combining and striking as wage slaves against the mere operations of the system, that the freedom and wealth of the working classes can be regained. But the question comes – how can we strike politically? How can we dislodge the rich people from all the places of council and administration which they occupy in the land without at the same time producing great disturbances, probably bloodshed, and raaybe landing ourselves in a worse predicament than before? Give us, it may be asked, some practical proposal, something that we can set about doing now, not something which perhaps we ought to do, but which we cannot do all of a heap until may be many generations to come. Very good. Butastounding as it may seem at first sight, the most practical, the simplest, and the most equitable proposal that can be made is for us to do it now and completely when we are at it! Half truths are usually worse than whole lies; and half, quarter, and hundredth part measures of justice are, to say the least of it, generally little better than no justice at all. One of the greatest of the seeming justifications of political conservatism is the fact that so many half or quarter measures of reform have been tried in place of whole ones, and have, not only failed to accomplish their object, but have made matters worse than before. Half loaves may be better than no bread, but half an oven cannot bake them. It isn’t political loaves we want. It is access to the ovens. If we don’t have access to the ovens, and bake our bread ourselves, it will be sorry half loaves that we will get, more likely half bricks!

In many countries now, insurrectionary methods have been resorted to by strikers without visible success save as a costly political demonstration. Violent rebellion on the part of a portion of the workers is a hopeless expedient, so long as they must count upon the opposition of the forces of the State, backed up by the political support of the majority of the people, including the majority of the working class. When the insurrectionists form or can hope by any manifestation of their resolution, to form the majority, they can then also form the State, and physical rebellion will be unnecessary. However heroic an appeal to guns, swords, and dynamite – the weapons of imperial and religious barbarism – may sound, it nevertheless resolves itself eventually into a prosaic counting of noses; and noses may as well be counted peacefully and accurately at the ballot box, as turbulently and inaccurately amid the dripping uf blood and splashing of brains. Whatever is established by the sword has usually to be secured by chains, you cannot displace one force without replacing it by another. When the workers are opposed by physical force, the workers – certainly the Rebel section – will not hesitate to resort to it also: but meanwhile it is not the force of the landlords and capitalists, nor of their armies nor police, that keeps the workers in servitude or keeps back Socialism, but the ignorance and apathy and the force of the workers themselves. The Social Revolution is not the despotism of a class but the co-operation of the people.

Hitherto the House of Commons, Municipal Councils, School Boards and all other administrative bodies which derive their authority and their funds from the people, of which the workers form the egregious majority, have been mainly, and often exclusively, composed of their masters – the landlords, employers of labour, rich merchants, and their legal abettors; and the people have placed them there. They have voted for them because they are so much accustomed to doing as they are bid in their factories and workshops that they follow their masters’ call even into the polling booth!

Trade Unionists feel deeply incensed when their fellow workmen "blackleg" during a strike; but a man may blackleg against Labour in the ballot-box as well as in the workshop. And the Trade Unionist who votes for an employer of labour, or a landlord, or for any other than an avowed Socialist, is guilty of a far mote hurtful and disgusting form of blacklegging than is the poor unemployed workman who hastens to take the job of a man on strike.

If a fraction of the money spent unavailingly on strikes were devoted to direct political effort, within the next five years the workers could turn every landlord and capitalist out of every legislative and administrative body in the land and put in Socialist delegates instead. They could thus, without confusion and without fear, become themselves the possessors of their own land, and all the stores, factories, machinery, mines, railways, ships, and other useful things which have been created by their own and their fathers’ labour and skill, and use them in the interest of the whole community. They could arrange and manage their own industries just as they manage their own National Postal and Educational Systems today, their various Municipal undertakings, their co-operative stores, their trade and friendly societies, etc., only with this difference, that the wealth produced would be for the common advantage of all who helped in its production or otherwise served the community, and not chiefly for the advantage of particular classes or highly-paid officials. They could make sure that everyone had an opportunity of assisting in the production of wealth, and that everyone had an opportunity of enjoying it. The old, the sick, the physically or mentally unfit would be as tenderly cared for as our own children, and neither hardship for today nor anxiety for tomorrow would mar the excellence of our lives.

The realisation of such a state of society would surely be worth striving, worth striking for. And when we bear in mind that it could be done in the course of a year or two, by availing ourselves of our rights and performing our public duties as citizens, surely we ought to be ashamed of our apathy, iand of the miserable makeshift of strikes, which has served as the utmost manifestation of our manhood’s courage and intelligence for so long.


Last updated on 9.11.2007