Mary E. Marcy

They Belong Inside!

(September 1916)

From International Socialist Review, Vol. 17 No. 4, September 1916.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A NEWSPAPER reporter tells a story of an inmate of the Kankakee Insane Asylum which reminds us of the great class strike in Norway that has just been settled by the passing of an Arbitration Law.

It seems that the man in Kankakee had been adjudged harmlessly insane and was permitted to roam at will about the grounds of the institution, where he used to sit, sometimes, beneath a giant oak tree and watch the people who might pass, through the great iron bars that stood between him and liberty.

One morning at about eleven o’clock poor Sam Gaines, who sat on a bench in his favorite nook under the oak tree, beheld a worn and emaciated man climb up the hill, lugging a huge hamper filled with delicate napery, shining silver and a delectable lunch that made the half-wit’s mouth water.

From time to time he could see the hamper-bearer lift the snowy linen and gaze hungrily at the fried chicken and the fruit salad within. Then he would look eagerly toward the dusty road as though awaiting the coming of someone.

The situation puzzled the half-wit, and by and by he pressed his face against the iron bars and spoke to the man.

“Hello!” he said.

“Hello!” said the man.

“What you waiting for?” asked the half-wit.

“Guy said if I’d carry this basket up to the road, he’d give me a big feed,” replied the man.

“Humph” grunted the half-wit.

“Are you hungry?”

“Yep,” said the man.

The poor half-wit stood at the great fence and watched the hungry man and the hamper filled with food and tried to figure out the problem, but the bell rang and he left to eat his dinner. Half an hour later, when he returned, he found the hungry man still waiting, still watching for the owner of the hamper to come over the hill, and give him the big “feed.”

All during the afternoon, while the sun crept down in the West, the half-wit continued to come back to his favorite bench and to gaze at the hungry man waiting in the sun. Now and then he would repeat his earlier question:

“Hungry?” And the emaciated man would reply,

“Sure!” At seven o’clock the hungry man was still there, still guarding the beautiful hamper filled with delicious food. The half-wit took hold of the strong iron bars and looked through them. He couldn’t understand and his head ached.

“Hungry?” he asked again. “As hell!” replied the man.

“Somethin’ in the basket?” asked the half-wit.

“Chicken!” groaned the man.

“Humph!” grinned the half-wit, “you don’t belong out there. Come on inside!”

Such is the power of respect of law and of private property.

* * * * * *

The French communards, at the time when they held the city of Paris in the hollow of their hands, when they were urgently in need of money both to pay their soldiers and to feed the people, when the coffers of the great French banks were theirs for the taking, were overflowing with gold made out of the blood and sweat of the working class, the communards never even thought of taking this gold – the product of their own labors, but, by law the property of their exploiters.

The communards respected the law of their enemies which their enemies, the idle, worthless class, were not even able to enforce.

* * * * * *

So does the large part of the working class today respect the law. They may know that the great financial pirates, the great oil thieves, the great railroad bandits have paid cash to elect the congressmen who made these laws. They may suspect that the great stock speculators, great exploiters of labor may have bribed and bought governors, senators and presidents, who make the laws, and yet, once these laws are written on the statute books, the working class will sit hungry beside a hamper filled with fried chicken and respect the law.

On July first we received word that Norway had just passed thru what the capitalist class called “the most dangerous labor conflict in the history of the country, a conflict which threatened to embrace every organized workingman and a good deal of unorganized labor as well.” A correspondent for one of the Chicago newspapers writes:

“The way in which this conflict, which might have bordered on civil war, was evaded was by the sudden introduction of compulsory arbitration in all labor conflicts, with compulsory service (in the shop, mine or factory) at the time of arbitration.

“The cure was hardly less dangerous than the evil it was to cure; for had labor refused to obey the new law, which course was seriously advocated by a large minority of the labor congress at Christiania a few days ago, the country would now have been in a difficult position indeed. As it is, the danger is passed; and even if labor may take the fight up in some other form it is not likely to take forms so threatening for the whole nation.

“For a long time it had been feared that 1916 would bring on a fight between labor and employers which might cripple the industries of the country for months, be- cause the agreements in most of the different trades and industries expired during this year, and the present high cost of living in connection with the prosperity of many industries, supported by a vigorous agitation from the leaders, had made the claims of labor in most branches so high that it would have been impossible for employers to grant them without running the risk of having to do business at a great loss when the present boom is past. Offers of temporary increases were refused by the labor organizations.

“The first important conflict to be taken up was that of the mines, and it resulted in a lockout last winter which has lasted till now; then came the ironworkers’ strike and notice from the employers’ central organization of an extensive lockout in case the two conflicts just mentioned were not settled by Tuesday, June 6. The labor organizations’ answer was a strike notice which, together with strikes and lockouts already under way, would have brought the number of workingmen on strike or locked out up to 120,000 men. This number would include employees of public utility companies and transport companies. Besides there was every prospect of the rest of the workingmen being drawn in before the fight was over.

Compulsory Arbitration Favored

“Public opinion strongly demanded that the government should interfere in some way or other. In 1914 the present cabinet had proposed a law on forced arbitration, but the labor organizations threatened to order a general strike if the law was enacted, and the storthing, or parliament, did not dare to pass the law. Now the cabinet took this proposition up anew, only with a new clause being added to make the law effective only during the duration of the war. The law was quickly enacted, but as soon as the odelsting, or upper house, had passed it the labor leaders ordered a general strike and every organized workingman not bound by contract to give two weeks’ notice left work; a great number of those so bound also left work unlawfully.

“This time the storthing was not, however, to be scared away from its purpose, and on June 9 the landsting also passed the law which was sanctioned by the cabinet two hours later. On the same day a royal resolution was issued forbidding new notices of strikes or lockouts and ordering all workingmen who had already left work to return on Tuesday, June 11. By the same resolution three members of the arbitration court were appointed; they were the chief justice of the supreme court, a counsellor-at-law and a railroad director. The employers’ central organization and that of the laborers were, according to the new law, to appoint each one member, making five members altogether. The term for the appointment of these two members was set for the next day at noon. The employers promptly selected their representative, but the labor organizations’ central committee applied for and secured a delay until the following Wednesday, June 14.”

Industrial Unionism

In the meantime a labor congress was to be held at Christiania on Tuesday and Wednesday to decide whether labor was to respect the new law or not. In this congress the fight between the older leaders and the syndicalistic faction is said to have been very bitter, the former advocating resumption of work, while the syndicalists wanted to continue the strike in spite of the law. All labor bodies in Norway affiliated with the central organization are socialistic party organizations, but during the last four or five years a syndicalistic element has been introduced by Norwegian workingmen returning from the United States.

The older leaders won the day and a general resumption of work was ordered for Thursday morning, June 14. The syndicalists, however, had the meager satisfaction of blocking the appointment of a representative to the court of arbitration, and the cabinet, in accordance with the provisions of the new law, appointed the fifth member, a labor organization official. Work had then been stopped in a number of industries for two days after it should have been resumed according to the royal resolution.

New Law Stops Strike Payments

“At present there is no organized strike or lockout in effect in Norway, but in many industries the work has not been fully resumed because the laborers have left for other places, and in some cases individual obstruction undoubtedly is also exercised. But this is not expected to last for any long time, because the payment of strike money from the organization funds can be stopped under the new law.

“The cabinet acted with great firmness and dispatch in this case; but it also took a great risk, though it is probable that it held conference with prominent labor leaders and secured their assurance that they would use their influence to have labor comply with the law if it was enacted.”

Did you ever stop to consider that the present capitalist-made law, and all other man-made law is no more than a Scrap of Paper when the working class so decides? The power is not in the law itself unless it is backed up by a military force that is stronger than the useful workers of any nation. And even such a military force may be eliminated if the productive workers refuse to transport, to feed and clothe them.

The strongest army travels on its stomach, and it is the industrial workers who take care of that stomach.

And so the Norway strikers laid down when they held a glorious victory in their hands just because their enemies, who rob the working class, had their capitalist desires for arbitration written into law by their governmental servants!

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Last updated on 27 January 2023