The Railworkers' "Victory"

S. J. Rutgers

Published: International Socialist Review, vol. 17, no. 5. November 1916. Pages 271-272.
Transcription/Markup: Micah Muer, 2021.

It is the worst of all policies to deceive yourself, to claim victory when you are beaten.

The new laws proposed and partly passed by Congress leave the railroad workers to be exploited sixteen hours as before the "victory" and the sixteen hours may even be increased by simply recording the fact to the proper authority, which has been done, and will most likely be done hereafter in hundreds of thousands of cases.

In dropping the punitive overtime the leaders, who, from the very beginning of negotiations, looked for an opportunity to do some kind of a trade and to avoid a strike, dropped the eight-hour working day.

The new laws are only another example to show that all capitalist officials, be it a president or a policeman, are bound to talk or to club labor into submission, and that no fraud is bad enough but that it is considered worthy for that purpose. Is it not an insult to the intelligence of American labor to hear Mr. Wilson advocate a set of laws, the object of which is to crush the fight of labor, by saying that public sentiment nowadays is in favor of an eight-hour working day and proposing a law called "eight-hour law," which he knows perfectly has nothing to do with a working day of eight hours?

But how about the increase in wages? One-fifth of the railroads did already figure their wages upon an eight-hour basis. And as the "hundred mile" basis remains in force this excludes a great number of passenger train crews from the benefit. Soon the increase in freight charges will have been secured to an amount several times greater than all possible wage increases, it being absolutely impossible for a commission to control the administration of the clever railroad managers. The speeding up of freight trains will do away with the greater part of whatever expenses may come to the railroads and will leave a fair amount of clean profit. At the same time the work of the trainmen will have been intensified without reducing the work-day.

These results, very meagre indeed, have been "conquered" after preparing for a fight during the last three years, after building up a strong organization with millions and millions of dollars in its treasuries and under circumstances extraordinarily favorable to labor—circumstances which most likely will not return for any length of time.

The wage increases, which will be, at most, 25 per cent, but will dwindle down to perhaps 10 per cent or less, are given at a time when, according to the capitalist index figures of Bradstreet, the food prices have increased 36 per cent in the last two years. And one month after a capitalist commission will be through with its investigations, which are sure to result in an increase of freight rates, the railroads will be free to suggest all kinds of new frauds to cut down the wages of the "loyal" workers.

This "victory" would be shameful enough, but the worst is still to come. Together with the so-called "eight-hour law," and a law that practically increases the freight rates, of which increase labor will have to pay the greater part, there have been proposed two other laws which were not rushed through at that time, but which by no means have been withdrawn.

To the contrary, President Wilson has most solemnly pledged himself to take this matter up immediately after his reelection, and labor did not even protest seriously. About the law to draft railroad men into the army in case of military urgency, the labor leaders declared that, altho not in favor of drafting in general, they would accept this special draft for "military urgency," at the same time declaring their most loyal feelings to defend a country and an administration that gave an "eight-hour law," enabling the leaders to deceive the rank and file.

Those workers, however, who did not go crazy because President Wilson shook hands with more than six hundred of their own inferior class, will be compelled to admit that the capitalist class will be sure to declare it a "military urgency" if a labor revolt or a labor strike should threaten their profits. And what is not less important just now, our fight against militarism and war gets a setback that could not even be compensated for by a few more dollars of wage increase.

The most humiliating part, however, in this well staged drama is the compulsory arbitration, the very principle against which the railroad workers were supposed to fight, and which is to be enacted in a special law. What did the labor leaders answer to this insult? They declared that they are opposed to such a law, but that if Congress passed the law, they would have to accept it altho they would continue fighting the law. No indignation, no threatening whatever, with serious fighting opposition. Is this the language of representatives of an army of 400,000 prepared to fight and in command of the situation?

If labor has to submit to such an infamy, it should not claim a victory, and if there is any common sense left, it will not support a President on the recommendation of the very fraud with which he is to forge new chains to enslave labor.

There is one hope left to redress, at least in part, what has been spoiled by the losing fight of the leaders. This hope lies in a relentless opposition of the rank and file against compulsory arbitration and a clear understanding that a strike as planned this summer will not be too high a price if it goes to prevent this reactionary legislation, which will be a stumbling block for all future action.

But whatever labor may decide to do, there should be at least a clear understanding of facts and no illusions, no show of power and victory to mask lack of vitality and defeat.

The street car strikers in New York after their first strike have submitted to a fraud and are being punished for it in a second strike, which is waged under much more unfavorable conditions, and the railroad workers will most likely awake soon to get the same kind of experience. May all the misery and pain at least result in a growing understanding, in a clear notion that each worker of the rank and file has to do his own bit of thinking and must be prepared to stick to his class struggle in the near future under conditions where only organized mass action will have any chance against the combined and trustified capitalists in the period of Imperialism.