ON THE STRIKE
Israel Mattuck, 23 October 1920
It is, I suppose, fair to assume that some of us here - as a proportion of all congregations - come to public worship with a desire for removal from the affairs of the world to the point of complete forgetfulness.
Worship, especially in association with others, may in some generate an emotional glow spreading through fibres of the head and sending the sweet joy of obliviousness over the mind. I can hear such people say - we come here to forget the troubles, difficulties and puzzles of the life outside - and to remind us of any of these is to thwart our desire perhaps at the very moment of its accomplishment. But because I believe that the aim worship is not to make us forget the world but to illumine it, not to obscure the problems of life but to help find a way of solution for them, not to conceal difficulties but to increase strength to face them, it becomes my duty to maintain as best I can a relation, a contrast, between our worship and the world outside, even when it is full of things and happenings we should gladly forget if we might. And if our views about these things do not agree, such differences do not remove the obligation for us to think about them together with the intention to apply those religious principles which we hold in common and to judge issues by the light of those principles. I think - frankly that when we are faced by grave matters, it is not enough for religion to say - "Pray that a good issue may come." But something more practical is required in addition. The light of religious teaching must be turned in upon these issues to show what is right and what is wrong - what is desirable and what not for the expression of the best ideals of man.
For this reason and in this spirit I ask you now to think about the strike. It is a serious matter, serious enough in actuality and even more serious in possibility. The atmosphere of tense calmness in which it was begun is a good thing, but also, I fear, ominous. For reasons that must be patent to us fill, I cannot help feeling that we have before us a condition something like that in a kettle with water brought near to the seething point. . But it is, think, hopeful not only for the present but for the future, too, that the question of the strike was faced, and the strike itself begun, with a mighty sense of responsibility. We have heard, and probably shall hear more, of the holiday mood of the miners. But that does not mean irresponsibility any more than the coal-owners, or even the members of the government, would be accused of irresponsibility if any of them indulged in a game of golf! And we, who are outside the centre, though not unaffected, by what happens there must share in that sense of responsibility by seeking to establish in ourselves an attitude that shall be fair to those most closely involved and form a fair judgment on the issues.
Let us not be lulled into underrating the moral or social importance of the strike by the cry that it is a wrangle over some ten shillings a week. The amount of wages represents a man's plan in life - how well or ill he can live, whether he can have a decent home for his family, what food he can give them, how well he can clothe them, what degree of education he can afford for his children, what share he and his family may have in the joys of life. The plea for more rests upon the twofold basis - that he is entitled to more and that he needs more. But if our own experiences, or some rather exaggerated, or even very realistic tales that we have heard make us doubt whether, indeed, the sum, if gotten, would be used for good purposes, let us keep in mind, for the sake of fairness, that the working-people are even like others, with similar loves, aspirations and inclinations, and, I should venture to add with an equal degree of intelligence. No, they have not the amount of education that other classes may possess; one of their own number has told us that the miners are not university men. But neither are ninety per cent of the rest of us. But as for intelligence - which really has nothing to do with university education, the working-man is not behind others. And some who did not know this before have learned since the war when they have found themselves more and more working in social and governmental affairs side by side with just ordinary working-men. I want to point out these things because I cannot help feeling that many of us - perhaps without really knowing it - form our judgment with a feeling that the working-man is an inferior being - less reasonable, and perhaps even less civilized than ourselves! Fairness requires that we see them for what they are - human beings quite like ourselves! That may be good, bad or indifferent - but the same natures, desires, and reasons work in us all - and we all respond to the same ideals.
It may be natural to feel some resentment toward those who seem to be immediately responsible for an incident working havoc to the industry of the country, and a position full of danger of greater harm. We are all affected by the strike of the miners - though we are most of us outside the parties to the dispute and have had no say in the work of conciliation, except in so far as we feel our views expressed through the Government. That discloses the universal character of the strike. That it is non-moral is even superficially evident. It is - like war - a recourse to the arbitrament of force where moral principles should, more often than not, be the deciding factors.
And like war it takes its price in misery, suffering, and perhaps even death. Who can estimate the amount of real evil that a prolonged coal strike would do? Even a very little imagination can see the misery of the families starving because of no work and the weaker lives perhaps even completely crushed out by the addition of pressure to a burden already heavy. The hurt is not confined to those who are responsible, I mean the two contending parties, but spreads to the whole social fabric. You and I must feel the effects of a coal strike. And if we were engineers or workers in any sort of factory, we may for a time lose our means of livelihood, with no promise of later recuperation, either. It is all so unfair, so immoral!
Yet the use of the strike is inevitable in the present temper and condition of industry. And I have to believe that its justification is supplied by them. Only by it can the working-man defend himself against unjust exploitation - or improve his living conditions. The strike forms an integral part of collection bargaining. Let us ask ourselves - and frankly answer - what chance would the working man have had to improve his condition if he had not adopted the method of collective bargaining and strengthened his collective position by means of the strike? We have even in our own time seen the, need of many changes in favour of the working-classes. And how have they been brought about? By the free-will offers of employers? Or by the unsolicited action of governments? Only a short time ago, we were shocked to learn about the horrible conditions under which the miners worked and had to live. We learned about them because the miners threatened to strike. And the improvements that came through the Sankey commission which all recognised as necessary in the name of the barest human justice, came because the threat of a strike made the Government act. The purpose of this argument is to show that the strike exists by virtue of the failure of modern industrialism to humanize itself. If employers had always been on the look-out for ways and means to promote the human welfare their workers - of if, because of their neglect, governments undertook that task, as in some details they finally did, we should have been saved the trouble and the ignominy - for it is a disgrace to our civilization - of the strike!
But because of the advantage which the strength of concentrated financial power took over the work and lives of men, there was created an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust; and that is the root of all our industrial troubles.
Suspicion, distrust, is the origin of the present strike. The miners distrusted the coal-owners - and so rejected the offer of an increase of wages conditional upon increased output. The amount of coal we produce - said they - depends not only on ourselves, on the amount of work we do, but also on the kind of seams we have to work, whether they be good or poor, on the facilities given us for our work, from the means of getting down into the mines to the wagons for loading the coal when digged. These things depend on the coal-owners and we don't trust them. Whether they are right or not is not for us to say. But distrust cannot be removed by arguments but by a series of actions that shall replace it - as it were - from below by a structure of confidence. This, however, must be evident that an argument on a rate of wages adjusted to the amount of output cannot be a permanent solution. For if a time come - as we must suppose it will - when the price of coal is less, the owners’ and the miners' interests are bound to come into conflict after the prices had fallen below a certain point. Avery possible conflict of interest between employers and employed casts its chilling shadow before it.
Again, the miners' refusal to submit their ease to a tribunal - "Only a short time ago"- say they -"this same Government put us off from a strike by the suggestion of a Commission to whom all the points at issue were to he submitted. We agreed. Yet, on one of the points submitted which the Commission decided in accord with our views, the government refused to abide by the decision. So now we don't trust the Government." Are they right or wrong? Moreover, the Government is itself concerned in the dispute - it has to lose or gain by the outcome.
The distrust is, of course, mutual, as distrust always is. The owners and the government do not trust the miners any more than the miners trust them. You promised more coal - they say to the miners - when you got the last increase in wages, but you did not fulfil the promise. It is only fair to the miners to say that their reply which has not been contradicted is that the owners are to blame.
We should all agree that an industrial organization so infected by this distrust is inefficient, and morally wrong. It means the constant presence of a state of war - mostly latent, true: but vastly destructive when it comes forth. And I believe that we are faced with a prospect of aggravation. The developing social consciousness of the working classes - some would prefer calling it self-consciousness, at any rate it is the realisation of their social and individual worth as compared to other members of the social group - must with increasing vehemence challenge the place and powers of the traditionally - shall we say?- superior classes. The prospect need not alarm but rather spur to thought and effort. And thought and effort should be directed toward the establishment of trust among the sections of society and in them all toward the government which means to represent them all. It may be that our present system is altogether wrong, that it should be developed into another more expressive form of justice. But such a development for the best results must proceed upon the goodwill of all, if suffering and trouble are to be avoided.
And in speaking to you, most of whom belong to a class or classes who have - rightly or wrongly - called up against themselves the distrust of the working-man, I would urge you even now to begin to build up a way of confidence. Yes, even now during this strike, let us try to appreciate the miners' point of view. They want a better condition of life. The desire is human, rooted in goodness. And should it not be our constant aim to give every man the means to the best possible life. The strike involves a number of questions not without interest in their economic implications, but, also, not unrelated to moral principles. The first is about the right of the state to the special profit of a particular industry in special circumstances. The government takes the large profits which the miners produce because of the high price obtained by coal exported. Ordinarily, in the present organization of industry such profits would be divided between owners and workers with the former probably getting the lion's share. But here it is different. Yet I believe that there have been and are many industries making tremendous profits and the government takes only part of the excess, by no means all. Now, at the same time the government refuses to recognise that coal mines have a special place in the work of organised society. If that is so, then it is manifestly unfair to make coal owners and miners pay some of our taxes simply because they are getting a lot of money for their product. And if it is right to take their profits more than the profits of others for the maintenance of the state, then it must be because the state, society, has special rights over them.
Another question is about payment by results. Is it ethically right? When applied individually, the industrial world has accepted it as right - that the individual should be paid according to the results of his labours. I am not sure that the principle is socially correct or good. What should happen to the workman who even though he work his hardest yet cannot do enough work to live? Charity is no answer. The man who does as much work as he can for society - deserves a decent living - and charity is hardly to be associated with decent living.
But there is a new - I think altogether new - plan of payment by result that is now suggested. The payment of the individual to depend on the aggregate result of the work of many individuals. Whether any particular miner world get his extra ten shillings a week would depend - according to the offer which the miners rejected - on whether all the miners together produced more coal though the particular miner may have produced no more or even less. That is a new principle - and it implies the solidarity of a group brought together by a common form of labor. When this implication is realised the suggestion becomes one of far reaching importance. Is it a principle which - in general application – would mean more or less of social justice? (It seems to me, however, a principle that would almost revolutionise the working of economic laws. Increased production means reduced cost. Reduced cost increases demand. But if increased production is to increase wage cost per unit, the demands cannot be largely increased. What would be the consequences on standard of life, etc? In this connection, too, this principle should be compared with the often applied idea of trade unionists that their welfare is but furthered by a reduced output.)
If this has sounded too much like an amateurish discussion of economic questions, the only justification is that economics interprets some aspects of human life and I must try to understand them in order to make my religion co-extensive with life.
This I know that religion requires of each of us and of all of us together to see how we may at all times - and more especially at a time of crisis - further the realisation of the ideals of social justice. So shall we work - it is not enough to pray - for the Kingdom of righteousness on earth. And the present crisis calls from us for a contribution in thought, or if need be in action, toward such a settlement as shall conduce to the increase of righteousness. Vague desires and hopes will not do. We must see - or at best try to see - clearly the way of righteousness through a special difficulty, if we would find the way to the Kingdom of Righteousness, which is the Kingdom of God.