A strike is the refusal of an organized body of workmen to continue their work except on certain conditions. Some people denounce strikes as always wrong and foolish and even say they should be forbidden by law and put down by force. Such people know nothing of the history of strikes, nor of the great benefits they have secured for the working classes.
Strikes are a natural result of our modern industrial system. They came into fashion with the present age of machinery and large factories. Before workmen had learned the secret of combination, they were at the mercy of their rich and powerful employers who kept wages low and forced them to work long hours. They could do this because of each individual workman. poor and ignorant, was no match for a rich and influential employer. If he did not agree to the employer’s hard terms, he could be dismissed; for there were dozens ready to take his place. He must submit or starve. Then the workmen learnt that unity was strength: and they banded themselves into organised societies, called Trade Unions. Formerly, when a single workman demanded higher wages, he was promptly kicked out; but when all the workmen in a factory struck in a body or refused to work unless higher wages were given, the employer usually had to give in sooner or later, or ruin his business. There is no doubt that the Trade Unions, armed with this powerful weapon, the strike, have secured enormous benefits for the working classes-higher wages, shorter hours, better conditions of work, and better housing.
But of course, there are evils and dangers connected with strikes. Even when they are successful, they cause a lot of suffering to the workmen themselves, great damage to trade and industry, and much inconvenience and hardship to the public; and when they fail, they often make matters worse. Sometimes, they are unjustifiable and tyrannical. In fact, we may say that they, like wars, are necessary evils in the present state of society. They are, indeed, industrial battles. Sometimes war is necessary, it is always a calamity; and so strike, It will be a blessing when all industrial disputes, and all international quarrels, are settled by arbitration.