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Have you ever gone on strike?
If you have, you probably know darn well why. Maybe you and your family were being squeezed by rising living costs. Or, maybe working conditions were bad and getting worse. Or, there was a speedup, or your boss was ignoring safety factors. Or, it might have been a combination of all these and more. Whatever it was, you went on strike, not because you wanted to, but because you had to.
The alternative, as you saw it, was to let your family's living standards fall. The alternative was to roll over and play dead-and let your boss walk all over you.
"ME, A VILLAIN?"
So, you went on strike -- reluctantly. The strike was something between you (and, of course, your fellow workers) and your employer. But, if you were a transportation worker, or hospital worker, or sanitation worker, or teacher, or some other kind of worker whose stoppage causes "public inconvenience," you suddenly found yourself assailed by angry TV-radio newsmen, angry editors and angry people generally. To your dismay, you were cast in the role of villain -- accused, along with your fellow strikers, of not caring a hang about the "public interest" or, if the strike was national in scope, of the "national interest."
The irony here is that you saw your strike as completely justified. But when it was another group of workers who were striking, and you were one of the inconvenienced "public," chances are you were as angry as everyone else. Of course, you may be the one worker in a hundred who recognizes that this damning of workers by workers is just what the employing class wants. But if you are among the other 99, you probably damn striking bus drivers up and down because you can't get a bus to work, or striking teachers because your kids are losing a few days of schooling. or striking sanitation workers because the rubbish and garbage are piling up in front of your home.
STRIKEBREAKING "PUBLIC OPINION"
It's pretty hard, when you are really inconvenienced or hurt by a strike, to escape this subjective viewpoint. That is, it's hard not to think about yourself, and to translate your feelings into a harsh judgment on the workers who are striking. Thus you help to create the "public opinion" that may be a factor in breaking the strike.
What is obvious here is that the "public-interest" and "national-interest" bit is a great help to employers in forcing striking workers to knuckle under. If the employer is a private capitalist, he often steps back into the shadows and lets the capitalist press and TV-radio commentators go to work on his striking employees. No angry newspaper editor ever yanks the employer into the spotlight and charges:
"Here is the real villain. His workers' demands are fair demands. This employer's despotic posture and greed are the real reasons for this strike, the real reasons the public is inconvenienced." Rarely, if ever, is the employer held responsible for the strike. Instead, the workers are blamed, and it is the workers who are expected to cave in and return to work on the employer's terms.
THE ROLE OF CLASSCONSCIOUSNESS
Why? The answer is simply that the capitalist owners of the press, etc., are classconscious and actively support the interests of their class. But most workers are not classconscious and place the onus for strikes on their fellow workers. If you will reflect for a moment, as a worker -- teacher, technician, truck driver or typist; it makes no difference -- you must agree that it is in the interests of all workers for working conditions to improve and for wages to rise generally.
(We would go farther and argue that it would be in the interests of all workers if capitalist ownership with its antisocial profit motive were outlawed and the industries and services became the property of society, to be democratically administered by the people for the people. But this gets us ahead of our story.)
The point here is that we workers have been misled by capitalist propaganda into blinding ourselves to the facts and implications of "class" and of the "class struggle." We've also been misled by the capitalist-minded trade unions into accepting the theory that every union should look out for itself and devil take the hindmost.
This, plus other capitalist-engendered labor-sundering devices, such as racism and "middle-class" psychology, keeps the working class effectively divided.
But, capitalists, as we noted above, are classconscious. All capitalists recognize that profit is the end-all and be-all of capitalist, or so-called free enterprise, economic activity. And all capitalists recognize, too, that profit comes from one source and one source only. That source is labor. Thus, the whole capitalist class knows that if wages go up, the increase must come out of profits. It's like dividing an apple in two parts. Make one part larger and the other part must be smaller. So, the whole capitalist class has a keen interest in keeping wages down.
IT'S ROUGHER FOR GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
If it is a great handicap to workers forced into a strike against a private capitalist master to be damned by the "public," how much greater is the handicap when the strikers are government employees!
The chief reason for this is the illusion -- yes, illusion -- that the political State is representative of the "community as a whole." But the truth is that the State is, historically, the instrument of ruling classes for holding down the ruled. The State in our country, on all levels, local, state and federal, functions as the executive committee of the capitalist class. Woodrow Wilson, our World War I President, stated bluntly in "The New Freedom": "The masters of the government of the United States are the combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States."
So, when teachers, for example, go on strike, it is an illusion that they are striking against the "community as a whole." They are really striking against an agency of the capitalist class -- the board of education. The capitalists understand this. They know that higher wages for teachers means a bigger tax bill for them. And this is the reason their press spews insult and venom on striking teachers, and accuses them of striking against the public interest, and even against the community's children!
"... I am glad to know that there is a system of labor where the laborer can strike if he wants to," Abraham Lincoln told a Hartford, Conn., audience a little more than a century ago. But, today -- for government employees and for railroad workers and others whose strikes are said to be "against the national interest" -- this right is being rapidly interdicted.
Just because you may happen to be employed in an industry that is not immediately affected by such antistrike measures is no reason why you should not be concerned. For, when any body of workers are denied the right to strike, the right to resist by withholding their labor, they are, in effect, subjected to involuntary servitude, which is explicitly forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. There is another factor to consider here. It is that, as the capitalist State assumes more and more functions, the number of its employees grows both absolutely and proportionally. In 1929, there were 3,065,000 government employees in the U.S. and they constituted 6.4 per cent of the total employed. By 1967, the army of government workers had swollen to 11,564,000, or 15.6 per cent of the total employed. Considering the shackles the capitalist State puts on its employees, this trend is ominous.
CAPITALISM, THE REAL CRIMINAL
If you really want to know who, or what, is to blame for strikes, then you must probe beyond the immediate antagonists to the system itself. You must examine the meaning and implications of private ownership of socially operated industries, of the conditions, that is, that array class against class in irreconcilable struggle over the division of labor's product. You will discover that strikes are a logical manifestation of this capitalism-induced conflict.
There are but two ways for strikes and their increasingly disruptive effects to be eliminated from society. One is through the triumph of authoritarian capitalism and the imposition of the corporative State, in short, fascism. The other is through the abolition of the outmoded capitalist system and the triumph of the classless, democratic Socialist Commonwealth. Indeed, the alternatives of our age are industrial feudalism or industrial democracy.
For the American worker who is troubled by the disintegration of society and the multiple perils of war, urban chaos and class conflict there is no higher contribution to the cause of social sanity than a serious study of the principles and program of the Socialist Labor Party.
Briefly stated, that program proposes that the American workers use their huge majorities at the polls to outlaw capitalist ownership and to make the means of social production the property of all the people collectively. It further proposes that the workers consolidate their economic forces on the industrial field in one integral Socialist Industrial Union to back up the peaceful Socialist ballot with an invincible might capable of taking and holding the industries, locking out the outvoted capitalist class, if it defies the victory at the ballot box, and continuing social production without interruption. The Socialist Industrial Union would then become the foundation of the new democratic government, the society of peace, plenty and universal freedom.
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