Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/79

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
67
PENDING PROBLEMS FOR WAGE-EARNERS.

APPENDIX.

The Cost and Danger of Strikes.—Few persons are aware of the enormous annual loss of wages due to strikes. Startling figures are furnished by the Labor Bureau at Washington in a recent publication covering the period from 1881 to 1894 inclusive.

It appears that no less than 3,714,406 persons were thrown out of employment, suffering a loss in wages of $163,807,866. Fifty-five and a half per cent of the strikes failed entirely; thirty-two per cent are classed as successful, and twelve and a half per cent as doubtful or partly successful. Labor organizations contributed $10,914,406 to assist strikers.

The promoters of strikes argue to their comrades that unsuccessful efforts are nevertheless ultimately beneficial; but study of the subject has led me to take the opposite view, viz., that all strikes of skilled workmen are, in the end, harmful to the participants. No one single cause has done more, in my opinion, to hasten the introduction of entirely automatic machinery in operations where a certain degree of skilled labor was considered indispensable, than strikes on the part of such skilled employees. Numerous instances might be recalled where large manufacturers have, on account of strikes, cheerfully expended immense sums of money in perfecting automatic machinery, not primarily to effect economy in wages, but as an insurance against future danger from such causes.

A notable instance of this nature occurred a few years ago at one of the largest iron and steel works in the world. In a certain department specially skilled men were able to make wages which now seem incredible; they were, however, paid a percentage upon the tonnage, and, owing to enormous output, the profits of these operatives exceeded in some years that of many successful manufacturers having large capital at stake. These men considered themselves indispensable, and struck, not for higher wages or shorter hours but at the dictation of outsiders. When work was resumed they found their occupation gone forever: automatic machinery had supplanted the former skilled labor.

I do not believe that any employee (I am one myself) is indispensable, and many highly skilled and otherwise valuable operatives have, unfortunately for themselves, failed to appreciate this fact until too late.

The danger I have indicated regarding the effect upon skilled labor of strikes does not appear to have presented itself to the minds of the workingmen, and if their leaders have perceived it they have concealed it. I regard the strike as a barbaric weapon of attack, resembling somewhat the boomerang, which, we are told, frequently returns and injures its projector.

Another element of danger to the workingman which usually accompanies a strike is the license which it affords to the irresponsible and lawless element of society to commit depredations, endangering the lives and property of innocent persons, and sometimes compelling the use of armed force for its suppression. The strikers, though innocent of these overt acts, are injured thereby, and the suspicion lurking in many minds is not without foundation, that some leaders of strikes, while openly exhorting their followers to preserve the peace, secretly count upon this outside aid; and if they do not, they are strangely blind to the result of past experience.