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CHAPTER XVI.

CAN RAILWAY STRIKES BE PREVENTED ?

SEVERAL years ago I was the attorney of a leading railway company operating about a thousand miles of trackage—in those days a good deal of a road. A newly-inaugurated president, determined, among other reforms, to do away with labor difficulties, happened at about the same time to begin his administration. His plan for meeting all labor problems, and to abolish the possibility of strikes, he contrived as follows: He sent out a general order to "all concerned,” stating that, thereafter :-A new department of the administration was constituted to be called the “ Department of Honor," with headquarters in the general offices. The function of this department of honor was the keeping of a “Roll of Honor,” in which, to begin with, the name of every official and employé of the road, from highest to lowest, was to be enrolled. Then "an intelligent system of promotions” was to be inaugurated. Every one employed in any capacity was to be assured that—once filled—the pay roll of the road should only be recruited at the lowest grade in each function; that vacancies in each succeeding grade were to be filled by succession from the grade below; that, except for cause, there should be no dismissals; and that, moreover, any creditable action or particularly efficient discharge of one's duty, or notable act of faithfulness, was to be entered on the books—such entries to distinguish the employé opposite whose name they were made, for peculiar preferment if opportunity came.

I have no doubt many of my then colleagues are alive who will remember this “Roll of Honor.” They will recall that it came to grief very suddenly indeed from a great variety of causes. In the first place the requisitions of the “Chief for the Roll of Honor” for names were not largely honored. A division super

rolls;

intendent would report the names of his staff; but a “walking boss," even if he happened to be able to write, hardly knew how to go about collecting the names of his gang—and, if he did, some of his gang were pretty sure not to know their own names, or, if they did, how to spell them. Again, the constant vigilance of the signal department, the night forces, the train dispatcher's alertness, seriously precluded much attention to a new detail, which was looked upon as a “frill,”—a fancy,—a whim ; while the responsible officials rather resented additional calls upon their crowded hours of labor. Not to particularize, the thing was a rapidly developed failure. At the end of six months the names enrolled were ridiculously few in number compared to the pay

the clerical forces were about all that appeared on the books, and the single entry of meritorious action was an item that a certain clerk in the legal department had got married and gone off on his wedding tour !

It also happened to this same railroad company, during my term in its service, that a general strike of railway employés (such as are commoner than almost anything else to-day) spread over the East. Our road got the full benefit of it; and, on every division except one, engines were stalled, freight trains sidetracked, passenger services discontinued and business was entirely at a standstill. But on that single division it happened that the paymaster had not been seen for three months! The fact was that everybody's pay was in arrears, and the men simply could not afford to strike!

I have often pondered over this coincidence; namely that, whereas an elaborate system-logically devised—had utterly failed to prevent the occurrence of strikes, the mere accident of a failure to pay off a remote division had effectually prevented them. And it has often seemed to me (and seems to me still) that possibly out of this coincidence and the hint it gives, a sort of schemenot willful but logical—might be devised. We certainly need something in the way of a hint on the railways of this continent. The only remedies for strikes that have ever been proposed, to my knowledge, are co-operation, arbitration and that by judicial

compulsion. But so far as railways are concerned, all of these have dismally failed.

We cannot run a co-operative railroad where the employés share in the profits (as long, at least, as there are such things as fixed charges, and the profits, if any, belong to the stockholders). Arbitration is a monumental failure for many great reasons; such as, for example, that arbitration implies two things; first, an equality of the arbitrating parties; and, secondly, willingness to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator. But the arbitrating parties are precluded by their numbers from meeting in specie or en masse ; and a committee of railroad officers and of track walkers cannot be equal either in station, confidence or intelligence. The one must necessarily despise or patronize, the other fear or hate, the opposite side. The president or general counsel of the company may recognize the hand that surfaces up the track or sweeps out the station-house as an equal on paper. But they will hardly come together on the same floor to exchange views. And the result or award of an arbitration between two such incongruous and antagonistic or mutually suspicious elementssince it must be submitted to the good sense of each—can hardly impress the two parties alike. The concession of the stronger invariably excites the suspicion of the weaker intelligence. It fears a trap, a ruse; the concession of the weaker intelligence invokes always the contempt of the stronger.

The other remedy, the judicial one (namely that since railway companies are quasi-public, their employés are quasi-public servants, and so criminally liable for neglect of their duties, for refusing to work, etc.), while perfectly logical, I believe to be entirely impracticable. It might do in Germany. But in the United States an attempt to force men to work by legal or equitable process enforceable by the posse comitatus, by the sheriff or the militia or the United States troops, or writs of assistance, would be resented by an uprising which would imperil life as well as property, and be pretty sure to be settled at the polls, if not

Mr. Simon Sterne is undoubtedly right when he says that, “ When, as recent experience seems to indicate, the community is in danger of a stoppage of a service upon which its welfare depends, the community has the right to step in and to attach such conditions to the service as to ensure its performance and its continuance, precisely for the same reason that it ensures the regularity and continuance of the service of its soldiers on the frontier and of its navies on the seas, by terms of service made independent of caprice and conspiracy." But even were it possible to practically enforce compulsory labor on the part of railway employees, so long as legislators are elected by votes, it is pretty safe to say that no statute embodying Mr. Sterne's suggestion will ever be enacted in these United States ; while statutes to meet and dispose of any such construction of common law as Mr. Sterne implies would very soon be as “ plenty as blackberries.” There must be some other way than coercion found to make the employed as well as the employer recognize the mutuality of a contract.

sooner.

And so the problem is constant, and the problem of strikes, is one (as the late Charles Lever said of the “Irish Question ”) in which 66

every attempt at its solution is a new factor of irreconcilability.” Where are we to look for a solution ? Some of us have pinned our faith to an Interstate Commission,—which most clearly has the right, under the statute establishing it, to deal with any matter that involves or affects the moving of freight between two States. But the principal business of our present Interstate Commission appears to be to keep the question of the constitutionality of the act creating it away from any competent judicial tribunal. It sits in regulation of trivial incidents between small shippers and individual roads; but where great public interests clash (as in the late traffic war in the West)-although clearly authorized to take jurisdiction—it as clearly and carefully overlooks its prerogative. Practically, then, strikes must go on, and the railways must fight them as best they can, and the stockholders must pay the expenses of these fights with what appetite they can.

Now, taking the experience of the railway company I have spoken of—the fact that its elaborate system for the prevention of strikes was abortive, while a casual deficit in its treasury was effective to that end-it seems to me that a plan something like this might work well :

Let every employé of a railroad company sign for a definite period (say one year), he to be retained by the company for a year, barring incompetencey, disobedience, willful negligence or incapacity. Let his pay begin at the beginning of the second month of his term of employment. And let him fully understand that this first month's pay will be added to his twelfth month's pay, but be forfeited if—by his own fault or willfulnesshe leaves the company's service. The matter cannot be a hardship if understood by the employé in advance so that he can provide for it. It is not considered a hardship when we withold a percentage of the contractor's monthly estimate as guarantee for performance of his contract. Why not try the same plan with the employé ? It seems to me- -after considerable reflectionthat the result must work good on both sides. To the company, because it ensures permanence, effort and vigilance from the employé; to the employé, because it gives him something to look ahead for. It would be immaterial to this plan whether the pay was rendered otherwise adequate by making the second month's pay equal to a month and a half's service or not, the result would always be that the employé would have something coming to him at the end of the year ;-which he was certain of if faithful, and which he would certainly lose if he " struck" or boycotted, or grew dissatisfied and left. (If disabled, he should be allowed it, perhaps; and in case of death it should go to his family or representatives.) Above all, this delayed payment (or delayed percentage, if we so assessed it) would be an effectual check upon “the walking delegate.” That modern convenience could then charm never so wisely, but the laborer would refuse to hear the voice of the charmer. He would say : “ You draw $30 a month for working. We will pay you $20 a month for not working." But the fly would keep outside the web and retort, "Ah, but how about my deferred wages !” At any rate, I offer the suggestion respectfully, as one to which, in the midst of all the others current, it might not be amiss to award a trial.

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