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An Irishman and The Strike…

Our London LetterI

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Our London Letter By Our Special London Correspondent- I A FENNER BROCKWAY.. I WHY CEORCE CAVE IN. I Last Saturday it seemed as though an exten- sion of the railway men's strike to every indus- try and service an the country was inevitable. On Thursday and Friday the Government had offered terms which it. was impossible for the railwaymen to accept, and Mr. Lloyd George had announced that lie would not negotiate with the N.U.R. executive until the strikers had re- sumed work. This "unconditional surrender attitude had even moved the moderates of whom the Trade Union Mediation Committee was so largely composed to issue a grave warning, making it clear that unless the Government re- considered its position a general strike was in- evitable. It was this rallying to the railwaymen of every section of the Labour movement which caused Mr. Lloyd George to climb down. He was compelled (1) To negotiate with the N.U.R. executive, although the railwaymen still re- mained out; (2) To repudiate the definitive- ness" of the Geddes scale; (3) To guarantee the present war-wages until the end of September next; (4) To promise a minimum of 51s. (an ad- vance of 3svfor some railwaymen) until the cost of living falls below 110 per cent, above pre- war prices; and (5) To re-open the whole ques- tion of standardisation (which Sir Auckland Geddes had said could not be negotiated upon further). These constitute, the definitive gains which the railwaymen won. They do not repre- sent all for which they asked, but they entirely justify the strike, and I think we may be cer- I lin that the solidarity shown now will mean that importa-nt concessions will be made during the standardisation negotiations. RULINC CLASSES FRICHTENED. I Most. astonishing scenes were witnessed in London during t;he strike. I can well believe a Socialist (but Wealthy) friend of mine who says that many members of the ruling class were actually unable to sleep during the strike owing to their fear of the Revolution! Whitehall was thronged day by day with vast crowds who sang the Red Flag and cheered the men's leaders until they were hoarse. Sir Eric Geddes, Sir Robert Horne, and other members of the Gov- ernment were received with a storm of booing, and the railway men's executive actually had the audacity to sing the "Red Flag" in No. 10 Downing Street, greatly to the amusement of the Press men outside! On Sunday evening the West End of London was invaded by an enor- mous army of railwaymen and their wives, making their way to the Albert Hall. More than ten thousand people squeezed inside the building, but there wwe thousands who could not gain admission. The enthusiasm was over- whelming. It wa." as though one were in the presence of some titanic and irresistible force. J. H. Thomas' speech was listened to with some anxiety, but at the conclusion he received a prolonged ovation. ITHE SWINC OF OPINION. I It was irtei-t-stixig to observe the change of public opinion last week. The suddenness of the dispute at first prejudiced the average new s- paper reader against the strikers, but when he came to consider the matter more calmly he be- gan to appreciate that the railwaymen were fight- ing an issue that affects every worker, namel,r- Are War Wages to lie reduced or not?—and as the days passed his sympatheties with the men steadily increased. This change in opinion was reflected even in the Northcliffe Press towal-ds the end of the week. The Time's," of Friday, said, for in stance It is now sufficiently apparent, that the wages question has not been well handled by the Government. We are satisfied that some hard cases would occur under the Govern- ment's proposals, and we think the whole question should be reconsidered with an open mind. The refusal by the X, U .R. of the Government terms on Friday night—indisputably right as it wa.s from a Labour standpoint—had the effect of slightly alienating opinion once more, but again on second thoughts there was a reaction in fa- vour of the strikers. In generalising in this way I have tried to reflect the view of the moderate man or woman who is not a. partisan on either side, but I suppose the truth is that the strike 'has divided the nation more clearly into the two camps of the "bourgeoisie" and the proletariat than any issue has ever done before.. The intensity of feeling on the side of the railwaymen among the rank, and file Trade Unionists of every industry and craft has been extraordinary. FACTS OF RAILWAY PROFITS. I Owing to the dislocation in transport, I sup- pose it is possible that many leaders of the "Pioneer have not been able to obtain the Herald regularly. I do not hesitate, there- fore, to repeat here some remarkable facts as to the railway profits given by Mr. Sidney Webb in one of last week's issues. Mr. Lloyd George, during the negotiations preceding the strike, spoke of the "enormous deficit" on the rail- ways, and Sir Eric Geddes has spoken of a deficit to the extent of 60 or 100 millions." But what does Mr. Webb, after a detailed examina- tion of the statistics, show to be the truth? On a four and a half years' working from the be- ginning of the war to the end of 1918, the rail- ways made a profit of 272 millions, after paying all increases in wages. The actual figures for 1914 are not available, but, taking the estimates, Sidney Webb calculates a profit of 45 millions. These facts ought to be made as wisely known as possible. By the way, the" Herald" pub- lished a northern edition from Manchester during the strike. The National Labour Press is printing it. A QUICK CHANCE. I The reports as to how last week s negotiations between the Government, the Mediation Com- mittee, and the Railway-men's Executive were proceeding changed almost from hour to hour. On Friday night I was in the editorial office of a daily newspaper. In consequence of the strike, the first edition for outlying districts had to go to press very early, and the last new!; received was, that. the N.U.R. men and the Mediation Committee were still closet-ted with Mr. Lloyd George and that at 7.15 Mr. J. R. Clynes. M.P.. had left No 10 Downing Street in an optimistic frame of mind. Building on that report, the hoodlinesalld introduction of the strike "story" were phrased in. such a way as to suggest the likelihood of a settlement. Then, just as the last, page was being passed through, the news came that at 9.10 J. H. Thomas had left No. 10 reporting a failure to reach an agreement, and, a few minutes later, the long official report of the. breakdown in negotiations came over t;he You should have seen the hustle this news occasioned! As soon as its nature was realised, an order was given to the printing rooms that the edition must be held up, and three sub-editors in turn took a shorthand note of the message as it came over the 'phone, printers' "devils" standing at their elbows. to rush to the compositors with each sheet as they transcribed it. Meanwhile, the News Editor re- wrote the introduction, and re-drafted the head- lines, and in an incredibly short time a proof of the new page was brought, telling an entirely different tale! Had the news come ten minutes later, the readers of this edition would have been led to expect that the strike was concluding. As it was, they read that a danger of its extension was greater than ever. YOUR RULERS! Sometimes 1 can find no words to express the sheer effrontery of our ruling classes; I can only gasp. Consider the case of -81r. Bonar Law. He is now declining to make permanent the increase in wages gained by the lower-grade railwaymen during the war. Yet it is not two months ago t.hat Mr. Law was appealing in the House of Commons for an increase in the salaries of ministers from £ 2,000 to £ 5,000! And this is what he said: It pays to give proper rewards to the men who are doing the work. Two thousand pounds a year now—and his is the urgency of it-is nothing like the equivalent of the same salary before the war/' So you see, a Cabinet Minister must have a permanent in- crease from £ 40 to £100 a week, but a railway- man must not have a permanent increase from 20s. to 53s.! Or consider Sir Eric Geddes. The North Eastern Railway Company presented him with £ 50,000 when lie left their service to join the Government. That gift from a railway com- pany will enable him to receive k;50 a week in interest for the rest of his days. But he is re- sisting the claim of the railwaymen for a mini- mum wage of a little over 50s. a wooki How much longer are the workers going to tolerate such men as their rulers? OUR LORDLY BLACKLEGS. ,rji(, strike, serious as it was. was not with- out its light side. To watch the amateur ported-s at the big London stations has been as good fun as witnessing any comic opera. Paddington-I suppose because it is furthest west—is the best patronised. Load Por-,ailington is busy here every day pushing trucks about, and among other volunteers are the Countess Wemyss, Lady Angela Forbes, Lord Drogheda, and Lord Roy- ton. To judge from the exertions expended by these lordly porters in getting a loaded truck along the platform-—sometimes three of them pushing in a row behind—the experience should enable them to sympathise a little more with the lot of the railwayman. T wish we could have a cinema picture of Lord Portarlington, witii a sack apron tied over his neatly-pressed trousers, knocking the bottom out of the strike." He would beat Charlie Chaplin hollow.

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