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First, I should like to point out that we are hearing a deal too much about a man’s inalienable right to work or play, at his own sovereign will. In so far as that means–and it is always used to mean–his right to quit any kind of work at any moment, without notice and regardless of consequences to others, it is false; there is no such moral right, and the law should have at least a speaking acquaintance with morality. What is mischievous should be illegal. The various interests of civilization are so complex, delicate, intertangled and interdependent that no man, and no set of men, should have power to throw the entire scheme into confusion and disorder for pro-motion of a trumpery principle or a class advantage. In dealing with corporations we recognize that. If for any selfish purpose the trade union of railway managers had done what their sacred brakemen and divine firemen did–had decreed that “no wheel should turn,” until Mr. Pullman’s men should return to work–they would have found themselves all in jail the second day. Their right to quit work was not conceded: they lacked that authenticating credential of moral and legal irresponsibility, an indurated palm. In a small lockout affecting a mill or two the offender finds a half-hearted support in the law if he is willing to pay enough deputy sheriffs; but even then he is mounted by the hobnailed populace, at its back the daily newspapers, clamoring and spitting like cats. But let the manager of a great railway discharge all its men without warning and “kill” its own engines! Then see what you will see. To commit a wrong so gigantic with impunity a man must wear overalls.

How prevent anybody from committing it? How break up this regime of strikes and boycotts and lockouts, more disastrous to others than to those at whom the blows are aimed–than to those, even, who deliver them. How make all those concerned in the management and operation of great industries, about which have grown up tangles of related and dependent interests, conduct them with some regard to the welfare of others? Before committing ourselves to the dubious and irretraceable course of “Government ownership,” or to the infectious expedient of a “pension system,” is there anything of promise yet untried?–anything of superior simplicity and easier application? I think so. Make a breach of labor contract by either parly to it a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment “Fine or imprisonment” will not do–the employee, unable to pay the fine, would commonly go to jail, the employer seldom. That would not be fair.

The purpose of such a law is apparent: Labor contracts would then be drawn for a certain time, securing both employer and employee and (which is more important) helpless persons in related and dependent industries–the whole public, in fact–against sudden and disastrous action by either “capital” or “labor” for accomplishment of a purely selfish or frankly impudent end. A strike or lockout compelled to announce itself thirty days in advance would be innocuous to the public, whilst securing to the party of initiation all the advantages that anybody professes to want–all but the advantage of ruining others and of successfully defying the laws.

Under the present regime labor contracts are useless; either party can violate them with impunity. They offer redress only through a civil suit for damages, and the employee commonly has nothing with which to conduct an action or satisfy a judgment. The consequence is seen in the incessant and increasing industrial disturbances, with their ever-attendant crimes against property, life and liberty–disturbances which by driving capital to investments in which it needs employ no labor, do more than all the other causes so glibly enumerated by every newspaper and politician, though by no two alike, to bring about the “hard times”–which in their turn cause further and worse disturbances.