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Industrial Discontent
by [?]

Human contests engaging any number of contestants are not struggles of principles but struggles of interests; and this is no less true of those decided by the ballot than of those in which the franker bullet gives judgment. Nor, but from considerations of prudence and expediency, will either party hesitate to transgress the limits of the law and outrage the sense of right. At Homestead and Wardner the laborers committed robbery, pillage and murder, as striking workmen invariably do when they dare, and as cowardly newspapers and scoundrel politicians encourage them in doing. But what would you have? They conceive it to be to their interest to do these things. If capitalists conceive it to be to theirs they too would do them. They do not do them for their interest lies in the supremacy of the law–under which they can suffer loss but do not suffer hunger.

“But they do murder,” say the labor unions; “they bring in gangs of armed mercenaries who shoot down honest workmen striving for their rights.” This is the baldest nonsense, as they know very well who utter it. The Pinkerton men are mere mercenaries and have no right place in our system, but there have been no instances of their attacking men not engaged in some unlawful prank. In the fight at Homestead the workmen were actually intrenched on premises belonging to the other side, where they had not the ghost of a legal right to be. American working men are not fools; they know well enough when they are rogues. But confession is not among the military virtues, and the question. Is roguery expedient? is not so simple that it can be determined by asking the first preacher you meet.

It would be very nice and fine all round if idle workmen would not riot nor idle employers meet force with force, but invoke the impossible Sheriff. When the Dragon has been chained in the Bottomless Pit and we are living under the rule of the saints, things will be so ordered, but in these rascal times “revolutions are not made with rosewater,” and this is a revolution. What is being revolutionized is the relation between our old friends. Capital and Labor. The relation has already been altered many times, doubtless; once, we know, within the period covered by history, at least in the countries that we call civilized. The relation was formerly a severely simple one–the capitalist owned the laborer. Of the difficulty and the cost of abolishing that system it is needless to speak at length. Through centuries of time and with an appalling sacrifice of life the effort has gone on, a continuous war characterized by monstrous infractions of law and morals, by incalculable cruelty and crime. Our own generation has witnessed the culminating triumphs of this revolution, and of its three mightiest leaders the assassination of two, the death in exile of the third. And now, while still the clank of the falling chains is echoing through the world, and still a mighty multitude of the world’s workers is in bondage under the old system, the others, for whose liberation was all this “expense of spirit in a waste of shame,” are sharply challenging the advantage of the new. The new is, in troth, breaking down at every point The relation of employer and employee is giving but little better satisfaction than that of master and slave. The difference between the two is, indeed, not nearly so broad as we persuade ourselves to think it. In many of the industries there is practically no difference at all, and the tendency is more and more to effacement of the difference where it exists.

Labor unions, strikes and rioting are no new remedies for this insidious disorder; they were common in ancient Rome and still more ancient Egypt. In the twenty-ninth year of Rameses III a deputation of workmen employed in the Theban necropolis met the superintendent and the priests with a statement of their grievances. “Behold,” said the spokesman, “we are brought to the verge of famine. We have neither food, nor oil, nor clothing; we have no fish; we have no vegetables. Already we have sent up a petition to our sovereign lord the Pharaoh, praying that he will give us these things and we are going to appeal to the Governor that we may have the wherewithal to live.” The response to this complaint was one day’s rations of corn. This appears to have been enough only while it lasted, for a few weeks later the workmen were in open revolt. Thrice they broke out of their quarter, rioting like mad and defying the police. Whether they were finally shot full of arrows by the Pinkerton men of the period the record does not state.