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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Strike Punishment

Strike Punishment.

Time presses me, and I must greatly condense my last topic—the compulsory prevention or punishment of strikes. The attitude of the State to strikes has undergone a curio as change, and as it is the social aspect of a strike, and that aspect only, which warrants the interference of the State, the change I have referred to is instructive. Let me trace it:—

1. Originally in England the organisation of workers by means of combinations m restraint of trade (as it was called) was illegal and a penal offence.

2. Even under the Act of 1825 some judges held all strikes were unlawful and punishable as a conspiracy.

3. In England to-day a strike, even if it involves a breach of contract, is not illegal, save in a few cases.

4. When the legality of a strike was clearly established the State first treated it as essentially a matter between employer and workman, calling for no intervention.

5. In 1875. however, England passed a law which in effect provides punishment with fine or imprisonment for any strike in breach of contract where the workers in gas or water works know that by their leaving work they will deprive consumers, wholly or in part of their supply—and this law also extends to those whose leaving work may endanger life—cause probable injury to other persons, or expose property to destruction.

6. This law (although the Act does not expressly name strikes) proceeds on the basis that where a strike, in breach of contract, causes directly the risks, injuries and losses to the public I have mentioned, it is a penal offence, and [unclear: n] longer merely a matter between employer and workman. This is the true justification for the State's interference.

7. As regards other strikes, England has made no other provision than the Conciliation Act, 1896, superseding earlier enactments. This merely provided for conciliation when the [unclear: partie] desire it.