Jack Houston’s Editorials in the OBU Bulletin: 3 January 1920
This the title of an editorial found in the Manitoba Free Press on Friday, December 26th. This editorial was generally, away above the ordinary “plug” editorial to be found in that paper, both in duplicity and cunning misstatement and in sound logic based on the false premises.
Up to the day that Judge Metcalfe received from the jury the verdict of guilty, we maintain, that any strike was legal. Illegal acts, up to that time, either by strikers or others were the acts of individuals and involved the individuals only, unless it could be proved that the strike leaders had ordered or encouraged or fomented the breaches of the ordinary laws providing for peace and order. The illegality was not in the strike itself but in the illegal conduct of the strike. That we are right in this contention finds its proof in the Free Press of the following day when a dispatch form Toronto quotes J. G. O’Donahue, the veteran labor counsel, as saying that labor has had its rights taken away.
The fact is that the whole argument in this editorial is based on the presumption that the law in relation to strikes has been, in the past, what is now, whereas, the entirely new feature in the trial is the ringing in, by the crown, of the law of sedition and applying it to strikes. The writer has recognized, ever since the McConnel conviction for sedition in Calgary, in 1913, that the Socialist propaganda could be made to carry a seditious intent and that the platform and manifesto of the S.P. of C contained matter that could be made to appear seditious under a similar rendering of the law, but that from the old theory of the last fifty years the propaganda, the platform and the manifesto under any fair interpretation of sedition were perfectly innocent and bore all the marks of good citizenship.
The Machinists of Montreal through their legislative committee wished to find out if their Canadian membership was to be regarded as an illegal association. Under the present judgment we must conclude that they do belong to an illegal association, even although Sir Robert Borden then assured them that any action not involving force or violence would be legal. Now we have a new legal definition of “force” and of “violence” which makes any association preaching the class struggle guilty of urging force or violence.
The verdict goes just as far in an altogether different and unexpected direction. A strike that stops any public service or incommodes the public now carries with it the penalty of making the strikers a common nuisance with a penalty that makes them criminals.
Holding the political theory that the class struggle is the most stubborn fact in history, daily taking part in the activities of the labor movement, believing in peace and order as a necessary foundation or setting to enable any economic system to supply us with our goods, the worker in the labor movement can do nothing but wait his turn to be laid by the heels in one of His Majesty’s prisons, for under the present law there is no one who has to take part in the struggle but must be guilty of at least, being a common nuisance when a strike takes place and guilty if seditious conspiracy for talking about a strike which makes him a nuisance.
The law requires some clearing up, somewhere, somehow. If the law stands as it is the servile state inevitably follows. We would like to put this hypothetical case to the Free Press editor. We will suppose that because of the resentment of the workers in this western country that the great majority of the workers are in the O.B.U. by next midsummer. We will suppose that without any arguments in existence some persons go on strike, say at Broadview or any other small place and that through a sense of solidarity every worker from Port Arthur to Vancouver stays at home and sits tight, that no meetings are held, no resolutions passed, no seditious words spoken or written are in evidence, how would the editor suggest that that case would be handled? Of course, no such solidarity is at present in existence but such decisions ruthlessly applied will bring the solidarity. The mistake last spring was in allowing a strike to take place at all. The banks and the citizens committee should have met their employees in collective bargaining on penalty of loss of credit and loss of orders if they had remained stubborn. Labor has little stomach for a fight with the handicap so fearfully heavy against it whenever there is a show-down and could have been settled with on the most reasonable basis, if a living wage should have been offered.
Now Winnipeg is again making both history and law. The law of illegal picketing was born here. The seizure of union funds first arose here. The strikes of last year and this year and now the sedition law applied to strikes. What next?
Page revised: 28 July 2013Back to top of page