Dear Mr. Editor,
Will you allow me to reply to the article of Rev. C. Hanko appearing in the July 1 issue of your paper?
We seem to be getting a little closer to an understanding on the strike question. At least it seems to be well understood now that the C.L.A. does not approve of the strike as commonly conceived of, with its accompanying violence, etc. It was because of the presentation as if the C.L.A. did approve of that, in spite of my repeated assertions to the contrary, that I complained. If my complaint has made that clear I have made my point.
It was not my intention to infer that Rev. Hanko’s sympathies are with the capitalists. But, his continuous emphasis upon the rights of the employer and the duties of the employee could easily lead one to that conclusion. No, we must not proceed from the principles of the class struggle. Far from it. But, does Rev. C. Hanko realize that such a presentation as he has repeatedly given intensifies that struggle? It is the one-sided emphasis which does that. That there is class conflict no one can deny. Its solution is not found in setting the rights of the one over against the other, but in recognition of the rights and duties of both. Thus justice can be attained. And, the use of the right to refuse to continue to work under unjust conditions is not an illegitimate means by which to secure justice.
I do not see how I beclouded the issue in any way. Certainly I did not accuse Rev. C. Hanko of denying the sovereignty of God over all things. However, it is not at all clear to me that the brother proceeded from that vantage point, and the accountability of employers and employees to God, in arriving at an appeal to the fifth commandment in condemning the strike. I rather think it was his one sided emphasis upon the rights (authority) of the employer, and the duties (subordination) of the employee which led him to that appeal.
Just a little more on the strike question. I wish we could find another word for it. The word “strike” as used in our day has an ugly sound. Because of the misuse of the strike by unchristian unions the term has acquired a meaning that is, revolting. The Dutch term “staking” or “werkstatking” is much milder. It merely indicates the cessation of work. The C.L.A. accepts the right of the “staking” without the bad implication of the strike. Such cessation of work would not be approved of unless there was a real injustice and until everything within reason had been done to secure justice by other means. It would have to be entirely peaceful. There could be no interference with the right of others to work. And the employer would) have the right to hire others. But the employees who had ceased to wok, in protest against an injustice, would have the right to acquaint prospective new employees with their grievances and by such moral persuasion try to influence them not to interfere with their legitimate pursuit of justice. That is the C.L.A. stand.
Allow me to explain also what we mean by a moral claim on a job. When employees have ceased working in the manner approved by the C.L.A. it would be because they were forced to do so by the injustice of the employer. We take the position that if they have sought what was reasonable and just, if their demands were fair and the employer was well able to fulfill them, and he in spite of that persists in the imposition of injustice through his control of the means of production, the employer is using his power of control to force his unjust will upon them. Employees who refuse to continue to work under such a condition have a rightful moral claim to their job. And it is in accordance with labor laws too. The National Labor Relations Act in some cases even recognizes a legal claim. If an employer is guilty of an unfair, unlawful labor practice, and the employees strike as a result, the National Labor Relations! Board can order the employer to pay the employees for time lost while striking as a result of his unlawful practice. We cannot see anything unchristian in that.
There is still another angle to that problem. It is this: we believe that employees who cease working because of injustice, and who have laid down certain conditions under which they will return to their jobs, are morally obligated to hold themselves available to the employer for return when their just demands are met. Telling people to quit, with no strings attached, and without recognition of moral claims or obligations, is not the solution. The employee who cannot find another job, and who is thus forced to submit to injustice, not because of his Christian confession but because of the sinful use of the economic power of the employer, is made to suffer. And, lest I be misunderstood, that is not the kind of suffering which Christians are exhorted to submit to in the texts so often quoted by Rev. Hanko and others. But, getting back to the employer’s side of the problem, what about him? What would happen to an employer of a few hundred men, if all at once they all quit and refused to return? Hiss business would be ruined. It would take him many months, if not years, to break in a new crew of workers. Isn’t it much more Christian to recognize rights, duties and moral obligations on both sides, and to work for a solution that will be just for both, even though it may not be entirely in accordance with the unjust will of one of them?
I am convinced that it is a mistaken conception of property rights and of authority of the employer that leads Rev. Hanko to wrong conclusions. Although his statements in his last article are more carefully worded than in a previous one they are still basically the same. Rev. Hanko sums up his stand as follows: “That the employer has the right to his personal property and the free use of it, without outside interference. That he has the moral right to continue production by calling in other help when his men refuse to work. And that he has the right to decide on the wages of his employees without being forced to a decision against his will by his workmen.” The only responsibility in the use of property which Rev. Hanko recognizes is accountability to God. But, when that is used as a basis for human responsibility in stewardship, in the use of property, he is not free to use it as he pleased to do! Surely the demand to love one’s neighbor implies that one’s property must be used in the interest of fellowmen too; that the blessings derived from those possessions must be shared by them? A man who owns a factory is not justified in shutting it down, thereby subjecting hundreds of people to poverty, simply because am excess profit upon his investment is denied him! Nor is he justified in withholding from his employees for his own personal gain that to which they are justly entitled. When such unchristian practices are known outside interference to make him do what the law of God demands concerning his duties toward his neighbors is not only justifiable but imperative.
Even the statement that the employer has the moral right to engage other help in case of a strike is very debatable. It all depends. If the strike is an unjust one, yes, not only the mortal but also the legal right. But, if the strike was caused by the employer’s unjust practices, NO. Then he has not the moral right to hire others in order thereby to be able to continue his sinful practices. He might then, still have the legal right, but the moral right, never!
And why should anyone, in our day, still contend that only the employer has the right to determine what his workers’ wage shall be? Why should that be his exclusive right because he owns the means of production? Don’t the employees own their ability to work, their skill, their brains to use their skill? Isn’t that just as important? Why then should he be the only one to determine what the wages of the employees shall be? The answer will be, I suppose, that he has the right to offer a wage and they can take it or leave it. That’s the old capitalistic argument. But it is not fair, unless the wage is just and sufficient. And the trouble has always been that generally it was not. And the workers, who had to have work, could take it or starve. Thank God that ‘a change has been brought about in that thoroughly unchristian system. There is the danger, of course, that organizations will go too far the other way, and demand what is unfair. The C.L.A. condemns that too. But if an employer offers an unfair wage, we believe that the workers have the right to use every fair and lawful means to bring him to terms, and to use legitimate pressure to make him do what is right. That is not extortion. Nor is it insubordination.
What then of the employer’s authority? But what authority does he have? That’s the question. Here is the answer: He has the right to exercise authority within the bounds of law and justice. That’s all. Certainly, he may determine what to manufacture. He has the authority to require a just day’s work for a just day’s wage. No more. He has the right to hire and fire so long as it is done justly. But when the employer uses his position as owner of the means of production to misuse authority opposition to such misuse is not insubordination. Sometimes it is a good thing to make a man do something against his will, if his will is bent toward doing what is wrong. The results will be good both for him and his employees.
In conclusion I would like to suggest that more attention be given to employer-employee relationships as they are taught throughout the Bible, instead of pointing to the master-servant-slave relationship prevalent among members of the early Christian Church. What about the relationship between Abraham and his servants; between Boaz and his workers; want do the Mosaic laws teach concerning such relationships? Aren’t there clear indications in the Parables of Christ that the hiring of free men was then not unknown? Didn’t Jesus use an illustration the apparently well-known picture of a landlord agreeing with free men to work for him at a certain rate? There are principles laid down throughout the Scriptures that ought to be well recognized. The main point is this: that we live as Christians in the particular relationship in which God has placed us. That means an entirely different attitude toward employers of our day than toward masters of the days of the early Church. With the greater freedom and privileges which the centuries have brought greater responsibilities have come to us. In many ways it is much more difficult to be a Christian today than it was 1900 years ago. The only way in which we can do what God requires is by giving full recognition to the great changes in the social relationships and then applying the principles of the Word of God to them. Those principles are found in the fulfillment of the basic law which demands that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Employers and employees are neighbors.
Finally, I believe we could use our time much better than in an academic, abstract discussion of the strike question. That is not going to be the big problem of the future for us. Our problem will be, how we as Christians will be able to continue to work without affiliation with sinful organizations. The solution of that problem will require the full support of all who desire to be loyal to the Christ.
Thank you, Mr. Editor, for granting me this privilege.
J. Gritter, Secretary C.L.A.