I owe you an answer to the questions, put to the C.L.A. in one of your editorials in the May 15 issue of the Standard Bearer. It is unfortunate that there seems to be so much misunderstanding still about this strike question. I believe that much of it is due to the fact that what we say or write is too often misconstrued. Even you, Mr. Editor, seem to have drawn a wrong conclusion: when you wrote: “Mr. Gritter defends the position that a Christian not only may, but is called to create better and more just social conditions by the use of force, and all the power at our command.” I would find no fault with it if by “force” and “power” you do not mean the use of violence, intimidation and terrorism that usually accompanies strikes, by worldly unions, and you do mean collective peaceful action to eliminate injustices and to oppose various sinful practices. Such a use of power the C.L.A. believes in. Because most people associate “force” and “power” with the evils mentioned above we prefer not to have those terms used in connection with C.L.A. activity unless they are fully explained.
You ask certain questions concerning the position of the C.L.A., and whether what I have publicly presented and defended is actually the position of the C.L.A. I can assure you that it is provided that what I have said and written is not misconstrued. So, for instance, when I mention a “collective cessation of work”—which I prefer to the use of the term “strike”—that does not necessarily mean collective quitting, in the sense that those involved relinquish all claims and do not intend to return. We take the position that when Christian workers collectively cease working in protest against an, injustice by their employer, which he has obstinately refused to remove in spite of repeated and earnest appeals, to do so by the workers, such employees retain a moral claim to their jobs and they may, in a peaceful manner acquaint the public with their grievances and request it not to lend support to the employer in continued imposition of the injustice by taking employment with him. At the same time the workers must uphold their promise to return to work when the injustice is removed. That is their moral obligation.
That position differs greatly from that of the worldly unions. Usually they strike first and talk afterwards. They strike for what they want, regardless of the justice or injustice of it, and not by any means only against the injustice of the employer. The worldly organization does not always have a moral claim but strikes nevertheless and will use violence, terrorism and bloodshed if necessary, to impose its will. Surely there is a real difference between that and the position of the C.L.A.
I do not recall that I have ever made the statement that when employees collectively cease working they thereby give up all claims to their jobs. However, I know where that misunderstanding came from. I have tried several times to make clear what the position on the strike is of those who administer the labor laws, and of the courts. There is a distinction made by the administrative bodies that is upheld by the courts. When employees strike because of some action by the employer that is a violation of a law the right to their jobs is protected by the boards and the courts. So, for instance, if an employer refuses to bargain with a union certified for that purpose, or if he discriminates against Union members, he is guilty of violation of the law and the employees’ right to their jobs is protected. The employer might hire other workers during the strike but he would have to offer re-instatement to all the old employees with payment for time lost. The law recognizes and protects the moral claims of the employees because their constitutional rights were denied them. I do not believe that anyone would want to say that such protection is contrary to Christian ethics. Would we want to do less when it is evident that the employer is responsible for the dispute?
But there is also another side to it. When employees strike because of something that is not a violation of a law the strikers do not have the protection of labor boards and the courts. When the matter in dispute is purely one of bargaining, such as employment policies or higher wages, the employees are technically considered as having quit and the employer has the right to hire others and to retain them permanently. When the strike is settled he may or may not offer re-employment to the old employees and he is not obligated to pay lost wages. The employees meanwhile have the right to their constitutionally guaranteed expression of free speech by truthful statements and peaceful picketing. When slanderous or libelous statements are made when picketing becomes violent or when entrances are blocked, an injunction against such practices will be issued by the courts.
Now, I have tried to make this clear: that the C.L.A. fully accepts the rights guaranteed to workers by the law and will vigorously defend them. However, because those rights are protected by labor boards and the courts the C.L.A. does not see the necessity and cannot justify the use of the strike weapon in such cases. In the matter of strikes in which no violation of a labor law is involved the C.L.A. accepts the position taken by the courts that such employees if they strike technically quit their jobs, under one condition. The C.L.A. takes the position that if the employees are in the wrong they have no rightful moral claim on their jobs. But, if the employer is in the wrong, if they strike against an injustice perpetrated by him, they do have a moral claim, although not so recognized by civil law. There is a higher, divine law, demanding that justice be done because God demands it, on which the C.L.A. bases its claim. And, since the C.L.A. will justify a strike only when justice is on the side of the employees there can be no question about its condemnation of any other strike by a Christian organization.
It seems to me that we are getting much closer together than we had deemed possible some time ago. Principally we are agreed, so it appears to me, that employees, if dissatisfied, may collectively cease working. But, do such employees when they cease working retain a claim to their jobs, and are they justified in using peaceful means to persuade others from taking employment?, or, do they by ceasing work simply quit and relinquish all claims to the jobs they have left? The answer of the C.L.A. is: that all depends. If the employees are in the wrong, then there is no real justification for the strike, they must be considered as having quit their jobs, and they should not try to keep others from taking their former jobs in order to strengthen them in their unjustifiable action. If, on the other hand, the employer is in the wrong, and sincere efforts have been made to persuade him to deal justly, then if the employees strike they do have a moral claim to their jobs and they may by truthful and peaceful means seek to persuade others from taking employment so that they will not by so doing strengthen the employer in his unjustifiable action, I trust that it is clear. I don’t know how to make it any clearer. And I can assure you that that is the position of the C.L.A. and always has been. That it is not found thus fully explained in its official documents is true. But in principle it is found there.
Joseph Gritter, Secretary, C. L. A.