In its “Testimony” with regard to membership of worldly unions the Consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids also inserted the following paragraph:
“In view of the present industrial conditions, the gigantic corporations and mass production, the Consistory recognizes the fact that the individual laborer can hardly have a position and collective bargaining and organization are often necessary. And, therefore, although we cannot in every respect agree with the existing C.L.A., we would advise you to support it and use your influence with that organization.”
A few parties expressed their disagreement with this advice of the Consistory.
They seem to think that the Consistory in this paragraph tries to take a position of compromise.
One expressed the judgment that the position taken in the above paragraph is in direct conflict with what was written a few years ago in The Standard Bearer about the C.L.A.
This last opinion is certainly incorrect.
Let us analyze the paragraph from the “Testimony.” It contains three elements.
First, it declares that with a view to the present industrial and economic situation, it recognizes that there is room for a labor organization. I cannot conceive of the possibility that anyone would be ready to dispute the truth of this statement. If I should be mistaken in this, and there should be those that take the position that labor organizations as such are to be condemned, just let them reveal themselves and state the grounds of their opinion. But this is certainly in harmony with the stand of The Standard Bearer of a few years ago.
Secondly, it advises our people to support the C. L. A. and to use their influence with that organization. This advice is given on the basis that there is nothing in the Constitution a Christian could not subscribe to, while on the contrary, the sovereignty of God is recognized also in the sphere of labor. And on the basis of that Constitution it is conceivable that our men use their influence to guide the Christian Labor Movement in the right direction. I believe it can be plainly shown that this was also the expressed opinion of The Standard Bearer a few years ago.
Thirdly, it plainly declares that we cannot in every respect agree with the existing C.L.A. In what respect and why we cannot agree with that organization was set forth by The Standard Bearer in the articles on the C.L.A. already referred to. The sense of the paragraph in the “Testimony” is, evidently, that our men shall use their influence in the C.L.A. in order, if possible, to have the objectionable elements removed.
One of the objections we have against the stand of the C.L.A. is against their view on the justifiability of the strike.
It is our conviction that a Christian Labor Organization must take the stand that all force employed to gain our end must be condemned, and that, therefore, such an organization must dare to declare openly that it will never strike.
But the existing C.L.A., afraid that it will gain nothing if it takes that stand, tries to defend the position that the strike is justifiable.
Of this we were forcibly reminded by an editorial in The Christian Labor Herald of February, 1941.
With the position taken in that article we differ. And in order to make plain why we take issue with the writer on the question of strikes, we propose to discuss the matter by following him in his argumentation step by step.
“The right of man as an individual to stop working under certain conditions has been quite generally accepted. Actually, to refuse to work because the conditions of labor are unsatisfactory means to make use of the right to strike. When a person quits his job because be has found a better one, or because he is moving to another city, or some other reason, he does not strike. There may or may not be dissatisfaction about working conditions. But, when an individual refuses to continue to work because of unjust conditions, and is willing to continue provided the conditions are satisfactorily changed, he is not quitting his job, he is striking. The right to do that has never been denied. That the exercise of that right was usually not very effective makes no difference so far as the fact is concerned. It is important to remember that. Why? Because, if it is right for an individual to strike in protest against injustices, in order to secure righteous working conditions or to protect himself against maltreatment, then the same holds true also for a group of individuals who, by common consent or as an organization, together stop working until such a time as their just demands shall have been met. That is something which some people deny. They can justify an individual who stops working but they deny the right of a group or organization to do so.”
I quote this paragraph first, because the writer here expresses his idea of a strike. To strike, according to this conception of it, is to refuse to work because of existing wrong conditions and to express one’s willingness to resume work if the evil conditions are removed.
In this sense an individual may strike or an organization or group of workers.
Now, it is a well known fact, that neither in principle nor in practice a strike is quite so meek an attempt to secure better working conditions. If a strike means nothing more than that either an individual or a group of workers inform their employer that they refuse to work under existing conditions, and that they are willing to resume work as soon as conditions are improved, we have no objections to the strike, provided: 1. That the workers that propose thus to strike do not work under a still existing contract. 2. That every individual or group that is willing to work under the existing conditions is left perfectly free to work.
But it is a well known fact that by a strike something else is meant. If it were not so, it would be but a very ineffective weapon to gain the end in view. By a strike is understood:
A united cessation from work because of certain real or imaginary grievances.
The claim that the strikers nevertheless have a sole right to the job or position in which they refuse to function.
The position that no one has the right to that job while the strike is in progress.
This is the unionist’s conception of the strike, the extreme application of which conception we have seen illustrated in the “sit-down.” At the bottom of such practices as picketing lies this same conception.
And thus understood the strike is and intends to be a means of coercion, to force the employer to accede to the demands of the employees.
This we condemn.
No laborer or group of laborers has authority to employ force. The only agency that is authorized to use force is the government.
Unless we condemn the strike as it is commonly understood, as it is always intended to be, as it certainly always reveals itself to be in actual practice: as a means of coercion, we simply and inevitably take the standpoint of the “class-struggle.”
A group of workers certainly has the right to refuse to work under certain conditions, provided they give proper notice of their intention to quit.
It is also quite proper that they state the reason why they refuse to work and that they give notice of their willingness to resume work if the conditions are improved.
All this on condition that they have first attempted to have their grievances removed by petition or arbitration.
But when they leave the shop or other place of work, they must understand that they have relinquished their right to the job, and that anyone else has the perfect right to take their place.
(To be continued)