Editor of the Standard Bearer
Dear Mr. Editor,
Through the courtesy of several C. L, A. Members I am being kept informed concerning the discussions on the C, L, A. and the strike question carried on in your paper, I have followed it with great interest. Not wishing to make misuse of a privilege granted me once before I have refrained from seeking placement of comment, especially since I noticed that there are others who are well able to defend our position.
However, in the issue of March 15 there appears an article by C. H. that can hardly be left unchallenged. It constitutes an attack upon the organization of which the writer is secretary. Therefore I once more ask that I be extended the privilege of having an article published in your paper,
It will be very difficult to meet the many erroneous presentations of C. H. in one brief article. The brother quotes definitions on the Strike which are not those of the C. L. A. One really gets a bit tired of repeating time upon time that the C. L. A. wants no part of the strike such as used by unchristian organizations. It is a bit unfair, it seems to me, to continue to try to charge our organization with activities in which it does not believe, after having repeatedly made that clear. I’ll return to that subject later.
Brother C. H. presents a rather strange mixture of ideas concerning property rights, of employers, and the rights and duties of employees, Frankly I was rather amazed to read what a student of the Bible has to say about property rights, among which are included, of course, the means of production. Is it really true that the employer enjoys such absolute ownership that he can do with his property whatever he desires, and that he can arbitrarily determine what use he will make of it, or whether to allow it to rot if he so chooses ? No old-time capitalist could have put it any stronger than brother C. H. did in his article. It is that idea about property rights of employers and their control of means of production which caused thousands of people to turn their backs to the Church when it, more or less by consent, took that position. And it is that position which led to the charge by Marx and others that religion, by which they understood Christianity, is an opiate administered by Capital to keep workers docile.
That, of course, in itself would mean nothing if the position were the Biblical one. But that we deny. The Scriptures teach something else about possession of property and the use of it. First of all, God owns everything. Whatever people have has been loaned to them, as it were. They are only the stewards of it. And they may not use it arbitrarily, according to their own desires. God wants all of it to be used in His service. That is a basic principle. The practical implications of it are not always the same, at least not in degree. The man who has very few possessions has less responsibility than the one who has many. The man who has control, who exercises stewardship, over a factory or other means of production, has responsibilities which a mere homeowner hasn’t got. The means of production must also be used in the service of God. In fulfillment of the second table of the Law he must give full consideration to the rights and needs of his employees and to his responsibilities toward his neighbors, the public. Much more could be written on that, but it is sufficient to prove that the contentions of brother C. H. are very unbalanced to say the least.
The same is true also in regard to what he has written about the employee. It is not clear to me just what position he wants to take. In one place he states that the worker before he accepts a position has the right to demand just wages and working conditions, and that any contract which he signs must be a free, voluntary and unbiased agreement. I agree. But, isn’t it true that the worker, without organization, can hardly secure such an agreement? Isn’t he usually at the mercy of the employer? Yes, indeed. Hence organization is a necessity in present-day industry. Brother C. H. undoubtedly sees that also. And in his presentation of the worker bargaining with an employer he regards him as a free agent. The relationship, in which the worker agrees to do certain things, perform labor, for a certain price. Yet, a little further in his article brother C. H. states that only the employer, the owner of the means of production, has the right to determine the wages he intends to pay, and the employee is called a servant. Those things just simply do not jibe. Neither does the simile hold which the brother has drawn between an employee in a factory and a guest in one’s home. The difference is so obvious that is needs no explanation on my part at all.
Brother C. H. must hold to the idea that the worker is a free agent, not a servant or slave as in the days of the Apostles. Through the influence of Christianity and God’s providential care the position of the worker has been greatly improved. Consciously or not, the world today in the labor relationships has more regard for the value of the human being as an image bearer of God than it had centuries ago. I trust that brother C. H. appreciates that too.
I fully realize that the brother may answer me by saying that the worker has the right to bargain when he takes a position, but that after that he has no right to make any further demands,. I agree, of course, that a contract must be kept. The C. L. A. insists on that too. But, contracts are subject to change. What is a sufficient wage today may be entirely inadequate six months hence. For that reason most written agreements are for short periods, of not more than a year, and usually contain a clause that will make them subject to revision within the contract period in case of necessity. Individuals who have no written agreement are generally in a bad position. First of all, they have very little opportunity to bargain for an adequate wage, unless there is a real labor shortage. Only too often the worker has to take a job with no more of an agreement than to be paid what he is worth and the employer determines that. Now suppose that the employer does not pay him what he is worth, or that after working for a year at a certain rate living conditions change to the extent that his wages are inadequate? And, let us suppose further—these things are very common—that the employer refuses to joy more although he can well afford to do it. What must the employee do? Brother C. H. says: he can quit. Just like that. Very simple, isn’t it? Yes, but now suppose that there is a real unemployment problem already existent, something with which all of us are well acquainted, and that giving up his job means loss of income, suffering on the part of his family? Brother C. H. has no other answer than to say that he can still quit. Yes, oh, yes, but that doesn’t solve the problem! And others may say that he must remain on the job and bear the cross which the Lord places upon him. But is such a condition a cross placed upon him by God? I say NO. Cross bearing comes as a result of witnessing for the Lord. Such cross bearing all Christians are subject to, rich and poor, and woe to him who has no cross to bear! But, such conditions as we are discussing are not placed upon the Christian because of witnessing for his Lord! He shares such a condition with unbelievers. It is simply injustice that is in the world because of sin that he is an object of. Such injustice he may and must oppose.
Let us continue our hypothetical presentation. Suppose that the individuals form an organization, or already have one, and the organization goes to the employer and demands a living, adequate wage. If an individual may demand that surely an organization has the same right! But the employer refuses, obstinately, to listen. Surely brother C. H. will not dare to say that that is the employer’s right, and that he only has the right to determine what he is going to pay? Such an employer has definite obligations toward his employees, has no right to withhold from them the wages that are their just due. But he does. What then are the workers going to do? Meditate and arbitrate, yes, but what if that all fails? Quit, says brother C. H. By quitting we would understand that they definitely refuse to continue in employee relationship. They will thereby give up whatever claim they have on their job. They have, definitely. After a man has given his labor and mental ability in the work he has done, has helped to build the employer’s business, has been a faithful employee, he has a moral claim on his job. He can relinquish that, throw away the experience and proficiency he has gained in his work, simply quit with no strings attached, and plunge into unemployment. That according to brother C. H., is his right; that would be the only thing that he may do.
There we do not agree at all. The C. L. A. believes that also a Christian may do more than that. We agree that before a Christian, individually, or through an organization may ever refuse to continue working under certain conditions everything possible must have been done to secure justice in another way. But, after all that has failed the Christian too may finally refuse to continue to work under unjust conditions. Whether he does that individually or in concert with others makes no difference in principle at all. He may, as an individual, or in conjunction with others, all other means having failed, finally go to the employer and state that unless the fair demands that have been made are met he will refuse to continue to work, and will not return until the employer is willing to meet them. He expresses willingness to return when the fair demands are granted. And when the employer persists in his refusal he and his fellow-workers leave the place of employment in a peaceful manner.
Brother C. H. calls that an act of open rebellion. Against what, or against whom? Against the God-given authority of the employer, says brother C. H. But, what authority is that? What authority has God given the employer. It is not the civil authority of government. Is the employer authorized by God to use the power of his economic and financial position to impose injustices upon his employees? Of course not. But brother C. H.’s position very definitely warrants such a conclusion. The trouble is that such absolute sovereignty in his domain as he ascribes to the employer is not Scriptural. I also recognize that the employer has a certain amount of authority, such as determining what he will manufacture, and where he will place his employees to best advantage; but he may never discriminate, or deny them the exercise of their rights, or withhold just wages from them. When he does that he is not exercising authority but making misuse of his power. And when workers refuse to continue to work under such conditions they are not rebelling against authority: they are resisting oppression. Such action cannot be called “conspiracy in open rebellion against the God-given authority of the employer” for God never gave such authority to employers.
If such workers during the time that they are not working commit acts of violence, use force to keep others from entering the shop, or engage in other unlawful practices, they do rebel against authority. Not against that of the employer but against the God-instituted civil authorities which forbid such things. The C. L. A. condemns that just as strongly as brother C. H. How often have we said that already? Why then bring that up again? Let me repeat once more also that the C. L. A. would never justify “extortion” or the use of an opportune time to force unjustifiable concessions from an employer. Absolutely not. Only in a just cause, judged by Christian standards and principles, after every reasonable effort to persuade the employer to grant the just demand had failed, would the C. L. A. finally consent to a cessation of work. We deny that that would be an act of violence. The C. L. A. is definitely opposed to every act of violence. This is what it has stated in Article 4 of its revised Constitution: “The use of violence against persons or property, the unlawful seizure of property, the employment of labor spies, intimidation, discrimination, and the use of any other unchristian methods for either advancing or discouraging organization, must be condemned? That principle applies to all other organization activity as well.
While the C. L. A. does not consider the acceptance of the principle of the right of Christians to cease working, individually or in concert with others, as a dead issue, since principles never die, it does regard discussion of the use of the weapon, as brother C, H. and others conceive of it, as beside the point. The C. L. A. is just as strongly opposed to such use of the strike weapon as they are. Please remember that. And, it is true that the C. L. A. does not expect ever to make use of a cessation of work to gain its just demands. There are today many government agencies such as the U. S. Labor Conciliation service, State Labor Mediation Boards, The National Labor Relations Board and the War Labor Board, to which organizations can appeal for mediation and arbitration. The last named body even has power to give very definite orders. That is emergency power, of course, which may be taken away again when the war is over. But, the fact remains that there are now so many agencies to give labor organizations and employers assistance in solving their differences that the use of the strike weapon is really not necessary. Those agencies will remain, and others may be added. For those reasons the C. L. A. believes that it is very unlikely that it would ever have to go to the last resort of a work stoppage to gain justice. But, because it believes that it surely does not have to deny the principle of the right of the worker to refuse to continue working under unjust conditions?
I must end this article. It is already too long. I hope that it may have contributed to clarification of our position. Thank you, Mr. Editor, for granting me this privilege.
Joseph Gritter, Secretary C. L. A.