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THE GREAT STRIKE IN BROOKLYN.
Harper's Weekly—February 2, 1895

 

THE question what wages shall be paid by a particular employer, and what hours of labor shall be exacted by him, however interesting it may be to the parties concerned and to their friends, and however important it may be as an evidence of existing social conditions, is one which public opinion is rarely the proper tribunal to decide. The only known and accepted way of determining it is by contract between employer and employed, after, such free barter as the interests and views of each may dictate. Whether or not the wages paid by the Brooklyn street-car lines were inadequate, and whether or not their regulations were oppressive to the men, cannot be decided by rumor, by the resolutions of striking unions, nor by any evidence now before the public. These are proper questions for the State Labor Commissioners. If the companies have really treated their workmen unfairly, the necessary impairments of their own service which follows is a proper subject of inquiry by the courts. We have no means of knowing whether the charges made by some of their former car-men are true, and it is surprising that many journals and some city officers, with no better information than ours, express passionate opinions on the subject. All such questions may be held in reserve for the present, in view of the serious crisis, involving the civil order of a great city, which has followed the strike, and which presents other issues vital to our national welfare, and to the safety of civilization itself.

Firing at the Mob—drawn by T. Dart Walker

First Battery, Station at East New York

"Keep the Windows DOWN!"—drawn by T. De Thulstrup

Halsey St. and Broadway—Shooting of Aherns, Tuesday night, January 22nd, by Seventh Regiment Pickets

Trolley-Car Used as an Ambulance, in Charge of Surgeon Wallace of the Forty-Seventh Regiment

The broad principles on which modern society is founded are deeply fixed is the minds and hearts of the American people, The protection and enforcement of all rights of persons and property, of liberty and education, of labor and of free speech, depend on civil order, and the first element of good citizenship is the resolute purpose to preserve this at every sacrifice, and to hold all possessions, even life itself, subject to the necessity of defending it. Without this purpose as a basis of character in the body of its members, no community is truly civilized. Without it in the individual citizen, the pretence of patriotism is but the cloak of the demagogue. This principle is so predominant in our national character that any avowed attack upon it is sure to be met by an indignant and overwhelming assertion of the will of the people that civil order must be maintained.

But the dangerous foes of liberty and peaceful industry are not those who avow social disorder as their aim. It is only the mob which proclaims a moral purpose and professes to seek justice that threatens our society. It is when such a profession is plausible enough to divert the minds of men from the first duty of patriotism, the maintenance of civil order, and to weaken their indignation against all infringements upon it, that a mob is really dangerous. The greatest evil of lynch-law does not lie in the risk of inflicting punishment on individuals who may be innocent. This is bad enough, but the poison of the practice works incalculably greater damage in gradually destroying the character and conscience of the community, and teaching it to substitute irregular private vengeance for the orderly justice of organized society, that is, to recur to barbarism. Now the Brooklyn strike has been but the application on an enormous scale of lynch-law, to punish the supposed offences of corporations. If it should succeed it would invite working-men everywhere to coerce employers to their demands by disorder and violence.

From the first the managers of the strike have acted as the enemies of the nation and of mankind. That is to say, the principles they have assumed, and the methods they have adopted, are such as cannot be reconciled with the existence of an orderly and civilized people. They had abandoned work, proclaiming that they were essential to the public service of the companies and their places could not be filled, so that they must be recalled on their own terms. But they did not wait for facts to decide the issue they had challenged. They immediately organized various forms of illegal interference with the efforts of their former employers to find help. They resorted to intimidation, to assaults, to the destruction of property on a large scale, to reckless disorder, for the purpose of terrorizing the patrons of the railroads. In all this the mass of the men were far less to blame than the demagogues who encouraged them, advised them, and led them on, without the excuse of ignorance or the pressure of want. Among these demagogues were found members of the bar, who taught as law theories too absurd for discussion, and public officers who openly declared their belief that the success of the strikers was more important than the peace of the city.

For a time, no doubt, public opinion was confused by the irrelevant talk of such men as these, and attention was diverted from the real issue. But we have not yet reached such a stage of demoralization in any of our great communities that the principles of lynch-law can be made acceptable to the people by any disguise. The real sympathies of Brooklyn, of the country, and of the whole civilized world are necessarily and earnestly enlisted in favor of the order of society, and against all who assail it. When its enemies lay down their arms at discretion, and submit all their claims and rights to the decision of the peaceful methods by which every orderly community must decide them, it will be time to consider what these claims and rights really are. Till then civilization is at war with them, and has no choice but to put them down.


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