Nine good ways to win a strike
by DEAN PARKER
July 2006 is the 90th birthday of the New Zealand Labour Party. One figure who should be remembered, but probably won’t, is E.J.B. Allen.
In 1922 he wrote a defence of Labour at the request of party leaders. They wanted to win over to Labour politics those who considered the only action worth taking was strike action.
Allen had formerly been a leading revolutionary unionist in London with no time for parliamentary parties. He’d come here in 1912 when New Zealand was attracting a great deal of interest. Unlike Australia, there was no established Labour Party of note and most energy was going into building the “Red” Federation of Labor with its goal of one big union, one big strike.
The defeat of the 1913 General Strike saw Allen alter his views. While retaining his faith in industrial unionism, he added to it the need, which he saw specifically in New Zealand, for parliamentary political action. He argued this in his pamphlet Labour & Politics.
But he’d also written another influential pamphlet 13 years before which spelt out the tactics of direct action. Revolutionary Unionism was published in London in 1909 and then reprinted in New Zealand in 1913.
So, to mark the birth of the Labour Party, let’s feature Allen’s earlier pamphlet where he outlines nine good ways to win a strike:
“The orthodox trade unionist only knows of one form of struggle, that is, to leave the works and see which will give way first, his empty pocket and stomach or the full ones of the employer. Needless to say, it is generally the employer who gets home on this run… A prolonged strike is doomed beforehand. They have got to be determined, decisive and short or they are lost.”
“To give employers from one to three months’ notice of intention to strike is giving them just that amount of time to push work forward, lay in supplies and hunt round for strike-breakers and other shops to get their work finished.”
“Success is only assured by attacking the weak spots, when the boss has a time contract and will be penalised if work is delayed, when there is a rush of orders instead of slack time.”
“The more widespread, the more general the paralysis of trade, the more likely is success.”
“The best strike is to strike in the shop, the workers all ceasing work at a given time, the machinery left running useless, the workers standing at the benches with folded arms until their demands are granted. If this is not successful the first time, the same policy should be followed at different intervals, just as soon as the management thinks the trouble has blown over… In the end, tired of the uncertainty and chaos, the bosses give way. This is known as the ‘irritation strike’ and is much used by revolutionary workers.”
“In cases of strike by leaving the shop, scabs must be prevented from entering… Energetic measures should be taken [to prevent scabs entering the premises] even if they are not quite in accord with the accepted ideas of law and order.”
“When the open strike is not advisable, either in the shop or by leaving it, there are tactics known to the French worker as ‘sabotage’. This is a course of systematic waste of material, doing faulty work, having accidents with the machinery, until the employers give way… Some navvies had their pay reduced and promptly cut a strip about an inch to an inch-and-a-half off their shovels, saying, ‘Short pay, short shovels’… The more skilled a worker is, the greater his knowledge of how to spoil work without it being immediately detected and thus blamed to him.”
“There is also the weapon of the boycott, which the workers can use in their capacity as consumers, and even carry from goods to individuals when wanted, as the Irish peasants do.”
“An amusing way for workers to get their own back is the ‘passive strike’, that is simply to obey all orders, rules and regulations to the very letter and take as long as possible in doing so.”