Following The "Book of Rules"
Interfering with service may be done in another way. It may be done, strange to say, sometimes by abiding by the rules, living up to the law absolutely. Sometimes the law is almost as inconvenient a thing for the capitalist as for a labor agitator. For instance, on every railroad they have a book of rules, a nice little book that they give to every employee, and in that book of rules it tells how the engineer and the fireman must examine every part of the engine before they take it out of the round house. It tells how the brakeman should go the length and the width of the train and examine every bit of machinery to be sure it's in good shape. It tells how the stationmaster should do this and the telegraph operator that, and so forth, and it all sounds very nice in the little book. But now take the book of rules and compare it with the timetable and you will realize how absolutely impossible the whole thing is. What is it written for? An accident happens. An engineer who has been working 36 hours does not see a signal on the track, and many people are killed. The coroner's jury meets to fix the responsibility. And upon whom is it fixed? This poor engineer who didn't abide by the book of rules! He is the man upon whom the responsibility falls. The company wipe their hands and say, "We are not responsible. Our employee was negligent. Here are our rules."
And through this book of rules they are able to fix the responsibility of every accident on some poor devil like that engineer, who said the other day, after a frightful accident, when he was arrested, "Yes, but if I didn't get the train in at a certain time I might have lost my job under the new management on the New Haven road." That book rules exists in Europe as well. In one station in France there was an accident and the station master was held responsible. The station masters were organized in the Railwaymen's Union. And they went to the union and asked for some action. The union said, "The best thing for you men to do is to go back on the job and obey that book of rules letter for letter. If that is the only reason why accidents happen we will have no accidents hereafter." So they went back and when a man came up to the ticket office and asked for a ticket to such-and-such a place, the charge being so much, and would hand in more than the amount, he would be told, "Can't give you any change. It says in the book of rules a passenger must have the exact fare." This was the first one. Well, after a lot of fuss they chased around and got the exact change, were given their tickets and got aboard the train. Then when the train was supposedly ready to start the engineer climbed down, the fireman followed and they began to examine every bolt and piece of mechanism on the engine. The brakeman got off and began to examine everything he was supposed to examine. The passengers grew very restless. The train stood there about an hour and a half. They proceeded to leave the train. They were met at the door by an employee who said, "No, it's against the rules for you to leave the train once you get into it, until you arrive at your destination." And within three days the railroad system of France was so completely demoralized that they had to exonerate this particular station master, and the absurdity of the book of rules had been so demonstated to the public that they had to make over their system of operation before the public would trust themselves to the railroad any further.
This book of rules has been tried not only for the purpose of exoneration; it has been tried for the purpose of strikes. Where men fail in the open battle they go back and with this system they win. Railroad men can sabotage for others as well as for themselves. In a case like the miners of Colorado where we read there that militiamen were sent in against the miners. We know that they are sent against the miners because the first act of the militia was to disarm the miners and leave the mine guards, the thugs, in possession of their arms. Ludlow followed! The good judge O'Brien went into Calumet, Mich., and said to the miners -- and the president of the union, Mr. Moyer, sits at the table as chairman while he said it -- "Boys, give up your guns. It is better for you to be shot than it is to shoot anybody." Now, sabotage is not violence, but that does not mean that I am deprecating all forms of violence. I believe for instance in the case of Michigan, in the case of Colorado, in the case of Roosevelt, N. J., the miners should have held onto their guns, exercised their "constitutional right" to bear arms, and, militia or no militia, absolutely refused to give them up until they saw the guns of the thugs and the guns of the mine guards on the other side of the road first. And even then it might be a good precaution to hold on to them in case of danger! Well, when this militia was being sent from Denver up into the mining district one little train crew did what has never been done in America before; something that caused a thrill to go through the humblest toiler. If I could have worked for twenty years just to see one little torch of hope like that, I believe it worth while. The train was full of soldiers. The engineer, the fireman, all the train crew stepped out of the train and they said, "We are not going to run this train to carry soldiers in against our brother strikers." So they deserted the train, but it was then operated by a Baldwin detective and a deputy sheriff. Can you say that wasn't a case where sabotage was absolutely necessary?
Suppose that when the engineer had gone on strike he had taken a vital part of the engine on strike with him, without which it would have been impossible for anyone to run that engine. Then there might have been a different story. Railroad men have a mighty power in refusing to transport soldiers, strike-breakers and ammunition for soldiers and strike-breakers into strike districts. They did it in Italy. The soldiers went on the train. The train guards refused to run the trains. The soldiers thought they could run the train themselves. They started and the first signal they came to was "Danger". They went along very slowly and cautiously, and the next signal was at "Danger". And they found before they had gone very far that some of the switches had been turned and they were run off on to a siding in the woods somewhere. Laboriously they got back onto the main track. They came to a drawbridge and the bridge was turned open. They had to go across in boats and abandon the train. That meant walking the rest of the way. By the time they got into strike district the strike was over. Soldiers who have had to walk aren't so full of vim and vigor and so anxious to shoot "dagoes" down when they get into a strike district as when they ride in a train manned by union men.
The railroad men have mighty power in refusing to run these trains and putting them in such a condition that they can't be run by others. However, to anticipate a question that is going to be asked about the possible disregard for human life, remember that when they put all the signals at danger there is very little risk for human life, because the train usually has to stop dead still. Where they take a vital part of the engine away the train does not run at all. So human life is not in danger. They make it a practice to strike such a vital blow that the service is paralyzed thereafter.
With freight of course they do different things. In the strike of the railroad workers in France they transported the freight in such a way that a great trainload of fine fresh fruit could be run off into a siding in one of the poorest districts of France. It was left to decay. But it never reached the point of either decay or destruction. It was usually taken care of by the poor people of that district. Something that was supposed to be sent in a rush from Paris to Havre was sent to Marseilles. And so within a very short time the whole system was sos."
Now, what is true of the railroad workers is also true of the newspaper workers. Of course one can hardly imagine any more conservative element to deal with than the railroad workers and the newspaper workers. Sometimes you will read a story in the paper that is so palpably false, a story about strikers that planted dynamite in Lawrence for instance (and it came out in a Boston paper before the dynamite was found), a story of how the Erie trains were "dynamited" by strikers in Paterson; but do you realize that the man who writes that story, the man who pays for that story, the owners and editors are not the ones that put the story into actual print? It is put in print by printers, compositors, typesetters, men who belong to the working class and are members of unions. During the Swedish general strike these workers who belonged to the unions and were operating the papers rebelled against printing lies against their fellow strikers. They sent an ultimatum to the newspaper managers: "Either you print the truth or you'll print no papers at all." The newspaper owners decided they would rather print no paper at all than tell the truth. Most of them would probably so decide in this country, too. The men went on strike and the paper came out a little bit of a sheet, two by four, until eventually they realized that the printers had them by the throat, that they could not print any papers without the printers. They sent for them to come back and told them, "So much of the paper will belong to the strikers and they can print what they please in it."
But other printers have accomplished the same results by sabotage. In Copenhagen once there was a peace conference and a circus going on at the same time. The printers asked for more wages and they didn't get them. They were very sore. Bitterness in the heart is a very good stimulus for sabotage. So they said, "All right, we will stay right at work, boys, but we will do some funny business with this paper, so they won't want to print it tomorrow under the same circumstances." They took the peace conference, where some high and mighty person was going to make an address on international peace and they put that man's speech in the circus news; they reported the lion and the monkey as making speeches in the peace conference and the Honorable Mr. So-and-so doing trapeze acts in the circus. There was great consternation and indignation in the city. Advertisers, the peace conference, the circus protested. The circus would not pay their bill for advertising. It cost the paper as much, eventually, as the increased wages would have cost them, so that they came to the men figuratively on their bended knees and asked them, "Please be good and we will give you whatever you ask." That is the power of interfering with industrial efficiency by bad service. It is not the inefficiency of a poor workman, but the deliberate withdrawal of efficiency by a competent worker.