The Right to Strike
The Workers’ Republic, 3 July 1915.
From P.J. Musgrove (ed.), James Connolly: A Socialist and War (1914-1916), London 1941, a collection of Connolly’s anti-war articles published on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain shortly before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
The notes from this edition are included because of their historical interest.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
We would advise all interested in the peaceful development of the Labour Movement to watch carefully the progress of events in connection with the activities of the Minister for Munitions. It will be noted that in his negotiations with the British Labour leaders this wily Welshman has already succeeded in inducing a very large section of these gentlemen to surrender the ‘right to strike’, on behalf of the workers they represent. This means that in the industries in which their members are interested the workers have surrendered the only weapon they possess of immediate effective value in compelling a hearing for their demands. We have not yet heard of any corresponding surrender on the part of the employers – have not heard of the capitalist class giving up any of the power they possess over the lives of their employees. It is only the workers who are asked to surrender civic rights – rights hard won by generations of fighters. It will of course be argued that this is for the war only. Even if that be so it cannot be cited as a justification for the surrender; it may be used as an argument against the war. For if the war can only be pursued by virtue of robbing from the civil population all the privileges hitherto enjoyed by them, then no friend of freedom and orderly progress can fail to be opposed to the war. But upon what guarantee is the statement based that this denial of the right to strike will not persist after the war? Do we not all know that the world after the war will be mightily changed, that many institutions are being introduced as war measures that will be carried over into times of peace? He would indeed be foolish who did not realise that each innovation which we see being introduced into the industrial world will, if it proves effective for its present progress, become an established fact too difficult to dislodge when war is over. 
Our friends who say that the denial of the right to strike is only a war measure would do well to study out the processes by which it can be justified on that ground. They will find that every argument that can be used to justify that denial now, can easily be stretched to justify similar restrictions in time of peace. For instance, what is the argument that made it necessary in war-time? The answer is that such restriction is necessary in the interests of national self-preservation. Well, what is to prevent the ruling class saying hereafter that any strike in a basic industry, such as the transport, the railway, the mines, the engineering, is a menace to the well-being of the nation, and that therefore it ought to be prohibited in the interests of national self-preservation? There is nothing to prevent them doing so, but much self-interest impelling them to such action.
And any tyro in politics knows that Great Britain above all countries in the world is governed by precedent. If it can be proven in a British Court of Law that any particular decision was once given before and accepted as Law, then the judge of that Court will give his decision exactly on similar lines, though it may involve the most manifest absurdity and heinous injustice. Hence this denial of the right to strike is full of dangers for the future, and the British Labour leaders in accepting it have grossly betrayed the class to which they belong, or did belong.
Thus another liberty is disappearing. Already we have seen trial by jury destroyed in Ireland, as in the cases of Sean Milroy and Sheehy Skeffington; we have seen the Crown arresting a man in one part of the country and arbitrarily fixing his trial to take place in another, as in the case of Sean Mac Diarmada, and we have seen newspapers suppressed, type stolen and machinery dismantled by the orders of the Government, which at the same time refused to specify any one article, paragraph, or sentence in these papers upon which the confiscation and suppression was based. 
Now we see that the right of the workers to withhold their labour is also taken away. Every worker under these regulations is bound to labour when and where he is told, and if he does not like the conditions he is graciously allowed to grumble, but grumble he as much as he chooses he must keep on working under the conditions against which he is grumbling. This is freedom as it is understood by the war party in England and Ireland.
So, whilst so many of our brothers are out fighting for freedom abroad the master class are, as usual, busy forging fresh fetters with which to bind the survivors when they reach home.
1. Connolly’s suspicions were justified. Restrictions of the right to strike lingered on under the name of the Trades Disputes Act.
2. When Sir John Anderson threatened (July, 1940) to suppress the Daily Worker he was asked to specify the subject-matter to which he objected. The following reply was received: “The Secretary of State ... cannot attempt, by reference to particular items, to give you guidance ...”
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Last updated on 14.8.2003