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With word that various Princeton Wayfarers were forced to return to New Jersey by train instead of the Cape Cod and Raritan Canal route for which they had paid passage, the tentacles of the west coast shipping strike reach far and wide. Labor disputes are tolerable only so long as they keep on the private battle ground between employer and employee. For the minute the public welfare is put in jeopardy, as occurred in an San Francisco two summers ago, the strike inevitably topples over with the weight of popular disfavor, and both management and labor lose the gains that amicable arbitration would provide.
In the present quarrel which centers about control of the "hiring halls"--the clearing houses for all maritime employment, the unions would play a more sensible hand by keeping their strike from assuming gigantic proportions. A recurrence of the terrifying tactics of the general strike of 1934 can only breed the fear and distrust of the people as a whole and alienate the opinion of those who might logically support labor's claims. The principles for which the unions are crusading, namely fair treatment in hiring employees and decent wages and living conditions for seamen, are as sound as Gibraltar.
Up until 1934 the employer groups dominated the hiring halls, taking on men and firing them with the recklessness of a Bourbon era. But the two year agreements then adopted gave the unions a half share in controlling the halls, as well as dealing with the need for shorter working hours on shipboard and recognizing the union leaders as the official voice of labor. When the contracts expired, the shipping companies sought to rid them selves of union interference and return to the old "free for all" system. And since neither side has good temper enough to arbitrate, with Secretary Perkins pointing an accusing finger at the employers as the prime offenders, the seamen have taken the final step of calling out a strike.
A solution of the problem is simpler than the smoke screen of mutual hate and intolerance implies. The companies should allow the unions the control they want in the hiring halls, agreeing to employ union labor without threat of "scabs" and strike breakers. Labor in turn should permit the companies to reject men they consider unfit, maintain the traditional right of the marine owner to employ whomever he chooses. Thus employers could not lock out workers for reasons of prejudice or party, but would still control the calibre of the crews, on which safe conduct at sea so much depends. Agreements based on these points could be made without resort to strikes and violence along the coastline, if either side would adopt a spirit of fair play. For clearly the best interests of the shipping trade demand a decent standard of living for sailors, as well as an equitable return to the owners of the ships.
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