John Maclean, Justice June 1909

A Piece of Class Injustice

Source: Justice, 26 June 1909, p. 10;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

About a month ago a worker named McEwan, in the Thornliebank Printfield, belonging to the Calico/Combine, was dismissed without a character for failing to work late through physical exhaustion and illness, although he had worked late the day previous. He entered into a heated discussion with the under-manager, Wylie, who took his umbrella to him. The workman seized this and broke it over the other fellow. He then attacked him with a penknife and tore his jacket before he could escape behind some bales of cloth. The labourer was, of course, arrested. As the village is owned by the Combine the other workers were afraid to move, so one or two hinted that we might do something for McEwan. We held a meeting at which we claimed our intention to raise a fund to defend the man and assist his wife and three infants. Poverty-stricken though they were, these people gave us 8 in small donations. We did all we could for McEwan, but he got six months, though no fault could be found with his previous life. This sentence came a few minutes after one where a wretched creature, with eight former convictions, got forty days for stabbing his wife in the face. Peculiarly enough, at our meeting before the trial I told the people the judge would look at McEwan’s action from a different standpoint from that of an ordinary stabbing incident, as it partook of the class nature, and events transpired as I suggested. The poor man may suffer, but we have seen to it that the workers on the south side of Glasgow have mentally benefited by this fresh instance of brutal class vindictiveness. We have obtained 10s. per week from the Eastwood Parish Council for the wife, and we are giving her a like sum. This is better than the 17s. per week of 56 hours her husband got. Meantime, our lawyer and the comrades are doing their best to get the sentence reduced. In this they are being assisted by the Glasgow Trades Council. We request Scottish branches to write their M.P.’s, drawing their attention to the incident and requesting their assistance in getting McEwan off. Their refusal to act will assist the branches against delinquent M.P.’s and their parties. This is the class war in operation, although on a minor key.

The incident was the natural outcome of the increasing stringency applied by the Combine, as by other trusts, and the comparative helplessness of unorganised labourers. Were these wage-slaves organised, such a primitive method of retaliation might (we cannot say would) be avoided. We have taken steps to get them into a labourers’ union. But a local union, or one not embodying those working under the combine in Lancashire and other parts, would obviously be impotent. What can be done to weld all the trust’s slaves into one union containing others in different branches of industry?

That question I would like answered by some competent reader of “Justice,” and one likely to help to realise the object we have in view. Despite all the pessimism of disappointed trade unionists, I feel convinced that trade organisation is as requisite as Socialist organisation since it enables the markers to wage the class conflict on a higher plane and prepares the way for the higher Socialist organisation. It is on these grounds I make the appeal, and hope that a ready response will be forthcoming.