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Chapter 29

Olson was eager to win Hal, and went on to tell all the secrets of his work. He sought men who believed in unions, and were willing to take the risk of trying to convert others. In each place he visited he would get a group together, and would arrange some way to communicate with them after he left, smuggling in propaganda literature for distribution. So there would be the nucleus of an organisation. In a year or two they would have such a nucleus in every camp, and then they would be ready to come into the open, calling meetings in the towns, and in places in the canyons to which the miners would flock. So the flame of revolt would leap up; men would join the movement faster than the companies could get rid of them, and they would make a demand for their rights, backed with the threat of a strike throughout the entire district.

"You understand," added Olson, "we have a legal right to organise--even though the bosses disapprove. You need not stand back on that score."

"Yes," said Hal; "but it occurs to me that as a matter of tactics, it would be better here in North Valley if you chose some issue there's less controversy about; if, for instance, you'd concentrate on getting a check-weighman."

The other smiled. "We'd have to have a union to back the demand; so what's the difference?"

"Well," argued Hal, "there are prejudices to be reckoned with. Some people don't like the idea of a union--they think it means tyranny and violence--"

The organiser laughed. "You aren't convinced but that it does yourself, are you! Well, all I can tell you is, if you want to tackle the job of getting a check-weighman in North Valley, I'll not stand in your way!"

Here was an idea--a real idea! Life had grown dull for Hal since he had become a buddy, working in a place five feet high. This would promise livelier times!

But was it a thing he wanted to do? So far he had been an observer of conditions in this coal-camp. He had convinced himself that conditions were cruel, and he had pretty well convinced himself that the cruelty was needless and deliberate. But when it came to a question of an action to be taken--then he hesitated, and old prejudices and fears made themselves heard. He had been told that labour was "turbulent" and "lazy," that it had to be "ruled with a strong hand"; now, was he willing to weaken the strong hand, to ally himself with those who "fomented labour troubles"?

But this would not be the same thing, he told himself. This suggestion of Olson's was different from trade unionism, which might be a demoralising force, leading the workers from one demand to another, until they were seeking to "dominate industry." This would be merely an appeal to the law, a test of that honesty and fair dealing to which the company everywhere laid claim. If, as the bosses proclaimed, the workers were fully protected by the check-weighman law; if, as all the world was made to believe, the reason there was no check-weighman was simply because the men did not ask for one--why, then there would be no harm done. If on the other hand a demand for a right that was not merely a legal right, but a moral right as well--if that were taken by the bosses as an act of rebellion against the company--well, Hal would understand a little more about the "turbulence" of labour! If, as Old Mike and Johannson and the rest maintained, the bosses would "make your life one damn misery" till you left--then he would be ready to make a few damn miseries for the bosses in return!

"It would be an adventure," said Hal, suddenly.

And the other laughed. "It would that!"

"You're thinking I'll have another Pine Creek experience," Hal added. "Well, maybe so--but I have to try things out for myself. You see, I've got a brother at home, and when I think about going in for revolution, I have imaginary arguments with him. I want to be able to say 'I didn't swallow anybody's theories; I tried it for myself, and this is what happened.'"

"Well," replied the organiser, "that's all right. But while you're seeking education for yourself and your brother, don't forget that I've already got my education. I _know_ what happens to men who ask for a check-weighman, and I can't afford to sacrifice myself proving it again."

"I never asked you to," laughed Hal. "If I won't join your movement, I can't expect you to join mine! But if I can find a few men who are willing to take the risk of making a demand for a check-weighman--that won't hurt your work, will it?"

"Sure not!" said the other. "Just the opposite--it'll give me an object lesson to point to. There are men here who don't even know they've a legal right to a check-weighman. There are others who know they don't get their weights, but aren't sure its the company that's cheating them. If the bosses should refuse to let any one inspect the weights, if they should go further and fire the men who ask it--well, there'll be plenty of recruits for my union local!"

"All right," said Hal. "I'm not setting out to recruit your union local, but if the company wants to recruit it, that's the company's affair!" And on this bargain the two shook hands.

Upton Sinclair