Strife Summary

Strife by John Galsworthy is a 1909 play about a strike at a tin plate factory in England.

  • The factory workers go on strike, demanding better working conditions and pay.
  • The factory's owner, John Anthony, refuses to compromise, and the workers are forced to endure months of hardship.
  • Finally, the workers agree to a compromise, and Anthony resigns in defeat.


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Last Updated on May 15, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 905

Throughout the long English winter, the workers at the Trenartha Plate Tin Works have been on strike. The chairman of the company, John Anthony, and the other directors have traveled from London to Trenartha, where they are holding a meeting at the home of the factory manager, Francis Underwood. Act one of the play takes place in Underwood’s dining room, which the directors use as a temporary boardroom. The strike began in October and it is now February 7th, and the long delay has led the directors to worry that the workers will neither give in nor consider negotiating. Despite the worries of his fellow directors, Anthony refuses to make any concessions. An old man who founded the company many years ago, Anthony has faced such strikes before and has won four previous disputes with his workers.

The directors meet with Simon Harness, a labor union official, who explains that the union is not backing the strike because some of the workers’ demands are excessive and exceed contemporary pay rates at other factories. However, he thinks the strike action is essentially reasonable and says the union will support the Trenartha workers if they reduce their demands. He explains that the leader of the striking workers is David Roberts, who arrives to speak with the directors shortly afterward. Roberts is resolute in his claim, telling the directors that the workers will not make any concessions; on the directors’ side, Anthony is equally stubborn. After Roberts leaves, the other directors go to lunch. Tench, the company secretary, tells Anthony that he believes the other directors are against him and plan to rebel against his authority.

Act two begins on the afternoon of February 7th in the kitchen of David Roberts’s cottage, near the tin works. Enid Underwood, the wife of factory manager Francis Underwood and daughter of company owner John Anthony, is visiting Annie Roberts, David’s wife. Annie was once her maid, so Enid uses their former relationship to try and persuade Annie that her husband should compromise with the board of directors. Annie is ill, and Enid has been trying to help her by sending food, but Roberts will not allow his wife to accept it. He returns to the cottage while Enid is there, and they argue. Enid says that she wants to talk to him, but Roberts retorts that he has no interest in anything she has to say, as he is no more inclined to back down than Anthony is. Enid leaves, and Roberts goes out to meet with the men. Shortly after his departure, Henry Thomas, another member of the working men’s committee, comes to tell Roberts that the majority of the men no longer support him.

The second scene of act two takes place outside the walls of the tin works later that afternoon. Simon Harness addresses a crowd of strikers, telling them that the union cannot support their demands and advising them to compromise with the management and end the strike. Henry Thomas and George Rous, two of the workers, deliver the same message. Then David Roberts gives a stirring speech, saying that the strikers are not merely fighting for their own interests, but standing up against a system that will continue to crush workers everywhere until it is defeated. He says that he saw defeat in the eyes of the directors that morning and that if the strikers hold out for another week, they will win. Just as Roberts has swayed the crowd, news arrives that his wife Annie has died. George Rous tells the men that the same fate awaits their wives and...

(This entire section contains 905 words.)

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mothers if they continue with the strike, and the majority are persuaded to make terms with the union and return to work.

Act three takes place back at Francis Underwood’s house, where Enid and Edgar are talking in the drawing room. Enid tells Edgar that she wants him to support Anthony in his refusal to compromise, as defeat would destroy him; moreover, she has felt less sympathy for the workers since her visit to Annie Roberts. Madge Thomas comes to see Enid and tells her that Annie is dead, bitterly adding that she considers Anthony—and Enid herself—responsible for the young woman’s death. After a long argument in which Wilder, one of the directors, tells Anthony he is too old and feeble to run the company, the board votes to refer the dispute to Harness and asks him to reach an agreement with the strikers. Anthony promptly resigns as chairman, telling the directors that they are ruining the company and failing in their duty.

Harness enters along with the committee of the strikers, who explain that Roberts is not with them because his wife has just died. However, Roberts quickly joins the meeting and announces that the men will never compromise. Harness tells him that they have already done so and shows him the agreement they have reached with the company. When Roberts protests that Anthony would never put his name to such an agreement, he discovers that Anthony is no longer chairman of the board. The two men bow their heads to one another in a gesture of mutual respect, and Anthony leaves the room. After he has gone, Tench remarks to Harness that the agreement they have just reached is the same as the one the two of them worked out together before the strike began.


Act Summaries