Editorial: The Parliament of Labour

The Trade Union Congress—the “Parliament of Labour”—has met, passed resolutions, and also passed into the limbo of forgotten things for another twelve months. We presume this annual gathering of junketing labour “Leaders” has been named the “Parliament of Labour,” because the delegates, or such of them as make a point of being present during the sittings, indulge in a “tumult of words,” and listen “listlessly” to the pro and con arguments used ?

457 delegates, representing 1,561,800 workpeople, assembled in Congress and submitted to the clap-trap of the Mayor of Hanley, who, in his address of welcome, declared that “there would be a danger if labour was at the top, but the intelligence represented would guide them how far to go and where to stop.” That no delegate emphasised the first point, that “there would be a danger” (to the capitalist class and its parasites) “if labour was at the top” was, we suppose, due to the aforementioned functionary’s allusion to the “intelligence” represented.

The president’s address was a disappointment even to those professing Socialists who claim to have discovered “How to put New Life into Trade Unionism.” It left the real issue severely alone, as might be expected of one who regards working-class politics as “shop,” and was mainly notable for its unqualified eulogy of the leadership of the Labour Party (whoever they may be) in the House of Commons by John Burns, that traitor to the working-class, that “official Liberal in all but name,” who recently expressed, in a manner more forcible than polite, his opinion of Sexton & Co. as those “who had sold themselves, or were anxious to sell themselves, for 200 dirty pieces of gold” and the sellers and would-be sellers promptly elected their denouncer as their leader, and Sexton carried the whipped-dog attitude a step further.

In one respect, at least, the “Parliament of Labour” is like unto the Parliament of Capital—it likes the junketings and the jollifications.

At the moment when the misguided Liverpool dockers were going back to work upon the employers’ terms, after a strike of eleven weeks duration, their official and “leader,” Sexton, was proposing a vote of thanks to the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland (who took good care to be absent) for the kind consideration which they had shown by allowing the delegates to inspect Trentham Hall, and by the hospitality provided. Would, we ask, a class-conscious working-class accept favours from its plunderers and their parasites. To answer in the only truthful manner is to admit that the workers are as yet class-unconscious, and that their “leaders” are equally so—or humbugs.

The resolutions passed by the Congress consisted in the main of the usual appeals to the capitalists to make a few concessions to their ever humble and obedient servants, the “orgauised” workers of the Kingdom, and their petitioners will ever pray. Of course they will, just as the petitioned will refuse to answer the prayer until they have become convinced that their class interests demand that such concessions, for what little they are worth, shall be, and can safely be, made.

There was the resolution concerning fiscal policy, in which it was declared that “any departure from the principles of Free Trade would be detrimental to the interests of the working-classes …. and injurious to the prosperity of the nation as a whole.” This was ultimately carried by 1,253,000 votes to 26,000, and alleged Socialists, prominent members of organisations claiming to be Socialist, spoke and voted for it, despite manifestoes issued by their organisations in which it has been rightly pointed out that under capitalism the working-class must be plundered by either the Free Trade Crows or Protectionist Kites. For those claiming intimate and first hand acquaintanceship with the condition of the people to talk of the “prosperity of the people” is bad enough, but what can be thought of those claiming to be out for independent and anti-capitalist political action deliberately playing into the hands of the Liberals as they did. If the maintenance of Free Trade is of such vital importance to the working-class, then it is of vital importance that those who are in favour of altering our Fiscal System should be kept out of the House of Commons, and that those who are against “any departure from the principles of Free Trade” should be put in. The Trade Unionists are therefore bound, in honour, to support Free Traders, i.e.,—the Liberals—as against the Tariff Reformers—the Conservatives. No wonder the Liberal press was so jubilant at the voting.

The result of the election for Secretary to the Parliamentary Committee would cause one to laugh heartily—if it were not so sad.

The work of the Committee is to carry out the resolutions of the Congress, which, by the way, it has never done. More particularly its function is to push forward those reforms which Congress thinks can be secured by political action. Congress has already decided that that political action shall be distinct from the capitalist sections, although it has failed to take the necessary steps to secure this. It gave birth to the Labour Representation Committee, whose candidates are pledged “to abstain strictly from identifying themselves with, or promoting the interests of, any section of the Liberal or Conservative Parties.” And having done this, it elects as its Parliamentary Secretary, W. C. Steadman, who has always identified himself with the Liberals, who has even refused to sign the L.R.C. declaration, and is, therefore, not an official L.R.C. candidate, although he is the London Trades Council candidate for Finsbury, which body is affiliated to the L.R.C. Steadman is a Liberal, and makes no pretence of being anything else. As the Daily Chronicle once remarked “he is a simple, honest, working man.” He is, and is, therefore, exceedingly useful to the Liberals, who, and again no wonder, are so jubilant that their decoy-duck has been selected for this position. The loud cheers from the Congress when Steadman, in returning thanks, pointed out that, as an ex-Member of Parliament, he had not only the entry to the inner lobby, but also the right to interview even Cabinet Ministers on behalf of the Congress, conclusively proved that these people have no conception of the real issue, or, if they have that they are deliberately confusing it, and the London Trades Council, through its “Socialist” chairman, who, before he occupied so important a position in the Trade Union Movement declared that the non-Socialist Trade Unionist “is the type of labour representative of whom we had better have none at all,” that they are “flunkeys and sycophants, who ape the airs of their masters, while they contemn and misrepresent the class in whose name they claim to speak,” now voices the appreciation of the London Trades Council that their Treasurer, their Liberal-Labour Candidate, has been honoured by being selected for this “plum” job of the labour movement, and declares in the current issue of A Monthly Socialist Review, that Steadinan, who, throughout the whole of his political career has sided with and supported and acted the decoy-duck and the jackal for the capitalist-class, “has never turned his back upon his class !”

The real fact is, of course, that the “organised” working-class are just as devoid of a real conception of their class interests as are the unorganised. They have not yet grasped the fact that all the working-class are at war with the international capitalist-class, and must line up in battle array to prepare for the final struggle. Leaders of sectional interests such as find expression in Trade Unionism, Unemployed Agitations, Free Labourism, and the like, are all misleaders of the working-class. The organisation of the working-class, to be an effective weapon with which to break down the power of the capitalist-class, must be, industrially and politically, not in sections, but as a class, whether the working-class are skilled or unskilled, permanent or casual labourers, employed or unemployed, their interests all over the world are identical. It does not serve the purpose of their various “leaders” that this should be recognised by the working-class. When this is understood, when the underlying causes of the change of front on the part of certain one time Socialists are made plain, sound Socialists will not only not be discouraged, but all the more determined to carry on the fight. Much spade work has yet to be done, but when once the working-class recognise that their only hope lies in their industrial and political organisation on the basis of the class-war, it will go hard with some of the job hunters, the lick-spittles, and the decoy-ducks.

The resolutions passed at the Trade Union Congress, even if embodied in Acts of Parliament through the good offices of Steadman, grovelling in the inner lobby before a capitalist Cabinet Minister, would in no way alter the relative positions of capital and labour. So long as the capitalist system obtains the workers will be deprived of the results of their labour, and will be poor. Nothing but the ownership by the people of the means of producing and distributing wealth will solve the social problem, and this must be brought about by the workers themselves, organised on the lines laid down by The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, October 1905)

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