A Travesty of Trade Unionism

A correspondent sends a packet of literature explanatory of the objects and methods of the Railway Clerks’ Association. It is claimed that this association will serve to secure some betterment of the conditions of clerical workers on railways. It is a Trade Union for railway clerks.

Now a Trade Union is an organisation rendered necessary by the pressure of the capitalist or exploiting class upon the class they employ and exploit—the working-class. This pressure is the result of the constant endeavour of the capitalist-class to squeeze ever greater profits from the labour of the working-class, and expresses itself in the prolongation of working hours, in the reduction of wages, or if an increase of hours or a reduction of wages are not possible, in the maintenance of both in, so far as is possible, a stationary condition, irrespective of the increase in the productivity of labour.

In exercising this pressure the capitalist-class are but functioning as a class of exploiters whose wealth is derived solely from the labour of those they exploit. In combining in a Trade Union to prevent, if possible, any reduction of their standard of comfort, any hardening of their conditions of life, or to obtain where practicable some larger share of the wealth they create, the working-class are but taking the precautionary defensive or aggressive measures natural to an exploited class.

The capitalist-class are fighting to increase or maintain their powers and privileges ; and as these can only be maintained or increased at the expense of the working-class, their greatest concern is to keep the latter in subjection ; to prevent them improving their position, except in-so-far as that improvement is necessary to to capitalists. On the other hand, the working-class are fighting for the best conditions they can get; to improve those conditions if possible, and to prevent them being adversely affected in any event. And as they cannot improve their position, or for that matter maintain it, except in opposition to and at the expense of, the class above them, they are in necessary conflict with that class.

Obviously then, the antagonism of interest existing between these two classes must prevent any intermingling except in conflict. It would be absurd for the officers of one army to be in the innermost councils of the other. Hitherto, although the working-class combined in English Trade Unions have been very far from conscious of their class interests, a sense of hostility has kept them from fraternising with their natural enemies to the point of admitting them to an intimate acquaintanceship with the internal affairs of their fighting organisations.

The idea of employers being admitted to membership of workers’ Unions has ever appealed to the most hard-headed, hide-bound and mentally atrophied trade unionist as absurd,—and the clearer the comprehension of class-interests, the greater the growth of class-consciousness among the working-class, the more grotesque must the idea appear.

How then may we designate the working-class organisation that, coming into existence at a time when the antagonism of interests between the classes was too sharply defined to escape the notice of any man with an eye to see, yet admitted to the domination of its affairs, the representatives of the very class it came into existence, ostensibly, to fight. The Trade Union of the clerical workers of the railways of the United Kingdom (the Railway Clerks’ Association) has done this. Its President and Vice-Presidents are of the capitalist-class, several of them company directors, with at least one railway company director.

As might be expected, the literature of this Association provides curious reading. Whereas on the one hand a number of grievances that require redress are set out and clerks admonished to combine in order to secure certain reforms in working conditions which “individualism has lamentably failed to secure for 60 years and which combination alone can obtain,” on the other hand emphasis is laid upon the fact that the Association exists (among other things) to further the railway industry and provide facilities for the technical training of railway servants, which, being interpreted, seems to mean that facilities will be provided the railway clerk to become a more efficient-wage-slave what time every endeavour is being made to further the railway industry and make it a more profitable concern.

In the statement of grievances would seem to be embodied the dissatisfaction of the clerk with the existing conditions. In the statement of method and objects the still small voice of the company director is heard.

Says the leaflet before us :—

“It is said that the clerks will not join a Trade Union as they object to the extreme measures adopted by most Trade Unions . . . There in no strike and no coercion eomtemplated or allowed in the R.C.A.


“Membership is not derogatory to advancement in the service, neither is it detrimental to the best interests of the Railway Companies.

And again, as might be expected :—

“All railway officials (and proprietors ?) approve our policy.”

This is the R.C.A., and a more pitiable and ludicrous attempt at working-class organisation the annals of Labour cannot show. Surely it should be obvious to the most oblique of mental visions that combination in order to secure some amelioration that individual effort has failed to secure in 60 years, implies a struggle. If some benefit is obtained as a result of combined effort, it means that force has been exercised. Those who previously refused to effect a reform have been coerced by a display of force into moving.

And yet in the R.C.A. coercion is taboo !

And opposition is offered to the use of the weapon of the strike, not on the ground that the strike is an obsolete weapon in economic warfare, but on the ground apparently that the warfare itself is bad !

What then is the use of the organisation at all except as a means of bolstering up present railway administration and providing railway companies with servants more efficient at producing profit for the capitalist-class who own the railways ? Why should they voluntarily assist in their own exploitation ? Why should they organise themselves and pay for the privilege of organising themselves in the interests of the class that lives upon their labour ?

What the workers on railways and in every other branch of industry have to recognise is that the utility of combination, economic and political, lies in the strength it gives to fight. What they have to understand is that they can only fight to the betterment of their own position at the expense and to the disadvantage of the class that exploits them. What they have to appreciate if they object to being robbed of any part of the wealth they produce, is that they will not only have to place the capitalist-class in the category of irreconcilable enemies, not only will they have to fight them as such always, but that they will have to beat them out of existence absolutely, before they can enter into the enjoyment of the full result of their labour.

And they will never do that until they understand whence the capitalist derives his power to-day—how it comes about that a handful of people are able to dictate conditions to the great mass of the people.

The workers on railways and elsewhere will have to understand that it is the possession of the land and tools of production and distribution that gives the capitalist his power. They will have to understand that the only way to break that power is to force him to relinquish his hold upon the means by which all the people live. And then they will be class-conscious (conscious of their class interests as distinguished from and opposed to the interests of the capitalist-class), and will appreciate the position which we of The Socialist Party of Great Britain occupy, and will be prepared to work with us for the capture of the political machinery of the country as the necessary preliminary to the capture of all the machinery of wealth production. Then they will utilise their strength not to treat with the representatives of the capitalist-class for the concession of small reforms, but will utilise it with the object of removing the cause of the conditions that give rise to the demand for reforms. Then they will work through their economic organisations and their political organisations for the complete overthrow ef the present capitalist system based upon profit and the realisation of the Socialist Republic based upon justice and equity.


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