Editorial: The Parliament of Labour

The Trade Union Congress has met; has been welcomed and sped by his worshipful the Mayor; has endured its presidential address ; has passed dozens of resolutions, has attended innumerable functions ; has, in short, done all those things it was expected to do after the fashion of Trade Union Congresses from time immemorial, and has passed into the limbo of forgotten things. It leaves behind it the record of a welter of words clothing ideas mainly feeble, fatuous and fallacious, and—that is all ! It was the strongest Congress that had ever met but that only seems to have added to the hub-bub. It was presided over, we are told, by a keen, business-like chairman who would stand no nonsense, but that did not save it from mediocrity. It is alleged to have been well in advance of the Congresses that foreran it but only the eye of faith could discern the difference and we do not possess such an eye.

To us there was little indeed in the Congress that could move, and nothing at all that could enthuse us. The chairman’s references to unemployment epitomised the mental darkness and confusion in which most of those attending seemed to be, not only upon this but upon most other working-class questions. To talk at this time o’day of the causes of and remedies for the unemployed problem being manifold and of a personal as well as an impersonal character is simply grotesque, so much so that we cannot conceive of anyone who has given more than half an hour’s serious study to the subject talking such palpable nonsense except with tongue in cheek. Unemployment has its root solely in the private ownership of the means of life and the consequent reduction of labour-power to the character of a commodity on the market, purchasable only when profit can be derived from it. The remedy lies solely in the break-down of such private ownership and the organisation of industry upon the basis of common ownership in the means of life and common participation in the product of Labour.

The depressing part of such Congresses to us consists in reflections upon the might-have-beens. Much a gathering of delegates could, if only they represented class conscious constituencies, have sent reverberating round the world a message of encouragement and inspiration and class solidarity to the workers of all countries that would have carried dismay and confusion into the camps of Capital. But the constituences are not class conscious and, as we pointed out in our last issue, those who stand as their mouthpieces and champions, are in the main either as ignorant as their following or are apparently less concerned with working-class advancement than with advancement of a more intimate and personal character. And so the watcher on the tower of the enemy’s encampment has gone to sleep again. The time for an alarm he can see is not yet. The day when Capital will be called upon to rally all its forces to the defence of its ditches is still to dawn.

We are doing our part to educate our class to a knowledge of their position and of the means whereby that position may be freed of its insecurity and unhappiness and made to ensure a comfort and a joy in living, unknown to the workers as a class to-day. We are doing all we can to marshal their strength in battle array against the powers of the capitalist class already organised and entrenched and fully class conscious. Our work is rendered the more difficult by the obstacles which the ignorance and the knavery of working-class leaders continue to dump in the path of our progress. But we proceed with our purpose quite confident that in the result our class will rally to the banner which we bear aloft and which, alone of the parties claiming working-class support in England, we steadfastly refuse to lower on any pretext or consideration whatever. And then the Trades Congresses or their equivalent will not fritter away their time and opportunity in long and weary discussion upon the practicability or otherwise of demanding a 30s. minimum wage or some other doleful product of the brain of the half-loafer. Half loaves will then fail to attract. Congress will be satisfied with nothing short of the whole baker’s shop and will see that it gets it.

Until then Trade Union Congresses will continue to afford a little mild excitement annually to the attending delegates who regard such gatherings generally as in the nature of beanfeasts; they may provide the capitalist Press with a little light “copy” ; they may even succeed in whipping up a little interest in their proceedings among the membership of the contributing societies. But the net results so far as real working-class interests are concerned, will, we fear, be summarised in the heading which we have set over this note.

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