The Trade Union Congress
Once again the “function whose chief value lies in its fraternisings and picnickings” to quote a prominent Labour journalist, has been held. Once again long resolutions, tending to obscure the issue, have been proposed, seconded and carried by the representatives of 1,700,000 organised workers, which organised workers will think no more about those resolutions until some of them read of the doings of the next Congress twelve months hence.
The usual course of procedure was followed. The Congress was officially opened on Monday, when addresses of welcome were delivered by the Mayor and Councillors of Bath. “The speeches were excellently suited to the occasion.” Had the worthy city fathers anticipated that the deliberations of the delegates would in any way affect the foundations of that society in which they play the part of oppressors, sages and circus performers at different times, they would have been otherwise engaged. After the lions had welcomed the lambs and the lambs had dutifully bleated their thanks, Congress proceeded to appoint tellers and other temporary officials at a guinea or so a nob, and after the usual scramble for these jobs the delegates adjourned for a garden party !
On the previous day the S.D.F. trio, Lady Warwick, Mrs. Bridges Adams and Will Thorne, assisted by other Gas Workers, held an education meeting at which they advocated the usual palliatives concerning which that other S.D.F. star turn, Mr. Hyndman, once remarked, “The crushing law of competition would decree that those educated, well-fed children should, on reaching maturity, be only better wage-slaves for capitalists.” The gospel-temperance wing of the Liberal Party also secured Mr. W. Crooks for a temperance meeting.
Tuesday the delegates assembled to hear the address of the president, Mr. A. H. Gill, M.P., who, like Mr. Shackleton, would lose his seat if he advocated the abolition of child labour in the factories. Of course the address referred to the victories Labour has already secured because of the presence of a Labour Party in the House of Commons. The Trades Disputes Act and the Workmen’s Compensation Act were especially mentioned, although, as we have several times shown, these Acts are not worth the paper they are printed on. Even this was partly admitted at the Congress. Mr. Parker, of the National Enginemen’s Society, pointed out that insurance companies declined to effect policies in the case of older workers, with the consequence that these were thrown out of employment. It may interest Mr. Parker to know that the Manchester Unemployed Committee have just issued a report in which they state that their efforts have been greatly hampered because employers, owing to the Workmen’s Compensation Act, decline to employ other than young men, and that the Bodmin Guardians have resolved “that the fact that insurance companies are declining to accept the risks’ incurred by the employment of semi-incapacitated workmen will tend to seriously increase the cost of out-relief, as many who are now able to earn a partial livelihood will be debarred from employment altogether, and will thus be thrown entirely on the rates. The Board therefore urges that the Workmen’s Compensation Acts should be amended either by a system of coutracting-out in such cases or otherwise, so as to obviate the difficulties which may arise when employes through age or infirmity become uninsurable at the ordinary rates of premium.” And after this Congress passed the usual resolution in favour of a pension of 5s. per week for all workers over 60 years of age. What is to happen to them between 40 and 60 ?
The president’s utterances concerning Machinery and Unemployment were interesting, and showed that whilst he has somewhat of a grasp of the cause of unemployment he does not see tlat that cause is inherent in the capitalist system. He pointed out that owing to machinery and speeding up “the productive capacity in the various departments has increased (during the last 30 years) by fully 25 per cent. with the same number of workmen in the same time.” And as a remedy he urged an Eight Hours Day and concentrated effort to secure the “best possible wages on working the machine.” It has time after time been demonstrated that a reduction of hours means at least as great productivity, and it does not occur to Mr. Gill that the working class should organise to take over and control the machinery which is throwing them out of employment.
The debate on Labour “Unity” was interesting in that it showed that the majority of the “independent” Labour members have never really believed that the Liberal Party stand for the master class as against the working class. They desire to form a “United Labour Party” by working with men whose Liberalism cannot be questioned, and who, if the “independent” attitude of the L.R.C. men is the correct one, are enemies to their class. In the end the Congress instructed the Parliamentary Committee to continue its efforts in the direction of “Unity.”
The Government were urged to abolish the House of Lords ! It was claimed that it was an “obstacle to the efficient carrying into effect of the declared expression of the people’s will through their elected representatives.” And yet we are also told that the presence of only 30 Labour members in the Commons has resulted in the passing of many important measures for the benefit of the working class. Why, then, worry about the Lords ?
The proposal for a minimum wage of 30s. per week of 48 hours for adult workers in the London district gave Mr. D. C. Cummings and Mr. Shackleton, M.P., the opportunity to warn the delegates that they were really going too fast and ought to slow down ! Poor old David will have to “stand from under” when the workers do commence to go fast.
By 1,239,000 votes to 126,000 Congress carried a long resolution on Education, which included a demand for purely secular instruction. What effect this has upon Trade Unionists may be gathered from Mr. John Hill’s election address and speeches.
Many other resolutions were passed and ultimately the delegates went their several ways. What has been accomplished for the working class ? Nothing, simply nothing. If all the reforms which were demanded were passed would the relative position of the master class and the working class be altered? No. Even if the 1,700,000 “organised workers” were prepared to support, on the industrial field, the efforts of the Parliamentary Committee to secure reforms from Parliament (which, of course, they are not) the inevitable march of capitalist development would nullify the effect of any reforms ao secured, as it has done even with the much vaunted results of Labour Party activity. The Congress provides a jovial interlude in the yearly life of prominent Trade Unionists, and that is the only justification for its continuance. Does any delegate, from Thorne and other S.D.F. men down to the respectable nonconformists who proposed the resolution commencing “recognising that great and permanent principles which are essential to the well-being of human Society underlie the ancient institution of the Sabbath” honestly believe that they can moralize a capitalist government into passing into law all the “demands” formulated at the Congress ? And if not, if they must wait until we have a class-conscious proletariat, do they think a class-conscious proletariat will concern itself with such matters as these ? Assuredly not: it will take over the means of life and organise industry in the interest of all. Reforms such as those demanded by the Congress may and probably will be carried into effect by a capitalist Government to stave off the final overthrow of Capitalism, but even then it is clear that the surest way to secure reform is to organise for Socialism.
T. R. EASURER.