Postmen & Politics
The Postmen’s Federation would appear to shine amongst the embodiments of ignorance and muddle that yet afflict the working class. Trade unions generally are not famed for any great perspicacity, but for sheer baffleheadedness the P.F. holds “the biscuit.”
The impotence and absurdly contradictory attitudes of the organisation is easily understood when we take a glance over its membership and notice the working of that bane of present-day Trade Unionism, the coffin club feature. The P.F. Mutual Benefit Society has 17,310 members (Feb. 26th, 1910), these, as such, being compulsorily members of the P.F., while the latter has in all 36,236 members. Very many of the P.F. men are members only because of the M.B.S. benefits, which with 10 years membership as the full qualification, amount to £65 15s. 2d., payable at pension, bonus, or to a nominee at death. The basis of premiums being so much per “call,” the more M.B.S. members there are the more the “call” realises.
It is easy to see what a vast number of the members are in the Federation for by studying them as they receive the organ of the P.F., the Postman’s Gazette. They don’t turn to articles on the Wages Question and the like, but seek the information as to the amount of their liability to the M.B.S.
The Postman’s Gazette for Feb. 12th and 26th is packed full of confusion, showing that the Federation members are no wiser than the great majority of the postal employees. The notion is almost universal that as regards their material welfare they are in a different position to other wage-earners and “married,” so to speak, to their respective situations.
The Postmen’s Federation is, after all, typical of the confusion within the trades union movement generally. There is a sort of blind groping after something better, but the members don’t know which way to turn. This is not surprising when one comes to consider how their paper and their leaders between them befog the members. The Federation is affiliated to the National Labour Party, and branches locally through trades councils or local labour parties, take a further share in the Labour Party’s work.
The Federation has spent since 1904 over £5,000 in affiliation fees and political contests apart from the expenditure incurred by the appointment of a Parliamentary candidate. (It may be here stated that the Parliamentary candidate, G. H. Stuart, had to resign his position in the Post Office in order to stand as candidate for Parliamentary honours.)
The editor of the Postman’s Gazette extremely regrets “that the action of an Executive officer (S. Walsh. M.P.) * of the Labour Party should have contributed in any way to an unfair contest” at Eccles, where G. H. Stuart stood for Parliament in the labour (!) interest. But in the same issue a correspondent points out, that “one of our Executive officers,” living at West Salford Division, “had previous to the election, been freely giving it out that he would vote against the Labour man for our (West Salford) Division.”—Postman’s Gazette, Feb. 12, 1910.
In the next issue ex-Councillor H. Mottershead replies : “I am the vice-president of the local Labour Party, a member of the Postmen’s Federation and of the I.L.P., both of which bodies are affiliated to the Labour Party, and it seems to me that had I cast my vote as ‘W.W.’ desired, I should be worthy to be numbered among those members of the Party to whom our Parliamentary Secretary refers as not properly understanding the meaning of the word loyalty.
“I voted as I did, not because I believe in the party I voted for, but as a means of punishing what one of the leaders of the Labour Party who knew the facts, rightly called (in my opinion) ‘back-handed treachery.'”
The “backhanded treachery” lay in A. A. Purcell, the pseudo-Socialist (S.D.P. brand) having thrown over the Labour Party by refusing to sign its Constitution.
If one of the Labour leaders said Mr. Purcell was guilty of “back-handed treachery,” another (Keir Hardie at Newport, 8.2.10) said that “the working men who were content to vote for either a Liberal or a Tory party thereby proved their unfitness to possess the franchise.”
Mr. Mottershead truly was on the horns of a dilemma. He was under the necessity of showing himself to be either a knave or a fool. Of course it did not occur to him to abstain from voting, and so adhere to Clause III. section 1 of the Labour Party’s Constitution, of which he was, I charitably assume, aware, since he was vice-president of the local Labour Party. Neither did it strike his colleagues of the committee of the Manchester and Salford District Branch of the Postmen’s Federation, as representing a unit of the Labour Party, to adhere to that party’s Constitution when they sent a letter of support to Sir C. E. Schwann, the Liberal candidate for North Manchester.
Sir Charles thanked I.L.P. Councillor Openshaw “very warmly” for his letter because “although it was on the walls for a few hours of the 14th and Saturday the 15th, it was extensively read and no doubt inwardly digested and contributed to my success.”
It behoves the members of the Postmen’s Federation to ask themselves wherein the difference in principle lies, between Mr. Stephen Walsh, Labour M.P., being indiscreet enough to give utterance to a statement that could be and was used by the Liberal opponent of a Labour candidate, and Mr. H. Mottershead spreading the statement that he was voting Liberal against a (generally understood) Labour candidate, and the Manchester branch of the Postmen’s Federation giving support to a Liberal elsewhere.
And whilst they have their thinking apparatus working let them think what the late P.M.G., Mr. Sydney Buxton, did “to make the official life of the lower grades pleasanter and more hopeful” (!) as writes the editor of the organ of the Postmen’s Federation (26.2.10).
And let them further consider whether it is not because he was “the first P.M.G. to foster and encourage good personal relations between the governing officials, local and national, and the rank and file” (we quote from the same issue and writer) that “it is now our duty to record his transference to the Presidency of the Board of Trade”?
In other words, has not Mr. Buxton climbed the political ladder by obscuring the antagonism of interests between the workers and the capitalist State exploiters ? And what is to be said of the intelligence, consistency, and political morality of the aforesaid editor, who, while passing stricture upon Mr. Walsh’s treachery in opposing the candidate of the Postmen’s Federation, yet finds it within his province to eulogise the individual whose chloroforming work has met with such substantial recognition by the very political party the Postmen’s Federation has spent £5,000 in fighting ?
Not by nationalising this that or the other concern will the position of the workers as a whole be bettered. For if the contrary were true the postal employees should be in better conditions of life than other wage workers. That it is not so is proof of the fallacy of the “nationalisation” allurements of the Labour Party and the I.L.P. Betterment in the material sense can only come with the acquisition of political supremacy by the working class. Labour parties composed of such elements as are to be found among the leaders in the Postmen’s Federation are worse than useless to the workers. One party and one party only works consistently for the emancipation of the workers, and that party is the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Postal employees and all others who are forced to live by the sale of their labour-power, are earnestly invited to consider it principles and to
do it now.
* Extract from handbill circulated by the Liberals and republished in the Postman’s Gazette, Feb. 12 :
“He mentioned the Eccles Division, where the sitting member (Sir George Pollard) had been so true to Labour during the present Parliament, where the Labour candidate has not the remotest chance of winning the seat, but may cause the present member to lose the seat.
”He thought it was folly to fight seats where there was no hope, and might assist in jeopardising other seats.”
Miners ! Take Mr. Walsh’s advice, and vote for Pollard, the miners’ friend.
(Socialist Standard, April 1910)