Editorial: The strike and its leaders

Who has not read the Liberal rejoicings over the tremendous increase in the shipping returns ? The Tariff Reformer has been continually confounded by the Liberal’s references to the progress of the shipping trade. The Free Traders have told us that British capital controls more than half the carrying trade of the world. But our good Liberal Press has changed its tune very remarkably during the past few weeks. The great majority of the shipowners are members of our Liberal party, and the ferment among the seamen they employ has met with their most vehement opposition. No longer are told about the wealthy and ever-rising shipping industry ! But we are met with the lying plea that there is depression in the trade and the granting of better terms to the men will ruin the industry.

The men are fighting one of the most brutal unions of employers that capitalism has ever known. Besides a strong organisation with great financial resources sufficient to indemnify their members for any decline in profits, the Liberal shipowners have driven the once sacred and hallowed “competition” out of their business. Line after line has amalgamated with its rivals, and alliances and agreements have made “cutting” a thing of the past, and strengthened the position of the masters against the workers.

At a time when the Liberals are claiming to be the only true friends of the working class, it is useful to notice the actual composition of this party. What are the prominent names in the shipping trade ? Russell Rea, M.P., the Cobden Club champion ; Lord Furness, the director of twenty companies ; Mark Palmer, the lord of Yarrow; the great Wilson family of Hull ; the Runciman family of immortal memory ; the Pirries ; the Phillips ; the Peases : Liberal shipowners all. They are they who pay that £5 per month for skilled men working in the modern moving infernios is outrageous.

The hypocrisy of these supporters of “the greatest democratic government of our time” is glaring. Lord Furness was one of the most prominent “opponents” of (that terminological inexactitude) “Chinese Slavery.” His protests were pathetic, and his tearful denunciation of “the greatest blot on England’s fair fame” will be remembered even when other Furnesses sit in that ever-extending chamber of horrors. Bu Furness & Co. believe that sentiment “in business” does not pay. That explains why the “Persiana,” of the Furness line, lying in Barry Dock, engaged Chinese firemen at £3 10s. per month in preference to firemen of other nationalities at £4 10s. An unconsidered trifle is the fact that it costs 1s. 3d. per day to keep an European, but 6d. covers the cost in the case of the celestial.

It is enlightening to learn that the seamen’s leader, Mr. J. Havelock Wilson, is a staunch supporter of the Liberal party. It is something of which a workmen’s leader should be proud. He was elected for Middlesborough in the Liberal interest, and the great foes of the workers—the Liberal shipowners—have always been pleased to contribute to his election fund. At the bye-election at Jarrow in 1910 he withdrew as seamen’s candidate because “he did not contend that Mr. Russell Rea would not make as good a representative as he would,” and “he did not want, under the circumstances, to let the Conservative in.” Of course, Mr. Wilson has been amply repaid for his help to our masters, by the presence of the mighty ones on his election platforms.

What reason can a seamen’s representative have for supporting the Liberal party ? One of the first things the beloved Lloyd George did after his appointment in 1906 was to bring in a Merchant Shipping Bill, by which he raised the load line of British vessels. Havelock Wilson knows this, for did he not tell the unemployed seamen of Jarrow (vide Manchester Guardian) that “thousands of you are so unemployed to-day because of that very alteration of the load line, for at one stroke of the pen, by the alteration of the freeboard of ships, we have added to the tonnage of our vessels nearly one million tons of shipping.”

Thus cunningly and silently did the shipowners’ champion, Lloyd George, undo the work of Samuel Plimsoll. The latter carried on an agitation in the House of Commons in the early seventies, but met with the determined opposition of Gladstone & Co. For correctly describing the Liberal shipowners as “cold-blooded murderers” they had him brutally ejected from the House. How well the Liberals display the continuity in their brutality ! When the great Liberal shipowner, Wilson, tried to break the Hull Dock Strike in 1894, by importing blacklegs, the Liberal Government despatched gun-boats to protect Wilson’s property and guard the strike-breakers.

It is to Hull that the Liberals have again sent the forces of the State. The London policemen, fresh from performing the capitalists’ coronation celebrations, have been called upon to discard their medals, white gloves, etc., and to proceed to Hull, armed with strong batons, for the purpose of enabling the Liberal shipowners to run their brutal business.

The police have already tried their practised hands on the strikers and the hospitals are busy. We may expect the soldiers to be utilised shortly, for has not Mr. Winstone Churchill told us in the House of Commons (June 26) that “when a local authority borrowed police it had to pay for them, but could obtain soldiers without paying anything at all. Consequently there was an incentive to use soldiers instead of police.”

Meanwhile the men’s leaders are playing the masters’ game very well. The Union Castle and the Royal Mail lines had arranged for ships to take the plutocratic parasites to see the Naval review at Spithead. According to the Manchester Guardian of June 22, “In the morning Mr. Havelock Wilson stated in an interview that he was going to send a telegram to the owners of the Coronation ships that the Union were willing to enter into negotiations to supply crews, without any regard to other matters under dispute, in order that the coronation guests might not be inconvenienced.”

This is the strain that might be expected from a man who, in the contest in which the Labour, Liberal, and Tory parties were represented, shocked the Labourites by supporting the Liberal, who was a well known South Wales shipowner (Mr. S. H. Radcliffe).

The Union leaders are advising the men to accept terms which mean a miserable struggle to exist in the future as in the past. “Now I find,” says Havelock Wilson, “that in one or two instances where companies have recognised the Union and I have ordered a compromise, there has been reluctance to carry out my instructions.”

Mr. Wilson is far more anxious for the recognition, of the Union, in other words of the leaders, than for securing the workers a better position. He wants to become a power, and if any workman fails to do his bidding—he threatens to resign.

In the manifesto quoted above Mr. Wilson says also :

“Before war was declared a conference of the representatives of the seamen was held, and after discussing the whole of our policy it was unanimously decided that I should have full and absolute control of the movement right through the United Kingdom, with full power to modify terms and insist upon higher ones, just as the movement presented itself to me.”

So bad are the conditions of life for the dockers at Liverpool that this same leading Liberal paper (June 29) says :

“Non-union men are forcing the pace for the Union. It was non-union men who declined to unload the Glasgow boat which came in with a non-union crew, and non-union dockers, not disciplined to await a signal from recognised and authorised leaders, have been coming out elsewhere as the days have elapsed.”

And they further state that “it has been impossible to distinguish the non-union from the Union man, unless it has been that the non-union man has been the more ready to give up his job.”

Our sympathy is extended to the struggling seamen in their fight, but we would counsel them to be wary of the wiles of their leaders. They may get a concession from time to time to suit the convenience of their masters, but the battle they fight to-day will have to be continually fought, and when these battles are over they are wage-slaves still, with all the horrors of capitalism still to face.

Great changes in the ways of navigation also portend trouble for the toilers. The adoption of oil fuel instead of coal is considered a great saving by the masters. When this is more widely used the fireman will have their unemployed ranks increased.

The dockers who are striking have had lessons in this direction. Ever since the concession of the “tanner” an hour in 1889, speeding-up and hustling is a marked feature of dock life. Working with fewer men in a gang to do the work ; the use of cup and suction elevators ; the adoption of improved cranes : these are the weapons with which the dock labourers are faced, and that have resulted in so much casual employment amongst them.

The leaders of the Dockers’ Union are equally reprehensible with those of the seamen. Ben Tillett, the man who has gone up and down the country, at Trade Union Congresses, and in Liberal rags, advocating “Compulsory Arbitration”—the employers’ panacea. Tom Mann, who is trying to side-track the workers into wasting their powers in a futile chasing of “a kind of unionism known as industrial unionism.”

These are your leaders, toilers of land and sea !

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