The Trade Union Congress
At the recent Trade Union Congress, held at Newcastle-on-Tyne during the week beginning September 4th., Mr. William Mullin, in his presidential address, made an appeal which is certainly worthy of note. In speaking of the railway strike he expressed admiration for the men, saying that “they accomplished a great deed, and the fruits will speedily come to them.” The present writer has been puzzling his brains to think what great deed, such as would call forth the admiration of Mr. Mullin, was accomplished by the railwaymen in their strike, and has come to the conclusion that it can only be the sheep-like readiness they evinced to return to work at the bidding of their leaders.
Surely that must be it. Such action would undoubtedly commend itself to Mr. Mullin, for he continued his address by urging upon the railway workers to “place implicit trust in their leaders.” Presumably in the same child-like fashion as they did in 1907, when Richard Bell and the other A.S.R.S. officials delivered them over, bound hand and foot in the meshes of the “conciliation” scheme.
But this appeal to the workers to put “implicit trust” in their leaders becomes really almost too funny for words when we consider—upon a perusal of the report of the Congress proceedings on the following Friday—the spirit in which such trust has been accepted by the trustees. A resolution was moved on the Friday severely condemning the Bill introduced into Parliament by Mr. Will Crooks to end industrial disputes. The Bill is a curiosity. No one who has any knowledge of Mr. Crooks would accredit him with any excessive degree of subtlety. He often speaks of himself as being nothing more than a “plain, honest man.” But one would have thought that even Mr. Crooks could have managed to frame a bill that was not so obviously all in favour of the employers. Why did he not obtain the Machiavelian help of Mr. Ramsay Macdonald or Mr. Snowden ?
A delegate remarked, during the discussion, that he could understand such a bill coming from an employers’ association, or from those interested in keeping the workers down, but he could not understand its being the proposal of a trade unionist. We, however, of course, can quite understand the bill—apart from its lack of the confusing elements usually to be found in Labour bills—being the work of a “Labour leader.” All that has happened is that “plain” Mr. Crooks has, in this particular instance, been rather too plain in his support of capitalism.
Briefly, it is a bill that seeks to abolish strikes altogether. It lays it down that employers and employees should give at least thirty days notice of an intended change affecting conditions of employment with respect to wages and hours ; that it shall be unlawful for any employer to declare or cause a lock-out, or for any employee to go on strike on account of any dispute before or during a reference of such a dispute to a board of conciliation and investigation, any employer declaring or causing a lock-out being liable to a fine of not less than £20 nor more than £200 for each day or part of a day that such lock-out exists, and any employee going on strike being liable to a fine of not less than £2 nor more than £10 per day. (Why didn’t Mr. Crooks make the employees’ fine £100 or £1,000 per day while he was about it ? The modesty of the bill in only claiming £10 per day from a man who is probably striking for a living wage is distinctly rich.)
A further clause in the bill declares that any person who incites, encourages, or aids in any manner any employer to declare and continue a lockout, or any employee to go or continue on strike, shall be liable to a fine of not less than £10 nor more than £200.
Apart, however, from its contents, the Bill is noteworthy by reason of the position and action of one of its backers as showing how he regards the “implicit trust” that has been placed in him by his followers. The bill was backed by Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. George Barnes, Mr. Fenwick and Mr. Enoch Edwards. The last-named gentleman, upon the bill being attacked and severely criticised as being in every sense derogatory to the interests of trade unionism, gave a remarkable explanation and repudiation of his backing. He said, firstly, that “the Bill contained propositions which he, after 40 years study of these questions, could not support.” He then went on to explain that “when I gave my name to Mr. Crooks, I had no idea I was being asked to put my name to a bill of this sort . . . my name is there purely by inadvertence, and I shall take every means possible to assure everybody that the sentiments in that bill are not in harmony with my own views. To tell you the honest truth, I had not seen the bill.” (Vide “Daily Chronicle,” 9.9.11.)
A delegate hereupon very pertinently remarked that “Only fools put their names to things without looking at them.” But this expression is not strong enough to be used in condemnation of the criminal negligence and vacuity of an avowed leader and paid representative of Labour, who assents to a Parliamentary measure which, if passed and carried into effect, would take from the workers the only weapon they possess while capitalism lasts, to combat the encroachments of their masters on the economic field. These be your gods, O Israel; these are the men in whom the workers are asked to place “implicit trust.” The impertinence, the cynicism, of such an appeal !
It might have been expected—that is, except by anyone who had some general knowledge of trade union officialdom—that one of the most important points to be considered at the Congress, and one that would raise the most animated discussion, would have been the question of the late Labour upheavals and their so-called settlements.
But, as a matter of fact, only a very luke-warm interest was shown in the resolution passed condemning the use of the military by the Government, and in the congratulations extended to the transport workers upon the result of their previous strike. Neither the prominent leaders, nor the Standing Orders Committee, nor the ssembled delegates, appeared desirous of raising any great discussion on the matter. Doubtless there were efficient reasons for this inanition. But when Mr. Will Thorne brought forward his “hardy annual” on Secular Education, then were the delegates in their glory. In spite of the fact that at the last general election he had, according to the “Daily Chronicle,” 2.12.10, the support of ministers of religion, and that he had S.W. Ham placarded with posters announcing that he had answered the questions of the Free Church Council satisfactorily, Mr. Thorne moved his absurd resolution re the trade union education policy, and incidentally gave an opportunity (which was immediately seized) to the assembled Christians to give proof of their Christain meekness and charity by addressing one another as “cowardly hounds,” and by raising what one report calls “a perfect pandemonium” for about ten minutes.
Mr. Thorne had previously in the week distinguished himself by seconding, and speaking in favour of, a resolution advocating the establishment of a citizen army. His view appeared to be that, in some way or other, if organised Labour were armed and trained for defensive purposes—it was not quite clear whether voluntary or compulsory—the need of conscription would be obviated.
In speeches opposing the resolution it was pointed out that “Lord Roberts, General Hutchinson, and all the Service Press advocate Thome’s bill,” and that Lord Roberts had said in the hearing of a dozen or more of those present : “I don’t care whether you call the army a citizen army. Call it what you like so long as you give me authority to bring the men in and train them. I will see what they do.”
Undoubtedly a citizen army would be a very good thing—from a capitalist standpoint. It would probably make the workers stronger and more efficient wage-slaves; it would implant into them a sense of discipline and obedience to their “superiors,” which would be found very useful by their employers in the event of any industrial dispute; it would, by concentrating their minds on military training and exercises, tend to stultify at a very vital and important period of their lives, any desire they might have towards understanding and solving the various problems that affect their economic position.
It will thus be seen that in supporting a measure such as this Mr. Will Thorne is only doing what might have been expected of him—that is, furthering the continuance of the present social system.
There were other incidents and interludes during the week, notably one interlude wherein Mr. Ben Tillett and another “fraternal delegate” came to blows over a “black-leg” trade union which had, apparently, been formed in opposition to one in which Mr. Tillett happened to be interested.
Sufficient evidence has, however, been given and sufficient conclusions drawn, to show how trade unionism, as exemplified by the proceedings at the Trade Union Congress, actually stands. The reports of the meeting show, with what dignity and mastery the various subjects were tackled by the chosen delegates of the trade unionists.
Mr. David Shackleton and the other advisers to the Home Office and Board of Trade will be able to carry to their Departments gratifying reports of the proceedings. And, one thinks, the Liberal Ministers, on hearing or reading these reports, will wonder how they could ever have thought it necessary to bring military coercion to bear upon the workers during the recent strikes, when there were, all the time, such serviceable exponents of confusion and puerilities as the trade union leaders and officials, who could surely have been depended upon to keep in hand such of their followers as dared to evince a tendency to disturb the even tenour of Liberal reform legislation.
F. J. WEBB