Editorial: Dockers Betrayed

For ten weeks the London Transport Workers have been out on strike ; not for fresh demands, but merely to retain what they had “won” last August. Sir Albert K. Rollit, the Lord Chief Justice, and Sir Edward Clarke have “awarded” them various increases, but the employers have simply ignored them.

Last August the Dockers had a splendid opportunity. The Carmen, Railwaymen, and the Provincial, as well as the London, Dockers were out. Yet immediately Sir G. Askwith, Burns, Masterman, and Buxton had signed “terms of settlement” they were ordered back to work.

The leaders babbled of a glorious victory, and gloated over the fact that not a penny of strike pay was distributed ; but not one of the “advances” ever saw the light.

The Transport Workers, like most workers, are ignorant of science. They merely wanted the agreement “honoured” and looked no further afield. Their ignorance is reflected in their choice of “leaders.” Did they understand their real interests the Tilletts, Goslings and Wilsons would long-since have been unemployed. The Strike Committee ordered a national strike, but when the unions affiliated to the Federation (who had never been consulted) refused to comply, the worth of the democracy and leadership of the Federation was seen.

During the ten weeks the Government were not idle. They drafted thousands of armed as well as mounted police into the strike area, sent gunboats into the Thames, and mobilised reserve men all over the country. Hundreds of soldiers were sent to places like Grays and Tilbury. Mr. McKenna boasted that they had supplied more police protection for blacklegs than any Government before. The result was that ships were loaded and unloaded despite the strike.

The Shipping Federation raked up blacklegs from all parts. They swore they would never give in. They organised a system of pooling liabilities, and laughed at the men because they had the Government behind them. They knew they could flout the men while the police and soldiers were at their command.

The Dockers hoped great things from the nationalising of the organisation of the Docks. When the Port of London Authority was established they thought casual labour had gone for ever. Instead it has increased. A leading member of the Government went from the Board of Trade to the Chair of the Authority, and has shown himself as callous as any Tory, not even excepting the late tyrant of Penrhyn.

Liberals and Tories alike have engaged in the calculated starvation of the men and their families. Meanwhile Labour Members stood cheek by jowl with Lord Devonport, watching the Fleet from the deck of the “Armadale Castle.” And while starvation grew apace on the banks of the Thames, Asquith and Redmond talked of Home Rule on the banks of the Liffey. They played he game of the masters. Every suggestion, therefore, met with the firm refusal of the employers. They had evolved their scheme and it did not include surrender.

The fearful sufferings of the toilers could not be surpassed in any age or clime. Radical “Reyolds’s” (July 14) says: “Little children of the East End dying like flies. Mothers starving.” It goes on to quote Father Ring, a local clergyman, thus:

“Bad as the conditions were a fortnight ago they are unfortunately worse now. Landlords are fixing eviction orders on the houses, and this is driving the poor people almost mad. Not only is the East End racked with hunger, not only has every stick of furniture been pledged in many instances, but a new horror is at hand. The matron of a local lying-in home told me that seven babies born in the institution during the strike period had died, in her opinion entirely through the pressure of the strike. Having parted with every stick of furniture, mothers have been unable to provide themselves with the nourishment necessary for the preservation of their own health and the lives of their infants.”

The strike leaders played the game in the usual style. They told the men funny stories, prayed to God, boasted, foamed and bounced. Right up to last Saturday afternoon they told the men to stand firm and assured them they were winning. But when the union funds were gone, when the leaders had led their dupes into a cul-de-sac, they scuttled.

The leaders met at the “Royal Hotel,” Mile End, and announced the strike over. They issued a manifesto calling upon the men to return to work. The manifesto reads like the usual betrayal. The men were ordered back to work unconditionally, but they were never consulted about it. The Strike Committee declare that all agreements must be maintained in their entirety. This in spite of the fact that the employers have definitely refused to carry out their side. It means the men are ordered to do all the giving and the masters are to do all the taking. The former are to go back to work at the complete mercy of the Shipping Federation. Being without funds in their union, the masters know they can’t resist. So for a start they have told the men that they must sign on as casual workers, not as permanent men.

No wonder 30,000 strikers in Southwark Park voted unanimously against return. Will Thorne, Ben Tillett, Harry Gosling, and Jack Jones were told to their faces by the strikers that they were traitors and turncoats, and that they had sold the men. The men in their rage tore down the notices declaring the strike at an end, and demanded a ballot; but heedless of the men’s anger the Strike Committee met again and reaffirmed their unanimous decision declaring the strike off and ordering the men back to work.

Though many of the latter may still stand out, the official order to go back will no doubt, have the effect of smashing the strike, so that the leaders who have done the masters the good service of depleting the unions’ treasuries, at the end of the chapter of tragedy have done them another excellent turn in the capacity of strikesmashers.

Slowly but surely, by twos and threes and at odd times, the men will present themselves to be humiliated by the masters.

Yet the leaders have not yet exhausted their effrontery, for with an almost cynical touch they wind up their manifesto with the statement that the Transport Workers’ Federation is “the workers’ only hope.” Could deception be more glaring ?

The men must drive these misleaders from their present position. They must learn the lesson of the class struggle ; they must insist upon democracy. The small power of strikes and the mighty political power of the masters must be realised ere victory can be won. The fight must be waged, not around agreements and recognition, but upon the question of whether slavery shall continue.

The workers then will have no use for Compulsory Arbitration and Emigration advocates like Ben Tillett, and Bottomley’s friend, Liberal candidates like Harry Gosling, and Tory gold candidates like Jack Jones of Camborne will again have to flit by the back door.

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