Bill in the Chair

The Trade Union Congress has met, passed resolutions on things that do not matter, listened to innumerable speeches, attended many functions, “seen the sights” of Newport, assisted in prayer at .the Labour sermon, and having run its respectable course, over much the same ground that other congresses have before it, has respectably passed away.

Labour is none the wiser for their deliberations ; none the more free for all their wordy resolutions ; none the fatter or happier for all the merry feasting and expensive junketting of their “Parliament.”

As usual, the Congress was larger than ever before, and its president, blushing Bill, showed an “example of straight speaking and clear thinking which might well be copied by some of our brilliant speakers and debaters at Westminster.” (“Daily Herald.”)

After a few preliminary remarks anent “the largest and most important congress yet held” (omitting to state that the increased membership was due in the main to a blind rush to join “approved societies” in conformity with the National Insurance Act) Bill proceeds to show his ignorance.

He tells us that “the outcome of the coal strike would take them one step nearer to the nationalisation of the mines . . . which, will be of a lasting benefit to the nation.” (“Daily Herald.”)

This is distinctly good for Bill, who time and time again has stated that the Government workers are worse off than those employed outside. Further on in this illuminating address he tells us that “9,000 employees of the late National Telephone Co. now enjoy the same conditions as the Post Office workers, which, brought them under the eight hours system.”

The result of the eight hours system and Government control has been “an increase of £175,000 per year in wages, increased holidays, a larger staff, and pensions amounting to an expenditure of £201,000 per annum,” according to our worthy president.

Which is all bosh, as has been shown by many of Bill’s pals who have the misfortune to” enjoy” the jobs he refers to. Among others, one “in the engineering branch of the service” who states in the “Daily Herald” (6.9.12) that “a 50½ hour week” is worked, goes on : “I shall be pleased for Mr. Thorne to understand that the increase in wages is only in theory, as no employee is receiving any increase ; also that a large number of the men have not had an increase of pay for the last two or three years and in consequence of the tramsfer will not receive any now, Where the late Company’s employees’ hours have been reduced they have suffered a corresponding reduction in wages, but where working hours have been extended no recompence has been given.”

At the Annual Meeting of the Government Workers’ Federation at Enfield on June 4, 1912, Bill’s benevolent boss was described as “the greatest enemy we have got,” and a delegate said : “They [the Government] are the worst set of employers I have come into contact with in my life. They are wicked ; they rob the maimed, the blind, the widow and the labourer. In fact, they take everything we let them take.” (“Daily News,” 4.6.12.)

At the same meeting a resolution was passed condemning the Government for refusing to put the “fair wages” agreement, in operation, and calling upon them to grant a miniinutn wage of 25s. 6d. to workers engaged in War Office and Admiralty departments.

Mr. W. Cheeseman, secretary of the Fawcett Association, said that the Government were forcing them to strike, and delegates from the Royal Parks stated that “for a wage of 23s. many of the man put in a seven day weak.”

This eulogy of the Government on the part of our “honest” chairman, who has “graduated with high honours in the school of Labour,” denoted a sudden change of front. In the House of Commons, March 4, 1912, Mr. William Thorne (South West Ham) :

“moved as an amendment to leave out from the word “That” to the end of the Question in order to add instead thereof the words :

‘in the opinion of this House the conditions of service of Government employees should be in every respect at least equal to those observed by the best private employer or by local public authorities doing similar work.’ (‘Parliamentary Debates’ Vol. 35, No. 14, p. 83.)

This amendment was defeated by the Labour men who abstained from voting for their own amendment in order to save the Government from possible defeat.

In support of his amendment Thorne and others give some very interesting facts. Bill said: —

“There are a number of leading storehouse men at Pimlico receiving 20s. per week, while in the factories adjacent to Pimlico it is found that the average for a similar class of employment worked out at 25s. 6d. Crane men start at 27s. per week and go up to 32s., while a similar class of men working outside for ordinary contractors can command 35s. and 40s. per week.” Barge loaders and van men working for the Government “get 24s. per week without any chance of promotion, These men are doing a similar class of work to that for which in the docks and on the wharves of the river 8d. per hour is paid, with 1s. per hour for overtime.”

“At the Army Ordnance Department at Woolwich,” said Mr. Tyson Wilson, “the men presented a petition asking for a minimum of 28s. per week. Some of these men are ‘promoted’ to foremen without having their wages increased. At Waltham Abbey things have improved, and the minimum is now 24s. per week. But the work is very injurious. The materials get into the system, affecting the heart, particularly the nitro-glycerine, and that is not work at which men live long. At Weedon,” went on Mr. Wilson, “the skilled labourers get 19s. per week and 2d. per day extra duty pay. At Enfield . . the minimum is 23s. 6d. The local employers of labour pay 6½d. and 7d. per hour.

Some very glaring cases of sweating were given with regard to firms contracting for the Government. At Stepney at Clark’s biscuit factory men are working 60 hours per week for 19s. 6d., while at MacNeill’s Patent Felt works 14s. is paid for 56½ hours work.

According to Mr. Wilson there are “cases of hosiery firms who are supplying the War Department for the wear of soldiers and other servants, and some of these firms have said themselves that they do not intend to pay the standard wages.”

So much for the pet scheme of nationalisation. Bill should know (and probably does know) that nationalisation means greater poverty and insecurity for the worker, and that the Government as an employer is better only in so much that it can grind the hardest and sweat the most.

Bill also seemed to believe that the miners during the year had won a victory, for he is reported by the “Daily Herald” as saying :—

“The main reason for the miners leaving work was to establish a minimum wage. . . . The Government made every effort to bring about a settlement without legislation but failed, and the Minimun Wage Bill was passed. la many districts a substantial increase has been brought about.”

Anent this we print the following from the “South Wales Daily News” (9.9.12) : —

“Mr. Hubert Jenkins, miners’ agent, has just issued a circular to the workmen at the Llanbradach Collieries stating that the relations between the men and the management have become very strained, and that it requires some courage under the circumstances for men to dare to assert their right to the minimum wage under the Minimum Wage award. He alleges that when the man fail to get clearance and claim to be paid, they are being stopped and kept idle or sent to work by night, which means the revival of the system of sponging.
“This treatment (he proceeds) is being meted out to a few at a time with the result that no man is safe ; this must cone to an end. The committee are blamed, the miners’ agent also, because of the delay in getting grievances dealt with. The time has come when the whole of the men employed at the Llanbradach collieries must voice their protest in a determined manner, or be prepared to to sacrifice their freedom and liberty completely.
“Men, he further alleges, have been going home with starvation wages since the resumption of work at the end of the national strike.”

Our brilliant Gas-worker next shone upon the question of the eight hours day. After pointing out that the Congress had been passing the resolution since 1890 without effect, he asked them to pass it again. “If time had permitted” he “could speak at length on the benefits an eight hours day would bring to the wage-earners in increasing leisure and decreasing unemployment.” Which again shows how little knowledge this paragon of presidents possesses.

A reprint from the “Daily News” (27.8.09), reporting the speech of Professor Chapman in his address to the Economic Science and Statistical Section, of the British Association, Winnepeg, may interest and instruct.

“The character of much of the world’s work, said Professor Chapman, has changed, and with that change has come a difference ia the demands made upon leisure. These changes all tended to specialisation and concentration, both in working and in leisure, and to constant demands for the curtailment of the working hours of the day. In the course of long investigations he had found no instance in which an abbreviation of hours had resulted in a proportionate curtailment of output. There was, indeed, every reason to suppose that the production in the shorter seldom fell short of the longer hours, and in some cases the output or its value had been augmented.

As the miners and others have discovered, an eight hours day means greater speeding up rendered possible by the greater amount of leisure, and, as has beea shown, in many cases a greater output with the same or a smaller number of employees. The introduction of the eight hours day, like the adoption of nationalisation, means more unemployment and more poverty for the workers, and no amount of claptrap from the President of the Trade Union Congress will prove the contrary.

After a sly lift to the Home Rule Bill and other Liberal measures the President passed to the Insurance Act and endeavoured to draw attention from the fraudulent nature of that measure by attacking the Prudential. The “Pru,” it seems, have been business-like, and have captured all the ninepences, at which the Unions are wrath. In their desire to get members the latter care little whether or not such members are trade unionists, and clearly show that what we have said all along is true, namely, that the sick and benefit side of the unions has long since absorbed all trace of the fighting organisations they may once have been.

A curious exception to this touting may be noted in a union which shouts about the “tactics” of the Prudential and at the same time have refused to accept into their “approved society” members of their own union. Thus the London Society of Compositors are forcing their own members into the insurance societies, while their delegates condemn the Prudential for taking them !

The Congress settled down to business and passed a resolution “that the question of secular education be eliminated from the questions for discussion at any future Congress.”

They have been discussing and passing resolutions about secular education for some forty years and made no progress, and so have decided not to waste time in passing any more. How much better would it have been if they had done the same with the rest of the motions ! None of them are of importance and nobody takes any notice of them.

There was much to do on the question of compulsory arbitration, and Mr. Ben Tillett, its champion, exchanged some complimentary remarks with Messrs. Brace and Havelock Wilson, but nothing important was said. The anti-political gentleman rightly said that the other side wore “political Mathuselahs who are capable of passing resolutions and nothing else,” while those in support of the motion favouring political action truly said that “the opponents of the motion were ex-members of Parliament; those who had tried to get into Parliament, and those who had abandoned all hope of getting there.” (“Daily Herald.”)

It is interesting to note that the Executive of the B.S.P., of which Tillett is a member, unanimously passed a resolution at its meeting on July 8th. condemning compulsory arbitration “as destructive of the independence (!) of the workers,” and recorded its “strong and convinced protest against the principle of compulsory arbitration in industrial disputes.” (“Socialist Record,” July, 1912.)

Evidently the rejection of his pet proposal annoyed Tillett, for, writing in the “Daily Herald” (9.9.12) he tells us that “there is little chance for most of the men attending Congress to even debate new theories, however common-sense they may appear to be. … the real powers and potentialities of Congress are stultified by the atrophy of customary narrowness in. thinking.”

The above sentiment is endorsed by Mr. Price, a member of the West Australian Parliament, who, to a representative of the “South Wales Argus” said : “I was struck with the lack of knowledge displayed, not only by the delegates, but by the Members of Parliament (did he mean Bill ?) . . . The difference between the Labour Party in the Antipodes and in Great Britain is that the former has a definite policy dealing with every phase of political economy, while in Great Britain the Labour Party has no definite policy or platform so far as I have been able to discover.”

The Congress got excited because of a certain circular issued by the Government re the transfer of members of an “approved society,” decided to call a special meeting, and generally spat forth fire at the action of the Government. But the Government need have no fear. The bribe given to the unions has caught them effectually, and though they may threaten to withdraw they will remain safely within the net in consideration of extra membership and extra dues, coupled with the influence brought to bear by one-time trade unionists who have been bought by Government jobs. To quote Ben Tillett: .

“All the expressions of opinion asking for action to be taken, either for amalgamation or joint trade union action, were sat upon, and the fighters of twenty years ago are the ruling politicians of to-day.”

Ah, yes ! the trade union movement has been sold time after time, and will remain as clay in the hands of those who are moulding it to suit their own purposes, just so long as the membership of those trade unions fail to understand their class position and the politics dictated by that position. Any action taken by any section of the trade unions will be side-tracked and outvoted by the bosses who are pulling the strings, and they in turn are led by those who have already been bought by the Government.


Leave a Reply