Editorial: The Masters’ Victory
Once more the Government, through its control of the trade unions officials, and the ignorance of the rank and file, has scored a victory over a section of the working class in the settlement of the railway strike on Sunday, 5th October. In 1914 the railwaymen were agitating for a raising of their whole standard of life, but the outbreak of war compelled them to postpone their scheme. After the Armistice the agitation began again and included a demand that the war bonuses should be incorporated in the regular wage and an additional sum added thereto.
Last March the officials of the railway unions accepted the Government offer of an “equalisation” or ”standardisation” wage with a basis of an average of 100 per cent. on pre-war wages. This was so little to the liking of the men that the officials had great difficulty in keeping them at work, and in South Wales the men came out on strike. That cunning agent of the master class—Mr. J. H. Thomas—was sent down post haste to drive the men back to work, by his influence and his threats, and he succeeded in his mission.
Negotiations on the details of this scheme went on until August, when a settlement was reached in the case of Engine-drivers, Firemen, and Cleaners. Mr. Bonar Law had promised that the “equalisation should be upwards,” and the railwaymen’s officials claimed that the wages of the highest-paid worker in each grade should be taken for the purpose of calculating the “standard” wage of the whole grade. This was done in the case of the Engine-drivers and Firemen, but all the other grades were reckoned in such a way that every one of them suffered reductions on their present total wage varying from 4s. to 14s. These are the figures given on the Government poster issued on Friday, 3rd October,
Suddenly, while negotiations are still going on, the Government issue the above scheme as a “definitive” or final set of proposals. The constitution of the National Union of Railwaymen gives the Executive Committee full power to call—or close—a national strike without consulting the members. Using this power the Executive called the men out on the 26th September.
There are some curious and even sinister features about this business. If the matter was worth the expense and suffering that a strike entails why was not the strike called when the scheme was first formulated? It is no worse now than then. Again, when it was known that the Government had issued a “final” set of proposals, many people condemned it for its “overbearing” and “autocratic” action. But in the official report of Friday’s interview it was stated that Mr. Thomas had asked for final proposals to be sent sent ! Why ? Mr. Thomas has not told us, nor is it likely that he will. After allowing the Government six months in which to prepare for such an event the N.U.R. officials take drastic action ! Although affiliated to the Miners and Transport Workers in the Triple Alliance Mr. Thomas deprecates any “sympathetic” action being taken by these bodies. Then the Transport Workers officials call a conference at which not only the officials of the affiliated unions attend, like the notorious strike breaker, Mr. J. Sexton, the r-r revolutionary R. Williams, who fought against the ‘bus conductresses receiving the 5s. war bonus granted to the men, Mr. H. Gosling, the faithful friend of the Government, but also such agents of the employers as Mr. Brownlie of the A.S.E., and Mr. J. O’Grady of the Furniture Trades.
A gathering of this character made assurance doubly sure that the interests of the master class would be strenuously protected, and the settlement reached was merely the expression of their success.
As the master class do not wish to show their own game too clearly a little window dressing had to be done to save the faces of these officials before the men. So while the government scheme so loudly advertised as the cause of the strike is accepted as a whole, its application is deferred till September 1920, and the “standard” wage fixed for the lowest paid section, is raised 2s. per week.
And the men gathered at the Albert Hall on the Sunday evening cheered this as a “great victory.” So it was—for the Government. And it will not be the last of their victories. While the working class are willing to put faith and power in “leaders” they will continue to be mislead and sold out at critical moments. Giving these men power to settle fights with the masters means giving them something they can sell to these masters whenever the latter wish to bargain.
Not until the workers acquire faith in themselves will they escape from this danger. Once they reach that stage in their mental development and understanding the days of “moderate,” “wise,” and “statesmanlike” leaders will be gone, and the workers will organise to take control of the means of life by retaining in their own hands the power to decide the issues before them. Then, instead of trying to find out how long they can live on shortened rations, while the masters roll in luxury, they will march to capture the power of control—the political machinery—and end the struggle over wages by abolishing the wages system and establishing Socialism.