How far the “labour leaders” have to depend upon the sheep-like following of the rank and file for their “power” and their “reputation,” instead of upon any particular ability or genius of their own, is shown when that following give any signs of ignoring their “leaders.” An instance has occurred lately that has been used by one of the most prominent of these “leaders” as a lesson for their sheep, pointing the moral of unquestioning obedience and docile following.
This is the case of the Ironmoulders’ strike for an increase of wages. Contrary to the usual custom the men, while sending a deputation to meet and negotiate with the employers, insisted that no terms should be accepted until they had been submitted to a ballot-vote of the rank and file. As it is this rank and file and not the leaders, who have to bear the cost and suffering of the struggle, it would appear obvious sense that they should decide the acceptance or rejection of any terms offered. But this means the taking away from the “leaders” of the very thing that gives them importance in the employers’ eyes, namely, the power to negotiate and settle the terms to be accepted, without any reference to the rank and file.
The fact that the moulders lost their strike is used by Mr. Clynes, M.P.
, as an argument against the moulders’ method of action, and he makes some curious statements that, quite unintentionally, of course, contradicts the argument he puts forward. He says;
The leaders had many opportunities of understanding the material and moral factors which were operating against the workmen. And the men in the main were not able to appreciate the difficulties of their leaders, or understand the strength of their employers.
Coming from such a source this is a striking condemnation of the “leaders” and their actions. Why did not the “leaders” explain the “material and moral factors” operating against the men? What were the “difficulties” in front of them? And why—if they knew, did not they explain “the strength of the employers” to the men ?
Mr. Clynes, of course, dares not answer such questions, simple though they are. Either he is bluffing in stating that the “leaders” knew these things, or the latter were deliberately swindling the men by withholding such important information.
Further on Mr. Clynes makes another assertion to support his tottering case :
Leaders of experience should be viewed, not only as trustworthy, but as extremely anxious for their own credit to secure for their following the best possible terms. (Italics ours.)
At once the question arises: Why? In the columns of the Socialist Standard will be found hundreds of instances showing that the only “trustworthiness” of the “labour leaders” was for the employers’ interest and against that of the men. But even if Mr. Clynes’ claim were true it would have no weight. The men, who have to bear the brunt of the fight, should decide, not the “leaders,” whose comfortable position remains intact.
Further to support his case Mr. Clynes refers to the railwaymen’s struggle and states :
. . . workmen would not, I believe, have their interests endangered by giving powers to their representatives similar to those exercised by the leaders who recently acted for the railway servants.
It is unlikely that the railwaymen would have done better by balloting on the terms their so-called leaders secured. It is just possible that they might have done worse. It is difficult to see how they could have done worse, but they had far better run the “risk” than allow themselves to be pawns in the game played by their “leaders” and the employers. And after all, what results did their “leaders” obtain?
The Government offer contained two essential points, the rest being details of application. The first was that the average wage of each grade should be taken as the basis for calculating the increased percentages. The second was the establishment of a sliding scale of wages dependent upon the cost of living. This point has a significance worthy of the workers’ notice.
Labour “leaders,” including, of course, Mr. Clynes, have been urging the workers to “produce more” on the plea that they, the workers, can obtain a larger share of wealth. We have exposed this lie on several occasions. Now comes the Government with official support of our exposure, and proof of the fraudulent character of these “trustworthy” henchmen of the masters.
If, as a result of increased production (or any other cause) prices should fall, then, instead of having a greater share of the products, the railwaymen will have their wages reduced so that they will obtain only about the same quantity of products as before, though they will have the consolation of seeing the masters’ profits rising faster than before. What a victory for the “trustworthy leaders”!
Nor is this the whole case. According to reports the majority of the delegates to the Special Delegate Meeting called to consider this offer were instructed by their constituents to reject these terms. The fact that, at first, they did reject them is evidence of the correctness of the reports. On the second presentation, however, they accepted the terms embodying these two essential points. Why? Perhaps a reference to a previous action may supply the answer.
When a Delegate Meeting in March, 1919, threatened to call a strike of railwaymen Mr. J. H. Thomas, M.P.
, the General Secretary, told the delegates he would “stump the country to turn the men against them.” His threat succeeded. Apparently he still has a large following among the rank and file. Did he threaten the delegates this time ? It ii well known that he strongly favoured the acceptance of the Government’s terms, and would, therefore, be ready to do all he could to persuade the men to adopt them. This shows how “trustworthy” he is— for the Government. We would like to ask him this question : “How long was he in possession of the Government’s terms before he submitted them to the delegates?” If they were not submitted as soon as they were obtained may we ask, why not?
The answers should at least be interesting.
When Mr. Clynes pleads with the men to retain the system of “authorised and trusted delegation,” he fails to produce a single argument to support so rotten a system. The moulders lost their strike, but it was the only method open to them to test the resistance the masters were prepared to make. “Trusted delegates” could not have told them this. The railwaymen, who accepted the theory of “trusted delegation,” have lost even worse than the moulders, because they have accepted the vicious principle that they must make no attempt to alter their standard of living, no matter how much the methods of wealth production may improve.
Mr. Clynes’ pleading for continued “trust” in himself and his fellow labour misleaders, is shown by this simple analysis to be a boomerang that returns on himself, and knocks down the case he puts before us.