1920s >> 1921 >> no-203-july-1921

On ‘Control’

Despite the open and covert ruling-class propaganda, the careful provision of spectacular demonstration, the frantic endeavour to interest the workers in these things that concern only the capitalist class (Irish ferment, Indian disaffection, and the like), the past few years have witnessed ever-increasing economic strife, ever increasing hostility on the part of the workers to the existing social order.


If we consider the struggles of the last five years, a time of trade boom and slump, it is plain that the gains do not balance the losses : the workers enjoy a reduced standard of living.Current events show that the most powerful trade union organisation is weak compared to the might of the master class. All the trade union action we have witnessed has not sufficed to maintain the workers’ pre-war standard of living. Yet it is proposed to oppose this paltry machinery to the organised force of the master class. How? In the industrial strife we have noted demands were backed up by the cessation of work. To enforce these new political demands some would stay in while others  would have a general strike to get “control,” while on every hand we have schemes whereby the workers will progressively become dominant in the workshop.


Mr. John Hill, General Secy. United Society of Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders, outlines some such scheme in his monthly report to his members quoted by the “Labour Leader,” 22.4.1921.


Dealing with the coal lock-out Mr. Hill lays down his scheme. “The miners,” he says, “have met the first attack in the only honourable way when national negotiations were refused. In certain eventualities we may take the same course, and we may win ; but we can not beat the international capitalists by a strike here and there. We must get control of the workshops. We must get control of our municipalities. We must get control of the nation.


“This will take time and education and discipline.


“There is no need of machine guns to secure these things.”


Our trade union official does not in any way elaborate his plan or inform us how it is to be established. The object of workshop control is to restrain or check the injurious effect of modern industry on the workers.


According to its advocates, workshop control can be established in two ways—


  1. Bit by bit, following the policy of harassing the employers, or
  2. “Taking and holding,” following the policy of drastic action on the industrial field.


The fact is usually lost sight of that, at the present day, the entire running of industry is carried on by the workers.


Concerning those schemes that come under the first group the reader is reminded of an occurrence in Italy in August and September, 1920. The workers there seized many factories, the masters preferring to let things take their course rather than damage valuable property. Had the Italian masters so minded the factories and the workers in them would have been blown across the Rubicon.


The inevitable happened. No wages forthcoming, the affair fizzled out. The Government however, with an eye to the main chance promised to introduce a bill that would inaugurate workers control committees. This they afterwards did.


The Government bill laid down that the committees should function in practically all large concerns except those of State.


  “Workers who are devoted to each category of the larger industries, and who have reached their majority, will elect on the proportional system a Commission of Control comprising nine members. Six of these members will be chosen by the rank-and-file, and the remaining three by the engineers, higher employees, and technical managers engaged in that particular industry.” —(“Daily Chronicle,” 26.1.21.)


The “Daily Herald” (26.1.21), under the heading “Official Powers given to shop stewards,” supplements the above.


  “Employers in each industry will also elect a committee of nine members for the purpose of treating with the workers’ committee . . . A workmen’s committee has the right to have all information necessary to establish the cost of raw material, the cost of production, and the methods of administration and production. . . . also information concerning the salaries paid to workmen, how the capital is constituted, and details respecting mechanical equipment, as well as the manner in which the rules governing employment and discharge of workers are carried out.”


In these Italian control committees the workers have a representation equal to that of their masters. How did the masters take it ?


  “From hurried enquiries I have made tonight, I find factory owners fiercely opposed to the extent of control outlined above. Many declare they will go into liquidation rather than submit to the provisions of the Bill.”—(“Daily Chronicle,” 26.1,21.)


With such an extent of control and such opposition doubtless effects are far-reaching. But listen !


  “Its objects are explained as aiming at ameliorating the technical instruction of the workers, and their moral and economic status within the limits permitted by the conditions in which manufacturers carry on their tasks.
“Ensuring the execution of the whole body of laws framed for the protection of the toiling classes.
“Facilitating betterment in methods of production, with a view to making production itself more fruitful and economical.
“Rendering more and more normal and peaceful the relations between the givers and undertakers of labour.”—(“Daily Chronicle,” 26.1.21.)


The results of such control are painfully obvious. The “limits of the conditions in which manufacturers carry on their tasks” are the limits of production for profit. “Ameliorating the technical instruction of the workers” means more capable workmen; “more economical and fruitful production” implies a great increase in the army of unemployed The carrying out of factory laws, etc. is necessarily a protection of capitalism itself, quite as much as old age pensions, unemployment doles, and hospitals. As to the “peaceful relations,” there have been strikes almost daily since.


With regard to those schemes that fall under the second heading, it is necessary for Mr. Hill or his apostles to show how it is possible for the would-be controllers to combat the forces that would be set in motion by those who have political power. “No need for machine guns”— but let Mr. Hill attempt to run the boiler-making industry against the will of the masters. The machine guns would be there, and so would the artillery, and the tanks, and the poison gas if required, prepared to proceed to any extreme at the behest of those who hold political power.


Workshop control schemes, like profit-sharing and bonus systems, will only be put into operation at the command and with the consent of the master class, and therefore only in their interests.


To secure the second proposition there is only one way. When anybody wishes to be represented in local government affairs it places its representatives before the electorate at the appointed times, and if returned in a majority, decides the course to be pursued in local affairs. The rub is here. Local government bodies are very much limited in their powers. Further, measures decided upon can be overturned, functions can be absolutely crippled by the severe restraint exercised by the central governing body—Parliament. Just one instance: “The Local Legislation Committee of the House of Commons have refused by a majority vote to allow the Wigan Corporation to establish a Municipal Savings Bank.” (“Local Government Chronicle,” 21.5.21.


What would be the fate of any local government measure that attempted to hinder production for profit ?


Of Mr. Hill’s third proposition little need be said. How the workers are to get “control of the nation” our mentor does not tell us. He would have the workers concern themselves with local government, burial boards, and work houses. But that central government machinery that can decide control schemes, local government action, the action of the armed forces, etc. he contemptuously dismisses, grouping political action with religious bigotry as “dividing the workers.”


Production for profit respects only the law of its own undivided sway. The wage slave can no more dictate to the capitalist the terms of wage slavery than the serf could dictate to the feudal lord the conditions of serfdom. The capitalist class own the instruments of wealth production. More than this, and with the consent of the workers, they have political power, and through this ensure their own dominance as a ruling class.


Political power enables the master class to preserve intact the vital structure, the vital functioning of this system. It enables them to say that the property less shall protect the means of production, the property of the master class, from any and every attack. Political power carries with it the control of that brute force usually hidden but so necessary to maintain class rule.


Workers control or any other reform that can possibly be mentioned, implies the continuance of capitalism, the continued dominance of the capitalist class. Workers’ control is absolutely useless to the workers while the capitalist class OWN the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution.


The workers must wrest from the ruling class the political power, and wield it in their own interest. Only a revolutionary working class can do this, and can use this power to one end alone: the abolition of capitalism and the institution of Socialism.


Let us renounce, therefore, all thoughts of reforms, no matter by what alluring title they may be known; let us resolutely refuse to be beguiled by side issues, no matter by whom they may be displayed; let us work for the only thing that matters, the institution of that form of society wherein every man’s labour shall belong to the community, every man’s needs shall be the concern of the community, every mental and physical gift that history has given to the sons and daughters of man shall radiate to the happiness of the whole of the community and the fullness of human life.


A. H.