The Labour Party Votes for Strike-Smashing Bill
We are threatened with strikes and lock-outs, and disputes and disturbances. How childish it all is! How foolish it all is! What has happened? Why is there now no mutual confidence? Surely these things can be arbitrated.—Mr. Ramsay Macdonald’s speech to Free Churches at Brighton, March 6th, 1924.
“The Right to Strike” is supposed to be the charter of Trade Unionism. Ever since unions were formed the masters have used every device to smash strikes. Now comes the Labour Party, when in office, supporting a Bill to make strikes illegal.
The Industrial Councils Bill provides for the setting up of joint industrial councils whose decisions will become law. Every individual who refuses to abide by them will be fined £50.
At the Trade Union Congress in 1922 the present War Secretary said that “if this Bill were passed it would mean compulsory arbitration.” The Congress voted against it. Mr. Naylor, of the Compositors, spoke against it there. The Delegate of the Distributive Works pointed out that his experience of the Trade Boards Act showed that in many cases nothing was done when employers infringed the Trade Boards Act. The Bill was also denounced at the Congress by Brownlie, of the Engineering Union.
When the voting on the second reading of the Bill took place in the House of Commons only 16 voted against it. The majority of the Labour members voted for this anti-strike measure, and the second reading was carried by 236 to 16.
In spite of the agreements continually ignored by employers, and the paralysing effect of Whitley Councils, the so-called spokesman of Labour joined with the capitalists in supporting the Bill. The fact that Conciliation Boards on the railways played havoc with the railwaymen, that trade unionists have continually been compelled to strike to get “awards” carried into effect; and that in Australia and elsewhere compulsory arbitration has been a strong weapon in the hands of the employers; despite these glaring facts, these alleged Labour men vote for even stronger powers to be given to the ruling class against the victims of the present system.
The quotation which heads this article explains the reason. The Labour Party tells the workers to have confidence in employers who live by the robbery of labour.
The reason capitalists supported the aims of this Councils Bill was stated by Dr. Macnamara, the capitalist politician during the debate. “Whitleyism is the reply to Socialism” was his defence of the Bill the Labour members supported.
The anti-Socialist actions of the so-called Labour Party were made plain by Dr. Macnamara’s answer to David Kirkwood during the debate. This Liberal member quoted the report of the Sub-Committee on Reconstruction made to the Government in 1917. The report begins with this gem :—
In the interests of the community it is vital that after the war the co-operation of all classes, established during the war, should continue, and more especially with regard to the relations between employers and employed.
The report was signed by Robert Smillie, Susan Lawrence, and J. R. Clynes!
If further proof were required of the anti-strike attitude of the Labour Party, it is supplied by the vote on Lansbury’s amendment to the Army Annual Bill. In 1923, when they were in opposition, 101 Labour members voted for this same amendment. The amendment states that when enlisting in the army the recruit shall have the option of refusing to take duty in aid of the civil power in connection with a trade dispute. When the same amendment was voted upon this year (April 2nd) under a Labour Government, out of nearly 200 Labour members only 67 voted in favour of this amendment. It was defeated by 236 to 67. The members of the Labour Government voted against it, and included amongst them were many of the so-called pacifists who voted for it in 1923.
Apart altogether from Lansbury’s consent (which is implied in the amendment) to the building up of an army at all, for capitalism, the fact that the Labour members continually supported it before they took office confirms our charge against them of unblushing hypocrisy and reaction.
A. C. A.