The Engineers and Communist strategy
After being locked out for ten weeks, the Hoe engineers have returned to work on the employers’ terms and in accordance with the advice of their leaders, local and national. On Tuesday, March 16th, the Communist Party issued a manifesto urging the strikers to “accept the decision of the National Council,” “in the interests of the working-class movement.” — “Daily Herald,” 17/3/26.
Thus the united front is complete. Sir Alan Smith, Mr. J. T. Brownlie, and “the intelligent minority” are at one. For two years negotiations for a rise in wages in the engineering industry have been in progress, only to result in the unions being finally told that any attempt to enforce an increase would be met with the resistance of the whole organisation of the employers. The reply of the unions is to sanction local movements (for an increase) of a “constitutional” character. This means that the movements must conform to the procedure, provided for in the existing agreement between the employers and the unions, “for avoiding disputes” (“Daily Herald,” 17/3/26). By thus tying the hands of their members in advance by the red tape of “conciliatory procedure,’’ the leaders have doomed these movements to the same sterility as the national negotiations.. Any real efforts to enforce their demands will be met by the lock-out or the threat thereof; and this is what the leaders are determined to avoid, judging by their action over the Hoe dispute.
Where, then, do the workers stand? If the leaders, including the district committees, are in earnest in putting forward demands for increases, what explanation have they to offer for allowing a section of their members to be defeated when making those same demands? If they are afraid of a lockout now, whence do they propose to derive their courage upon the inevitable failure of the local negotiations in the near future? How many years of parleying with the enemy is necessary in order to prove that there is no alternative to a fight?
Surely, fellow-workers, no more conclusive proof of our repeated criticism of Trade Unionism as it stands can be asked for than the patent futility of agreements with the bosses to avoid disputes. As well might two armies at war set down on paper a scheme for avoiding battles.
The Socialist Party has no illusions concerning the power of strikes. We have pointed out repeatedly the limits within which they can be successful. We do not encourage the workers in the fallacy that strikes will bring them nearer to their emancipation or substantially improve their position under capitalism. Especially do we advise the workers to avoid long strikes, which merely deplete the union funds at inopportune moments. This much, however, is clear—that so long as capitalism lasts, strikes are necessary as weapons of defence, as means of applying the brake upon the downward tendency of the workers’ social position.
For this reason we counsel our fellow-slaves to beware of the “leaders,” actual and potential. Keep the power in your own hands! The Hoe strikers made the fatal mistake at the last minute of leaving the matter in the hands of the committee, who promptly ordered them back to work. This sheep-like policy was commended by the Communist Party which thus, omce more, proves its worthlessness to the workers.
If the Hoe men were justified from the standpoint of working-class interests in striking at all, then it was up to them to stick to their guns until it was proved that they were beaten. If they were beaten, then the fact should be frankly faced as such. The Communist Party, however, is a stranger both to logic and honesty. Palpable failures are claimed as “successes,” defeats as “victories,” by these incompetent busybodies in their endeavour to create the illusion that they are “leading the masses in the every-day struggle against the bosses !” The nature of their ambitions, however, is made clear by their readiness to come to terms with the Trade-Union bureaucrats when given the chance. All they wish for is a share in the “swag.” A chaotic “Labour” movement, political and industrial, offers tempting jobs. Ignorant of their class position, the workers demand leaders; and the Communists are willing to fill the bill for the price !
As for the “constitutional” issue, what a curious change of front for a party which has repeatedly advocated minority action ! Perhaps the Hoe men were not sufficiently “intelligent” ? As Socialists, we are believers in democracy. To look for democracy among the Trade Unions, however, is to ignore their political and economic ignorance at the present time. Unofficial strikes are the logical outcome of official inaction resulting from the apathy of the majority.
Bearing these facts in mind, we point once more to the necessity for the organisation of the workers for Socialism. Non-Socialist Trade Unionism holds no message for the working-class. It can lead only to an endless series of defeats. What is needed is a clear recognition of the fact that the interests of masters and slaves are irrevocably opposed; that nothing but the abolition of mastership, based upon class ownership of the means of life, will free the workers from the burden of robbery and degradation.
We call upon our fellow-slaves to unite as a class, to throw off their entangling “agreements” and “alliances” with the masters’ representatives, both upon the industrial and the political field, to fight the class war to a victorious finish through the establishment of Socialism.
(Editorial, Socialist Stamdard, April 1926)