Editorial: The Socialist View of the Trade Union Bill
The Government, to please the “Die-hards” in the Conservative Party and the more unthinking of its supporters generally, has chosen this moment to produce a Bill containing very drastic amendments of the law as it affects the trade unions. The chief provision may be summarised as follows :—
Certain sympathetic strikes and strikes for non-trade union purposes are to be declared illegal. Picketing is to be restricted. Civil Servants and unions are to be cut off from contact with outside trade unions and political parties, and local authorities are to be forbidden to give preference to trade unionists in their employ. Lastly, the member of a union who wishes to contribute to the political fund must individually express his desire to do so, instead of, as now, the onus being on the non-contributor to express his unwillingness.
Whatever the future may bring forth, the immediate effect has been to stir the officials of the trade unions to a frenzy of denunciation. It is said by many, and believed, that this is a deliberate and calculated endeavour to smash trade unionism ; and to cripple the finances of the Labour Party. Believing this, the labour leaders who feel their jobs in danger will doubtless fight with more genuine enthusiasm than they displayed last year, for instance, in the attempted General Strike.
If, however, we consider the matter calmly, it is obvious that the Government’s action is not capable of so simple an explanation. Hotheads there may be in the Conservative ranks, but the big industrial and financial capitalists whose interests the Government represents, would never want trade unionism smashed, however much they may desire the removal of certain—for them —unpleasant features. The trade unions have become an integral part of the industrial and administrative machinery of Capitalism, and the fear that the proposed legislation may be pushed too far by the Tory “Diehards” has quickly induced many Conservative newspapers as well as the bulk of the Liberal press to issue a call for a less provocative attitude on the part of the Government. Both the “Daily News” (April 19th) and the Conservative “Observer” (April 17th) have particularly stressed the opposition which is being displayed to the Bill by influential employers. They can see something which should be obvious. The employing class and their Government are quite strong enough to deal with any strike, sectional or general, without altering the law. Legal changes will not increase the power of the ruling class, and will needlessly exasperate the workers. The number of strikes will not be diminished, and they may well be accompanied by an increased bitterness which may endanger Capitalist property. Votes will be lost to Conservative candidates, and the only important gains will be to the lawyers, who will net big fees by assisting the Courts to understand what the Bill means. The Bill will certainly hamper the trade unions in various ways, and will please some very vociferous Conservative supportersv but as the employers generally will probably, on balance, reap no advantage, it seems fairly certain that the Government has no intention of pushing it through as it stands, or alternatively, they do not intend to enforce it too rigidly when it has been passed. It is possible, as has been suggested, that the Bill’s purpose is to distract attention from the Government’s activities in China.
Of one thing we can be certain. If the workers ever feel moved again to come out on strike as in May last year, a mere declaration of the illegality of their action will not prevent them.
On the question of the Political Levy, our position has often been stated. As we oppose the Labour Party, and do not believe that it will or can solve the major problems of the working-class, we do not want to contribute to Political Funds to finance the Labour Party through the trade unions, and we are not perturbed at this proposed alteration in the law. Members of the Socialist Party habitually decline to contribute and will continue to do so. Furthermore, we are convinced that it would be better for the trade unions if they confined themselves to definitely trade union objects. They must necessarily accept to membership Liberals, Conservatives, Labour Party supporters and Socialists, as well as people with no political allegiance. They would increase their fighting strength if they dropped their support of one Party, and thus removed a cause of apathy and disloyalty among all those who have other or no political views. The trade unions would then become more effective in struggling against the effects of Capitalism. When the workers become Socialist, they will organise politically to establish Socialism. Neither for that purpose nor in the present task of resisting the encroachments of the employers is anything gained by supporting the Labour Party.
The fact that this Bill should have provoked a more bitter political fight than we have seen for years, is itself an adequate condemnation of the Labour Party’s policy. Had that party ever made Socialism the issue, it would have found itself engaged in an unceasing death-struggle with the parties defending Capitalism. Because its aim is not Socialism, but merely the reform of Capitalism, its fights have all been sham fights; it has been an honoured member of coalition governments (as during the War), and was placed in office in 1924 by Liberal votes to do specific pieces of Capitalist work. What a commentary on a political party that the first serious battle of its existence occurs because of an attack on the funds which pay the salaries and election expenses of its politicians !
(Socialist Standard, May 1927)