1930s >> 1934 >> no-362-october-1934

Editorial: Trade Unionists in

The annual conference of the Trades Union Congress took place this year at Weymouth under the chairmanship of Mr. Andrew Conley.
This year’s conference followed the trend of those of late years. The Government of the day was roundly condemned alike for the things that it has done and for the things it has left undone, and resolutions were passed recommending numerous reforms. All of which is to be expected of trade union conferences. This conference, however, was probably rescued from boredom by a provocative address by the chairman, a discussion on the bogey of Fascism, and another on war and the general strike.
Speaking on the conference resolution for a forty hours week, Mr. Conley said:

  “Trade unionism may yet have to use more drastic means of making effective its demand for this reform— and other of its claims. We may have to resort to other methods if the Government and the private interests which keep it in power continue to stand in the way. I am not using the language of menace but stating the conclusions which responsible officers of the trade unions are being driven to by the pressure of events. Many of us are being compelled to ask ourselves whether the best use is made in existing circumstances of the tremendous powers resident in our trade union organisation. The presentation and prosecution of wage claims, claims for shorter working hours, and other measures of general industrial application have been left to individual unions to press forward in limited application to their own industries or trades. Is it not wise and timely to consider the simultaneous presentation to employers in all industries of a carefully planned programme of wage increases, and a standard of working hours which each union or group of unions, with the assistance and guidance of the General Council, can make a matter of negotiation in the trades with which they are concerned?
“Piece-meal wage movements are on foot. They are backed by the argument that more spending power must become available in the hands of the wage-earning class, to lift the standard of life and to bring consumption up to the level of productive capacity. These sporadic and uncoordinated movements should be linked together in a disciplined and ordered effort to carry the unions forward as a united body. No infringement of the autonomy of unions is involved here. It is the logical next step in the development of the powers of this congress. The functions of leadership and unification of policy which congress expects its general council to exercise, find their justification here.”

The above is worth its lengthy quotation. It is an attitude uncommon at the moment among trade union leaders, for it has been interpreted by the Press as logically leading to a threat of a general strike. This may or may not be the logic of Mr. Conley’s position. It does, however, reflect an increased aggressiveness among trade unionists, which in its turn reflects the increase in trade and production. There is less pre-occupation with the “crisis” and more inclination to regard the employer as the enemy, a greater disposition to press for concessions and less of the attitude of peace in industry.” Nevertheless, Mr. Conley would have improved upon the situation had he anticipated in his argument the simultaneous refusal by employers when faced with the threatened “simultaneous presentation to employers in all industries of a carefully planned programme of wage increases.” Remembering the back-door tricks of the T.U.C. in the so-called general strike of 1926, many trade unionists will await with interest to see whether Mr. Conley and “other responsible officers” will make their views heard on the General Council in the near future.
Conference developed discussion on the general strike in dealing with a decision of the last Labour Party conference calling upon the trade unions to call a general strike in the event of war. The subject was the kind to bring politicians to their feet. For example, Mr. Clynes: “Did the critics mean that under no circumstances should they offer resistance to an aggressor threatening to destroy democratic institutions?” Shades of 1914 and the “War to save democracy,” and twenty years later a trade union leader before an audience of working men and women can get away with the melodramatic suggestion that an “enemy” capitalist goes to war with “our” capitalist because he is anxious to destroy our democratic institutions. Mr. Bevin favoured deciding on a “course of action when the danger was on them.” Others favoured the point of view that a war of defence against an “aggressor nation” was justifiable. The Daily Herald, on this point, suggested that there is “little likelihood that Britain would be an aggressor country.” Is the inference obvious? Is the Daily Herald preparing a defence for a future Labour Government that might find war “justifiable” ? It seemed to occur to no delegate to question whether a general strike would be successful in preventing war, or what possible benefit it would be for the working-class to fight in any war to further capitalist interests. The motion calling for a general strike was defeated and the conference contented itself with the motion that the “General Council would call a meeting to decide what action it would take if war was declared.”
The capitalist class will, we think, lose no sleep over the possibility. The Daily Telegraph, September 7th, without conscious irony, pointed out that on July 31st, 1914, on the eve of the late War, the late Mr. Keir Hardie and Mr. Arthur Henderson issued, on behalf of the British section of the International Socialist Bureau, a flaming appeal to the British working-class. It ended: “Down with class rule! Down with the rule of brute force! Down with war! Up with the peaceful rule of the people!” Hardly had the ink dried before the official Labour Party and Trade Union movement were enthusiastically supporting the War. And later, Mr. Henderson “downed” those who made themselves a nuisance to the capitalists by recommending obstinate strikers for deportation.
In the debate on the proposal for raising the school leaving age to sixteen years, leaders of religious organisations came in for some criticism because of their sectarian differences. No mention was made of the fact that the Labour Government’s bill for raising the school leaving age to fifteen years was prevented from becoming law because of the opposition of religionists within the Labour Party, led by the late Mr. John Scurr, then Labour M.P. for Mile End.
Likewise, the new Unemployment Insurance Act, which, though differing only in minor points from the Act which was in force during the period of the Labour Government, was described as a “ slave bill.”
The affiliated membership of the T.U.C. was given as 3,294,581, a decrease on last year’s figures of 73,330. It was pointed out, however, that the decrease has now fallen off, and an actual increase taking place. Moreover, it was stated that, as affiliation fees are based upon the membership of individual unions, these unions tend to be conservative in their estimated membership, owing to financial difficulties due to prolonged unemployment.
This year’s conference gave no signs of having got any nearer to the Socialist understanding of capitalism than former conferences.