The Rank and File
[The article below is reprinted from “Socialist Comment,” May, 1943, published by the Sydney Branch of the Socialist Party of Australia.]
We remember the time when the “militants” used to claim that the rank and file could do no wrong. The rank and file were exhorted to make their voices heard, and not to be the dumb, driven cattle which they had been. They should assert themselves. We were told that trade union officials should be the servants and not the masters of the members.
Many officials were denounced as “social fascists,” “defeatists,” “class collaborators,” and “bureaucrats.” To advise the use of the Arbitration Court was treachery and a betrayal of “the masses.” The workers were badly in need of a new “leadership.” (This latter, of course, the “militants” could supply.) The strike was the means whereby our demands were to be made known and enforced. Such were the arguments advanced.
Aspirants to Trade Union official positions waxed eloquent over the virtues of rank-and-file control, their fervour equalling the fanaticism of the founders of a new religion: their creed became Rank-and-File worship.
Time marches on; many of the apostles of rank-and-file control have been suitably rewarded and now the Grand Organ plays a different tune. “Trade Union Bureaucracy” has given place to “Leadership of the Masses”; what was previously condemned as ”Class Collaboration” is now hailed as “National Unity.” Actions once denounced as a “betrayal of the masses” are now proclaimed essential to “Proletarian Discipline.” Any worker who suggests strike action is likely to be denounced by the former “militants” as a “fifth columnist,” a “wrecker,” a “saboteur,” or even a “Trotskyist .”
Erstwhile advocates of direct action and rank-and-file control now fawn before politicians and Arbitration Judges; the Arbitration Court has become the “holy of holies” of a new found industrial faith. A fashionable practice among “militants” and some Trade Union officials was the denunciation of the low wages which were held to be inadequate to ensure a decent living standard. The fashion among those people to-day seems to be to regard the workers as a newly rich class squandering their substance on riotous living instead of investing in War Loans. Further, the same “militants,” including the General Secretary of the Communist Party and certain Trade Union officials, unite with other supporters of capitalism in urging working people to support a “Labour” Government which attacks the wages of the workers; the attack upon the pay envelope is disguised as “taxation.”
Don’t you think, fellow workers of the rank and file, that it is high time you ended this state of affairs? A study of SOCIALIST literature will help you recognise the folly of placing your trust in “leaders.” Replace blind faith in “leadership” by Working Class Understanding.