1940s >> 1944 >> no-480-august-1944

The Trade Union Movement must face the issue

Recent legislation sponsored by the Minister of Labour —who, incidentally, remains General Secretary of the numerically powerful Transport and General Workers’ Union—has caused much fluttering in the Trade Union dovecotes.

As it can safely be assumed that most readers are, as members of the working class, members of their appropriate trade union, with more than a casual interest in the day to day problems which affect the propertyless class, forced to sell its labour power for wages to the capitalist class, we need not concern ourselves with the details of the legislation at this stage.

As Socialists, however, we give thought to the effects that will be forthcoming in the future. One sure indication is that the split between the industrial and political wings of the so-called “Labour movement” becomes wider with the passage of time. There is a definite struggle within the Trade Union movement for control of the movement. Until quite recent years most Trade Union officials were elderly men who did not assume office until they were well advanced in years. Their days of tackling a proposition in a speedy and energetic manner had passed before assuming office. In most cases they had reached a period of elderly complacency and sought to tackle problems with the minimum of effort or hard work. The psychological result is, of course, that these elderly officials become—consciously or sub-consciously—bureaucrats, who dampen the ardour of active members of less mature years, possessing energy, enthusiasm and a desire to tackle the job. A considerable number of these elderly Trade Union officials also have a profitable sideline. In addition to the salaries and emoluments they receive from their respective Trade Unions, they also draw an additional £600 as members of the House of Commons. Many of them have been placed on pensions by their Trade Unions—having reached the age of 65 years—but still continue to sit in the House of Commons until death intervenes. Little more than a sheep-like obedience to the Party Whips can be expected from these ageing Isaiahs.

Whilst there will be little opposition to the newly introduced legislation from the rank and file of the two big General Unions, whose docility to and support of its officials at all times and in all matters has for long past been painfully apparent, the rank and file of the craft Unions are not being so docile. Despite the exhortations of the Arthur Homers and Jack Tanners, the rank and file of the South Wales Miners’ Federation and the Amalgamated Engineering Union have already expressed in no uncertain terms their opposition to the new legislation. The rank and file of other Unions—despite official support for Bevin’s ordinances—are no less opposed.

This is by no means the first of a series of legislative acts that will reduce the Trade Union movement, even as a field for collective bargaining within capitalist society, to a state bordering on impotency.

Any airy platitudes to the effect that the Trades Union movement will be a midwife in attendance at the birth of Socialism will be sheer wind chewing and humbug, unless the Trades Union movement can direct its own destiny in the first place.

All Socialists who are members of their Trade Union work within the structure of their Union to make their fellow-workers understand and appreciate the position of the only Socialist party—the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

With this understanding clearly fixed in the minds of the majority of Trade Unionists, their Unions will become live, fearless and potent bodies in the class struggle, and will play their part in the birth of a new society in which the means of wealth production and distribution will be commonly owned and democratically administered in the interests of the community as a whole. Socialism is the only
hope of the working class, of which the Trade Unionist is a part.

L. L.

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