1940s >> 1944 >> no-481-september-1944

Divide and Rule

Idiotic Squabbles of British and American Miners’ Leaders

If the workers in the different countries clearly understood their own class interests, they would act unitedly to rid the world of the capitalist system and introduce Socialism. The majority of the workers lack that understanding, with the result that they periodically find themselves engaged in mutual slaughter in capitalism’s wars. Likewise in times of peace between the wars, the international trade union movement has much of its energy taken up in discussing the problems of the employing class instead of their own class problems. International trade union and Labour conferences rarely exhibit a genuine international working-class outlook; far too often they are gatherings at which the irreconcilable nationalistic and capitalistic views of the delegates are thinly covered up with a veneer of words expressing vague sentiments of harmony. This state of affairs will never be remedied until the workers in all countries have accepted the principles of Socialism, with the necessary full implication of internationalism based on class interest.

While it may well be true that the workers as a whole are in this matter rather less backward than their leaders, the long road that has to be travelled may be seen from the squabble going on between miners’ officials here and in U.S.A. In words they accept the case for international relationships, but in thought they are unable to see their industry except through capitalist spectacles. While Mr. E. Edwards, General Secretary of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, is away visiting the conference of the United Mineworkers of America, John Lewis’s organisation, and the President of the British Miners, Mr. W. Lawther, is about to visit Italy to advise on steps to be taken by Italian trade unionists, the latter is engaged in bad-tempered controversy with John Lewis, not about a working-class problem, but a purely capitalist one. It appears from a news item in the News Chronicle (August 17) that an American Coal Commission which visited Great Britain found British mining methods “obsolete and inefficient” by American standards. Thereupon John Lewis launched an all-inclusive attack on the British coal owners, the miners’ leaders and the British Labour Party. According to Lewis, the owners do not want modernisation because they would have to spend money on machinery, the miners do not want it because they fear loss of jobs, and the Labour M.P.s do not want it because they think it would open the door to national wage agreements, and so show the miners they have more to gain from their union than from “blind political affiliation.”

Mr. Lawther retorts that British miners bitterly resent John Lewis’s interference in their affairs. He rejects all the charges, asserts that when British and European miners have, been struggling for improved conditions “we never had onr word of encouragement from those American Scribes and Pharisees,” and suggests “it might be worth Mr. Lewis’s while to examine our miners’ welfare schemes and see how they compare with his own, if he has any” (News Chronicle, August 18, 1944).

As Socialists we are very much concerned with the workers’ efforts to maintain their standard of living against the encroachments of the employing class and with the workers’ advancement towards Socialism. Our interest extends to every industry and every country. What happens to the workers anywhere is the business of Socialists everywhere. We are not at all afraid of the charge that we are “poking our noses” into matters that do not concern us—but it all depends on the standpoint from which the approach to the problem is made, and we are not being inconsistent when we say that from a working-class point of view men with the outlook of Messrs. Lawther, Edwards and Lewis would be doing less harm if they confined their attention to their immediate job of trying to improve the poor conditions of their own members.

We say to them all that the efficiency of the mines owned by British, American and all other capitalists is the capitalists’ concern and will be decided by them in their own interests. Efficiency from the capitalist standpoint does not necessarily consist in having up-to-date machinery but in making large profits, and if they can do that without laying out money in modernisation they will do it; but with or without modernisation, they will continue to make profit in the only way it can be made—by exploiting the workers. They will continue to use every brutal means from the starvation weapon of the lock-out (as in Great Britain) to the use of armed thugs (as in the history of American mining), and always with the might of the capitalist state behind them. They will continue to fight each other for markets. Sometimes disputed markets will be captured by low-wage, backward sections of the industry, and sometimes by highly equipped machine operated mines, and always the owners will foster nationalistic divisions between the workers of the different countries and use “foreign competition” as a propaganda weapon against the demands of their own workers for better conditions. Neither Lewis nor Lawther has anything to shout about in respect of the conditions of American or British miners. Neither of them has been able to prevent the amassing of huge fortunes by the coal barons of ‘their respective countries, out of the blood and sweat of the workers.

Our advice to British, American and all other workers is to recognise their mutual interest in fighting the emploing class and in seeking control of the political machinery to establish Socialism, not in childish wrangling about the profitless question which gang of exploiters exploits most
efficiently, and which gang insults its workers most or least, by the size of the crumbs it throws to them.


(Socialist Standard, September 1944)

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