1940s >> 1944 >> no-484-december-1944

Editorial: Bad Advice From A Trade Union Leader

Mr. Charles Dukes, C.B.E., is general secretary of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, which has about three-quarters of a million members, according to the Daily Express (January 20th, 1942) he is one of the small number of Trade Union officials in the £1,000  a year class. Starting work at eleven as an errand boy, he went through various jobs before reaching his present position as a Trade Union official. In the intervening period he has been a Member of Parliament, was for many years in the I.L.P., and is now in the Labour Party. In the last war he was an opponent of war. If experience teaches, it might be assumed that his life and political activities should have taught him much about the problems facing the working class. He claimed, many years ago, that apart from what he picked up in his brief school days up to age 11, he was self-educated. He writes articles on the problems of the day in his Union’s monthly journal that betray a painful lack of understanding, but that lack certainly cannot be ascribed to his own educational difficulties. What they do disclose is a complete failure to appreciate the nature of capitalism and the position of the working class in that system.

 

In an article in the May, 1944, issue of the Journal he lamented, but accepted, the fading of the dream of working-class internationalism. “It is no use pretending,” he wrote, “that there has not been a moral collapse in respect of internationalism. Whether we shall see its revival in the next decade is exceedingly problematical. . . . Our Labour Movement believed fervently that we could build the International Labour Movement across national frontiers, and ignore the ties of race and nationality. For the second time this theory has been disproved. It is not that the ideal is wrong, but rather that in its practical application it ignored the influences of race, which are deeper than association between peoples of different nationalities. The moral code is not enough. . . . The physical sanction throughout the ages has been necessary to enforce civic law, and there can be no doubt regarding its necessity in the enforcement of international law. Until this simple truth is grasped, we are merely fooling ourselves in pretending that a peaceful world can be ensured without the means to enforce the International Code.”

 

A little analysis shows the flaw in this argument. Mr. Dukes, in effect, despairs of working-class internationalism because ties of race and nationality prevent the workers from coming together effectively, and in his despair he turns to the idea of some international body which shall wield armed force to restrain national groups. But who shall make and control the international body? Since all the governments are capitalist governments, it is the capitalists who are to do this: but, according to Mr. Dukes’ earlier remark, they too would be prevented by ties of race and nationality from getting together in an international body! We see here the sad spectacle of the workers’ chosen representative who despairs of his own class and hopefully bestows his trust on the capitalists, believing that they will do what the workers are incapable of doing. Truly reliance on a broken reed.

 

And why, we may ask, did the efforts at working-class internationalism fail? Basically they failed because the workers have not yet grasped the truth that all over the world they have a common interest in destroying capitalism by their own class unity and efforts; but this hits Mr. Dukes too. Internationalism, like charity, is something that should begin at home, it ill becomes the supporter of a capitalist government in one country to lament the lack of international class sentiment among the workers in other countries.

 

In a later article (July, 1944) Mr. Dukes starts off by urging trade unionists not to concentrate too much on social reforms; ”there is always the danger of becoming obsessed with these palliative measures,” he writes. This is a hopeful beginning, but what follows is the amazing statement that the real basic issue deserving attention is ”work and wages,” which “must, for all time, remain the primary consideration.”

 

Later on, to show that he means just what he says, he adds that “not even a Social Revolution will solve the vexed problem of WORK AND WAGES” (his capitals!).

 

Mr. Dukes—who at least at one time will have claimed to be a Socialist—goes on to make his reader’s flesh creep at the post-war problem of capitalist governments having to budget “to meet the colossal indebtedness of war-time circumstances,” which includes, of course, paying millions of pounds of interest to investors in government loans. Because of this he warns us that “those who expect big margins out of which to finance great schemes of social development will encounter almost insuperable obstacles.” Then follows a piece of further advice to his own hard-working and low-paid members. “Unless production can be stepped up far in excess of our pre-war production, no juggling with national finance will bring into being any great improvement in the lives of the people of this country. Let us, therefore, understand that the chief responsibility of the post-war government is to ensure full production and full employment. . . .”

 

This is history repeating itself, for after the last war most of the trade union officials were lending themselves to government propaganda to increase production, and one of the outstanding figures was Mr. J. R. Clynes, an official of this same union, who likewise still writes for the journal. The S.P.G.B. told Mr. Clynes then that the result of the increased-production campaign would be the more rapid rise of unemployment, and events justified our warning to the hilt. Capitalism needs unemployment just as it needs the poverty of the working class. It will abolish neither.
We tell Mr. Dukes’ members that, instead of following his despairing policy of making the best of capitalism (or, rather, of making even less than the best of capitalism), they should turn the other way. Start by appreciating that capitalism necessarily means the exploitation of the working class, and recognise the common interest of the workers everywhere of resisting that exploitation as far as they are able, but, above all, of ending capitalism by international Socialist action. Ponder the wise advice given by Karl Marx instead of chasing Mr. Dukes’ will o’ the wisp of “full work at full wages.” Marx said over half a century ago to trade unionists:—

  Instead of the Conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work !” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wages System!”

Don’t heed Mr. Dukes’ ignorant assertion that the social revolution will still leave us facing problems of work and wages. They are part of the capitalist wages system, and will go when it goes.