Trade Union Leaders at Loggerheads
The 1945 Trade Union Congress witnessed an indictment of Russian trade unionism by Mr. G. Meany
, delegate from the reactionary American Federation of Labour. The incident occurred during a discussion on the proposed formation of an International Federation of Trade Unions. Mr. Meany protested against the inclusion of Russia, on the grounds that Russian trade unionism was a sham. He said:
“We do not recognise that the Russian worker groups are trade unions. The Soviet worker groups are formally and actually instruments of the State.
“They are official branches of the Government and of its ruling dictatorial party.
“These trade unions actively support the Soviet system of worker black lists and deportation to labour camps that have resulted in virtual enslavement for millions of peasants, workers and professional people, who are confined to labour camps with no protection from exploitation end compulsory labour.
“We have been in complete accord with our Government’s military co-operation with Russia. We hope our Government may find ways and means to achieve similar cooperation in post-war years in the interests of permanent world peace. But in simple honesty we insist on recognising the so-called Russian trade union movement for what it is—a Government controlled, Government fostered and Government dominated labour front that denies to the workers of Soviet Russia the basic human freedoms that American workers hold are pre-requisite to a free trade union.
“For us membership in a world organisation that would attempt to dictate to our Government on the conduct of its foreign relations is unthinkable. We do not want our Government to take over trade unions and we do not want our trade unions to take over our Government.
“We believe in Labour co-operation along trade union lines in the international field.” —(Daily Sketch, 13th September, 1946.)
The next day Mr. Tarasov, representing the Soviet trade unions, referred to Mr. Meany’s statements as insults and lies. He made no attempt to prove they were lies, but said Mr. Meany’s accusations “aimed at disrupting their common efforts to achieve unity of one international trade union movement. This feeling of resentment was demonstrated in the Congress itself by the indignant protests of many delegates.”
Mr. Meany’s accusations were aimed more at the form of government in England and Russia than against trade unionism as such in those countries. American bosses would be in complete accord with him. The resentment of Mr. Tarasov and the disapproval of the delegates sprang more from this aspersion on their respective governments than from any charge against Russian trade unionism. The delegates of all three countries were merely showing their loyalty to their national bosses.
Confirmation of Meany’s statements came from a number of sources during the following weeks. On September 20th, the Daily Telegraph
published an article by J. L. Garvin
which comprehensively outlined the attitude of Russian leaders towards the working-class of that country, together with a survey of their spectacular rise to power. Among other things he said:—
“Turn to the no less dynamic system of Russia, operated by other means. It derives from an original compulsion of unique circumstances. Not from the ancient doctrines and dogmas of Karl Marx, framed a hundred years ago, but from the personal and path-breaking genius of Lenin and Stalin.
“On no subject are our Socialist Ministers and their rank and file more deceived. Russia to-day is neither dominated nor influenced by any idea concerning labour that appeals to the Trades Union Congress. The Soviet Union is a system of State Capitalism fundamentally based on compulsory and stimulated labour.
“How did it arise? After the overthrow of Tsarism the economic problem was nothing less than to lift Russia from conditions like those of the thirteenth century to the level of the twentieth; and so to do the work of five centuries in one generation.
“Lenin had definite conceptions of how to do it on the largest lines of modern technique. Stalin became the daring and mighty executant of that design—the demiurge of the incredible transformation effected by the series of Five Years’ Plans. It has been a work made possible by the extent of Russia’s undeveloped resources. Nowhere else on earth could its like have been achieved by the same means.
“British labour would not stand for a single day that rigour and urge of compulsion or the lower standard of life.
“The old Communist maxim was, ‘From everyone according to their ability; to everyone according to their need.’ Soviet State Capitalism is rightly so called because It has succeeded in the former purpose of compelling total and extreme exertion, but has not begun to attain the second ideal of plentiful distribution.
“Owing to the successive necessities of political and economic revolution and of war, the low Russian standard of living is largely a sacrifice for a higher future of human welfare, as well as national strength. Stalin avowed years ago that his continuous aim was to create ultimately ‘the happiest as well as mightiest society in the world.’
“But let us make no mistake about the method. Its power at bottom depends on no Marxist nor any other theory, but—let us repeat it—on a practical economic policy of intensive work and maximum production emulating the similar aims in America.”—Telegraph, September 20th, 1945.
To understand fully the attitude, or acquiescence, of the Russian workers, we have to remember that their leaders claim to be Socialists planning to achieve Socialism. Their names are often coupled with that of Marx, who is regarded as a mere theorist; while Lenin and Stalin are supposed to have been translating his theories into practice in accordance with the changed circumstances of to-day. In addition, of course, there are the concentration camps for those who disagree, or fail to work energetically for the five-year plans.
The nationalised planning in Russia and England and the boasted private enterprise of America have all the same objective: trade supremacy based on exploitation. of the working-class. In all three countries the workers are being urged to tighten their belts and work harder and faster. In Russia the workers are hypnotised by Stalin and Co. In England and America trade union leaders have no ideas beyond bargaining with the masters for concessions here and there. Their protracted and ineffective efforts inevitably lead to impatience on the part of the workers and numerous unofficial strikes; leaders and masters then invariably demand a return to work as a condition of further consideration of the men’s demands.
Futile as this procedure is, trade union leaders have no desire for a change. They have established themselves as responsible links between capital and labour, and the importance and permanence of each side must be maintained in order to preserve their status, and of course, their jobs..
It must be obvious to thinking people that trade unionism can do nothing for the workers beyond putting up organised resistance against the masters on the questions of wage reductions and greater speed and intensity of work.
Among those who had a ding at trade unions, following Mr. Meany’s charges at the T.U.C., was “Candidus,”
of the Daily Sketch
. Among other things he said:—
“For Socialism is the antithesis of capitalism, whereas capitalism is the fly-wheel of trade unionism. Capitalism and trade unionism stand or fall with each other.”—Daily Sketch, September 17th, 1945.
Because of his habitual confusion over nationalisation and Socialism, “Candidus” inadvertently proclaims a profound Socialist truth. To be the antithesis of capitalism. Socialism must be opposed to it on fundamentals. Which it is. Capitalism, the thesis, is based on class ownership of the means of wealth production. Socialism, the antithesis, proclaims ownership of these essential things by the people as a whole. But the antithesis can only be realised by the working-class in opposition to the master-class. The workers’ are wasting much time and energy struggling against them on the industrial field. A little thought would show them the limits of this struggle, and a little more thought would convince them of the necessity to understand and work for Socialism.