1940s >> 1948 >> no-530-october-1948

The Taming of the T.U.C.

What has happened to the trade unions, to their national platform the T.U.C., and to their political shadow the Labour Party? Where now is the trade union army that fought the general strike in 1926? In what dump have they parked their rusty weapon, the strike? Where are the Reds of yesteryear, and who are these men and women with their generous sprinkling of O.B.E.s, Knighthoods and Peerages who at Margate earned from the discerning observer of the Manchester Guardian (10/9/48) the tribute that “once again the T.U.C. has shown the moderate good sense that often seems to surprise its own leaders as much as the critics”?

How are we to account for the incontestable and remarkable fact that the workers—to whom the T.U.C. is supposed to give guidance and inspiration—got from it little but gloom, austerity, wage-freezing, and appeals to work harder; while the capitalist press and financial circles are congratulating themselves that it was a very successful congress from their point of view!

Easy answers are provided from different quarters but they are not the right answers as we shall see on examination.

New Tunes for Old

At one time it was taken for granted that Congress was a place where the Unions recorded their dissatisfaction with the effects of capitalism, made their protests about the home and foreign policies of the Government, discussed wage demands and strikes to enforce them, tried to smooth out inter-union disputes, passed well-intentioned, pious, resolutions in favour of peace and internationalism, and paid lip-service to what they assumed to be the Socialist objective of the Labour Party. Much of it was muddled and trivial but at least there was the sense of working class solidarity and of a forward-looking movement. But now the members are perplexed to find that all the old demands, good, bad and indifferent alike, are being dropped, modified or even reversed; and that all of this is being done out of deference to the Labour Government of which they expected so much and that they worked so long to raise to power. Now, strikes are looked on with disfavour and “unofficial” strikers condemned with a harshness that used to be directed only against the employers’ Wage claims have given place to a modified “wage-freezing.” The use of the Emergency Powers Act and of troops in strikes is no longer condemned since it is a Labour Government that is responsible. Non-contributory social insurance schemes were once demanded, now the workers are told that it is better for them to contribute. For years it was a cardinal principle of trade union and Labour Party programmes that there should be no taxation on the food arid other articles the workers buy, but only direct taxation like income tax arid surtax and death duties; now the opposite principle is preached and practised. Conscription, in peace time was always condemned, now it is accepted without protest. The list of abandoned claims could be greatly extended but it will suffice to look more closely at one of them.</p>

Re-enter the Profit Motive

At one time it was argued that higher wages could come out of profit, and the leaders urged the rank and file to work for the abolition of the profit motive and look instead towards the principle of service to the whole community. This year the whole theory was thrown overboard. Sir Stafford Cripps, erstwhile denouncer of profit, addressed the delegates on the need for greater production and for the voluntary abstention from claims for higher wages. He backed up his case with the seemingly unanswerable argument that “even if corporation profits were reduced by a quarter – a very drastic cut – it would mean an average addition to wages and salaries of not more than -id. in the pound.” (ManchesterGuardian, 8/9/48.) Sir George Chester, speaking for the T.U.C. General Council in opposition to a resolution demanding statutory control of profits and dividends, dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s of Cripps’ statement by informing-the perplexed delegates that you can’t do without profit —” Profit in the form of marginal surpluses was essential to the conduct of industry whether it be nationalised or in private hands, it is inescapable until we can alter the whole structure of industry and replace profit by some other incentive.” (Daily Herald, 10/9/48.) No wonder that the Financial Times, organ of the investors, drew substantial comfort from the ‘week’s proceedings. “Margate,” wrote the Financial Times Labour Correspondent (11/9/48) “has cleared the air. In future it is going to he much more difficult for attacks on profits or the profit motive – either particular or general – to be sustained. The hitherto despised ‘capitalist’ incentive has at last been officially recognised as – at least for the time being – socially necessary.”

Explanations that do not Explain

One plausible but fallacious explanation of the change in the trade unions is the Communist one, that the leaders have been corrupted or have sold out to American capitalism and that what is wanted is new leaders, Communist ones. Neither at present nor in the past have Communist leaders produced any better results than the others. Where they differ is only in the fact that their guiding principle is unscrupulous or misguided subservience to the policies of the Russian State Capitalist regime. True the Communists have sometimes been associated with sound action by the trade union rank and file, but only by accident and because at the moment it happened to serve some aim of Russian foreign policy, never by consistent loyalty to the interests of the working class.

A somewhat similar explanation is that the trade union and labour leaders have been sobered and undermined by office and responsibility and have, in consequence, imbibed new ideas in place of the old. Some who say this think the change is good because the new ideas are better, others think them worse; but the explanation is only a half-truth. Men who have both the will and the power to put their beliefs into practice do not become “sobered ” and “undermined” by the responsibilities of office. Capitalist office does not soften the capitalist convictions of a Winston Churchill. With the Labour leaders the position is different. They are the victims of their own wrong theories and self-deception. They thought that, without any mandate to abolish capitalism, they could tame the capitalist tiger ; instead of which they are finding, as Socialists always said they would, that it is the tiger that determines the route, the pace and the policy.

The official version offered by the Labour Party and expressed by their Secretary, Mr. Morgan Phillips, in a Labour Press Service article, “Three Years that Changed Britain,” is that July 1945, when the Labour Party took office, marked the beginning of “a peaceful revolution “which made the people of Britain” for the first time in history . . . masters in their own land.” July 6th, 1945, was, he claims, the “great day” that the Socialist pioneers worked and waited for. If what he claims were true it would indeed be understandable that the tactics suitable in a struggle by the working class against the capitalist class would now become pointless and obsolete; obviously there could no longer be strikes of the workers against the capitalists if capitalism were abolished and the classes themselves had vanished. But, of course, it is only a shadow of the truth, as was shown at the T.U.C. by the speeches of Cripps and Chester referred to earlier in this article, and by other events happening before our eyes.

Is it a new Social Order?

The Capitalist Ministers who say that the old order has already passed away tell us that the reason we are prevented from reaping immediately the fruits of the “Socialist” triumph, is that Tory rule and the late war have left their aftermath of disorder and destruction that has yet to be cleared away. This is so reasonable an explanation that its inadequacy is not at first sight obvious, but the truth is that the minds and hands of the Labour Ministers are every day becoming less full with the heritage of the past war and more full with the problems and preparations for the new grouping of capitalism and the new wars that face us. The plans for Western Union and Marshall Aid are plans for a capitalist world in which capitalist Europe will try to save itself by union from being crushed between the American and Russian contestants for world dominance. It is not for the past war but for the corning war that, under Labour Government, the armed forces are greater than they were in 1938 and that for the first time in history we have peacetime conscription. During the week the T.U.C. met, the Government were considering extending compulsory military service from 12 to 18 months, and decided to delay demobilisation. The same week that saw War Minister Shinwell, author of When the Men Come Home, address Congress on the coming General Election, saw him also at Southampton seeing the Guards off to the fighting in Malaya; the troopships are once again outward bound. When Sir Stafford Cripps told Congress that production must be increased by greater output from each worker because it is not possible to increase the number of workers in production, it is capitalism, not Socialism, that demands that the hundreds of thousands of workers under arms and on munitions work shall be maintained and indeed increased. The Labour Government promised that it would bring about friendlier foreign relationships, particularly with Russia, and thus safeguard peace. The fact that the international situation goes from bad to worse is not because the Labour Government are incompetent or evilly disposed but because capitalism is in control.

Those who have eyes to see will realise that it is not the Labour Government and the T.U.C. that have changed capitalism, but capitalism under Labour rule that bids fair to change the trade union movement from an organ of working class struggle into little better than an instrument to aid the Government in the smooth running of capitalism and the campaign to get the workers to work harder and forego wage claims.

Facts for Trade Unionists

The great need in the trade union movement is for straight thinking and plain speaking. Sir Stafford Cripps and Sir George Chester are right when they say that you cannot have capitalism without profit; it is their conclusion that is wrong. Having told the workers that you cannot have the one without the other they say in effect that it is necessary now to put up with both. That is the fundamental error of the Labour Party’s theories, obvious to Socialists from the start but only now being shown up in practice in a way that all can see. The Socialist Party has always held that the working class cannot achieve power for Socialism, and cannot have Socialism in operation, until a majority have gained the understanding and will for Socialism. Without clearly seeing what they were doing the Labour Party worked on the quite different doctrine that a Labour Government lacking a mandate to establish Socialism could take capitalism in hand and administer it in accordance with Socialist principles. It cannot be done, and if seriously attempted, only chaos would be the result. As well put a pacifist in charge of the conduct of a war, or a conscientious teetotaller to build up a profitable brewery. Either the Labour Ministers had to keep their muddled good intentions and produce chaos, or they had to discard them and try to make a success of capitalism on the only principles possible, capitalist principles.

Trade unionists who are Labour Party supporters now find themselves face to face with a difficult decision. If they remain loyal to the Labour Government that is carrying on capitalism they weaken their struggle against capitalist exploitation on the industrial field and undermine their own unity, if they continue the struggle for which trade unions were formed they come into conflict with the Labour Government. It is a cruel dilemma but it has to be faced. The long years of muddled thinking have to be paid for and there is no easy way out. Backing the Government in running capitalism means stultifying the trade union movement and spreading apathy and despair; with the certainty that at the end of the road, even if the present production crisis is eased for a time, there will be new crises and new and larger wars. The alternative is the seemingly slow but in fact the only way, the way indicated by the Socialist Party at its formation, that of working for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. There are no short cuts and there is no other way.

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