Editorial: Fair shares in misery

If somewhere in the universe there were beings who had learned to run social affairs on a sensible, socialist, basis, and if some writer there offered to his readers a factual account of our trade union movement, they wouldn’t believe him. They would say that it just is not possible that men and women who possess such industrial skill, knowledge and capacity could behave as shortsightedly as they do.

This thought is prompted by the report of proceedings at the conference of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions on August 13th. We quote from the Evening News:—

“The two giant unions of the “Little TUC“—the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions— clashed to-day over what should be done about the ‘sack.’
“At the Confederation’s annual conference at Paignton, the 1,300,000-strong Transport and General Workers’ Union pressed a four-point plan to ‘cushion’ workers faced with dismissal.
“They demanded full consultation with the unions on the selection of workers to be sacked, plus cash compensation.
“The Amalgamated Engineering Union, Britain’s second biggest union, took the opposite line. They demanded that nobody should be sacked unless alternative work was found and that work-sharing schemes should be introduced.
“The split widened when Mr. Les Kealey, national engineering officer of the transport union warned the 40 unions represented at the conference that workers generally are not willing to ‘share the misery’ when it comes to dismissals.”

If the two propositions may be thought to represent the lowest possible level of what passes as thought in the trade union movement, the long discussion that followed was even worse; with such ancient fatuities as “getting down to the basic principle of the right to work” and “ work or maintenance.”

It was a relief and no surprise to read in the stop press news that it had ended with a typically pious and meaningless formula:—

“Announced at Paignton conference that TGWU and AEU had reached agreement on redundancy, with policy declaration that district committees and shop stewards would do all possible to ensure minimum of hardship”

Of course the trade union officials and delegates who drafted those statements and made those speeches will defend them. They will say that it is all very well to be theoretical but, things being what they are, trade unions have to be practical. They have to recognise that as the employers have more workers than they need the misery of unemployment in one form or another has to be accepted.

To which the socialist reply is that things don’t have to be what they are.

What is the problem the workers are facing? They have produced for the employers more than the latter can profitably sell at the present time, so many workers are threatened with the sack; which means that they will fall from the employed workers’ standard of living to that of the unemployed. So they spend a day arguing whether the added misery should be spread evenly or in lumps. And to make even this ludicrous choice between evils they have to get the consent of the employers, who are masters of the situation. What makes the employers masters of the situation? The government does. How does the government come to be in this position? It was voted there by the elector?. Who form 90 per cent. of the electors? The workers do. In whose hands therefore does the remedy lie? In the hands of workers like those who sent delegates to the Paignton conference to waste their time with nonsense calculated to make the angels weep, and who send M.P.s to Parliament

What should be done? The answer is, or ought to be, obvious. The workers, who conduct all the processes of production from top to bottom, at present do so on behalf of the capitalist class who are the owners of the means of production and the products. This is capitalism and it exists all over the world, but it is not a necessity; it is a man-made arrangement that the working class can end when they will. When they choose to end it by introducing Socialism, production will be solely for the use of the population. Men’s livelihood will no longer be dependent on the willingness of employer to employ them. And the notion that, as production rises above a certain level (determined by profit) the standard of living of the wealth producers should be reduced will appear as absurd and irrelevant as the “remedies”discussed at the Shipbuilding and Engineering Conference.

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