Editorial: Next year’s T.U.C.

A Dull Congress
Nobody got excited at or over this year’s Trades Union Congress at Bournemouth. The delegates and visiting reporters seem to have had a rather boring time and the editorial summings-up have reflected the same view, that it was a very dull Congress. One reporter, Mr. Hugh Chevins, industrial correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, in an article “ T.U.C. Leadership in a Coma,” gave it as his assessment that the T.U.C. has reached a state of complete immobility. “They (the leaders) have come to a dead end. They move neither forwards nor backwards; neither to the Right nor to the Left. New ideas seem anathema. New policies are dangerous. Change of direction is practically unthinkable.” (Daily Telegraph, 6th September, 1958.)

But he did not take the complacent view that if nothing happens at the T.U.C. so much the better: he fears that if the present leaders do not bestir themselves “they will lose to the irresponsible elements of disruption” (meaning presumably the members and supporters of the Communist Party).

Mr. Chevin’s main criticism of the T.U.C. General Council is that, in order to preserve the appearance of unity, they refrain from declaring their real beliefs about the policies trade unions ought to be pursuing at the present time, so controversial issues that might lead to lively division of opinion are smothered, or buried under ambiguous resolutions that mean anything or nothing.

The Manchester Guardian (6th September, 1958) commented on the depressing absence of new policy particularly on the wages issue, though on all sides there is now in trade union circles “tacit admission that the tactics of recent years have failed to secure much real improvement for trade union members.”

The kind of new policy the Guardian would like to see is that touched on by Mr. Birch, a member of the General Council, who urged the trade unions to be “expansion minded”—interpreted by the Guardian to mean co-operation with the employers to raise production.

Deplorable Outlook
We, as Socialists, do not share the desires and fears of the two critics referred to. But we have wider and deeper criticisms of our own. The outlook and activities of the T.U.C. and the individual unions are from the Socialist standpoint mostly deplorable. And it seems to get worse year by year if only from the point of view that the passing of the years and the gaining of experience might have been expected to bring steady improvement

The fact is that the T.U.C., having at one time been a movement of revolt and protest against some of the effects of capitalism, has now become the almost inert prisoner of the system. For most leaders (and most of the members) the aim of the Unions and the T.U.C. is simply to do the best they can wholly within the framework of capitalism. But they even lack the courage and clear-headedness of some of their predecessors who declared openly their acceptance of capitalism. Now none of them dare admit this, everything has to be wrapped up in a woolly pretence of wanting something other than capitalism.

They Still Look to Nationalisation
What is more, the only alternative officially recognised by the T.U.C. and embodied in its objects, is the replacement of private capitalism by State capitalism or Nationalisation; so Congress is committed in its objects to “nationalisation of land, mines, minerals, and railways.” It is so inert that nobody seems to have noticed that the mines and railways were nationalised a decade ago. And, indeed, this is very fitting, because instead of nationalisation having solved any problem the miners and railwaymen are vociferous in their complaint that their problems still await solution.

Nationalisation has turned out to be so disappointing (as Socialists foretold it would) that most of the leaders now fight shy of demands for further nationalisation schemes and it is left to the truly reactionary backwoodsmen of the Communist influenced fringe to go on putting down resolutions as if nothing had happened to expose the futility of the whole idea.

What are Unions for?
On the day to day issues of wages and strikes the situation is equally lamentable. Long before the T.U.C. was formed every union took it for granted that they would fight for wage increases, particularly when prices rise, and would reject wage decreases. After all, that is why they were formed. Yet year after year the time of the T.U.C. is taken up debating whether they are or are not in favour of the principle of “wage restraint.”

Armaments and Jobs
On wider issues the T.U.C. is bound by its Constitution to endeavour “to improve the economic or social conditions of workers in all parts of the world, and to render them assistance whether or not such workers are employed or have ceased to be employed.”

An admirable aim—if it meant anything. Interpreted into actuality we find Congress again acting within the framework of accepting capitalism internationally, as it tacitly accepts it here in Britain. It accepts armaments, and decisively rejected a proposal that British capitalism should alone get rid of the “H” Bomb. Nobody even suggested the possibility that the world’s workers would be happier if there were no war machines anywhere, and one delegate actually opposed that motion on the ground that most of the £1,500 million spent on British armaments goes “on wages to our members.” (News Chronicle, 4th September, 1958.) He was barracked by many delegates, but was, of course, putting into words what is a common outlook among armament workers.

Next Year’s T.U.C.
As Socialists we know what the T.U.C. ought to be doing in the interest of the workers of the world. We look forward to a Congress at which most of the objects of the T.U.C. will be scrapped, disaffiliation from the Labour Party decided, and a significant number of delegates representing Socialist understanding and conviction will place it on record that they oppose capitalism everywhere in the world, including Russian State capitalism, and stand for Socialism. Furthermore, that they recognise the urgent need of Socialist political organisation everywhere, aiming to gain, for the Socialist working class, control of the machinery of government to inaugurate a Socialist system of society. As Socialism involves the abolition of production for sale and profit, and the abolition of the wages system, this will be tantamount to a recognition that the function of the trade unions will be ended and there will no longer be the need for the workers to have a defensive organisation to bargain about wages and pass resolutions about prices. But as the Trade Union movement will by then be overwhelmingly Socialist, they will see that the new state of affairs will be a matter for congratulation.

We wish this could happen next year

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