Editorial: The Printing 

From the ordinary trade union point of view of a struggle to enforce more pay and shorter hours, the printers’ strike seems to have been well conceived and executed and well timed.

The claim was for a 10 per cent. increase of pay and a reduction of 3½ hours, from 43½ to 40. After lengthy negotiations the employers offered 2½ per cent. and 1 hour, but tied up the offer with a long list of demands for the reorganisation of the industry to increase production. The Unions rejected this offer and rejected also the employers manoeuvre of trying to get them to take the claim to arbitration. Having taken a ballot of their members the printing unions came out on strike on June 17th, over 100,000 men and women being involved. The dispute affected the Newspaper Society and the British Federation of Master Printers, but not the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association or the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, so while the Provincial newspapers, the magazines and periodicals and general printers were brought to a standstill the national and Sunday papers and London evening papers carried on, as did a certain number of firms which accepted the Unions’ demands. A second dispute affecting printing ink threatened to stop the other papers, but this was avoided.

The timing was favourable for the workers because trade was recovering from the depression, unemployment was falling and the imminence of a general election made the employers, the Government and the big political parties worried lest a long-drawn out strike should hold up the very big volume of literature of various kinds needed for the election.

In the third week of the strike, discussions started under the chairmanship of Lord Birkett. Towards the end of July, at our time of going to press, the employers made an improved offer, of 3½ per cent. increase of pay, and a reduction of 1½ hours. The unions rejected this. They considered that the substantial concessions they were prepared to make to make to increase productivity justified more than 3½ per cent. on pay and at least an undertaking of a further reduction of hours at a later date. Settlement was then Expected at 4½ per cent. proposed by Lord Birkett.

The Sanctimonious “Guardian”
The dispute produced several surprising, diverting and instructive incidents. As was to be expected the Manchester Guardian led the Press in its sanctimonious comment of June 13th, laying down the usual employers’ line that everyone believes in the right of the workers to strike so long as they never exercise the right:

“The right to strike is a fundamental human freedom, but its exercise ought to be justified by some great cause. There is no great cause in the printing dispute—it is a piece of market bargaining over money.”

Can anyone remember the Manchester Guardian ever supporting a strike (except a strike of foreign workers)? The Guardian editor’s further remark was equally hypocritical.

“In the nineteenth century, when Britain had few industrial rivals, and when the main domestic industries had well-hedged fields to themselves, a strike or lock-out did not matter much, except in terms of personal suffering.”

If some diligent student were to study the Guardian’s attitude to strikes in the nineteenth century, we do not doubt that he would find that the Guardian always managed to find overwhelming reasons for condemning those strikers too.

Lord Sourgrapes
It might have been expected that the newspapers that continued to be published would have solidly defended the employers, though Labour Party supporters doubtless hoped that their two mouthpieces, the official Daily Herald and the unofficial Daily Mirror, would line up with the workers against the employers. It turned out otherwise and some of the liveliest abuse during the strike was to be found in a fierce battle between the Daily Express and the other two. Beaverbrook’s Daily Express roundly accused the big magazine combines of having precipitated an unnecessary strike by their “tough and unaccommodating attitude,” and said (4th July) that the provincial newspapers were the “victims of the tycoons of the magazine trade. They are paying a heavy price for their association with these richer more powerful and more belligerent allies.” The biggest printing union, NATSOPA, promptly endorsed the charge. The Mirror and Odhams (the latter owns the People and the Herald) are the “magazine tycoons” referred to, and they angrily denied the accusation. The Mirror of July 6th, in a slashing leader headed “Lord Sourgrapes—and the drop of poison,” explained that Beaverbrook has no magazines except “a couple of inconspicuous comics,” called it a “smear campaign,” and passed the buck to the smaller printing firms and smaller newspapers who feared that the Unions’ demands would put them out of business. The People (July 5th) blamed the Unions for not having let the claim go to arbitration in the first place. The Herald itself tried to ride both horses. It held that the men have a good case for their original demands, but that the employers “think they have a good case for insisting on increased productivity as a condition of any wage rise” (June 19th). It tried to escape its dilemma by blaming the Government for not immediately setting up a court of inquiry, which, of course, the Unions did not want, anyway.

The “Principle” of Shorter Hours
A weakness of the trade union position (to be found in many other industries as well) is the ambiguous attitude to shorter hours. Mr. Willis, one of the Union leaders and Chairman of the T.U.C., declared at the conference of the Miners’ Union that the printers were striking “in support of the principle for which every trade unionist would fight, the shorter week.” (News Chronicle, July 8th.) But what are the facts? Though the standard hours are now about four less than in 1938 the actual hours worked in industry are no lower than they were then. The claims for shorter hours have turned into claims for more overtime pay. In 1946 printing hours were reduced by 1½ to 43½, but within a few years the actual average hours of male workers in the paper and printing trade were higher than they were before, and in 1957 were 47 a week.

Confusion about Arbitration and Impartiality
The trade unions are in a muddle about arbitration. The printing unions consistently opposed it on the ground that it would not be “impartial,” but later in the dispute they were asking that Lord Monckton be invited—though he declined the invitation—to preside over the negotiations “to advise, guide and control” the discussions, but not to have power to be final arbiter. Lord Monckton was for four years Tory Minister of Labour (described by the General Secretary of the railwaymen in 1955 as “a very able friend of the N.U.R.!”) and is now chairman of the Midland Bank, which refuse; to recognise the union of bank employees! Arbitration is established by the Government to settle industrial disputes and it cannot be impartial in the sense of deciding the merits of a case on some abstract principle of humanity. No such principles are laid down for the present court or the one abolished last year. The job of the arbitrators is to find a basis on which the workers can be persuaded to carry on working and the employers can keep in business—with, as an inescapable background, the continuation of Capitalism.

To illustrate the general confusion in the trade union movement it has only to be recalled that last year the T.U.C. and many trade union leaders were deriding the Government for abolishing the arbitration tribunal, which other unions declare they will not have anyway. The Daily Herald then (October 24h, 1958) called it a move to help the employers by abolishing the “referee to see fair play.”

And in the present dispute Mr. Willis, in the matter of strike pickets, was calling on the Government to observe “strict impartiality” (Times, June 26th), as if a government committed to keeping Capitalism going (as all governments must be that take on the administration of Capitalism) could “impartially” stand aside and not defend the property rights of the propertied class.

The International Aspect
The fact is that the trade union movement still broadly accepts Capitalism though prepared to strike against the Capitalists. This was clearly shown by the attitude of the printing unions. They belong to the printing workers Trade Union International, the International Graphical Federation, and some at least of the continental unions acceded to the request that they should advise their members not to do “black” work sent abroad during the strike. But in the middle of the strike NATSOPA released a plan it had drawn up suggesting a deal between the British unions and the British employers. If the latter would concede the demands on hours and wages, in return the unions would cooperate on a joint productivity council: “ The essence of the plan is that the prosperous big groups with stable and profitable home markets will help the small and medium printers, and particularly the printing concerns working on export printing. The plan should make British printers highly competitive in markets abroad.” (News Chronicle, June 23rd, 1959.)

So the unions, while fighting the employers, are quite prepared to collaborate with them to capture foreign markets—where, of course, they will clash with foreign printers who. again with the collaboration of the workers, will be resisting the invasion and trying to counter attack. This, of course, makes nonsense of the object of the printers’ trade union international: “To safeguard the economic, occupational and general interests of graphical workers in all countries and to promote their solidarity.” (Our italics.)

In the nineteenth century Socialist critics of the trade union movement used to ridicule the illogicality of workers fighting the employers in the industrial field and electing the same people to Parliament and supporting them nationally. The present outlook of the trade unions shows that they have still a long way to go before they realise that the workers’ interest demands real international working class solidarity against the employers—and for Socialism.

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