1960s >> 1960 >> no-674-october-1960
Editorial: What Ails The Trade Unions?
THE leader-writers had a field day when the TUC tied itself in knots by deciding both to have and not to have the H bomb. “Shabby farce,” “Congress in agony.” “greater fiasco than had been expected,” “muddling and miscalculating to the end.” It all happened because, though the other delegations regarded the two resolutions as being completely incompatible with each other, the AEU voted for both. That meant 900,000 votes each way. It was just enough to carry the official resolution, though the opposing motion (Mr. Cousins, for Britain to give up nuclear weapons) would have been carried without it.
Now the leaders are busy trying to work out a compromise which, they hope, will be adopted at the Labour Party conference and will have enough meaning in it not to look like an obvious contradiction. Of course it is regrettable that a trade union conference should be so confused, or so much at the mercy of block votes, but the real tragedy is that workers should be divided on such an issue as whether to support both “conventional” and nuclear weapons, or only the former. Both sides accept that there is danger of massive war, both hold that there must be armaments because defence can be secured by them, both argue for efforts to secure an all-round reduction of armaments, nuclear and conventional, but while one side thinks that perhaps a British government example of renouncing nuclear weapons might be followed, the other side (like the late Aneurin Bevan) thinks that the better prospect of securing the same end is by negotiating along with the other powers that have nuclear weapons. Neither side claims to have more than a slight hope that it will really work out that way.
Nobody at the TUC got up to speak for the world working class; to declare in their name against all the governments of the capitalist national groups; British, Russian, American, African, Indian, etc.; against all exploitation, competitive profit-seeking, armament building and war making. And to those who tell us that making such declarations, is useless because the workers will not respond—and how long and how often we have been told this—let us point out with all emphasis that both these TUC factions are themselves basing their whole case for getting capitalism to disarm, on making appeals; but not making them to the workers whose interest, if not yet their wish, is to get rid of capitalism, but to the governments which are to defend capitalism!
Of course there isn’t an easy cure for what ails the TUC and trade unions; the lack of interest of many members which causes them to stay away from branch meetings and leave the running of the union to an active minority. If members can’t be bothered to form definite views on union policy and go along to branches to voice them, they have not much ground of complaint if other people secure the adoption of other policies. The really deep-lying troubles of the unions and the TUC stem from the wrong outlook of the workers themselves. Right through the Unions there is a belief, based on nothing but self-deception, that there is no need to listen to the Socialist case, no need to act urgently to get rid of capitalism and war, because it is always possible, while leaving capitalism in being to remove its evils and escape its war horrors.
And the curious thing is that this belief is more widely held and complacently accepted by the rank and file than by some of the leaders. It is the latter who have growing doubts about British capitalism being able to go on holding all the foreign markets it needs, and more doubts still about the possibility of Britain being able to escape war in a world of armament competition.
And the truth, though most workers still refuse to accept it, is that “you can’t contract out of world capitalism.”
For all the workers everywhere it is a question of either enduring the evils and miseries of capitalism and its wars or of ending that social system.