Book Reviews: Trade Unions

Trade Unions, by Peter Lane. (Bastford. 18s.)

This book is supposed to be a simple history of trade unions for use in secondary schools.

With illustrations on nearly every one of its 90 pages, it traces the rise of trade unionism in Britain from the early days of small craft and local unions to the Trades Union Congress of today. Lane merely expresses the orthodox role of the TUC today: as a body more concerned with the well-being of the British (capitalist) economy than with the interests of the workers. He manages to avoid any mention of unofficial strikes.

He also gives a misleading idea of the views of Robert Owen and William Morris. Owen is made out to be a militant syndicalist who believed the unions should overthrow capitalism in a general strike and then themselves run industry. Morris, on the other hand, is supposed to have held that trade union control of industry “might be won peacefully’’ and to have founded, along with Ruskin, the so-called Guild Socialist movement.

Lane would have been nearer the truth if he had reversed the roles he assigned to Owen and Morris, only neither of them advocated syndicalism or trade union control of industry. Owen stood for a federation of producer co-operatives (“the cooperative commonwealth”) to be achieved gradually and peacefully. Morris was a Marxian socialist and stood for the common ownership and democratic control of industry to be achieved by revolutionary political action (which he believed would most likely be violent).

It should not be too much these days to expect accurate facts to be given to schoolchildren.

Adam Buick