William Gallacher

The War and the Workers


Date: 1939
Printer: Marston Printing Co., London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


You remember the last war. How it began. How it ended.

You remember the hardships; the food rations; the workshop customs and practices that were given up, so that the “war to end war” could be won. The war to make “England a land fit for heroes to live in.”

How it all mocks us now!

You remember the fabulous war profits that were made, those stories about “the new rich.” You remember, too, what happened after “the victory of the Allies.”

The Mafeking Nights in the West End. The joy and letting off steam that at last the bugles had sounded the Armistice, and killing had ceased on the Western Front, and people could sleep peacefully in their beds in England, without fear of Gothas or Zeppelins.

But, then, there soon came a sad awakening. Unemployment; wage cuts; medals pawned; the heroes of yesterday singing in the gutter “Roses of Picardy”; the employers refusing to restore pre-war trade union conditions; strikes and lock-outs; imposition of “managerial functions.”

How far off it seems to some, but how near to others as they see how things are going now!

All Quiet—But Not on the Home Front

Day after day, for seven weeks, Press and B.B.C. have told the same story. “All Quiet on the Western Front”—“The Stock Exchange closed on a firm and buoyant note after the speech of the Prime Minister, or the Lord of the Admiralty,” etc.

But for the workers, whether employed or unemployed; for the wives and families of soldiers, sailors and airmen; for the old age pensioners; for the small shopkeepers—not so quiet. Not so buoyant.

The Home Front—your Front, reader—the Front of wages; trade union conditions of one Friday night after another—not so quiet. On this Front there have been ceaseless bombardment, constant raids, incessant attacks. No sparring for position, no reconnaissance flights.

But war—and war.

Unceasing, deadly, and carried through by the ruthless general staff of British capitalism.

It has been a war of profit for profiteers. It has been a heyday for bullying foremen and managers, who have “tried it on,” who have sacked men and women indiscriminately, who have told men “work late tonight.” Local councils who have declared “the working hours are lengthened,” and if remonstrance has been made, the reply has been the same—“there is a war on.”

Still “the Stock Exchange closed on a buoyant note, the shares of the armament firms rose many points today.”

The posh night clubs in the West End advertise their luxury and their “super-luxurious air raid shelter, passed by the authorities.”

The West End Stores advertise their costly goods for the satiation of the rich.

Brave men go down in the Royal Oak, while their wives and children watch the soaring food prices, and ponder on the gratitude of “the nation.”

And the other side. Your side, reader, the side you know in your factory, at the Labour Exchange, in the shops and co-ops., at the Post Office drawing the Old Age Pension, the families broken up through evacuation; the millions who will run at the sound of the air raid sirens to Anderson Shelters and railway arches for protection.

It won’t take long to tell what is going on in that world.

Although there is a black-out on figures of unemployment, blacker than you find in any street, you know how unemployment has risen. You know how some have no work, while others are forced to work unlimited overtime.

It’s Your Money They Take

Sir John Simon—the man who signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty which gave Hitler the right to build one submarine for every one Britain has; these U-boats which are now sinking British merchant ships, causing food shortage, rise in prices—had the impudence to say on September 26th he “did not agree the cost of living was rising.”

But your wife did. She had to pay the extra for essential foodstuffs, for sugar, tea, bacon, coal.

Now even this Government has had to publish figures about the cost of living. What do they show? Of course you may not be an expert on index figures, but you now are calmly told that the cost of food has gone up by 9 per cent and the general cost of living by 10 per cent. It is the biggest rise in 19 years.

It is the biggest increase in a single month since 1918.

And this is only the beginning.

And all is also quiet in Transport House.

There are about 1,500,000 insured workers who are covered by sliding scale rates of wages based on the cost of living, and these will have to wait months before the necessary adjustment will be made.

Some workers may think that overtime and piecework can make up the difference.

This is only a false view. This is a sectional view. It is the majority of the people as a whole we have to think about.

The vast mass of unskilled workers; the wives and children of the rank and file in the armed forces; the unemployed and old age pensioners; those who have to bear the additional costs of evacuation. For all these, more worry, anxiety, less food, cheaper and less nutritious food getting into debt.

The Scandal of Allowances

Comrades, the wife of a soldier, sailor or airman, gets 24/- for herself (including 7/- from her husband), 5/- for the first child, 3/- for the second, 2/- for the third, and only 1/- each for any further children.

Take a working man with four evacuated children. He is expected to hand to the State 6/- each or 24/- out of his wages for their upkeep. Of course the worker in the Armed Forces will no doubt be thinking that if he has four children, the State—the State of Chamberlain, Nuffield, Vickers, Handley-Page—only allow his wife 11/- to keep the whole four on.

When the old age pensioner draws his ten bob, what must he think as he signs for it and takes it away and looks at food prices in the shops?

What about the heroes of the last great war? What about the allowances to widows and totally disabled men? How they must have shrunk now!

The standards remain the same. The cost of living has no relation to what it was twenty years ago.

Why, it gets worse.

In 1919, a totally disabled man, with a wife and four children, got 3 15s. 6d. a week. Today they are offered 2 14s. 2d.

The widow of a man killed on service in the last war got 2 16s. 2d. Today she will get 2 2s. 6d.

How They Tax You

The other day Simon introduced the first War Budget. The Tories hailed it. The workers must fight it, for they are the chief sufferers.

For they will pay in new indirect taxation; that is, on sugar, beer and bacca, about 66,000,000 a year. The rich will pay in super-tax and increased death duties 14,000,000.

And just to rub it in, one of the bitterest enemies of the workers, a Die-hard Tory, H. Williams, M.P. for Croydon, declared in the Budget debate:

“The people who are worst off are the people to whom this sugar tax is particularly applied. It is because they escape all other taxes, that this tax is proposed and is quite rightly so.”

Another Die-hard Tory M.P., Sir Assheton Pownall:

“I warmly commend the courage of my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer . . . in bringing in such drastic figures . . . I hoped as an Income Tax payer that I might have the privilege of paying 7/6 in the in the year beginning 5th April next. The Chancellor has fulfilled my wishes and I am to have that privilege.”

Let this insolence of the rich, to whom a five-pound note is not as much as a penny, sink in.

Their wives won’t have to queue up for food; won’t have to buy the cheapest grub; won’t have to pick out the biggest cabbages and kippers to make them go further for the family.

Oh, no! It means nothing to them. But to the workers in industry, the workers unemployed; the old people; the wives of the men at the Front—it means everything.

Closing Down on Politics

To try and prevent you expressing your hostility to all this, the ruling class will put all the usual patriotic dope over. Last time it was “It’s a long way to Tipperary.” Now it’s “Hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line.”

But the Asquiths, Lloyd Georges didn’t march. Neither will Chamberlains and Churchills hang out any washing on the Siegfried Line.

To try and prevent you expressing your hostility, the Government, with the full backing of the group of reactionary Labour leaders, have agreed to a political truce.

At this moment, when there is more political discussion, thinking and argument going on than ever before, you are deprived of your right to vote, either in parliamentary by-elections or local council elections.

At this moment, when the lives of millions are in the melting pot, you are not to be allowed to express your opinion as to how you would like the country to be governed. Men once died in Britain to win the right to vote. Men now have to die, without the right to vote.

Parliament has become a mere cypher.

When it’s peace time, it takes its leisurely way, there is no time for this, or if there is time, it means nothing, and endless debates and adjournments take place. When it is a war in the interest of rent, profit and interest, then anything the bosses want can be rushed through in a couple of hours.

Authority can be delegated to Orders in Council. Parliamentary control vanishes, and those who pretend to be fighting for liberty and democracy, arrogate to themselves special powers, which take away the rights and liberties the old pioneers of the Labour movement suffered, sacrificed and died to win for the working people who live today.

The Danger to the Workers

The extent of these powers is not felt until they are used. And they are never used against the rich—only the poor. Just consider these powers, for example.

The Control of Employment Act empowers the Minister of Labour to prevent any employers from engaging or re-engaging any worker. This means, in effect, that a worker can be made to work in the factory to which the Minister assigns him. He cannot freely leave it to obtain work where conditions are better; nor can he remain in his present employment if the Minister decides otherwise.

The powers assumed by the Government under the Emergency Powers Act, some of which may be delegated to the Regional Commissioners or the police, include:

(1) Power to arrest suspects without charge, and keep them in prison without trial (i.e., suspension of rights of Habeas Corpus).

(2) Power to ban meetings which might promote disaffection or hinder the successful conduct of the war.

(3) Power for the police to arrest and search without warrant.

(4) Power to ban publications for propaganda which might promote disaffection or hinder the successful conduct of the war.

(5) Power to arrest anyone for speaking or writing in a way calculated to influence public opinion in a way prejudicial to the defence of the realm or the efficient prosecution of the war.

Do they look as if they were directed against the rich friends of fascism who have armed, financed and helped Hitler to reach his present position?

Or do they look as if they were meant to be applied against those who fight for higher wages; against unrestricted overtime; who fight for constructive schemes to alleviate the distressed areas and unemployment; who want to take the twilight out of old age by giving the old people increased pensions; who want the families of the men at the Front to be maintained in decency and comfort, and for pensions and allowances that are for living people and not pauperised citizens; to prevent a real campaign for air raid precautions that are as effective for the working people as those constructed for the rich idlers?

How to Defend Yourselves

You who read this pamphlet, and remember the struggle of the workers during the last war, will also recall how the Labour leaders became so tied up with the Coalition Governments of that time, that you had to find new methods of fighting for wage increases, against dilution and high rents, against the deportation of leaders trusted by the workers. You formed the Shop Stewards’ Movement, which became a power in the land.

And now you will see the Labour leaders in this war following the same road as in 1914, tying themselves up with the Government, and now forming a “National Joint Council” of 15 representatives from the T.U.C. General Council and 15 from the British Employers’ Confederation, with the Minister of Labour as Chairman. So you know you will have the same job as last time.

You will recall how you had to fight for free speech, for freedom of the workers’ press.

You had to do this while Labour leaders got O.B.E.s, were presented at Court, got taken in the War Cabinet, got left sometimes on the mat.

And now, when more aggressive actions have been taken against the workers in seven weeks than were taken in four years of war last time, it is necessary that the workers act themselves again. Using the organisations they have paid their pennies to develop and organise; using any weapon of industrial and political action to protect, safeguard and advance their every-day interests and demands.

To do so will not be to act against “the country.” It will be to act in the interests of the overwhelming mass of the people who are Britain. Who are the country. Who are the people.

To do so will be to act as the French and German workers will be acting.

To do so will be to fulfil the wishes of the men at the Front, who have been conscripted to fight for Imperialism. But who belong to you and you to them. Who have gone from the factories and countryside, and who would feel you had let them and their families down if you did not zealously uphold the real banner of Labour, its aims and principles in wartime.

Twenty years have passed since the last war ended.

It is impossible that time can find us standing still.

Recall again all the broken promises. The wage cuts. Unemployment. Black Friday. The General Strike. The Trades Disputes Act. The Means Test.

But the Labour movement is stronger now. Political education has spread far and wide. Class-consciousness has deepened. The lessons of the class struggle have sunk into the minds of millions.

Unity of Purpose and Action

Therefore it is time to act. Time to show the power of the workers. Time to prove we are not pawns in a deathly game of chess, to be moved here and there by a Chamberlain or Citrine.

We have the power. It is in the factories. The Trade Unions. Outside the Labour Exchanges and in the workers’ streets and homes. It is time to develop the will to use that power.

Unity of purpose and action can develop a power and a fighting force that no other power in Britain can destroy.

We have to prove we are free men. That we are sons of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. That the gains of the past are not going to be made a holiday for profiteers, landlords and bankers.

How to organise the power of the workers? You who read and claim to be a militant worker, you have the responsibility of showing the way.

Start in your own factory. See that every worker belongs to a trade union.

Stimulate the election of shop stewards in every shop to represent every grade of worker, and get the election endorsed by your trade union branch or district committee. Try and get factory committees established that can watch over your conditions, and back up every trade union effort to improve them.

Ensure that your trade union branch meets regularly, and encourage all you come in contact with to attend the branch meetings. Fight against the tendency to become only payers of trade union contributions. Show all your mates their own personal responsibility.

Spread the idea of trade union unity, amalgamation, and one union for each industry. Try and overcome craft and sectional outlooks, and demarcation dividing lines. We are all workers, robbed of the fruits of our labour, exploited in common, but a cunning boss class try and keep us divided, and many trade union leaders help them by perpetuating the present structure of trade unionism.

There are no craft and sectional differences in the Front Line in France. There should be none on the workers’ front in Britain.

Do all you can, to get your trade union branches and district committees affiliated and active on the local trades councils, so that these can become the local unifying centres of the fight for the workers’ demands.

End the Political Truce

Demand, through the trade union branches, local Labour Parties and Co-operative Guilds, the ending of the political truce between Labour and Capital, between Downing Street and Transport House.

Help to end the present paralysis that has seized the official Labour movement. It is your movement. You have built it up, you have paid for that building, you are paying now. Make it function, act and lead in this greatest of all crises.

Make the demand for fighting capitalism, not strengthening it.

You cannot trust those Tories.

You cannot trust those who trust these Tories.

If a start is made along the line suggested here, the mass movement will soon grow into a mighty force.

Remember, it has always had to start this way. Always from the masses themselves. It was done in the last war. It can be done in this. You have done it in great mass movements before, you can do it again. 1921; the great marches of the unemployed. The rent strikes, the development of the Youth Movement. All these great movements the workers organised and carried through against capitalists and Labour leaders who support capitalism.

So let us start today. You know the conditions in your factory. You know the things the workers want. You know the state of A.R.P. where you live and you know all the problems and difficulties of evacuation.

Then let us tackle them all together. Right now. Don’t delay any longer. No one will act if you don’t act yourselves.

Therefore close your ranks. Defeat the splitting tactics of the leaders who have prevented unity with the Communists and are themselves trying to line up the movement for unity with the Chamberlains and Churchills.

The Communist Party calls upon the members of the Labour Party, active trade unionists and shop stewards, and all those genuinely prepared to fight now for peace and the interests of the people against the reactionary Chamberlain Government to join with it in a great effort to bring about a renewal of the independence and militant struggle of the working-class movement.

The Communist Party calls upon the workers to unite their ranks and carry forward the struggle of the entire people for the following demands:—

Immediate measures against the profiteers to bring down prices;

Immediate increases in wages, pensions and unemployment benefits to meet the rise in cost of living;

The restriction of hours and overtime in accordance with existing trade union agreements and the strict enforcement of all safety and welfare regulations laid down by the Factory Acts.

Immediate increases in the scandalously low allowances to dependants of the men in the fighting forces;

Bomb-proof shelters at Government cost for the whole population in working-class areas;

No Means Test and no charge to parents of evacuated children, commandeering of large private houses for the children, and free passes for parents to visit them;

Hands off democratic rights and social services;

Immediate granting of India’s claim to self-determination and the extension of democratic rights to all colonial peoples.

Down with the Chamberlain Government;

Formation of a new Government which will carry out these demands, begin peace negotiations and represent the interests of the people against the armament kings and plundering millionaires.

The workers of Britain, united and determined, are strong enough by their own action to banish the spectre of war and open the road towards a new, free Socialist life.