J. T. Murphy

De Profundis

The Return of the Engineers


Source: The Communist, June 17, 1922
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.


AFTER the 3,000 conference, the “bold” lead of Mr. Brownlie, the press hysteria on faith in leaders (following on the worst exhibition of leadership known to trade union history), the ballot vote in the A.E.U. (we understand, although we write before the figures are issued) shows a majority in favour of returning to work on the terms of the new memorandum.

Woe to the Vanquished

That all those who have been locked out will regain their former jobs is doubtful. That we are in for a distressful period in the factories is certain. Within the next few weeks the employers will negotiate the 6s. 6d. per week reduction and the extension of the system of payment by results, confident that the unions can offer no resistance. The boilermakers and the moulders will be compelled to come to terms. The unions are now practically at the mercy of Sir Allen Smith. He can proceed with his task of plundering the unions absolutely confident that the union leaders have neither the guts nor capacity to offer sufficient resistance.

From the beginning of the fight we insisted upon the necessity of united resistance by all the unions to the policy of wage reductions. We insisted on this in 1921 when the miners were locked out and more than threescore Communists landed in gaol for actively striving to widen the front. The miners were defeated because we and they were not supported in any efforts towards a united front.

At that very moment the engineers’ general secretary was writing in the monthly journal of the A.E.U. to the effect that because of the miners’ lock-out the engineers could not fight the wage reductions which were being demanded of them.

To-day the miners’ children are begging for bread because their fathers cannot earn enough when working to feed them. The engineering workers have now been beaten down and we venture to prophesy that before long their children also will be begging for bread for the same reason as the miners—unless the lesson is learned and acted upon.

The Fight Still Goes On

The crisis in shipbuilding and engineering shows no signs of abating. Here and there among the engineering firms there are orders but on the whole the position is critical and we are faced with the same situation as obtains in the mining industry.

There are now too many engineering workers just as there are too many miners.

Meanwhile Mr. Hodges talks of a ten years’ industrial truce and Mr. Smillie says there can be no industrial truce “An industrial truce is the sleep of death.” Mr. Brownlie denounces Mr. Henderson and Mr. Clynes talks for faith in leaders. Mr. Hutchinson bumps the Daily Herald and the Daily Herald kisses everybody. But Smillie is right—an industrial truce is the sleep of death. And whoever preaches the opposite to-day is an ally of the boss class administering the chloroform on their behalf.

The whole outcry about faith in leaders is insincere. What is meant is faith in them which should be of the blind variety: faith leaving them immune from criticism. To preach faith in leaders in this country is totally unnecessary. The masses are patient and long suffering with them to a degree.

The whole outcry is engineered in order to cover up their cowardice and incapacity. If instead of appealing for faith they would do more to encourage that faith by deeds which made clear they at least had got sight, there would be little of which to complain. Instead of that they have encouraged petty jealousies and refused to obey the elementary principles of solidarity. The record of the leaders in the engineering lock-out is an utter disgrace and to try to cover it up by appeals for faith is absurd to a degree.

Parliament: Battlefield or Dug-Out?

Equally damnable is the other subterfuge which is being used to enhance the politicians of the reformist crowd and to decry the policy of direct action. Mr. Gosling and a whole host of them are denouncing strikes in favour of Parliamentary action. Not for one moment do we want to understate the importance of preparing for a general election, or even fighting to get a general election. Nor do we wish to understate the usefulness of securing the return of Labour candidates.

But we denounce as utter nonsense and downright treachery the deductions which are being made and paraded before the masses concerning the failures of the strikes and lock-outs of the last two years. Whatever the failures have been, no one has contributed more to their failure than the men who are now denouncing them. Who are these people after all to denounce the workers for voting for a “win the war Government” when they had harnessed their own activities to the wheels of war? Who are these to condemn the masses when they themselves assisted the Government in creating the war psychology which was responsible for the 1918 vote?

Did these men, who tied the unions to the State, who became the recruiting sergeants of the capitalist class, expect that their four and a-half years of war propaganda could be eradicated in five minutes? Because this did not happen are the workers to be denounced in order to cover up the leaders’ own weaknesses when called upon to act? The years which ought to have been spent in rallying every possible element of working class loyalty against the capitalist class and in reorganising the union movement for struggle were criminally neglected. The workers are to-day paying the price of the war time treachery of their leaders who to-day are trying to cover up their own defects by abuse, and by appeals for Parliamentary solidarity. From Henderson to Brownlie they are all at it.

* * *

In the hope of future respectable victories they plead for the preservation of the unions by refusing to fight. In the process they weaken the unions more than ever. It is impossible to preserve organisation by pursuing a demoralising policy of dividing the union forces in the hours of action. That they have done and the responsibility for the return on these terms lies wholly at the door of the union leaders of to-day. Union leaders who wanted to win would not have spent their time running away from the battle front.

Think what it would have meant if the whole of the Executives of the 52 unions plus the General Council had set about organising the masses in every important centre, if they had come along with a fighting policy and given a moral impetus to the whole movement.

Then compare it with their inactivity, their talky talky in the committee and conference rooms. And these are the leaders who call for faith! These are they who denounce those who are active and institute proceedings to ensure their serenity!

The return to work and unemployment has begun, but this is not the end. It is one stage further in the struggle which knows no end until capitalism is utterly defeated. Let the struggle proceed with vigour in every union branch to get new leadership and for new combinations. The skilled workers are thrust into the vanguard of the struggle to preserve and advance the cause of the workers as a whole. They cannot win without the unskilled workers. Wherever there has been thrown up those combinations of “unskilled” and skilled workers during the lock-out preserve them as much as possible, and use them as weapons with which to forge the more perfect instrument for the struggle of to-morrow.