Vanguard October 1915
Source: J.D.M., (James D. MacDougall),Vanguard, October 1915, p. 8;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
When the South Wales miners struck this year, they did so in defiance of the Munitions Act, which expressly forbade them to strike. The Welshmen, had the opposition of their paid servants to contend with, the press was bitterly against them, the Government attempted to frighten them with threats of fines and imprisonment; but in spite of all, they won. Why cannot the engineers and shipyard workers, who are chafing under the restrictions imposed by this Slave Act, strike for its abolition? There is nothing to prevent them from doing so with every bit as much prospect of success as the men of S. Wales had.
As a matter of fact, the only tactic now open to the workers to adopt is that of the political strike. They have no voice in the House of Commons. The “Labour” members are either too patriotic or too cowardly to criticise measures for the oppression of the working-class. Here we have Hodge going over to a banquet at Paris to assure the French nation that the British workers approve of the War, and are willing to submit to any servile conditions in the factories or even to military conscription itself, if it is required for the prosecution of the war. Who gave him a mandate? Barnes – respectable, little fat man – in the intervals of recruiting labour in Canada and U.S.A. under false pretences for British factories, insults and spits in the faces of the men who made it possible for him to leave the workshop. He who has consistently “shirked” his duty to the working class, both in the industrial field and in Parliament, has the impudence to talk about slackers in the workshop. And where are the bold, courageous democrats of the U.D.C. – Macdonald, Snowden, and their friends? Evidently absent when a real fight is required against the “ Manacle” Act. Had there been even a few determined Socialists in Parliament they might have obstructed the passage of this measure. And, once it was passed, it might have been knocked out of action almost immediately had the trade union leaders taken decisive and energetic steps to call a general strike. But they are incapable of doing anything of the kind. That has been shown, not merely in this connection, but also in the ease of the Osborne judgment and succeeding legislation, as well as in that of the National Insurance measure. Conferences are held and the “leaders” talk big but when crisis arrives and a little risk has to be run then they stand revealed as the wobbling jellyfish they really are. So that in connection with any action against the Munitions Act the workers need expect nothing but opposition from their paid organisers and secretaries. That will not matter much. At the moment, in the Clyde area, the officials are discredited and count for little, the real leaders of the men are to be found in the workshops. Over and above that, the exceptional circumstances at present existing are producing something very like the beginnings of a real industrial union movement. The need for solidarity is breaking down the old craft jealousies, the spread of Socialism is showing to workers their essential unity as a class, in spite of all superficial differences of occupation. In many shops on the Clyde vigilance committees, composed of delegates from each of the trades in the shop, have been formed, and have already many times demonstrated their usefulness. It should be the duty of militant Socialists and unionists in shops where such committees do not exist, or where they have been only partially formed, as in Beardmore’s, Clydebank, to see that a complete organisation is set up. Then the vigilance committees are linked together in a central committee, which contains the most trusted men of the labour movement in Glasgow. The business of the men meantime should be to practise “thrift,” so that when the strike comes, they will be able to hold out for a day or two or a week or two, as the case may be, without depending on any strike benefits. For a strike of this kind, it is unlikely that pusillanimous officials and reactionary executives will find any money.
When the Government sees the temper of the men and learns of their preparations, it is quite possible that, in order to prevent the threatened strike, they will grant the repeal of this obnoxious measure. If they do, all will be better than well, the claws of tyrannical managers and foremen and greedy bosses will, once again, be clipped. If they refuse, then a dispute may arise the magnitude of which will surprise them. The Clyde workers are conscious of the strong position they hold, the excessive overtime many are working has given them, in spite of rising prices, a reserve fund to fall back upon, and last but not least, at the same time as the Government is irritating them with restrictions on personal liberty, the influence of revolutionary Socialism among the Clyde workers has reached a higher point than ever before.