The Worker January 1916

The Dilution Labour


Source: The Worker, No.1, 8, January 1916, p.3-4, by anon.;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


Mr Lloyd George in Glasgow

The best paid Munitions worker in Britain, Mr. Lloyd George (almost 100 per week), visited the Clyde last week-end in search of adventure.

He got it.

His meeting with the Clyde workers was to have taken place in the St. Andrew’s Halls on the Thursday night, but to everybody’s great surprise the newspapers on Thursday morning announced that the meeting was “off” until Saturday morning. The announcement excused itself by saying that the postponement from a night meeting, when men were not all working, to a forenoon meeting, when all the men should be working; was to suit the convenience of all concerned!

Not even Mr. Sexton Blake, the eminent detective, could unravel that!

After all the arrangements had been made for the Thursday meeting, Messrs. Lorimer (Blacksmiths), Bunton (A.S.E.), and Sharp (Boilermakers), had been summoned by telegram to Newcastle to meet Mr. Lloyd George. Mr. Sharp did not go, but Messrs. Lorimer and Bunton went, and were informed by Mr. Lloyd George that he had changed his mind about the Thursday meeting, that he intended first to visit the workshops, and that the meeting would be postponed to the Saturday (Xmas) morning.

The Committee of Trades Representatives, responsible for the Thursday meeting, met on Thursday evening, and after two hours’ discussion, decided by 29 votes to 7 not to have anything to do with the Saturday meeting, owing to the shortness of time and their inability to secure a thoroughly representative gathering.

This resolution was again put to the meeting, and by 34 votes to 3 re-affirmed. It was then resolved unanimously that before any future meeting was arranged for the Ministry of Munitions that an aggregate meeting of Shop Stewards and Trade Union Officials be held, for the purpose of discussing and formulating a policy to be pursued at any future meeting with Mr. Lloyd George. Immediately after these decisions had been arrived at, someone had telephoned the result to Mr. Lloyd George’s party, who viewed the decision so seriously that they desired to discuss the matter with the delegates at once. In a few minutes the Right Hon. Arthur Henderson, M.P., and three Government officials, appeared on the scene, and the whole business was re-opened. After a statement from Mr. Henderson, questions were asked and some were answered. It was then moved by Mr. Bunton (A.S.E.), and seconded by Bailie Whitehead (Brass-finishers), that the meeting rescind the previous resolutions agreed to, but by 20 votes to 13 the meeting refused to rescind their previous decisions, and, therefore, the Saturday Meeting was declared off as an Official Representative Trade Union Meeting. The hour was now 11.45 p.m., and the delegates went home, but through the night letters were delivered at their homes and offices, signed by “Murray, of Elibank,” asking them to meet at the Central Station Hotel on Friday morning at to o'clock, and hear an appeal from Lord Murray as to reasons why they should reconsider their decision of the previous evening.

Less than half the delegates turned up at the Friday morning meeting, the absentees being chiefly men at work. It transpired that, despite the decision of the previous evening, the following were willing to go on with the Saturday meeting – Bunton (Engineers), Whitehead (Brassfinishers), Lorimer Blacksmiths), and Gardiner (Painters).

The remaining Unions, nearly 30 in number, agreed to remain loyal to the decisions arrived at on the previous evening.

Saturday’s meeting, then, was not representative of all the Clyde Unions. The other Unions have drafted a circular to their members explaining why they refused to take part in the Saturday meeting.

On this phase of the whole strange business, the only comments necessary are of relief that such a large proportion of Union officials refused to be jockeyed about at the sweet will of the Ministry of Munitions – where so many showed dignity and refused to be overawed by the politicians, it may be even unfair to the others to single out Councillor George Kerr, of the Workers’ Union, for specially honourable mention – and a comment of surprise that a Ministry of Munitions that openly boasts of the economies it is securing, should actually have cancelled an evening meeting, that cost no expenses in workers’ wages or in production, and substituted therefor a forenoon meeting, which, to the extent that it was attended by munition workers, diminished production, and cost the country 6/- per head in wages – this 6/- being the sum the Unions are to pay each member attending the meeting; the Unions are to be remembered by the Ministry of Munitions. In hard cash – uselessly spent hard cash – HERE GOES ONE THOUSAND POUNDS!

* * *

THE SATURDAY MEETING.

Wild Scenes.
Mr. Lloyd George says Ramsay MacDonald “is one of my greatest personal friends."
But does not speak on Munitions Act.
Thanks Socialist for Appealing for hearing for him.
Break-up in Disorder.

On Saturday morning the St. Andrews Hall was fairly well filled. An official account of the meeting has been issued by the Censor and published in the Press. The account of Mr. Lloyd George’s speech summarised very fairly the points he made, though the language has been “touched up” – at any rate, some of his graceful periods (in the Press reports) did not reach reporters in the audience.

The comments which preface the official Press report are misleading, inasmuch as they give the impression that only a small minority of the audience was hostile to the Munitions Act. The report also is unfair, insofar as it cuts out Mr. Lloyd George’s loudly-cheered expression of his friendship for Ramsay MacDonald, and his thanks to the Convener of the Parkhead Shop Stewards (Mr. Kirkwood) for rising and appealing for a hearing to him, when the interruptions threatened to overwhelm him altogether.

The Censor has passed an official report of the meeting, issued by the Press Association – probably with the idea of preventing the publication of news about munitions, guns, etc., going to the enemy as might have been the case, if the ordinary newspaper reports had been permitted. We have no desire to touch the military or “preparedness” side of the speech, but the purely political side must not go misrepresented. It is simply stupid to go about deluding people that only an insignificant minority, and not the vast overwhelming majority of the meeting was angry, and the journalist, whoever he was, who drew up the report and omitted the political references to Ramsay MacDonald and the efforts of the Socialists to secure a hearing for Mr. George, is really not playing a patriotic part.

We are all for free speech, and not only for ourselves, but for our opponents. We, therefore, associate ourselves wholeheartedly with the Socialist effort to secure Mr. George a hearing, and regret that a mean-spirited Press report should seek to convey the impression that it was the Socialists (called “Syndicalists”) who sought to break up the meeting.

The meeting began with a storm of hissing and booing, and the Chairman (Mr. Henderson) suffered a running fire of interruption. In our opinion he would have done better to have explained the admirable part he played in getting Jas. Marshall, of Parkhead, released from jail, rather than to attempt, as he did, a rather general patriotic appeal.

Here is the sort of thing he suffered: –

I am delighted to have the opportunity of appearing in this hall with the Minister of Munitions – (what about the hall for the workers?) – to lay before you the great issue of the present moment so far as the war is concerned. (Ay! and profits.) You are all aware of the fact that we are engaged in probably the greatest war – (at home) – that ever the old country has been concerned with... The issue that was raised in August, 1914, when the neutrality – (Oh! Heavens, how long have we to suffer this?) – of a brave and independent people was trodden upon in the most shameful way. (That’s enough.)

When we began the war – (we don’t want to hear that. Get to the Munitions Act) – I am endeavouring to show you the country was not prepared, and the fact that we were not prepared – (loud interruption: “Cut it short!” “Come away wi’ Davy!”) ... Mr. Lloyd George – (loud hissing and booing) – will presently address you – (more booing and hissing and some cheering) – on the importance of the dilution of labour.

The scheme of dilution that Mr. Lloyd George will recommend to you did not come from any employer. It came from a Committee – (interruption) – upon which there were seven Trade Unionists. (Traitors: Give their names: Was John Hodge one o’ them?)

I am quite prepared to give you their names. I do not want to hold anything back. The first name I will give you is the Chairman of the A.S.E. (Booing and hissing.) My friends may jeer at his name, but he has been elected Chairman since this scheme of dilution came up. (Dirty.) Another member of the Committee was Mr. Kaylor – re-elected to the Executive. (Away with him.) Also Mr. Duncan, who, I believe, is still connected with the A.S.E. Another member was the Secretary of the Steam Engine Makers and another one was Miss Macarthur. (Miss Macarthur’s – the best man o’ the lot.) I am quite disposed to agree with my friend. She certainly knows how to deal with the women workers. (Soft soap.)

What is it they ask you to do? I will be done directly. (Hear, hear They only ask you to enable the skill of the worker to be utilised during this crisis in the best interests of the State. (Yes, in the interests of the Capitalists.)

We must have the workers necessary to equip the vast, army (What about the unemployed army after the war?) The whole position will be restored to you after the war, (Question: Don’t think!) It appears to me if the position is so safeguarded that you have everything restored to you after the war – (Why don’t you put it in the Bill?) It is already in the Bill. I am afraid some people do not read Acts of Parliament. They only read the criticisms, the false criticisms people make for their own advantage.

I want to say here in the most emphatic terms that the safeguarding of the Trade Union position is already in an Act of Parliament. And I want to tell you it was put there

BY MR. RAMSAY MACDONALD.

(Great cheering).

I hope you all believe in freedom of speech. (What about the action of the Glasgow Magistrates?) (You've made a bloomer that time, Arthur!) (Great commotion.) ... Now I am going to call upon Mr. Lloyd George, and I am quite sure, however much you may differ with him, you are prepared to give him that hearing to which his responsible position entitles him. (He has got to apologise first.)

Mr. Lloyd George was sent to organise munitions, and no man has had a harder task. (Tripe: Nonsense.) If we win this war, as I believe we shall, much of the credit will be due to him. (Commotion.) After he has stated his case I am going to ask for questions, and if you do not waste too much time I think we will have sufficient time to answer all the questions that are sent up. I must ask that the questions be sent up in writing. (No, no; We're had again.) Surely in a crisis like this Mr. Lloyd George is entitled to see the questions he is going to answer. I hope you will take note, and get your questions ready, and Mr. Lloyd George will do his best to give satisfaction.

* * *

On rising to speak Mr. Lloyd George was received with loud and continued booing and hissing. There was some cheering, certainly, and about a score of hats were waved in the area, but the meeting was violently hostile. Two verses of “The Red Flag” were sung before the Minister could utter a word. Owing to the incessant interruption and the numerous altercations going on throughout the hall, it was quite impossible to catch every word of Mr. George’s speech.

My first duty, he said, is to express regret to you because I could not address the meeting on Thursday. (Leave that alone.) At this stage a delegate in the area stood upon a scat and endeavoured to speak. He only got the length of saying “Mr. Lloyd George” when apparently he was pulled down. There were loud cries of “Free Speech,” and someone shouted: “This is a meeting of Trade Union officials, not police officials,” evidently hinting at the surprisingly large force of police in the hall. “This is the only opportunity we have,” shouted another, “they on the platform will never give us the opportunity.” The Chairman appealed for quietness, and again gave the order of procedure. It was only proper, he said, that they should accept the ruling.

Mr. Lloyd George tried to resume: “I have to express my regret at the alteration of the arrangement – (“What about the Conference at Bristol,” and loud cries of apologise.”) I have addressed many meetings in Scotland and have never seen Scotsmen deny the right of free speech. The vast majority are in favour of it. Amidst the general commotion Mr. Lloyd George was understood to say that he stood with the Socialists against the South African war. He continued: I thought a small nationality was being oppressed, and I did not care whether it was being oppressed by our own people or by a foreign land.... Let me put this to you, friends: whilst we are comfortable at home on a Christmas day – (interruption: No sentiment; We're here for business!) there are hundreds of thousands of our fellow-countrymen, some of them our sons, some of them our brothers, in the trenches facing death. (You're here to talk about the dilution of labour.) It’s on their behalf and at their written request that I come here to put before the workmen of Glasgow their appeal for help.

We need a very large number of heavy guns and projectiles, and I am going to put to you a business proposition. (For the exploiters.) Do you think these men in the trenches are exploiters? (Don’t hedge.) (The Shipowners are doing their bit.) Do let me state the facts. (We know them.) .... What steps have we taken? We have started great National factories; State-owned and State-controlled; every timber and nail in them belonging to the State. My friends, these are great Socialist factories. (Violent interruption.) Believe me, the whole of them owned by the State, erected by the State; no profit made by any Capitalist, because they don’t belong to the Capitalist.

What is the issue? Does anyone deny that these factories we are building are State factories? (A voice: “Yes.”) If you deny that you would deny anything. I will ask any man representing you in the House of Commons – and surely there is someone you trust. (No and laughter. Not even Mr. [corrupted line] given for Ramsay MacDonald.) Mr MacDonald is one of my greatest personal friends, and whether he is for the war or against the war not one single word will fall from my lips against Mr. MacDonald. You get Mr. Ramsay MacDonald – (what about the hall for him?) He will tell you they are National factories.

Mr Thomas, one of the most distinguished members of the Socialist Party and as good a Socialist to-day as he ever was – (what about Jaures) – took the matter of shells in hand. He called to his assistance the French women and brought them into the factories. With what result? The German invasion was rolled back, and the Germans have no more chance of conquering any more French territory than they have of conquering the kingdom of heaven.

Is it too much to ask the British workmen to help his comrades in the field? (No; what about the Munitions Act?) France will never forget it. Whatever scheme the French workman puts forward in the future for better treatment, he will have the ear, the willing ear of millions of French men and women, who will remember the gallant and devoted service he rendered to his country. (Cries of “Hurry up,” and commotion.)

(Mr. Kirkwood apparently had been appealed to for help, and he made an appeal to the meeting to hear the speaker. This was duly acknowledged by Mr. Lloyd George.)

Mr. Kirkwood, he said, did not restrain himself from telling me what he thought about the Munitions Act and about me, but, at any rate, he knows the value of free speech, and I am very thankful to him for his assistance in obtaining order.

... I have but one word more to say. I want to talk to you in all sincerity as a man brought up in a worker’s home. I know as much about the life of the worker as any man here. The responsibility of a Minister of the Crown in a great war is not an enviable one. (“The money’s good,” and laughter.) I can assure you it is no laughing matter. .... There will be unheard of changes in every country in Europe; changes that go to the root of our social system. You Socialists watch them. It is a convulsion of nature; not merely a cyclone that sweeps away the ornamental plants of modern society and wrecks the flimsy trestle-bridges of modern civilisation. It is more. It is an earthquake that upheaves the very rocks of European life.

And to go on chaffering about a regulation here and the suspension of a custom there under these conditions, why, it is just haggling with an earthquake. Workmen; may I make one appeal to you? (Interruption.) Lift up your eyes above the mist of suspicion and distrust. Rise to the height of the great opportunity now before you. If you do, you will emerge after this war is over into a future which has been the dream of many a great leader. (Cheers; loud hissing and booing.)

At the close of his address, Mr. Lloyd George proceeded to answer the written, questions which had been handed up from the body of the hall. He promised to reply to them all if he possibly could, but he had. an engagement at 12 o'clock, and if he failed to get through them the remaining answers would be published. At 11.45, however, Mr. John Muir, of the Clyde Workers’ Committee,, got up on the seat and demanded an opportunity of stating the case for the workers. This, he said, had been promised, and he was not going to wait any longer. Both Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Henderson appealed to him to resume his seat, but Mr. Muir was determined not to put off till Mr. George had to leave. As it was impossible to hear either the Minister or Mr. Muir, the Chairman closed the proceedings, and the meeting broke up in disorder.