A Report on Conditions in England

Working Class Grows More Restive

(9 November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 45, 9 November 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The British working class becomes more radical and more impatient with capitalism every day. By so doing it daily increases the difficulties of the union and labor leaders, the Stalinists and the ruling class.

The Union Leaders

On the defensive from the workers are, first, the union leaders. At the recent Trade Union Conference, Resolution 28 “called on His Majesty’s government to arrange for more active participation by trade union representatives in the administration and management of all vital war industries.” Now, this is not only a moderate working class demand in any country during a war, but is of particular importance in Great Britain, a heavily industrialized country, where nearly 70 per cent of the population is proletarianized and where so much of the burden, of the war, air raid wardens, home defense, airplane spotting, etc., is borne by the working class.

But the General Council opposed the resolution! Why? Because the last thing these union bureaucrats want is for the workers to exercise even the pretense of independent action. The bureaucrats and their friends, the Labor Party members in Parliament, are well represented in posts of government and on all boards, committees, etc. Bevin, a union bureaucrat, is Minister of Labor. Morrison, a Labor Party leader, is Home Secretary, etc., etc.

In Washington, Roosevelt and Nelson continually kick around the labor leaders. The situation in Britain is very different. The British ruling class could not run the war at all without the help of the labor leaders.

In Britain there are councils of labor and management, but these naturally are working badly, with the workers being kicked around. The workers are reaching out for more power and their own General Council tries to turn them down. But the resolution was triumphantly carried, 2,454,000 to 2,261,000. This vote means much more than meets the eye. The Amalgamated Engineering Union, with nearly 600,000 members, has only one representative on the General Council, while the Transport and Municipal Workers, with just over a million members between them, have six instead of the two you would expect. (Bevin is the leader of the Transport and Municipal Workers.) This accounted for the heavy vote against Resolution 28. But the miners, the engineers, the railway workers, the electricians, all were for the resolution and hostile to the General Council. These men do the work. They feel the pinch. They want to take over themselves. The union bureaucrats say NO. They are scared of the workers.

The Construction Engineering Union pointed out that the Essential Work Orders were used to control the workers only. It asked the government to take over essential war industries. The National Union of Railwaymen demanded that the General Council alter its rules so as to make progress “both now and in a visualized socialist economy.” Now, these workers are making a serious mistake. If the British government takes over war industries, this will not mean a socialist society. Only the workers can take over industry and make real a visualized socialist economy. But these demands are very significant. They come in the midst of a great war.

The General Council is feeling the pressure. What does it do? Does it attack the ruling class? Does it seek to carry out the wishes of the workers? No sir! As bureaucrats do all over the world, these gentlemen seek more power to control the workers. The council demanded powers to make alterations in the standing orders between congresses, these powers to be binding until “overruled” by the next congress. The word “overruled” is very striking. They are preparing to take drastic measures against all who oppose them and they are so conscious of the hostility of the workers that they expect their decisions to be “overruled” and not “confirmed” by the following congress! If that is not the jitters, then it is a very good imitation.

The “Red” Menace

Naturally these union bureaucrats are fierce against the Reds, by whom they mean the Stalinists. Although the Stalinists are the greatest warmongers in every United Nations country, the union bureaucrats do not like them. They once spoke in very revolutionary terms. Nobody knows what they will be saying tomorrow. For years the bureaucrats have stuck to Circular 16, known as the Black Circular, which prohibited “Communists,” even though elected by honest voting, from serving as delegates to the Trades Councils. Russia, too, is very popular today among the British workers. And the Amalgamated Engineers (Stalinist controlled), with 600,000 members, the miners and many other unions, supported the withdrawal of the resolution. It was lost by 2,550,000 to 2,137,000.

The bureaucrats have another red herring – the Labor Research Department. This is a Stalinist organization which publishes material on union and labor problems. This material is sometimes good, sometimes bad, depending on the Stalinist line at the moment. But it always has an anti-ruling class dress and if special information is required by workers on any topic, the Labor Research Department will supply it and with reasonable speed. The bureaucrats have been out to drive the department from the union movement. The voting was 2,210,000 in support of the General Council and 1,980,000 against. The miners, with 500,000 votes, had decided to vote against the council but somehow their vote was not cast.

The Stalinist Poison

It is clear that we have a powerful leftward movement among the organized workers. Who will lead it? Who will give it political direction? The Stalinists, capitalizing on the showing of Russia in the war, are actively campaigning, not only to drive the workers further and further into the clutches of the ruling class, but for membership and influence. Foremost in their program is their campaign against “the Trotskyists.” They distinguish two kinds of fifth columnists and pro-Nazis, the rich ones like Lady Astor, who are easy to find, and those in the working class. “How can the agent of Hitler be spotted in the factory?” asks the Stalinist paper, News and Views. The best way, says the journal, “is on the basis of his attitude toward production here and now.”

Then, in thick black print:

“This means that all those who are desirous of defeating Hitler must set the example in timekeeping, efficient workmanship and so on.”

Now, any worker knows what that means. The bosses are always driving for “time-keeping” and “efficient workmanship.” That is what they sing in the ears of the workers all the time. The workers are getting fed up. They say we must have a share in the management; the laws to control the bosses are being evaded; we are the ones who are being controlled. Only a socialist society can help us really.

The Stalinists vote for some of these resolutions, especially those attacking the bureaucrats. By these means they gain a great popularity. But immediately they turn around and accuse any worker who does not work his guts out of being a Trotskyist and an agent of Hitler. What more can the boss want?

The Class Struggle

But the Stalinists are not getting away with it easily. This same issue of their paper boasts of all the new members they are getting and how they hold classes, one in the factory yard and another in a main shop. But after all the boasting comes a remarkable paragraph.

“Difficulty has been experienced in almost every case when dealing with fundamental subjects through the class struggle APPARENTLY (their emphasis) conflicting with our national unity policy. Each lecture must necessarily explain the seeming contradiction.”

Read that paragraph again. Never was there a finer testimony to the spirit which is moving the workers of Britain today. Thousands of them, attracted by the Stalinist noise and fakery, join them. They want to prepare for the revolution. But as soon as the Stalinists begin to talk against the class struggle these workers begin to kick. They feel in their bones that this is what they want. To hell with national unity! They are burning with class feeling.

Says the Stalinist report: “Difficulty has been experienced in almost every case ...” The British working class is fighting for some education, for some understanding which would correspond to its rising wrath against the ruling class. The Fourth Internationalists in Britain have their work cut out for them. If, with Hitler at their very gates, this is the temper of the British workers, one can wait with confidence for the violence with which they will turn on the British ruling class as soon as it feels that its hands are free, or events face it with the immediate choice: workers’ power or slavery.

The Ruling Class

Meanwhile, the British ruling class watches all this and wonders where it is going to end. It is following out two tactics. First, it is addressing itself seriously to the task of neutralizing as large a section of the workers as possible by trying to promise a New World in Britain after the war. The New York Times of October 26 announces that the report of Sir William Beveridge, commissioned eighteen months ago, is now nearly ready. Beveridge used to be head of the London School of Economics and gained some notoriety a few months ago by shouting against the evils of “private” capitalism. Coming from so conservative a man this naturally created a great stir.

Beveridge’s report is skilfully planned. It is perfectly planned. It is very obvious today in Britain and will be in America tomorrow that an economy which was planned for use and not for war or profit could develop the economic resource of the world and raise people to a standard of development undreamed of today. Beveridge does not oppose this. He is not so stupid. Everybody KNOWS what can be done. So Beveridge says, “We must continue to plan after the war, just as we plan now.” His plan promises to give every worker and wife $8.00 a week and $1.75 for each child after the first. That would be a minimum wage and nobody would ever go below it. This, plus sickness insurance, unemployment insurance, etc., will be the new heaven.

This program is not only idiotic in itself. It is pernicious, because much of the money is to be paid by heavy subscriptions coming from the workers themselves. The values of the scheme, however, is to make the workers believe that great plans for a new order in Britain are being prepared by the government. It is easy to predict the result. They will fool nobody.

But there is a more sinister streak in the antics and maneuvers of the British ruling class in the face of the gathering concentrating hostility of the British workers. It has faded . recently but the trend has been shown. I refer to the boosting of Lord Mountbatten, leader of the Commandos. Some weeks ago you could not open a paper without seeing his name. Noel Coward made a film of him. It was as clear as day that he was being groomed for the post of military dictator of Great Britain. In the clamor, the Stalinists also joined, though cautiously. However, for some reason or other which is not yet clear, the Mountbatten boosters stopped boosting. They are biding their time. But the trend showed very clearly what the rulers have in mind in case of accidents.

People believe that Churchill’s main aim is to defeat Hitler. Never was there such an illusion. His aim is to preserve and extend the British Empire. His first concern, therefore, is to keep the British working class where it is, under his heel. To keep them there he has to rely on the labor bureaucrats. And as the workers begin to turn from these, they meet the Stalinists with their lies and demagogy.

But there are active revolutionists at work in Great Britain; and, more important, win, lose or draw, Britain is destined for terrific shocks at home and abroad. The showdown will not be averted by bureaucratic fear, Stalinist juggling or the tricks of the bourgeoisie.

Last updated on 30 September 2014