Ron Keating & David Breen

Industrial Notes

(June 1957)

From Socialist Review, Vol.  No. 9, June 1957, pp. 1& 8.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

FOR TOO MANY YEARS now the opposition to the right-wing leadership in the trade-union movement has come from King Street. On a national level the only alternative to the Carrons and Williamsons has been the Birches and the Haxells. Militants in industry have usually had to choose between them, for lack of an independent Left lead.

But times have changed. Once again it is feasible to discuss the possibility of building such a movement in the trade unions. Why should militants like MacLoughlin of Briggs he compelled to remain in the CP against their will because, as he puts it, “the Labour Party has not got ... factory organization.”

The monolithic front of the right wing – personified until recently by Deakin, Lawther, Lincoln Evans and their like – has shown some cracks – witness the recent struggles of (and within) the Confederation of Ship building and Engineering Unions. These are only small cracks, mind, but they show that the Right is becoming ruffled and losing its grip.

The CP also has lost ground despite Gollan and Co’s assertions that the upheavals in that party affected a bunch of knock-kneed intellectuals only. MacLoughlin is but one of many CPers in industry who have expressed disgust with their party. If that were not so, why on earth could Etheridge, Stalinist convener at Austins for many years, not muster more than 800-odd votes against right-wing candidate Cresswell’s 3,600 in the recent elections for AEU District Organizer in the Birmingham area? If it weren’t for their loss of support in industry, why should the industrial branches have made such a poor showing at the CP’s London May Day procession this year? Or Birch and Co. been so roundly defeated at the AEU National Committee?

The Right is organized on the shop floor. The CP is organized. Even the Catholics are organized in an Association of Catholic Trade Unionists. But the independent Left is not.

The difficulties are still tremendous, although the opportunities are greater than they have been for some time. But if we are going to get anywhere in the direction of a genuine Left-wing poky uncontaminated by the bureaucracies of Transport House or King Street, we have to start now, from below. Left trade-unionists have a job to hand: building Labour Groups in the factories.

MR. CHARLES J. GEDDES is a dangerous man. He himself is harmless but the ideas he represents could be ruinous to the trade-union Movement if they were adopted.

The Tory Minister of Labour has embraced avidly an idea suggested by the courts of inquiry into the ship-building and engineering disputes – the idea of “an authoritative and impartial body” to determine a national wages policy. The courts of inquiry themselves must have got the idea from somewhere, and this is where Geddes comes in.

In 1954, while he was still secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers, he served as a member of a similar court of inquiry. That was where the scheme first bounced up. Today, having more time to deal with labour policy as a whole (he has left his secretaryship) – and having once again been a member of the courts of inquiry in the recent dispute, up pops the same suggestion, only this time it has all the trimmings designed to placate, other union leaders who rejected it before.

What a national wages policy means in our present system is simply another attempt to disarm the workers of their only effective weapon – strike action. The bosses tell their government that strikes are wasteful, that they cut into profits, that they harm the “nation’s” economy and that, therefore, they should be curbed and replaced by friendly discussions around the bargaining table. They turn to the union leaders that are frightened to see their funds dissipated through strikes, that exist by virtue of the fact that they can “compose” differences between bosses and workers, and show how easy it is to add to their statesmanlike glory by sitting on yet another permanent body, above and apart from the turmoil of industrial struggles.

And of course bosses, government and trade-union bureaucrats are all, agog with this newly-found constitutional device which promises to chain us firmly to “industrial peace.” Except that in the case of the last-mentioned – the trade-union bureaucrats – there is a nauseating feeling, that may be this time they will be going a bit too far if they accept, maybe their long-suffering membership will react to this slap in the face.

In its usual gentle way, the Railway Review has warned the trade-union leadership what it can expect if it follows Geddes advice and accepts the plan. “The consequence of that stripping of the trade power,” it writes editorially (May 10th), “would so emasculate them that they would in fact cease to earn the allegiance of their members.”

Last updated on 16 February 2017