John Maclean Vanguard November 1915
Source: Vanguard, November, 1915, p.5;
This article appears in a much shortened form In The Rapids of Revolution, pp.89-91, 1978 Allison and Busby edited by Nan Milton, Maclean’s daughter;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The situation in the Clyde area is just as interesting as it was recently in South Wales, and as it is presently in Dublin where the Transport Workers have paralysed work at the Docks. Unrest and dissatisfaction manifest themselves in many directions, but principally in opposition to the Munitions Act, the raising of rents, and the threat of conscription. We think it necessary to deal with these in the order mentioned.
Since the introduction of the infamous Munitions Act, in the output of which the leaders of the trade unions have played their treacherous part, the workers of the Clyde have found themselves bullied and ordered about by foremen and managers as never before. Men, seeking to leave one factory for another, have found themselves detained to suit the interests of the employers. Others, wishing to stay, have been dismissed without a clearance card and have thus been kept six weeks out of work to satisfy the desire for revenge of some vicious foremen or managers.
Silly, irritating impositions in the interests of greedy capitalism have ruthlessly cut across use and wont, or definite trade union regulations, to the utter disgust of even “patriotic” workmen with sons and other relatives at the front. Men, meeting to discuss new exactions and the concessions that might safely be granted to the masters, have been brutally ordered back to work, whilst supposed ring-leaders have been suspended.
In such circumstances the men stop work, and of course, in due course, become victims under the vile Slavery Act. Penalty after penalty, always against the workers, has convinced the workers on the Clyde that the purport of the Munitions Act was not increased supplies to the soldiers, but the crushing of trade unionism. In that we think the workers right.
The Germans, because of better education, established an eight hour day in Krupp’s, gave an increase of 20 per cent. on wages, and supplied good dinners free. In that factory, or rather series of factories, the workers have received increasing control over the production. So we find it also in other branches of German industry, with the wonderful results in the war apparent to the intelligent worker who refuses to swallow the rubbish printed in the stupid British capitalist press.
With German practice and experience before us we are convinced the Munitions Act has been a very clumsy weapon to crush trade unionism in the industries vital during the war.
The February Clyde Engineering Strike was a revolt against the trickery of the masters, who thought they would get the men to work for a very obsolete rate of wages even during the war with its rising cost of living and increased output of material. The fright the Government got showed itself in the farcical attempt to stop the men drinking, and placing new slave chains upon them in order to get, as they said, a greater and a greater output.
The capitalist class seized on the Marshall case to demonstrate that the men were doing their utmost to hold back production, and the presiding Sheriff gave a savage sentence to frighten others who might be thought guilty of the ca'canny policy, although Marshall was simply charged with an ordinary assault.
Things did not turn out as the silly old Sheriff and his class expected. The Beardmore workers, aroused by his vile spleen, rallied round Marshall and obtained a large sum for the benefit of the dependents of Marshall and his family. At the same time they prepared to strike if he was not liberated. He was liberated.
This Marshall case revived the unofficial committee of shop-stewards in the engineering works, and as luck would have it the Fairfield shipwrights’ case arose as the Marshall one faded away.
The unofficial committee decided to widen its borders so as to include unofficial representatives from all allied trades in the engineering and shipbuilding shops. Now railwaymen and miner; are admitted – and even a teacher – to show the solidarity of brawn and brain workers.
This wise provision entitled and enabled the Committee to consider the Fairfield case and decide upon action, if need be.
A manager, passing some shipwrights, saw one or two standing by waiting to do their work. He got two dismissed. The men all struck. Seventeen were fined in £10 by a joke of a Munitions Tribunal for the first time under the absolute control of the Munitions Department bossed by that “friend of the people,” Lloyd George. The fine was paid on behalf of fourteen of the men, but three Socialists preferred to go to prison for a month as they rightly believed that-payment of the fine implied their recognition of the Act and that they were criminals.
A move began among the Fairfield and other Govan workers to prepare a strike for the release of the three brave and good men.
The unofficial committee also roused itself to the occasion, and resolved that if the shipwrights and other workers in Fairfield struck the whole Clyde area would be paralysed.
The shipwrights’ officials getting wind of this, and actin under instructions from the spineless Wilkie, M.P., staved off action in Fairfield. At the same time they got the allied trades officials to act with them. They had in existence a committee that had been formed to deal with non-unionism only, the Clyde Shipyards. joint Trades’ Vigilant Committee by name.
This committee was used to issue a circular to the rank and file pointing out that the Minister of Munitions was going to hold “an immediate enquiry into the Clydeside workers’ grievance with regard to the unjust operation of the Act, and this enquiry will open to-morrow, Friday, the 15th inst. (October). at 12 noon, and steps are being taken by this committee to present the case of the men. You may, therefore, rest assured that everything possible will be done to establish our claims. Meantime it is absolutely essential if we are to succeed that we should have the whole-hearted co-operation of the men in our efforts, and this can best be secured by each and every workman absolutely refusing to take drastic action of any kind without first consulting the responsible officials of his “Trade Union.”
A “patriotic” appeal” winds up the slippery official dodge.
Here it must be stated that the Govan Trades Council played a very important part, for by its instructions and in its name, its energetic secretary, Harry Hopkins, issued over 700 explanatory circulars about the Fairfield case and forms of resolutions that might be sent to the proper personage.
Munition officials came to Comrade Hopkins to find out all they could, but failed to get the lead expected.
The Government enquiry was a farce, as the officials well knew, and was protracted so long that it was hardly worth while striking to release the men. The officials played the game splendidly – and consciously. At the proper moment they broke off negotiations with the Government officials, and instead of declaring a strike they summoned a conference of officials and stewards in the Christian Institute on Saturday, October 23, with Mr. Sharp, of the Boilermakers, in the chair.
Everything was prepared so as to tic up opposition.. This our comrade, William Gallacher, saw right away, and so he set himself to the task of making the officials, show their hand. This he did effectually – to the satisfaction of our big meeting in the Panopticon the following evening at any rate. A resolution mildly suggesting a strike was passed, but no preparations were made to meet again to carry the resolution into effect, although Gallacher firmly raised the matter.
It is no surprise, then, to learn that the three men were released on Wednesday, October 27, after three weeks in prison, the fine having been paid. We know the imprisoned men did not pay the fine and did not consent to its payment. Either the official gang or the Government did it to save their dirt-stained faces. They have not, however. The men were in three out of the four weeks; the men were still firm. Cowardice and weakness characterise the officials and the Government.
The insult is still on the workers, and the shame, too, that they lie down to a vicious attempt to make criminals of them – the only class that counts.
Grey is a fossil who has bungled his department; Asquith can only “wait and see” while the Germans spread themselves around; and Kitchener is only good for re-killing dead dervishes; Lloyd George is a good jumping-jack, and most of his other colleagues would do very well in a Berlin museum. It is men of this kidney who would make criminals of our class.
It is up to the unofficial committee now to forge ahead, refusing to recognise officials who have betrayed the workers (as Highland chiefs and Indian princes have betrayed their peoples in the past to the English), and are equally ready to again do the trick. The withdrawal of the charge against our Comrade Bridges, of Weir’s, by the Minister of Munitions, shows that fear of a strike is the only thing recognised by the Russo-Prussians who rule this country. The very fact that Bridges was summoned because, as shop-steward, he approached a man to join the union, is further proof that the attempt is to crush the unions and to continue: the stupid methods of irritation started under the protection of the Munitions Act.
Unless the Clyde men act quickly. determinedly, and with a clear object in view they are going to be tied up in a knot. We know that the Glasgow press was threatened with the Defence of the Realm Act should it make mention of strike had one broken out. We know that the military authorities had engineers and allied workers in the army at home ready to draft into the Clyde works in the event of a strike. We know also that, despite the clamour for munitions, young men are being dismissed from all the Clyde works in order to force them into the Army. When the occasion arises they will be re-instated in their old jobs, but now as military slaves – worse even than munition slaves. Quick and firm action is needed if slavery is going to be abolished and conscription defeated. We must now fight boldly for the common ownership of all industries in Britain.