J. T. Murphy
Source: The Communist, March 11, 1922
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
(This article was written before the Government intervened in the engineering dispute. As we are forced to go to press before the result can become known we take a chance and print the article. Even if events render it obsolete it will be valuable as an indication of the Communist attitude to this and similar manifestations of the class conflict between workers and exploiters — Ed).
THE Engineering and Shipbuilding Employers have got the gloves off. They mean business. They did not wait for March 7. With a swiftness which we admire they have simply played skittles with the union leaders. They met the leaders of the A.E.U. on the 28th of February, impudently and arrogantly flung their challenge at them and passed on to deal with every union in the industry within a week.
That meeting deserves to be recorded. Let the Engineers’ Executive be the recorders
“This meeting was arranged and took place in London, on Tuesday, 28th February, 1922, which after hearing a statement from the chairman of the Employers’ Federations, your Executive Council intimated that they had no reason to assume that our members did not appreciate what the vote on the recent memorandum meant; also that a way out of the present difficulty could only be found by both parties being prepared to endeavour to come to an arrangement mutually satisfactory, we being prepared to proceed on that basis.
“The employers replied by stating that any settlement would have to be on the lines of the first three paragraphs continued in the memo, and that no alteration or modification could be permitted.
“They were then informed that having regard to this very definite statement, your representatives had nothing further to add to their previous suggestions, viz: “that both parties should endeavour to find an arrangement which would be mutually satisfactory.”—2/3/22.
To this the employers handed- in the following reply:—
“The position of the employers has been confirmed by the E.C. and National and District Representatives of the Union, but has been rejected by the members. It is for the authorised representatives of the Union and not for the employers to devise a way of convincing the members of the Union that they have erred.”
That reply is a gem.
They have followed up their reply to the A.E.U. by submitting the same memorandum to all the other unions in the industry. Wages, Overtime, Factory Control, are all under revision. “All is in the melting pot.” While the union leaders are meeting each other, appealing to the Ministry of Labour, running round and round and round to avoid a fight, the threatened rift in the ranks of the employers is swiftly closed.
The A.E.U. organisers and Executive Council meet in London on March 6th. There will be numerous conferences during the week. It may be that new ballot papers will be issued. Perhaps Mr. Lloyd George will be called in.
It may be that wage demands will be used to obscure retreat upon issues of a more vital character. The Communist Party therefore calls upon the engineering and shipbuilding workers to resist every attempt to reduce wages and sets before them the following proposal:—
The engineering and shipbuilding workers will tolerate no further reduction in wages. They call upon the Executive Committees of all the unions in the engineering and shipbuilding industry to table a national scale of wages for the various grades in the industry—in no case to be lower than the highest district rate existing for any given grade on January 1st/22. They further demand that the General Council of the T.U. Congress convene a special congress to unite the unions of all industries in similar demands.
The question of working conditions cannot be separated from the issue—WHO SHALL CONTROL THE FACTORIES? Nor can we separate from this the question—SHALL THE ENGINEERING WORKERS BLACKLEG ON THE UNEMPLOYED?
The Executive Council of the A.E.U., however, has already made an effort to do so. In a statement issued to the press this week-end they say:—
“The employers insist on standing absolutely upon their position that they cannot give up any jot of managerial functions to the men. The men deny that they are asking for any managerial functions. . . . The fact is that the only so-called managerial function which the men challenge is the right of the employers to determine whether or not the men shall work overtime on ordinary production work.”
That is not true. The workers in the A.E.U. have demanded more than that.
The question of “manning machines” and the relations between the employers and their apprentices and their employees in general are as vital to the situation as the question of overtime. These questions have determined clause 1 of the proposed agreement. The overtime question has a separate clause, which, if deleted, still leaves clause 2, which is vital to the future of unionism.
The engineering and shipbuilding workers will not tolerate the introduction of overtime on production work. They call upon the Executive Committees of the unions of the engineering and shipbuilding industry to make this demand a basic condition of any settlement. They refuse to blackleg upon the unemployed.
The prohibition of overtime is a measure which can be put into operation by national agreement and carried through without difficulty, providing it means the prohibition of all overtime. But once qualifications are placed upon the measure we are brought inevitably face to face with clause 1 of the proposed agreement, viz: “The Trade Union shall not interfere with the right of the employers to exercise managerial functions in their establishments and the Federation shall not interfere with the proper functions of the Trade Unions.”
What guarantee have we that the employer is not getting production work done under the cover of replacements, etc?
What guarantee have we that a request to work overtime is not made deliberately to antagonise the men in work and the men unemployed?
The only guarantee that innovations will not be deliberate measures to beat down the workers’ standards is insistence upon the employers consulting the Unions on the job.
Shall we allow workers to be introduced at rates lower than the standards agreed upon without the right to interfere at once? Shall we allow all kind of transfers from one job to another without the right to see at once that the proper rates and conditions are observed? Or shall we allow the employers to go ahead and simply complain about it afterwards through interminable conferences? Grant this demand and unionism goes to the dogs. We cannot agree to such a demand. Unionism must move forward to greater control.
The Communist Party calls on the workers of the engineering and shipbuilding industry to set before them the following as a minimum demand:—
The engineering and shipbuilding workers insist upon the right of the unions to control and determine the introduction of all innovations in accordance with agreements arrived at between the unions and the employers both as regards the conditions governing the transfer labour and its employment.
We insist that this demand is an elementary demand justified by all the history of the working class movement. It is also a minimum demand. For the role of the unions is to proceed from conquest to conquest until the whole working clays is marshalled for the elimination of the “right” of the exploiting class to control their destinies in the least.
If the Unions now thrown into the arena of struggle will only gather themselves together and stand unitedly by these demands (making such an agreement among themselves as shall ensure their operation in the factories), the future of the Union movement is assured. All the unions in the engineering and shipbuilding industry are involved. All of them have had sufficient experience of factory organisation to be able to bring into being a unity of purpose and organisation which will enforce these proposals.
Granted the unity of the Unions, the rebirth of the factory committees to carry out their will is the easiest of measures. Let the engineering and shipbuilding unions in every centre get together and translate their unity into factory organisation to give effect to these demands.
There is no reason to fear the unemployed workers. They will join with you both to control the situation with regard to overtime and to insist upon the right-conditions of labour.
Every fear that is being expressed to-day bears the hall mark of Black Friday upon it. The Union Leaders fear that any bold action will lead them to the ultimate challenge to the State. That cannot be helped. Either the workers have to risk the challenge and dare the consequences or retreat into the abyss of misery. Sooner or later the issue will have to be faced. Two million workers and their families are waiting upon your decision. Had there been two millions on strike all these months you would have felt yourselves by now to be blacklegs and would have made a tremendous outcry. The workers of the building industry are prepared to make a stand against any further encroachments. The employing class is squealing as a result of its own incompetency. It has made a graveyard of most of Europe. It is preparing another shambles—plotting and planning to attack the Workers’ Republic of Russia even as it passes through the tragedy of a colossal famine. The attacks of the engineering and shipbuilding employers are only part of the tremendous world wide conspiracy to crush the working class.