J. T. Murphy
Source: The Communist, May 20, 1922
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.
How now, Sir Allan! Your damned imprudence has got the answer it deserved. The rank and file of the engineering unions and the great army of unemployed, despised your offer of the open shop, and now you can try your hand again on the leaders. But, remember, the masses will have the final say in the business.
If only the leaders would pull themselves together and show the same determination as the rank and file, we would have no fears of the result of this struggle. Just turn over the record.
First the A.E.U. The leaders recommended the memorandum.
The rank and file rejected it.
The leaders endeavoured to conform to constitutionalism and confine the struggle to the locked-out members. The rank-and-file rejected the policy and the unemployed have borne the brunt of the fight.
The leaders recommended the limitation of the struggle to the Federated firms.
The rank and file all over the country, have demanded the stopping of the non-federated firms and rejected the 5/- levy as a protest against the E.C. policy.
Then the forty-seven. The leaders protested it was no fight of theirs.
The rank and file rejected the memorandum by 3 to 1.
The leaders played the game of separatism.
The rank and file have made the united front.
The leaders recommended wage reductions.
The rank and file rejected the policy by a majority vote and large sections refused to vote as a protest.
The leaders ordered the men back to work.
The rank and file have refused to go back.
The leaders of all the unions have striven to narrow down the forces in the struggle. The rank and file are striving with might and main to widen the front and make an effective fight. Following on the efforts of the Sheffield workers to stop the non-federated firms, the London workers are moving strongly to stop the utility services, to cut off effective supplies, to involve larger and more effective forces. That is the way to bring the fight to a successful issue.
The spirit of the masses grows better as the fight continues. We wish we could say the same of the leaders. Is it too much to ask them to respond to the solidarity and determination of the men by showing equal determination and purpose?
They have now had their Court of Inquiry. It has shown what we already knew. The Government backs the employers. Sir Allan is very obstinate. If we were annoyed, we should say, pig-headed. Well, we knew that, and so did the game bird, known as the General Public. And the leaders said—well, with one or two exceptions—enough to get them the infernal sack from any live organisation. But we will not dwell on that just now. The secret circular business, which the COMMUNIST was the first to expose, was used to show that Sir Allan Smith’s brigade were after all out to smash the unions. It is important to observe, that since his Rugby speech, Mr. J. T. Brownlie has become perilously near conversion to that point of view.
The situation grows more serious. The building workers are balloting on wage reductions, the railwaymen are threatened with wage reductions. Never was there a better situation for developing a wide front and bringing the maximum power of Labour to bear on the employers.
But the General Council of the Trades Union Congress is in disgrace. Its first attempt to enter the arena where there was anything doing, has been a pitiable affair. They have succeeded in giving an impetus to sectionalism, rather than strengthen and united action. In this, however, they are little worse than other leaders. For example, almost all of Mr. Bell’s (of the General Workers) speech to the Court of Inquiry, was a pathetic protest that his union had been brought into this trouble. Mr. Slesser and Henderson, jun., echoed those sentiments for the 47. Nor can we look for much from the N.U.R. leaders. They have not even replied in the affirmative to the appeal of the General Council for greater powers to act.
All the conditions obtain in the industrial arena to-day which cry out for united action. Everything depends upon the push and the energy of the masses.
Now the shipyard workers, who had been so casually dismissed as “not fighting,” have taken the lead in the rank and file fight. In spite of the boss and the leaders, THAMES-SIDE IS STILL OUT
In Barrow even better. Barrow is an example, to the rest of the country. No work is being done at Barrow, and the Barrow men are absolutely solid and disciplined. They stand against the police and bosses as a solid mass. We hear from Barrow—
Huge demonstrations and mass picketing take place daily and there are remarkable demonstrations of men and women marching in formation under the control of specially appointed officers. Workmen’s trains are held up each day and intending strike breakers pulled out. A mass meeting was held on Sunday last under the auspices of the Barrow Trade Union Co-ordination and Disputes Committee. 3,500 people were present, and they unanimously passed a resolution pledging all-workers of the 47 Unions and the A.E.U. to refuse to return to work, and to preserve a United Front along with the A.E.U. against resumption, as any return to work would be a gross betrayal of their A.E.U. comrades.
This is the stuff to give them. From this rank and file shipyard revolt, can be built up the mass united front that will bring victory.
Last week we wrote, “The rank and file movement has begun.” Now it is sweeping forward. Its pace must be increased: greater areas must be swept in. Put your shoulder to the wheel, and unite shipyards and engineering shops into one fighting body!
To engineers, first, we give this warning:
Look out for any compromise which permits changes to be introduced into the factory without prior agreement between the unions and the employers.
Anything which gives away this position is fatal to the future of everyone in the industry. Do not let the employers play off the unskilled workers against the skilled workers. Every engineer realises to-day that his work simplifies labour and paves the way to the use of unskilled labour. Every labourer can see in this the opportunity for his own advancement. But if they allow these facts to be played off against each other by the employers, skilled and unskilled will soon be performing all kinds of labour at unskilled rates of wages. Only the mutual agreement and united control of the situation by the skilled and unskilled workers, can prevent the improvements of industry being used as weapons to destroy the present standards of life of the workers. Watch the negotiations carefully, therefore, and resist with all your might any weakening in this direction. It is the first principle of unionism to protect the standard of life of its members. Stand by that principle to the uttermost.
To preserve this position demands the greatest vigilance and organised activity. We have repeatedly appealed to the masses to stop the non-federated firms by strike action. Again we urge this measure. So long as they are allowed to carry on, the unions are divided against themselves, increasing the difficulties of picketing; encouraging scab work, providing the Employers’ Federation with an effective safety-valve. So long as urgent orders and repairs can be carried through, the Employers’ Federation can proceed with the struggle at a minimum cost. In turn, the non-federated firms will immediately impose the terms of settlement if the men are defeated, and if not defeated, then numberless separate struggles will have to be conducted to impose the terms. Stop the non-federated firms and have one settlement for the lot.
Equally urgent is the demand for proceeding from defensive measures to aggressive tactics. The benign “general public” doesn’t care two pence about the lock-out, so long as she suffers no inconvenience. Very well, get a move on and urge the union executives to call out the workers from the public utility services. Cut off the electricity supply; stop the power stations; draw out the men from the sewage works. Compel the authorities to waken up bring Sir A. Smith to order. Everybody is tired of his humbug. But he will only give way to the pressure of forces more powerful than his own.
The London Conference of May 15 has sounded the clear call for bold action. The next task before us is to translate its decisions into practice.