J. T. Murphy
Source: The Communist, June 10, 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.
THE leader of 47 Unions have got their way, so far. The ballot they have conducted has turned in their favour. The terms of the employers have been accepted by all but the Boilermakers and the Moulders.
This is surrender indeed. An open invitation to the employers to do as they like—reduce wages 16s. 6d., introduce payment by results, wherever it does not obtain, etc. We regret this decision. We regret that a large proportion of the rank and file have not shown sufficient spirit to resist the combined influences of the employer, their own leaders and the press.
The employers have been vigorous and determined from the beginning. But neither their insults nor the serious consequences of defeat could inspire the labour leaders to make even a show of fighting. Everyone must know who has had five minutes responsible experience in labour struggles that in a period of “trade depression,” without every effort to bring the largest possible forces into the struggle, without the creation of a situation which hits the employers hard, either economically or politically, there is little possibility of even holding one’s own. To preach and practice defeatism is the worst possible tactics under such circumstances. Yet these are the tactics which have characterised the struggle from the beginning. The offensive has always been taken by Smith. And not a single counter move has been offered. Retreat, Retreat, always retreat, has been the official motto.
To the everlasting credit of the Boilermakers and the Moulders they have rejected the terms of settlement. Especially do we applaud the Boilermakers, who have so emphatically flung the terms back again. Why the Executive Committee of the Boilermakers retains office after the repeated rebuffs is a matter for wonder. In London the Boilermakers rank and file have stood out for a month against Executive instruction on the issue of wages. They have refused amended terms which offered six months stabilisation of wages. And on the top of it all the whole organisation rejects with a resounding thump the “defeatist memorandum.” Even if these men are compelled ultimately to retreat, do you think, Sir Allan, that they will work amicably? Do you think that your terms will be workable? We shall see.
But they have not returned. Nor have the Moulders. Nor have the Engineers of the A.E.U. The A.E.U. is now ballotting. The Moulders are to ballot again. We earnestly hope and urge that these unions will reject the terms as emphatically as have the Boilermakers.
That is our slogan. Without the A.E.U., the Boilermakers and the Moulders, the Engineering and Shipbuilding industry is badly fettered. To give way on this principle of controlling the job, to accept 16s. 6d. wage reductions, and the system of payment by results, will fling the workers down to worse conditions, than prevailed in 1897.
This seems to be appreciated even by the A.E.U. leaders, but they advised retreat at the York Conference last week on the grounds of expediency. This they have done for the last 18 months. Especially has this been the case with Mr. Brownlie, who has now assumed the leadership of the retreat. The advocate of increased production, the denunciator of the politician who stakes his faith on the Parliamentary ballot box, now comes forth in the rôle of the saviour of the union. Not once from the beginning of the dispute has he given a fighting lead. Not once has he attempted to use the full force of the organisation in the defence of its interests. The leader of defeat in the original memorandum is the leader of defeat in the modified memorandum which provides 10 days breathing space.
It would be interesting to know whether his letter has the backing of the E.C. of the Union. We are well aware that they objected to apparent “Ceasarism” when Mr. Hutchinson justifiably slammed the Daily Herald for its other effort in defeatism. Will they also take Mr. Brownlie to task, or is he immune under the guise of the right of the individual member of the Union stunt?
That there is a modification in the terms we do not wish to deny. But the modification is not important.
The Union can only talk whilst the employer can act and decide.
That was the crucial point before the modification. Accept that and the employers have won outright. We do not think that if these terms are accepted we have reached the end of all things. Not for a moment. But we shall have paved the way to the 16s. 6d. per week reduction with the promise of more to follow and the extension, of system of payments by results. The whole industry will become a veritable “bear garden” of jealousies and conflicting interests. The skilled workers’ position and the rôle they ought to perform as the leaders in labour control will be entirely shattered for long days to come.
In the process of acceptance the Boilermakers will be let down and also compelled to retreat. To talk of keeping the Union intact as a justification for retreat at this moment is absurd. A Union with £1,500,000 to its bank balance for superannuation purposes can raise credits to continue the fight if it has the fighting spirit. Besides, did not Mr. Brownlie himself declare that fights such as these were not won on funds?
Come, don’t shirk the issue now. The Union has not been intact from the beginning of the fight. The very people who are talking about saving the Union are they who split it into sections for the fight and have suspended those who have striven to make the organisation act as a unit. The task of the moment is to present the leaders with such a situation that they will be compelled to broaden the front or resign. Let the A.E.U. and the Moulders reject the terms and stand by the Boilermakers. Insist upon the stabilisation of wages for at least a year. Stand by the first principle of controlling the job and force the leaders to face up to the task of fighting the boss.