J. T. Murphy

Trade Union Congress

Source: The Communist, September 2, 1922
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
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.

AFTER Edinburgh comes Southport. After the Labour Party, the Trades Union Congress. First the meeting of the leaders—Mr. Webb, Mr. Macdonald, Mr. Henderson and Co. Second, the meeting of the political parties and representatives. Third, the Trades Unions. If such a procedure occurs in Russia the above gentlemen describe the process as the dictatorship of a Party. In England, clothes are cheaper, and it is “democracy” But the machine works in very much the same way. Apart from the emergency resolution it is easy to tell from the publication of the preliminary agenda what the Trades Union Congress will pass. After the Labour Party Conference we know what the speakers will say. And this year the Trade Union Congress will be as reactionary and counter-revolutionary as the Edinburgh Conference of the Labour Party.

The Hedges Policy

The principal issue before the movement, as shown in the preliminary agenda, is the General Council and the granting to it of greater powers. The amendment to Standing Ordor No. 11 (re duties of General Council) is too long to quote. In effect, the 5 clauses impose obligations on the unions to keep the Council better informed, ask for power to raise funds to assist in disputes, and strengthens the General Council as a body of mediators.

This resolution as it stands indicates the consummation of the Henderson and Hodges policy of Industrial Truce. It clinches the policy laid down at Edinburgh, and makes of the General Council a strike-breaking machine operating in the garb of the peacemaker. The policy pursued by the General Council in the Engineers’ lock-out, hated by every trade unionist who participated in the fight, becomes the classic path to peace in the eyes of the General Council.

Deprecate strikes! Limit the struggle! Do nothing, in fact, that could be regarded as hindering the re-establishment of capitalism. Resolution after resolution rings out the same old tune. Resolution 20 even worships at the shrine of the League of Nations.

On not a single issue before the masses to-day has the General Council or a single large union given a lead. It is remarkable that practically every resolution of any importance (they are but few) emanates from one small organisation. Resolution 18, which provides an alternative policy, in some respects not satisfactory, but still an alternative, is moved by the Laundry workers. On the wages question the General Council has nothing to say, in spite of the 18 months’ onslaught on wages. Apart from requesting greater strike stopping powers, it has nothing to say on anything. Nothing on the American coal strike; nothing on the South African trials; nothing on re-organisation of the unions; nothing definite on unemployment; simply a general resolution which may mean anything or nothing.

It has no lead on the International situation; nothing to suggest or propose as to how the workers are to get out of the present mess, nothing but measure of adaptation to the convenience of the capitalist class.

The General Council should be told frankly that greater powers involves greater obligations.

That the rôle of a general staff of Labour is not that of a mediator but a leader—to help the unions to be strong and to conquer. Not to be simply a subsidiser of strike funds and the handrag of the bosses.

The Extras

But let us not forget the emergency resolutions. Will they forget south Africa in their haste to join the Edinburgh Conference in its abuse of the Workers’ Republic of Russia? Whatever the resolution before the Congress may be, we appeal to the delegates to force the pace on behalf of the South African workers now being “tried” in a way which should make every British labour leader shut his mouth about “unfair trials” in other countries. Save the South African strikers from the hangman’s noose.

The ordinary agenda is so empty of the things that matter that it would be the easiest thing possible to draft an emergency agenda. But only three resolutions are permitted, and those must come from the General Council. So whatever one may think ought to fill the bill we must anticipate what are likely to be the resolutions. Look out, therefore, for a “No More War” resolution and for the German Democratic Party’s appeal to the Trades Union Congress to save it from losing capitalism.

The “No More War” agitation is a pacifist appeal which refuses to face life’s realities. It is, in part, an instinctive reaction against 1914-1918 and a deliberately fostered policy on the part of the ruling class to maintain the present relation of the classes. As Mr. Henderson so glibly argues:

“If you can appeal for no more war between nations, why not no more industrial war?”

In a world ruled by force how shall we enforce the demand for no more war? It is futile and cowardly to escape the implication of the slogan. If it is meant, it leads to war the war of the classes. If it is not meant, it is sheer hypocrisy engineered for the purpose of blinding the workers to the real issues and tasks before them. But the leaders at the Congress will say they do mean it and table the Rome resolution for a general strike, upon which they agreed to disagree. They will fail again as they did in 1914 because they are not agreed, have done nothing to make possible the fulfilment of the resolution, and are the intellectual slaves of capitalist culture.

The Mark

And that is why they will also pass the demands of the German Trade Unions. Again they will not mean anything. The German leaders refused to lead in the one great hour since German Republic was established. That hour came in March, 1920, when the reaction from the “right” gave the opportunity for the seizure of power by the workers. There was no lead. The same opportunity approaches, and again the same leaders refuse to lead and prepare to retreat into deeper chaos. That way lies no escape.

The British Trades Union Congress may pass their resolution. If they attempt to support it by any other means than that of a deputation to the Reparations Commission they will intensify the situation from which they try to escape. If they do nothing the situation still intensifies. The German workers cannot escape their revolutionary tasks any more than the British workers can escape.

* * *

The Congress will pass. Its leaders will move to the “right” just as they moved at Edinburgh.

But the masses—?