J. T. Murphy

A Dangerous Situation

Confusion About Councils of Action

Source: Workers’ Weekly, October 16, 1925
Publisher: 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.


When the Miners’ dispute was in course of development the question of the Workers’ Alliance became a burning question throughout the trades union movement. We fully supported the proposal. We took no small part in the formation of Councils of Action for the purpose of agitation on behalf of the Alliance and for mobilising the maximum possible support for the miners in their struggle. So much did we concentrate on the immediate question of the miners’ struggle that we offered exceedingly little criticism of the schemes of the Alliance, although we were well aware of the dangers inherent in it.

Since the “Subsidy truce” considerable changes have taken place in the general situation, which have an important bearing both on the Councils of Action and the Workers’Alliance—changes which reveal a considerable confusion which it is time we cleared up. The call for support to the miners and the Workers’ Alliance was responded to in various ways. In some cases the Councils of Action don’t know what to do, and are really encumbering the movement. In others they have become rival bodies to the Trades Councils. Neither case should be permitted to continue five minutes longer, than it is necessary to liquidate the confusion without demoralising the forces which have participated in them. A Council of Action that has nothing to act upon ought not to exist, and there should be no rival body to the Trades Council. On the contrary we need a concentration of forces in the Trades Councils to make them stronger than ever as the local rallying centre of all the forces of the Labour Movement.

Trades Councils to Direct

The confused situations I have referred to here do not exist where the Trades Councils themselves have responded to the call for agitation on behalf of the Workers’ Alliance. They have set up special committees composed of delegates of the councils drawn from the industries concerned to conduct the special work of agitation in the unions for the Alliance. These committees work under the direction of the Trades Council. This we consider the best method of working for the Alliance, whilst the Trades Council as a whole with its Executive Committee should he held responsible for the special preparations for the coming employers’ offensive affecting the unions as a whole.

We are convinced that if this course is adopted generally in all centres where there are Trades Councils the problems of organisation will be considerably simplified.

This brings us to our words of warning in relation to the Alliance. As the constitution now stands there is the danger of it being regarded and used as a rival body to the Trades Union Congress and to its General Council. While its executive undertakes to keep the General Council informed of all developments it is under no obligation, so far as we can see, to hand the direction of affairs over to the General Council as did the miners in July last, but may act independently. We think that the miners acted correctly, and that the Alliance would be well advised to do likewise at a similar stage in the development of a crisis which is generated by it. It is conceivable that action on the part of the Alliance would leave the remaining unions unaffected. Under these circumstances we should avoid rivalry and recognise the General Council as the General Staff of the unions directing the unions in struggle.

Again, the same thing will obtain in the local situation without steps are taken to bring the Workers’ Alliance machinery in the districts under the direction of the Trades Councils. If we have local Alliance machinery outside the Trades Councils there will be inevitably a new rivalry developing which can be avoided if from the beginning the local activities and apparatus of the Alliance are brought under the direction of the Trades Councils. To illustrate the importance of this I again call attention to what happened in the recent miners’ crisis and the close relations which now exist between the Trades Councils and the General Council of the T.U.C. This latter development enabled the General Council in the miners’ crisis to issue directions to the Trades Councils.

’Ware Muddle!

Keep this in mind and imagine what will happen without effective co-ordination and a single direction is established. The Workers’ Alliance issues instructions and the General Council issues instructions. One address itself to the local organs of the Alliance which do not know what the Trades Councils are going to do. The other addresses itself to the Trades Councils, which don’t know what the Alliance has done or is going to do only in a second-hand fashion. No one can view the subsequent confusion with any degree of satisfaction. It is our view that the local machinery of the Alliance should come under the direction of the Trades Council so far as the questions of the struggle are concerned. Hence the struggle value and importance of the initial agitation for the Alliance being at once centred in the Trades Councils. The very effort to conduct the special agitation within all the unions concerned would provide out of actual experience the ways and means for the closest working accord of the Alliance and the Trades Councils and simplify the problems, a single direction of the struggle, and the widest possible support.

The sooner the way is made clear along these lines the better. There is little time to lose, and the certainty of the clash of forces becomes ever stronger. The signs are ominous. The O.M.S., the Fascisti, the National Guard are all symptoms of the preparations. And not the least of the warnings comes from the Food Council. The effort to reduce prices is a sure and certain sign of the coming attack in wages. Let us clear the decks for action and prepare with unequalled thoroughness.

J. T. Murphy