Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. IX, No. 2, February 1927.
Published: 162 Buckingham Palace Road, London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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 special conference of trade union executives that took place in London on January 20 and 21 had to discuss the most serious issue that our movement has had to face—that of the General Strike, and the future policy of the trade union movement, an issue that cannot be described as something that belongs to the past, because upon the conduct and leadership of the General Strike and the lessons to be learned depends the future of the whole movement.
It must be noted that at the conference, two-thirds of the 1,200 delegates present were there in the capacity of full time trade union officials, who, in the majority of cases, live in a world far removed from the direct working-class struggle, and therefore approach every question from a different angle from those workers who have to eke out an existence on 30s, or £2 per week.
This special conference was to have been called last June. The reason for its postponement was not because the General Council were concerned to preserve the solidarity of the miners in view of Baldwin’s attack on the eight hour day. It was because the anger of the workers was so strong on account of the gross betrayal on May 12 that, had the conference been held then, it would not have been as easy to obtain an endorsement of the General Council’s policy as it was in January. The real reason for the postponement was, therefore, a political reason. It was escape a vote of censure and condemnation of the leadership of the General Council.
When the conference did actually take place, it was not an accident that the Chairman of last year’s Trades Union Congress Mr. Pugh, was called upon to make the opening statement on behalf of the General Council—a statement which consisted of reading for one and a half hours a report containing 20,000 words, which no conference in the world could follow unless it had thoroughly read and discussed it. This method of procedure was adopted deliberately in order that the conference should be damped down, and any opposition stifled as a result of this treatment of the General Strike.
The discussion that took place brought out quite clearly certain admissions that the workers will not forget to note. First, the admission of Mr. Pugh that the Samuel Memorandum had only the backing of Samuel, and that the General Council did break its pledge in regard to the movement standing firmly together to prevent victimisation of all the sections that had responded to the strike call of the General Council. Secondly, the admission of Mr. Bevin that until April 27, 1926, no preparations of any kind were made by the General Council for the inevitable conflict that was to take place. Third, the position as shown clearly by Mr. Thomas that the formula drafted by the General Council on the night before the General Strike was declared was a wage reducing and fourth, the emphatic declaration of Mr. Smith, the miners’ leader, that when the miners were called upon to meet the General Council and were told what the Samuel Memorandum was, they, the miners, were not allowed to make any suggestion, alteration, or amendment to the Memorandum, which represented the basis on which the General Council had decided to call off the General Strike, knowing full well that this Memorandum did mean wage reductions, a policy which was a complete repudiation of the expressed will of the movement as repeatedly shown on many occasions from Red Friday, 1925, to April 30, 1926.
Much was said at the conference about the need of discipline and loyalty to the movement. That is a line everybody would agree with. We cannot have a centralised movement and a fighting leadership unless there is discipline and loyalty in the movement. But dicipline and loyalty to a fighting leadership and discipline and loyalty to a leadership that has betrayed the whole working class are two very different things. When it is proved that an important section like the miners are going to be defeated as a result of the treachery of the General Council leaders, and which defeat will have the greatest reaction on the whole movement, then it would have been the miners who would have been guilty of the greatest disloyalty to the whole movement, never mind the General Council, had they not done the only possible thing by repudiating the General Council traitors in refusing to accept the Samuel Memorandum. You cannot get discipline and loyalty to a General Council which admits that the first preparation that it made for a General Strike was three days before that General Strike took place—the chief leaders of which have since declared that they “never believed in the General Strike” and “will never take part in one again.” Yes. Discipline and loyalty by all means—but to a fighting leadership that will lead the movement to victories and not defeats.
The vote of confidence which the General Council received at this conference in no way represents the feelings of the rank and file of the movement. This is proved by the refusal both of the General Council and the majority of the delegates present at the conference, who opposed the resolution of the miners that the report should be referred back to the rank and file of the unions represented at the conference for their consideration and decision. When a leadership is afraid to refer its policy to the rank and file of the movement, it is an open admission that that policy is a treacherous one and has led to a heavy defeat of the workers. The plain truth of the matter is that neither the General Council dare submit their report to the rank and file, nor will the majority of the trade union executives present at the conference themselves submit that report or a record of how they themselves voted to the rank and file of their own unions. The working class will not be misled by this vote of endorsement, because it in no way represents the feelings of the workers upon the General Strike and the leadership of the General Council.
What are the political implications of the result of this conference? They are of the most serious character, because it is the deliberate intention of the strongest part of the leadership of the General Council—that led by Mr. Thomas—that the decision of the conference should, if possible, put paid once and for all to the policy of the General Strike as a weapon of working-class struggle. That is the real significance of the decision of the January conference so far as the existing leadership is concerned.
But this goes further. The repudiation of the weapon of the General Strike is intended to lead to the rejection of sympathetic strike action, and from this it is but an easy stage to the position where the strike weapon will be discarded altogether, if the existing leadership have their way, in order that their policy of industrial peace and a five years’ truce with the capitalists may be operated. This is the policy the present leadership intends to pursue.
In opposition to this, the policy of the National Minority Movement, directing and organising the activities of the revolutionary workers inside the trade unions, is quite clear. It is to declare unhesitatingly that the General Strike, given a new leadership, is still the most powerful weapon in the workers’ armoury. The plain facts of the class struggle make future General Strikes inevitable. Our task is to commence to fight now for the complete reorganisation of the whole trade union movement, as regards policy, structure, and leadership.
The special conference, however, did not consider it its duty to spend ten minutes in discussing what line the movement has to take in view of the experiences of the General Strike, and the immense struggles immediately ahead. This failure of the official element throws added responsibility on every active and honest worker. They must range themselves with the Minority Movement, and by organised activity, on the basis of a common policy, by work inside the existing organisations from the workshop upwards, conduct such a campaign amongst the workers that the Trades Union Congress in September will be compelled to give attention to the following proposals, as being the best way out of the present terrible position that the trade union movement is in: —
(1) Concentration of power in the hands of a new General Council with a fighting leadership.
(2) Reorganisation of the method of electing such a Council, and the complete reorganisation of the method of conducting the business of the Trades Union Congress.
(3) The best ways and means of giving effect to the Scarborough resolution on the formation of factory committees.
(4) The immediate amalgamation of unions in kindred industries, and a general plan for the adoption of the policy of one union for each industry as the basis of our future industrial organisation.
(5) The development of the local trades councils, so that not only shall they be local centres of the workers’ struggle, but also have a definite place in the organisation of the national trade union movement, with representation at the Trades Union Congress and on the General Council.
(6) The creation of a Trade Union and Co-operative Alliance.
(7) Closer co-operation with the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement, and definite activity on behalf of the unemployed.
(8) The organisation of Workers’ Defence Corps.
(9) The achievement of international trade union unity.
(10) The whole question of trade union strategy in relation to—
(a) Wage campaigns, defensive and offensive.
(b) Joint action, methods and responsibilities.
(c) Relation to Government and State.
(d) The trade unions and the rôle of the Labour Party.
(e) Future issues facing the working class.
In spite of the official sabotage, and the threats of expulsion as indicated by Thomas in his speech at Newport on the same night that the General Council got the endorsement of their official trade union bureaucrats, the Minority Movement will go forward popularising the above programme amongst the wides, circle of the masses.
In case any reader should think that we are not giving a fair picture of the attitude of the trade union officials present at the special conference, it is only necessary to mention that when an old fighter like Alex. Gossip attempted to put a reasoned case against the General Council, he was deliberately interrupted; and when Comrade Purcell, of Barrow, tried to raise the urgent question of China, he was howled down by a gang of officials who were more concerned to get the conference over by twelve o’clock (to be able to get a drink) than they were to give serious attention to the issues calling for consideration. But another twelve months’ campaigning will make such an impression on the movement that these types will be forced to retire from their positions of responsibility for the safeguarding of capitalism, and give way to the new leadership that will organise the defeat of capitalism and the victory of the workers.