The Shop Stewards’ Movement and Workers’ Control 1910-1922. Branko Pribićević 1959
THE several schemes and proposals for workers’ control put forward by various groups and organizations of the engineering workers have been examined in the preceding chapters. This concluding chapter will discuss certain general questions related to the development of the demand for workers’ control and also some of the fundamental features common to most of the schemes and proposals. Finally, the movement in the engineering industry will be briefly compared with similar movements in other industries.
Why was the idea of workers’ control so powerfully asserted in the second decade of this century? Since the movement in engineering was part of a general movement we must first look at influences common to them all. The change in the attitude of the Labour movement on workers’ control was remarkable. It has been pointed out that the movement was launched -in 1910 and that only a small number of the workers responded to this propaganda by 194- Most active trade unionists and socialists were either indifferent or even positively hostile. But only a few years later the idea was accepted in one form or another by almost all representative labour and trade union organizations. G. D. H. Cole declared in 1919 that ‘... so far as the labour movement is concerned the internal battle for the idea of workers’ control has been fought and won’.
This remarkable change in established attitudes was primarily due to three main factors: the shift in emphasis of trade union activities from political to industrial action, the impact of the war on industrial relations, and the influence of the three main doctrines of workers’ control.
The first factor was of the greatest importance since it resulted in the profound change in the climate of opinion in the trade union movement which was essential to the acceptance of the idea of workers’ control. The term ‘shift in emphasis’ has been used in order to stress that political action was not repudiated in this period but was deposed from the high place it had occupied ‘in the eyes of many trade unionists before 1910. The tendency of the years 1910-22 was for the workers to rely more on their industrial power than much for them and that they should rely on their industrial organization and the strike weapon instead.
The trend from political to industrial action was immediately reflected in the upsurge of industrial unrest which became the principal feature of industrial relations in the years 1910-22. This was one of the longest periods of industrial unrest in Great Britain. Almost every important industry was affected. Strikes were fought with greater bitterness than ever before, and some of them, particularly those in the key industries, threatened to paralyse the whole industrial system. The outbreak of war resulted in a relative decline in the magnitude of strikes but industrial unrest continued. Immediately the war was over, large numbers of strikes occurred and the four post-war years were (except for 1926) the years of the greatest industrial unrest.
The fact that some strikes, particularly in the first few years of unrest, met with some success, seemed to prove that the advocates of ‘direct’ industrial action were right in asserting that the workers must primarily rely on the power of their industrial organization. Without professing their adherence to the idea of class war, to which they were traditionally opposed, the trade unions were, in many instances, engaged in bitter conflicts with the employers. The notion that labour and capital shared common interests, formerly popular with some leaders of the trade union movement, was rapidly losing ground. The trade unions were ceasing to be neutral ‘in the controversy between capitalism and socialism. The process of their conversion to socialism was largely completed in the years 1910-4.
Another result of this period of unrest was a revolution in the attitude of the workers and their unions to the state. Before 1910 the state played a relatively small role in industrial disputes and thus maintained an appearance of impartiality. The size and intensity of industrial conflicts after 1910, however, forced the government of the day to interfere. The workers concerned greatly disliked this interference and the Left interpreted it as proof of the class character of the state. They argued that if the state and the employers were at one, or the former was only an instrument of the latter, then it was obvious that the workers could not expect any radical improvement of their conditions and status from the state. It was, therefore, a grave mistake to hope that the state would be much better as an employer than the private owners. This line of reasoning led the extreme Left to the rejection of nationalization and state ‘bureaucratic’ control of industry, and induced the more moderate elements to demand that national ownership be accompanied by workers’ participation in control.
The second major contributory factor, the impact of the war on industrial relations, aroused the workers’ suspicion of government action. The government was forced, almost overnight and certainly without much experience, to take a direct part in the control of the more important industries such as engineering, coal-mining and transport. The government experimented extensively in labour controls and, it was generally recognized, made many mistakes. One thing is certain, the unions and the individual workers in the industries under government control came to believe that it was as difficult to negotiate with the state as with any private employer. This experience reinforced the view that the state should not be trusted with the complete control of industries once they are transferred to public ownership.
Another effect of the war was that the unions were given much wider recognition by the government. Their officials were frequently consulted by the government and appointed to the various industrial committees set up to advise those in control of the industries concerned. Through these advisory bodies the unions were brought closer to the administration of their industries. The unions were now consulted on problems which, before the war, were not considered to be part of their province. By the end of the war the idea that the unions, and the workers generally, should have some say in the control of industry had become quite fashionable.
It was these two fundamental factors, the shift towards industrial action and the wartime experience, which prepared the ground for the assertion of the idea of workers’ control. Without these basic ,conditions all three of the different schools of workers’ control, Industrial Unionism, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, would most probably have remained small groups of militant propagandists ,without much impact on the trade union movement as a whole.
This is what in fact happened to the propaganda of Industrial Unionism. The S.L.P. was extremely active in its advocacy of this doctrine from 1903, but for a long time its propaganda had almost no effect on the labour movement. Syndicalism had its greatest appeal in 1911-12 at the height of industrial unrest, when it appeared that its theory of ‘direct action’ was vindicated by experience. The wartime changes in the industrial situation facilitated the advance of Guild Socialism. The trade unions were now becoming interested in the problems of control and Guild Socialists were offering a comprehensive theory of a gradual and peaceful approach to workers’ control.
The main conclusion to be reached is that the various workers’ organizations which took up the demand for workers’ control did not do so for doctrinal reasons alone. Most of them became interested in the problem of control because it was closely related to other issues which had direct bearing on the working conditions of their members and the everyday activities of these organizations. This can be clearly seen in the movements for workers’ control in the engineering industry. The several rank-and-file organizations which took up the demand for workers’ control were brought into existence not for this purpose only but primarily to solve some immediate practical problems. Thus the main concern of the leaders of the Amalgamation Committees Movement was to bring about amalgamation of the engineering trade unions. The workers’ control of ‘industry was the ultimate and somewhat ambiguous aim of the movement. They adopted Syndicalist policy because it seemed to offer the best way of achieving the desired industrial unity. The shop stewards’ movement developed to meet very serious problems caused by the wartime changes in the structure and organization of the industry. The primary purpose of the movement was to protect the interests of the skilled workers, and subsequently of all engineering workers, who were threatened by these changes, by demanding a share in the control of workshop practices. Guild Socialists and other advocates of workers’ control helped by their propaganda to transform this narrow demand into a wider claim for workers’ control. Similarly, when the engineering unions were asking for a voice in the control of dilution, Guild Socialists tried to persuade them to extend their claim to a general demand for a share in control.
Why did the engineers play such an important role in the movement? The main reason was that these fundamental factors which have been mentioned were strongly manifested in this industry. Although the shift towards industrial action was not so dramatic as in the case of the railwaymen and the miners, it was noticeable, particularly in the later part of the period. During the war engineering became the main centre of industrial unrest. No other industry experienced such profound changes in the war period as did engineering, and it was these wartime conditions which gave rise to the shop stewards’ movement.
The fact that the skilled engineers were among the best educated workers also contributed to the important role they played. Although a fairly large proportion of the engineering craftsmen were conservative in outlook, there had always been a minority which took a prominent part in various progressive and radical working- class movements, sometimes providing these movements with outstanding leaders. It was no surprise, therefore, that the new doctrines of workers’ control should find some of their most ardent advocates among this section of the workers. Thus the S.L.P. was largely based on the Glasgow engineers and some of the most prominent Syndicalists were skilled engineers. During the war the Glasgow shop stewards organized the most important Guild Socialist group outside London.
We now come to the question of how far the demand for workers’ control reached the main body of workers in the engineering industry, or, in other words, how much and what sort of control the ordinary engineer wanted. Evidence on this point is hard to come by, and only a very tentative approach to an answer can be made.
First of all it is necessary to distinguish between two different classes of supporters of workers’ control. The first category consisted of workers opposed, not only to the existing industrial system but to any social order that would leave the workers in the position of wage-earners without a positive share ‘in the control of the industry in which they worked. These workers considered any such system of industrial administration, whether privately or publicly owned, to be unjust and degrading. Their aim was the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of an industrial order in which industries would be governed by associations of free producers, or in which the workers’ representatives would have at least a definite and positive share in control. Workers inspired by these ideas can be called active and conscious advocates of workers’ control. They represented only a minority of the engineers. In the period 1910-14 there were perhaps only a handful of Syndicalists and Industrial Unionists in this category. At that time the majority of the active engineers who were Socialists thought in terms of public ownership and state control.
The number of active advocates began to grow rapidly after 1915, owing to the wartime changes in the industry, the impact of the shop stewards’ movement, and the influence of Guild Socialists. For the ordinary engineer the most important of these was the shop stewards’ movement, which lasted for some time after the war. The result was that the majority of class-conscious and politically-minded workers came to accept the idea of workers’ control in one form or another. By this time few Socialists would have denied that the workers should have a say in control, but as the class-conscious, active workers were only a small proportion of the working class, it was only a minority who asked for a share in control on the grounds of Socialist principle.
The second category of supporters consisted of workers who did not have such a clear and sophisticated appreciation of the demand. In most cases they were ‘for’ workers’ control because it was closely linked with some other question which had a direct bearing on actual working conditions. The number of such supporters was obviously much larger. In the pre-war years it ‘included all those engineers in the Amalgamation Committee movement who were disappointed with trade unionism and the Labour Party and hoped to solve their problems and bring about a new social order by means of the amalgamation of the existing unions on a ‘revolutionary basis’.
During the war the number rapidly increased as a result of the shop stewards’ activity. It was on the Clyde in the winter of 1915 to 1916 that workers’ control for the first time became a live issue for a large body of British workers. The shop stewards’ movement was very powerful in some engineering centres and enjoyed a wide following among the workers. It seems reasonable to suppose that a large proportion of the shop stewards who were connected with this movement, and the engineering workers who supported them, were in this wide sense also supporting the idea of workers’ control.
In other industries also the supporters of workers’ control can be divided into the active advocates and passive supporters. There, too, few Socialists and active trade unionists did not accept the policy of workers’ control in one form or another by the end of the war. In the mining and railway ‘industries, however, the proportion of passive supporters was larger than in engineering. This was due to the fact that in these two industries workers’ control, in the form of demand for joint control, was adopted by the official organizations. The miners’ and the railwaymen’s trade unions linked the demand ‘for joint control with the demand for nationalization, which they had advocated for years and which was widely supported by the more active of their members. At the time of the Sankey Commission and the following months, however, a large majority of the mine workers were in favour of nationalization and joint control and even considered ‘direct action’ to secure their realization. This is why the miners’ struggle for joint control may be considered as the climax of the whole movement.
It has been seen that all the movements demanding reorganization of the engineering industry on the lines of workers’ control had failed by 1922. The shop stewards’ movement disintegrated in the summer of 1922 and with it disappeared the main workers’ control movement in the industry. The several attempts to establish engineering guilds collapsed about the same time. How is this general setback of the movement in engineering to be explained?
The most common explanation offered at that time by the leaders of the shop stewards and Guild Socialists was the unfavourable industrial and political situation in the post-war period. In particular they pointed to the profound impact of the slump and the presence of a government opposed to any radical social changes. Whilst these were undoubtedly important they do not seem to give a complete and satisfactory explanation, as can be seen from the fact that the movement never recovered from the blow it suffered in these years in spite of improved trade conditions and periods of Labour government. The rapid decline of the movement can be better explained by certain fundamental weaknesses in the various schemes and proposals evolved by the engineers.
If it is to stand the test of critical examination, any doctrine which aims at complete social transformation must offer both a satisfactory and realistic means of bringing about the desired end, and a satisfactory outline of the proposed new social organization. None of the more important schemes evolved by the engineers fully satisfied either of these two essential requirements. Let us first consider the question of ways and means of bringing about the desired industrial reorganization.
Practically all the schemes were based on the assumption that the industrial organization of the workers would be able to force the employers and the government to concede the demand for workers’ control. There were several interpretations of this policy. The Syndicalist version was that the existing system would be abolished in the course of violent conflict between the employers and the all-embracing industrial union. This was the general strike for which the workers should prepare. The strike would succeed if all the workers joined properly organized unions and if they were inspired by the idea of class struggle. Guild Socialists believed that the take-over would be gradual and peaceful. The first tasks were to get all the manual and white-collar workers into the unions and to amalgamate the existing unions into industrial unions. These unions would gradually increase their share in control until in the end complete control and management of the establishments would be in their hands and the employers would be rendered functionless, ready to be ‘squeezed out’. If they refused to withdraw or ‘resign’ the unions would expel them. Here the power of industrial organization was kept in reserve, but it was nevertheless considered as the last resort in the struggle for emancipation. The main source of power of this organization was the possession of a ‘monopoly of labour’ resulting from the all-embracing character of the union. As for the state, it was maintained that it might be ‘persuaded’ by the union to recognize the new state of affairs.
From 1915 to 1919 the shop stewards’ policy oscillated between these two methods. Thus the Clyde Workers’ Committee tried to ‘persuade’ the government to nationalize the industry and give the workers a share in control. When this demand was declined the shop stewards concentrated on building up a powerful industrial union based on workshop and workers’ committees which was to fight the employers on the lines advocated before the war by the Syndicalists. By the end of the war they came to think that the fight would have to be extended to the state as well. The unions would have to ‘smash’ the state before they could establish a system of workers’ control.
This policy was unrealistic for three reasons. First, it presupposed an unrealistic perfection in industrial organization-all manual and white-collar workers ‘in the industry Joining one union. The existing trade unions were deeply rooted and could not be expected to dissolve in favour of new unions. Even to-day no industry in Great Britain has achieved such industrial organization. Second, it underestimated the power of the modern state. Syndicalists completely ignored the role of the state in the proposed general strike. The shop stewards thought that their committees and the unions would be able to ‘smash’ it. Third, it ran counter to the traditional approach of the British trade union movement and their members to the problem of social change. Whereas the British workers had never hesitated to use the strike weapon in industrial matters, they were very reluctant to use it in political matters. Demand for workers’ control and abolition of capitalism was certainly a political issue. In a country with traditions of constitutional action so firmly established it was unrealistic to expect the workers to use their industrial power against the constitutional government on such an issue. A section of the workers might at a particular moment be ready to consider taking this course, as did the miners in 1919, but it could not be expected that the whole trade union movement would do so, at any rate, so long as the government kept within its constitutional limits.
Both Guild Socialists and the leaders of shop stewards had realized, shortly before their movements disintegrated, that the policy of relying exclusively on industrial organization as the instrument of social and industrial transformation was a serious mistake. Guild Socialists called on the workers to vote labour and secure the return of a Socialist government, stating that this was the essential prerequisite for making any progress towards workers’ control. The shop stewards, now strongly influenced by Communist doctrine, set out, together with other radical elements, to organize a revolutionary political party as the main instrument in the struggle for power and abolition of capitalism.
The same weakness was apparent in most of the schemes of workers’ control put forward by the workers’ organizations in other industries. There, also, radical elements relied exclusively on direct action and the more moderate -groups hoped to persuade – the government to reorganize industry on the lines of workers’ control, keeping the threat of industrial action -in reserve. The proposals put forward by the South Wales Miners’ Reform Movement in The Miners’ Next Step were representative of the ‘direct action’ approach. The policy of the miners and the railwaymen’s trade unions in their struggle for joint control was largely based on the idea of persuading the government to concede the workers’ demands.
Were the schemes and proposals evolved by the engineers any more satisfactory in providing a framework of the future industrial system? Did they make for the establishment of a viable and efficient industrial organization? It can be argued that they also failed here.
They never produced anything like a comprehensive scheme of the new industrial organization. In most of their statements on this problem they did not go much beyond asserting that workers’ control was the aim they were striving to achieve and that the workers’ industrial organization was to be the main organ of control. There was no serious attempt to examine the several aspects of the problem. This was true particularly of the Amalgamation Committees and the shop stewards’ movement, the two most important workers’ control movements in the industry. The leaders of the former did no more than state that workers’ control was the ultimate aim of their movement and that it would be exercised by the industrial union. The shop stewards did not go much further. They drafted numerous schemes but their main purpose was to outline the principles of the new industrial organization-an industrial union based on workshop organization. It was generally assumed, particularly in the early development of the movement, that once the workers were organized in the new union there would be no difficulties either in achieving or exercising control. The only two points they made reasonably clear were that the workers would have complete control and that the management of particular establishments would be in the hands of workshop and plant committees representative of all grades of workers employed. It should be kept in mind that these committees were to be part of, or rather the basis of, the new union.
It is remarkable that the leaders of the movement which was so articulate in demanding workers’ control never attempted to consider the several practical aspects of this demand. They did not wish to be bothered with such ‘details’ as the role of technical experts in control and their relation to the various committees, or the relation between the lower and higher organs of control. How would the national supervision and co-ordination of the development of the industry be arranged? Who would be responsible for determination of prices? These and many other relevant questions had never been discussed by the shop stewards. They firmly believed that all problems would be easily solved when the workers were properly organized and the capitalist system was abolished. This oversimplified vision of the new social order was largely due, on the one hand, to their belief in the unlimited potentialities of industrial organization, and, on the other, to their failure to appreciate the complex nature of the problem of control.
Although some of the schemes of collective contract evolved by the groups of engineers influenced by Guild Socialism were fairly detailed, they need not be discussed here since it has been established in the preceding chapter that they were unrealistic.
The engineers were in this respect a long way behind the miners and the advocates of workers’ control in some other industries. Apart from the comprehensive scheme submitted by the Miners’ Federation to the Sankey Commission, a very detailed scheme of joint control was produced by an unofficial body of miners in South Wales in 1919. The proposals put forward by the railway trade unions were brief, but reasonably clear, particularly with regard to national administration. The engineers produced nothing comparable to these schemes.
But the principal weakness of the schemes and proposals evolved by the engineers was their reliance on control by the union. They took it for granted that in the new social order control of industry would be exercised by the industrial union based on workshop organization. They admitted that, because of their sectionalism and some other limitations, the existing unions could not undertake responsibility for control, but maintained that an industrial union would be free from these limitations and therefore a suitable instrument. Whilst it cannot be denied that an industrial union would have advantages over the existing trade unions in this and many other respects, it can be argued that trade unions of any kind are not suited for this task. Even if it is assumed that a perfect industrial union could be established fundamental objections would remain.
The first of these is that control of industry is largely incompatible with a union’s character as a voluntary association of the workers formed primarily to protect and represent their interests. Even in the most democratic industrial system, i.e. a system in which the workers would have a share in control, there would still be a need for unions. Apart from their role in the determination of wage rates and working conditions in general (and this role must continue in the future), there would be a need for union action in other fields. Unions would have to be the instruments for the representation of the interests of the workers both on industrial and on all major social issues. Second, ‘they would have to protect the interests of individual workers, or groups of workers, in their relations with the managers of industrial establishments. No industrial system can be imagined to-day without some kind of hierarchical organization involving the existence of experts and managers to make and execute decisions. Even ‘with a system of workers’ control these will be necessary if anarchy is not to result. Now even if we assume that managers would be responsible to the body -of workers, we cannot exclude the possibility of individual injustices and mistakes. Such cases must be taken up by the union. Third, unions would continue to have important educational and cultural functions. Apart from their general educational work they would have to cultivate new attitudes on the part of the workers towards work and the factory, made necessary by the change in ownership and system of control.
It seems most improbable that a union could fulfil any of these tasks successfully if it were also the organ of industrial administration or, in other words, if it had ceased to be a voluntary association. The difficulties would be almost insuperable in the case of the second task. The union would have to take up the case of its members against itself, and this would be an impossible situation. The union can carry out these functions only if it remains independent of management.
The second objection lies in the unsuitability of unions as organs for the control and management of industry. During the period under discussion the management of industry already called for such attributes as expert technical and commercial knowledge, flexibility, efficiency, etc., and the unions were not in possession of any of these. Their activity had always been largely external to the management of industry. They were capable of fighting for improvements in working conditions, even of promoting political activity, but this experience was of little value to them as future managers. The trade unions even now, after over three decades of development, are very far from being able to take up the task of management. In 1919, G. D. H. Cole spoke in favour of the miners’ scheme involving trade union participation in control, but five years later he said: ‘... The present state of organization in the trade union movement is far from adequate even to the task which trade unions have to perform at the present time ... and it would be still less adequate to the task of positive control over industry.”
It is possible, however, to go a little further and suggest that all types of unions lack the necessary elements for the development of an efficient administration. This would be so even if they included all managerial and technical staff as well. To fulfil their primary functions of representation, protection and education they must remain free and voluntary associations. Such a framework is not suitable for the development of the capacity for management. The administration of industry requires a structure clearly designed to encourage efficiency and initiative.
This weakness was apparent in practically all the schemes and proposals for workers’ control evolved by the British workers in this period. The miners and the railwaymen even maintained that the existing trade unions would be able to take part in the administration of their industries.
It was unfortunate that the idea of workers’ control was almost completely identified with the concept of union control. The identification was, however, almost inevitable in a country where the trade unions were the basis of the whole labour movement. Any movement for workers’ control which hoped to win mass support had to take into account trade union opinion. It was obvious throughout that the unions would oppose any doctrine aiming at creating a representative structure in industry parallel to their own. They feared that any such organization would undermine their own position by establishing a new centre of workers’ interests and loyalty. This is why the unions would most certainly fight any attempt to establish within industry a management structure of committees and boards elected by the workers but not controlled by the unions. In order to overcome this opposition, advocates of workers’ control had been forced to make compromises. This was obvious in the case of Guild Socialists who supported the miners and the railwaymen in their demands for joint control although these demands implied control by the existing trade unions.
It should be also pointed out that the concept of union control was an essential part, perhaps the most important part, of the three doctrines of workers’ control. This was particularly true of Syndicalism and Industrial Unionism. They assumed that the unions would not only control industry but also serve as the basis of the whole social administration. Guild Socialists realized the weakness of this theory and maintained that the state should continue to represent the people as citizens or consumers. In place of the union as the organ of control they put the national guild, but this was essentially the same thing. It has been seen that they expected the existing unions to transform gradually into guilds.
It is no part of this book to discuss workers’ control in general, whether such a system is workable, and if so, how it should be organized. Perhaps the personal opinion may be permitted, however, that workers’ control and industrial democracy in general need not be identified with trade union control. They should be sought by developing a structure of democratic participation in control quite distinct from the trade union structure. The unions should have no direct concern with control but should concentrate on those functions which I have suggested should be their main concern. One of the greatest problems before the advocates of ‘Industrial Democracy’ in Great Britain is to determine the place of the unions within a democratically-controlled industry. Their main difficulty will be to persuade the unions to accept a new representative structure in industry which would alter their position, but need not necessarily undermine it.
There were two main distinctive features of the schemes and proposals worked out by various groups of engineers. First, in most of them the main emphasis was on workers’ control in workshops and factories, at the lowest level of industrial organization. The problems of district and national control, of the planning and coordination of the whole industry were largely ignored. This was particularly true of the schemes and proposals evolved by the shop stewards. It has been seen that the primary concern of the shop stewards was to build up a system of workshop and local workers’ committees which were intended to serve both as the organs of class struggle and as the means for controlling industry in the new social order.
In other industries, and particularly in mining and railways, the position was quite different. In these industries the main emphasis in most of the schemes and proposals was on securing workers’ participation in control at the national level and the problem of local control was touched on only superficially. Thus the main characteristic of the scheme the miners submitted to the Sankey Commission was a powerful National Mining Council which was to exercise complete control of the mining industry. The lower organs of control were to be entirely dependent on the National Council. It is also interesting to note that, whereas the functions and composition of the National Council were elaborately defined, very little was said of the functions and composition of the local Pit Councils. The railwaymen went even further and completely ignored the problem of workers’ participation in control at the lowest level.
There can be no doubt that if workers’ control is to have meaning for the ordinary worker it must start at the lowest level of ‘industrial organization. Only this can give the worker a feeling that there has been a real change in his status, a feeling of participation and responsibility which will in turn alter his attitude towards industry and call forth his initiative. It is most unlikely that this change in the worker’s attitude would be achieved by the appointment of a certain number of workers’ or trade union representatives to national and regional boards of control. In this sense, the schemes and proposals evolved by the engineers were far more satisfactory than the schemes put forward by the miners, the railwaymen and the workers in some other industries.
Second, the concept of joint control by representatives of the state and of the workers was not incorporated into any important scheme worked out by the engineers. It has been indicated that an the more important schemes in the mining and railway industries took the form of joint control. In engineering the demand was for complete control. Only in one instance did the engineers demand a system of joint control. In the winter Of 1915-16 the Clyde Workers’ Committee asked the government to take over the industry and to provide for joint control by representatives of the state and of the workers, but it had been made quite clear by the leaders of the Clyde shop stewards that their ultimate aim was complete control. The share in control then demanded was considered as a step towards the realization of this ultimate aim.
These two distinctive features of the engineers’ schemes were the natural result of the conditions under which the movement developed in the industry. The structure of the industry and of its labour force, and the state of organization of engineering trade unionism, presented the engineers with radically different problems to those which faced the miners and the railwaymen. The question of nationalization hardly appeared as a practical proposition and the engineering unions were certainly not interested in it. The main problem facing them was their defective organization and this problem could not be solved by nationalization. This point is essential to our understanding of the minor part which the engineering unions played in the movement. Having no fundamental objections to the existing organization of the industry based on private ownership, they did not take much interest in the then current theories advocating the abolition of the capitalist system and the establishment of workers’ control. As has been explained, the demand of these unions for prior consultation and for a voice in the regulation of overtime and changes in workshop practices had nothing to do with the Socialist demand for workers’ control. The position was quite different ‘in the mining and railway industries where the unions had been, for very good reasons, determined to secure nationalization of their -industries. Demand for nationalization led them to consider the problem of future control, and under the influence of the doctrines of workers’ control they decided to demand joint control after nationalization. The engineering unions were not interested ‘in these problems, and accordingly the main sources of the movement in this industry were the unofficial rank-and-file organizations and, above all, the shop stewards’ movement.
joint control, then, was usually bound up with a demand for nationalization, which did not arise as a serious issue in the engineering industry. And since the main force of the movement was a group of unofficial rank-and-file organizations, attention was focused on local control to the neglect of problems of national administration.