Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 11, April 1929, No. 4, pp. 229-232 (1,425 words).
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
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.
Railway capitalists strive to stabilise railway capitalism; so they work to rationalise railway organisation, technique and administration. But, since none of these efforts affect the fundamental problem of the decline of British heavy industry, the railway companies’ financial prospects remain as gloomy as ever.
Railway rationalisation demands heavy expenditure; but railways stand badly on the Stock Exchange; railway reserves are far from being what they were, and railway dividends the owners are determined to maintain. The railway financier faces these facts and decides to pay for his new developments by cutting down labour costs. So railway workers are asked to accept wage-cuts, degrading, and reductions of railway staff. The railway magnates view an attack on the railway workers as choosing the line of least resistance. But even railway magnates have uncomfortable memories of May, 1926. They realise that they must not indiscreetly provoke the resistance of railway workers. So, to avoid this, they seek to get the co-operation of the Trade Union leaders in carrying through their policy of wage cuts and increased unemployment.
Leaders of industry are very candid as to the necessity of securing the co-operation of Trade Union leaders to ease the work of rationalisation. Sir Mark Jenkinson, financial controller of the Board of Vickers, and director of Vickers-Armstrongs, is reported in The Times of March 9, 1929, as saying:—
. . . Any general rationalisation could only be carried on with the co-operation of the Trade Unions and the Government, otherwise the number of unemployed would be a source of trouble which would prejudice public opinion and increase the burden of taxation which industry had to bear.
Trade Union leaders are generally more reticent about their labours in connection with rationalisation and Mondism; it may even be urged that they should be forgiven for nailing the workers to the cross of rationalisation since “they know not what they do”: Walkden is an example of this. He protests that it is wholly untrue to say that he is “helping to carry through the process of making the Unions a part of the machinery of the owning class” or that he “in the future will do for the railway owners what Havelock Wilson and Spencer are doing for the shipping magnates and coal owners.”
But the vigour of his denials does not fit in with his answers in cross-examination before the Royal Commission on Transport. Walkden had suggested that the administration of the railways should be entrusted to “a small board of full-time commissioners„: chosen for their suitability, and representative of the State and railway workers respectively.” The following questions and answers on this proposal are most illuminating:—
Major SALMON: You say that the Board should consist of six, of whom three should be people representing the Railway Workers. Is it proposed that Railway Workers should nominate these gentlemen?
Mr. WALKDEN: It is proposed that the Railway Trade Unions should send in their nominations.
Major SALMON: They would be there as representing the Trade Unions?
Mr. WALKDEN: No! After appointment they would be detached from the Trade Unions. They would be responsible commissioners with a knowledge of the work of trade unions.
Major SALMON: Would they give up their tickets as trade unionists?
Mr. WALKDEN: Certainly. They would have to make their choice. Mr. Frank Hodges is now an Electricity Commissioner.
(Daily Herald, January 19, 1929.)
These answers show how deep in Mondism and “Peace in Industry” the Trade Union leaders have sunk. Walkden, at one time an open champion of Workers’ Control of Industry, now definitely agrees that workers representatives are to be detached from the Trade Unions to follow the precedent of Mr. Hodges, “now an Electricity Commissioner.”
This leadership, which stands for “Peace in Industry,” is creating “Strife in the Unions.” This can be seen very clearly from an incident affecting particularly Railway Clearing House No. 1 Branch of the Railways Clerks’ Association. This local case is worthy of study because it helps to an understanding of the general position.
The Railway Clearing House has for many years massed together some 2,000 men and women engaged on the complex work of the division of the receipts of the railway companies. Many factors helped the building up of an R.C.H. Railway Clerks’ Association Branch of over 1,000 members.
The principal factor in intensifying among R.C.H. clerks a belief in trade union organisation has been the threat of unemployment resulting from the many railway amalgamations and particularly from the grouping of the many rail companies in four railway groups under the Railways Act of 1921.
This undermining of the function of the R.C.H. has made the employment of R.C.H. men and women an uncertain thing. This “vulnerability” was a great factor in forcing them into the Union and also, by intensifying the risks of answering the General Strike call, induced a large number of the branch members to give up their trade union membership in May, 1926.
The branch, which now numbers about 800 members, had the humiliation after the General Strike of finding that there was no provision in the strike settlement for the re-instatement of twenty-five fellow-strikers (“temporary” clerks of many years’ duration). Not only Victimisation but also “Stagnation” has created a critical spirit among the membership of the branch.
Since November, 1927, this criticism has found expression in a paper called The Jogger, a Communist Party paper for Clearing House Clerks produced by the Euston Rail Group of the Communist Party. The criticism has been direct and vigorous. The local issues and the general issues for railway workers have been dealt with, including victimisation, the Mond-Turner negotiations, 100 per cent. black-leg proof trade unionism, stagnation, Communist rights in the Labour Party, fusion of the railway unions, failures of negotiating machinery, salaries of trade union officialdom (particularly Walkden’s), the 2½ per cent, cut, the Road Powers Bill, and the need for a new leadership. The E.C. of the Railway Clerks’ Association—compelled either to meet the attack or to employ suppression—called on the writer of this article to give assurances that he would cease to support the work and policy of The Jogger and other papers or to accept expulsion. He has now been dismissed from membership of the R.C.A.
The expulsion of an individual must not be exaggerated and described as “Strife in the Union,” but the sequel to the expulsion can be so described without exaggeration.
The R.C.A. Executive decided to ask the R.C.H. No.1 Branch to endorse its policy of expulsion. The situation seemed a simple one. Clerks are not generally deemed “sympathetic with Communism.” It appeared that a Branch made up of men and women employed in the “Head Office” would be certain to endorse the expulsion of a supporter of Communist policy.
So, setting aside the local officials of the branch, the Executive summoned a special meeting. Every leading national official was brought to the platform. T. H. Gill, the President; A. Walkden, the General Secretary; Lathan, the Assistant Secretary; A. E. Townend, M.P., the Treasurer, and London E.C. members.
They submitted the E.C. case to a meeting of three hundred: members. The E.C. representatives stated their case and it was then dealt with by the rank and file. The result was a rejection of their request that their action should be endorsed: it was rejected by 92 votes to 78.
It seldom happens that the E.C. of a Trade Union faces the unofficially-minded rank and file. The meeting dealt first with the “expulsion” issue and then began to express in a direct and forceful way its demand that its bread-and-butter issues should be considered. The contrast between the outlook of the platform and the outlook of the questioning, critical, demanding rank and file was complete. The visit of the Executive of the Railway Clerks’ Association to the R.C.H. Branch has settled one thing—the branch now completely lacks respect for the capacity and usefulness of the present leadership. The rank and file attitude is summed up in the comment: “Whatever we think about Communism, will make the railway companies a present of Walkden for all the use he is to us.”
The National Minority Movement Conference of Railworkers indicated the growth of militant feeling in the ranks of railwaymen, but this feeling has manifested itself even more vividly in special meeting of a Trade Union branch. The stabilisation of capitalism is creating ever-increasing contradictions: it becomes plain to all to see that those who stand for “Peace in Industry” are creating “War in the Unions.”