From FIGHT, May 1937, Vol.1 No. 6, pages14-15. Published by the Marxists Group, UK
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2009 for ETOL.
Anyone who has followed the recent affairs of the A.E.U. must have noticed a surprising paradox. The membership of the Union is increasing rapidly and has been involved in the growing unrest all over the country, culminating in strikes, some serious and some of a minor character, but almost invariably strikes which the Executive Committee have done all in their power to break. That is, we have on the one hand, the officials of the Union acting in direct opposition to the will of large groups of the members, and on the other, the fact that in spite of this the membership itself has gone up to record heights and now stands around the 300,000 figure.
Before attempting to explain this let us examine some of the recent strikes and the treatment meted out to them by the E.C. Twelve months ago, Parnells of Yate, Glos. struck against the introduction of three dilutees. The strike was not ‘recognised’ by the A.E.U. At the Annual A.E.U. Conference at Morecombe it was agreed that the Union would fight against diluted labour, yet when, during the Conference, Little (the President) was handed a telegram from the Parnell Strike Committee, he refused to read it! The strikers won, but received no strike pay. About the same time De Havilands struck at Hatfield. The Stag Lane men came out in sympathy and to prevent the Hatfield work being done there. Tremendous pressure forced the E.C. to recognise the Hatfield strike, but they stood out against recognising the Stag Lane one.
More recently there was the strike at Armstrong Vickers which culminated in the suspension of the Barrow District Committee by the E.C. for supporting the strikers in a ban on overtime, at the very moment when a member of the E.C. was preaching a sermon on the shorter working week at a town not many miles from Barrow. Also the strike at Derby, where 300 grinders struck for an increase in pay after waiting patiently while the whole of the Rules of Procedure, as laid down by the York Agreement, were gone through. They too were ordered back to work by the E.C., who took the opportunity to expel Berridge, Chairman of the London District Committee, for giving personal advice to the strikers. Finally, at the moment of writing, 9,000 men are out at Glasgow, and so far, the E.C. has ‘advised’ them to return to work.
These strikes are but a few of many that have taken place in the last few months, but they illustrate that, not only are the engineers bitterly dissatisfied with their present conditions, but that the bureaucratic leadership is using all its strength to curb its members, and to keep their individual (in a factory sense) successes to a minimum.
Why then, in face of the well-demonstrated policy of the leadership, do members continue to pour in? The reasons are twofold. One, the widespread discontent itself is causing men to unite together in an organisation which has been constructed for the purpose of helping them; two, the rearmament programme has caused an extremely large and rapid increase in all engineering branches, so much so in fact, that it is rapidly accelerating the change from craft Unionism to Industrial Unionism. This, affecting the internal structure of the Union as it does, is of great importance, but is outside the scope of the present article.
The next question which arises is, what is the reason for the leaders’ policy and what can the membership do to alter it?
The Executive Council, which virtually rules the Union, is composed of full time, paid officials. The salaries paid to them, while not excessively generous, are considerably more than the average wage of the ordinary member. To put it plainly, they are better off than the class they are supposed to serve. Further, their duties bring them into contact with influential people in the financial and ‘social’ world, whose aim is to be on the friendliest possible terms with the men who have the power to restrain the masses below. Thus, physically and psychologically, the leader are subject to constant pressure in favour of the status quo. The present system suits them and therefore they are not likely to give genuine support to a policy that aims at disrupting that system. They fight the class struggle only so far as will allow the Capitalist system to win. Their real policy is class-collaboration and they will only show just sufficient fighting spirit as they judge necessary to retain their offices.
To replace these leaders with others of a more militant character is obviously the first task before the members of the A.E.U., and one they can tackle at once. The term of office for the Executive Council men for Divisions 2, 4, 6 & 7 expires on August 3rd, together with that of the Presidency. If militant men are elected to all these positions they will form a majority on the E.C. and members can then go forward knowing that they will have the backing of the leaders. But care must be taken not to follow the example of our French comrades, who after the recent strike wave swept out the reactionary T.U. leadership but replaced them by Stalinist militants, who use revolutionary-sounding phrases, but continue to hold the workers in check.
This, then, is the most immediate and important task which faces the membership. At the same time, pressure must be brought to bear on the National Committee-men, who are not full-time paid officials, but who, when they are called together can constitutionally over-rule the E.G. They must be instructed to demand the immediate repeal of the York Memorandum, behind which the present reactionary E.C. shelters, excusing its treacherous policy with explanations about ‘Rules of Procedure.’
At the same time the rank and file members must consolidate their position so as to prevent a repetition of present conditions. This can only be done by rank and file A.E.U. members uniting with members of allied Unions as solid factory units, to form Factory Committees. These Factory Committees would form local or district Councils, acting where possible in conjunction with existing Trades Councils. From these a regional and national network can be built up. We should thus have an organisation, virtually based on Industrial Unionism, with tremendous power and with leaders in close contact with their fellow workers, leaders who could be recalled and replaced at the first sign of weakness. By taking the factory as the unit an organisation can be built up, using the existing T.U. machinery and led without danger of insidious Capitalist poisoning.
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Last updated on 9 March 2009