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International Socialism, Summer 1962


Henry Collins



From International Socialism (1st series), No.9, Summer 1962, p.29.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


All Those in Favour: The ETU Trial
Presented by C.H. Rolph with a preface by John Freeman
Andre Deutsch, 6s.

Gerald Gardiner, QC, who represented the plaintiffs in the case against the ETU, described the conduct of that Union’s affairs as ‘the biggest fraud in the history of British trade unionism.’ The biggest discovered fraud might be a better description. About the guilt of Haxell, Foulkes, McLennan and the other leading Communists who dominated the ETU for nearly twenty years there can, after reading this condensed account, be no reasonable doubt. Thousands of surplus ballot papers were distributed to reliable supporters, branches were disqualified for late voting and other technical infringements – 106 of the 109 branches disqualified had voted against Haxell as General Secretary in the 1959 election – and the election address of Byrne, Haxell’s opponent, was only released after doctoring by the Executive Council.

Yet the ETU, on paper, was the most democratic trade union in the world. One of the main troubles was the almost unbelievable complexity of the rules which were interpreted, in case of doubt, by the Executive. An aggrieved member had no right of appeal against an Executive decision and the Executive itself became dominated by the General Secretary who took decisions in its name without consulting, and sometimes without informing, it. One has heard of this sort of thing happening somewhere else, later identified as the cult of the individual.

Was the ETU the only union in Britain where members and branches found themselves powerless in face of the Executive? Probably not. Some unions have no annual conference, others no effective branch life, while in many the Executive’s views are the only ones conveyed to the membership. Les Canon, Frank Chapple and John Byrne needed courage and tenacity to fight their five-year struggle through to a successful conclusion. They were fighting to cleanse their own union. In supporting them effectively from outside, John Freeman has demonstrated his shrewdness. Exposing Communist fraud is safe and popular. Will he ever collect the courage to tackle bigger stuff?

Mr. Rolph has arranged the material for this necessarily abbreviated account. He is very keen on moral rectitude but mars his Introduction with a little fraud for good measure. In a notorious quotation from Lenin he implies that Communists are instructed to use ‘stratagems, manoeuvres and illegal methods’ to control trade unions. What the quotation says is that Communists should use such methods to gain entry into unions from which they are excluded by reactionary leaderships. It does not tell them to be false to their colleagues by fiddling elections in order to get or keep control. Mr. Rolph is admittedly passing on a fraud which others originated. But it suggests that, where unmasking deception is concerned, his zeal may be selective.

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