Main WIN Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Workers’ International News, May 1940


Transport Housemaids


From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.5, May 1940, pp.4-7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Just a quarter of a century ago last month and in identical circumstances to those appertaining today, the brave, German revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg wrote:

“Either the class struggle is the imperative law of proletarian existence also during war ... or the class struggle is a crime against national interests and the safety of the fatherland also in time of peace.”

This profound statement retains its forcefulness today in the second world war.

An examination of the “home front” battle reveals that during the first three weeks in April, six industrial strikes have been reported involving some 1,500 workers. Of these disputes three were for improved conditions and three to demand the reinstatement of dismissed workers who had been victimised for militancy.

Nor were disputes confined to industry. They penetrated, the Civil Defence Services and the farm. In West Ham the ARP vehicle drivers struck over the question of waged and hours and on a large farm in Cambridgeshire the workers struck for the reinstatement of a dismissed worker.

A peculiar feature of these episodes is the proportion of solidarity strikes. And this factor influenced further militant activity. When a girl canteen-worker at Westlands Aircraft Factory was sacked for joining a trade union, the aircraft workers forced her reinstatement upon her employers by boycotting the canteen. Perhaps the most peculiar incident of this character was the demand of 5,000 Vickers Armstrong workers for the reinstatement of a manager to whom they were particularly partial.

Again on the question of economic demands and working conditions; the Glasgow bus and tram men are demanding strike action to enforce a revision of the existing schedules. North Woolwich engineers and West London LPTB workers placed a ban on overtime on account of grievances, and when the heating system broke down in a Luton engineering factory, so strong was the demand for heating that the management provided the workers with hot coffee.

Activity on the proletarian front, during April also includes the fighting of two by-elections and decisions to fight two further ones: East Renfrew, where the ILP has nominated Annie Maxton and the Pollock division of Glasgow where the divisional Labour Party, is sponsoring a “stop the war” candidate, Mr. John Nicolson. One of the promising moves made by the organised masses recently is, however, the establishment of a provisional coordinating committee to unite the efforts of the shop stewards in the engineering and allied trades through cut the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In the class enemy camp plans for a counter offensive are being carefully prepared. Parallel with the developing militancy of the impoverished toilers, the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie carefully geared to the tempo of events, commences slowly but none the loss surely to revolve. As yet little use has been made of the EPA but it is not on the statute book for the purpose of ornamentation. The Ministry of Labour has issued a new order to provide for an industrial census and this is already being applied in the engineering, boilermaking and aircraft industries. As the National Register was a prelude to military conscription, so is this act a prelude to industrial conscription. The Minister of Labour announced in the House of Commons on April 16th that, in order to recruit semi- and unskilled workers for industrial training, “if necessary we shall use full compulsory powers.”

Many and varied are the methods of the most cunning ruling class in history to suppress working class militancy. The Motherwell UAB informed an unemployed worker that if he persisted in selling the Daily Worker they would consider registering this as an occupation (thus rendering him ineligible for benefit). In the City of London fourteen ARP men were dismissed for complaining of their conditions. Under the legal pretext of “obstruction” the police constantly hound left-wing and pacifist literature sellers from Marble Arch, London, and frequent arrests are made. A similar legal manoeuvre was employed to prevent the “stop the war” candidate from holding factory gate meeting during the Battersea by-election. A useful gauge of the extent to which such procedure will go is the action of the Australian Government who are utilising the censorship regulations to prevent Communist Party papers and all papers and journals “with a predominantly Marxist interpretation of social history” from printing “news of the war, recruiting and training of troops, Russia and its Government, any strike within the Empire or in any Allied country, and any industrial unrest, real or imaginary.”

While the examples previously quoted could be reinforced with numerous others, the bourgeois class offensive in Britain has not yet extended beyond the preparatory stages. As Hitler made his preparations in Norway, so his equally corrupt and ruthless counterparts here are operating in the proletarian ranks. The “Fifth Column” of Chamberlain and Churchill, the occupants of the luxurious offices in Transport House are performing their task faithfully by isolating the Stalinists and militant workers and testing the reactions of organised labour to their foul machinations.

For leading the workers in a Watford printshop in a ban on overtime, contrary to an EC decision, two local NATSOPA officials have been barred for life from holding official positions in the union. The London Trades Council Executive is attempting to bar political resolutions from the agenda of the Council meetings. A Manchester Labour Councillor has been threatened with expulsion for acting as Chairman at a Daily Worker rally.

Following on the heels of the disaffiliation of the Hampstead Labour Party, the expulsion of Mr. D.N. Pritt and the proscription of the Militant Labour League and Russia Today Society (the former, incidentally, an anti-Stalinist revolutionary grouping) comes the disaffiliation of the anti-war Pollock (Glasgow) Divisional Labour Party, and the University Labour Federation. Because it is “dominated by Stalinists and Trotskyists”, the Sheffield Trades Council is suffering the same fate. The Indian Stalinist Krishna Menon, has been removed by the Dundee Executive from the Labour parliamentary candidature, and Labour League of Youth members are being forbidden by Transport House to sell the anti-Stalinist, anti-war, revolutionary paper Youth For Socialism.

These moves apparently trivial ills0 isolated but important when correlated together with numerous others, are accompanied by a press campaign, rabid on the part of the yellower section of the gutter press, tentative in the case of the Daily Telegraph and the Times, against the “fifth column” a category which covers all anti-war and defeatist elements. This question was also raised in the House of Commons on April 25th.

This brief sketch of the recent movements on the class front reveals as yet no encounter of any magnitude between the rival forces. The increasing pauperisation of the masses, now, being aggravated by the increase in travelling costs and the additional burdens imposed by the latest budget, must inevitably produce reactions on the part of the enslaved toilers which in turn will necessitate counter-measures by the oppressors.

.Unlike their enemy and their ally, the British bourgeoisie has not, as yet been forced by economic necessity to stake its last on totalitarianism. With a reserve industrial army of over 1,200,000 and a Labour and Trade Union bureaucracy operating on their behalf, the rulers in Britain have not had need to resort to any marked degree to their official Gestapo to defend them against attacks on their wealth and privileges from the masses. But in the class war as in the imperialist war a prolonged deadlock is impossible.

The oppressed and exploited masses in the belligerent countries have a common task, that of defeating the enemy at home – the exploiting class. The British proletariat retains, in remnants of capitalist democracy, a weapon absent from the armoury of the workers in the other belligerent countries. To allow the bourgeoisie to wrest this from our grasp would be criminal. With the example of France before us we must begin our offensive against the bureaucracy of the labour and trade union leaderships. “The class struggle is the imperative law of proletarian existence also during war ...” The main enemy is at home.

Top of page

Main WIN Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 2.11.2005