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Ken Coates

In the woodpile

(Summer 1961)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 5, Summer 1961, pp. 29–30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Bargainers
By George Cyriax and Robert Oakeshott
Faber, 21s.

Mr Cyriax works for the Economist, and Mr Oakeshott for the Financial Times. This book, then, is by Insiders: and it turns out to be a short introduction to the great, and partly tamed, Outside; the world of Trade Unions. ‘Trade Unionists’ might have been a reasonable title: instead, it’s called ‘The Bargainers’. True the authors have some strange ideas about working people, as for instance the notion that a major obstacle to job-mobility is the necessity it imposes on workers to sell their houses. But for the most part the world that Cyriax and Oakeshott inhabit is recognisable, even if they have drawn it upside down. The colour of their views can be neatly expressed by sentences like this one. ‘As their bargaining power has increased under full employment, so has their moral fervour, the birthright of the under-privileged, declined.’ Does this mean that Messrs Cyriax and Oakeshott are nostalgic about the attrition of moral fervour? Not a bit of it. As they say, ‘attitudes must be adapted to the affluence of the times’, and only by becoming less morally fervent, more pliant of the bureaucratic buttock, can Trade Union leaders ensure that ‘the image of trade unionism be brightened’. The trouble with the Unions is that they aren’t businesslike enough. The NUVB, for instance, has old-fashioned ideas of democracy, fervent morals, which actually leave some power in the hands of branch members. Clearly this must be power which ‘has never been properly transferred to the centre.’ Again, the Unions don’t pay enough organisers: BC Roberts’ on the ratio of organisers to organised in various Unions is quoted with the added stricture:

‘an efficient business would expect to have to employ up to fifty times more staff per member than do the unions.’

No doubt moral fervour would completely collapse under the weight of such a burden: but that is not all. An ‘efficient business’ would also reward the people who ‘softened their attitudes’ far better than do the stingy moralists of the working class movement. This could be remedied by the workers digging deeper into their pockets in order to compete with efficient business in maintaining the new members of the Establishment in manner fitting. Ultimately the nirvana of affluent amorality would be attained, and harmony would reign. But Cyriax and Oakeshott have done more in this book than incite our Gadarene brethren to accelerate their pace down the slopes of affluence. They have also kept a wide eye open for the suspicious and disruptive carriers of ‘moral fervour’.

Accordingly, Ted Hill gets his share of tolerantly delivered side-slashes with the pen. Clive Jenkins is urbanely associated with the Trotskyists, on the impressive grounds that some printing has been done for him on a press which also prints for Trotskyists. Briggs shop-stewards are accused of racketeering because they ran an efficient fund-raising scheme, raised £7000-odd in a few months, and spent it on

‘a variety of dubious purposes – such as supporting other strikes, printing leaflets, and paying for the publication of a militant stewards’ journal The Voice of Ford Workers.’

(Racketeering is a nasty word, yet this list of ‘offences’ is all the evidence that is offered to substantiate the charge.)

Even without the aid of Communists, Trotskyists, Ted Hill, or any other morally fervent comrades under the bed, the two writers will surely get plenty of new stories to convince them that not all the workers accept that attitudes must be adapted to the Times. Some of us would like to adapt the times for a change.

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