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J. Haston

World Politics

British RR Workers’ Poll Reveals
Demand for Workers’ Control

(March 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 16, 18 April 1949, p. 3.
Originally from Socialist Appeal (Britain).
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

How do the British workers in nationalized industry feel about the new setup?

An interesting investigation in one such industry has been conducted by the weekly of the National Union of Railwaymen, Railway Review, and the results were analyzed in its columns by James Jary. The following is condensed from an article by J. Haston in the British Socialist Appeal for March.


A sampling of nearly 500 workers was used. To the first question: “Did you support the nationalization of the railways?” the replies were overwhelmingly Yes. Only 5.9 per cent said No, as against 88.7 per cent Yes. (The rest were doubtful or “no reply.”)

The second question was: “After a year of national ownership, did you find your Job: (a) Encouraging – more, less, about the same? (b) Frustrating: more, less, about the same?” The answers broke down as follows:

More encouraging



About the same



More frustrating



Jary comments that these figures are “evidence that mere change of ownership has not created a change in the human relations within the industry. As a body, railwaymen are a patient lot, seldom hasty in their decisions, but the picture here revealed provides food for thought for those who bear the burden of organization and administration.”

Workers Want Control

The third question: “Do you feel you have a share in running the railways?” Only a small percentage answered that they did – 14.4 per cent. Answering No were 75.3 per cent.

“Are you satisfied with the way your Local Departmental Committee handles questions about working methods?” To this, 38.8 per cent said Yes, and 53.2 per cent No.

“Do you think you ought to be consulted before changed methods are introduced of working?” – 96.9 per cent Yes, and 2.3 per cent No.

Summing up, Jary concludes: “The fundamental conclusion from this small survey is that railwaymen at the moment are in poor heart. They feel very disappointed that they have not been called on to exercise more influence in the shaping of a national transport service. They are not so much concerned about such material things as wages and hours as they might have been. But they do want to feel that they are a living part of this great enterprise.

“They know that they are intelligent and educated. They have a wealth of practical experience without which the theoreticians are inarticulate. All they ask is that they be given just a small opportunity consciously to participate in the management and direction of the service ...”

On the background of the mood and aspirations of the railwaymen as revealed by this material, the speeches of the general secretary of the NUR, J. Figgins, at the last Labor Party conference and at the Trade Union Congress can be readily understood.

Figgins stated that the present setup was alien to the needs of the industry and the workers in it. He demanded that the unions be given the right to fully participate from top to bottom in the management and running of the industry. At the present moment only one of the members of the leading board can be said to be drawn from the workers’ side of the industry, although even his connection with the union is now broken.

Program for Socialist Democracy

If the railway unions’ demands for full participation are to have full effect, it is essential that nationally and in various divisions, they must develop a program, not only for the technical development of the industry, but for its social reconstruction. For this purpose, special conferences should be called throughout the country where the rank and file of railway workers of all grades and in the various unions would get down to examining all the problems of reorganization.

The editors of the Railway Review have consistently demanded that the present machinery be replaced by industrial organization based on each large unit, through the meetings of all the workers in the unit and its dependent sub-units. Each of the huge terminal units in the London area, sending delegates to a council covering the areas as a whole, and so on for the rest of the country.

Representative industrial organs of this type are needed, with the legal right of access to all plans, documents and other data affecting operating and working conditions, and as the workers almost unanimously demand, with the equal right to be consulted before any changes in working conditions.

Such a reorganization would reveal a hitherto deep and untapped well of knowledge and resourcefulness, without which the forward drive to socialism is not possible.

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