G. Allison

Economic Struggles and the Minority Movement

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 12, January 1930, No. 1
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE Sixth Congress of the Minority Movement outlined as its main task the struggle against rationalisation under independent leadership. The conference also made it clear that this struggle must of necessity be a struggle directed primarily against the Labour Government and its lackeys the trade union bureaucracy. Events since the Sixth Congress have shown the correctness of the estimation and decisions arrived at, but at the same time have broadened and deepened the tasks of the Minority Movement.

The process of rationalisation in all industries has been intensified under the Labour Government. Week by week conditions are being worsened and output increased in the heavy industries and particularly in the minefields. Local and partial wage reductions are still being effected in most of the industries and there is to be noted a rapid increase in unemployment, especially during the last three months. Not only does the Labour Government use the power of the State and its influence and organic connections over the trade union movement to prevent effective resistance on the part of the workers to the application of rationalisation, but facilities for the rationalisation process are becoming a feature of the legislation of the Labour Government.

The Coal Mines Bill is one of the most striking examples. The sections dealing with the progressive nationalisation of royalties and the marketing schemes are devised for the purpose of enabling the owners to introduce comprehensive rationalisation plans resulting in the closing down of uneconomic pits and squeezing out of the small owners. The Road Traffic Bill, which is in the main supported by the Transport and General Workers’ Union, contains clauses in relation to the speed limits which are obviously adapted to suit the new type of omnibuses and motor coaches introduced on the passenger services in London and the provinces. Yet another example is provided by the attitude of the Government towards the report of the Committee on “Load Lines on Merchant Ships.” This report makes provision for raising the Load Line on tankers and timber laden ships and permits of deck cargoes of timber being carried in the winter to any extent that the shipowners choose. The Government in sponsoring this report agree that it will, in accordance with the usual procedure, be submitted to the Merchant Shipping and Advisory Committee on which all shipping interests are represented. The Government’s attitude on all of these measures clearly reveals it as the sponsor and leader of the rationalisation drive, legalising and facilitating the schemes of the employers.

In line with this policy, the Labour Government is developing more and more into a government of social fascism and in this process is resorting in a greater degree to the method of arbitration. The cotton dispute stands out as the most classical example of the use of the arbitration weapon, and the lessons of the Dawdon dispute are equally far reaching. In this instance the Dawdon miners have successfully staved off wage reductions over a period of nine months, but now the aims of Lord Londonderry are going to be realised through the intervention of the Labour Government and the appointment of K. C. Morris as the “impartial” arbiter. Here also the Coal Mines Bill containing the proposals of the Labour Government with regard to the mining industry provides a concrete example of the legal use of the arbitration weapon. The proposed National Mining Industrial Board in its composition and scope is merely the legalised machinery through which the coalowners in the various districts will be able to enforce their repeated demands for wage reductions and general worsening of conditions.

The attitude of the Trade Union bureaucracy is one of open support for the policy of the Labour Government. The manner in which the Labour Government’s mining proposals were accepted by the M.F.G.B. bureaucracy and literally enforced upon the districts and the lodges is a striking example of the complete capitulation of the trade union bureaucracy to the employers and the Labour Government. Moreover, there is an increasing tendency to include arbitration clauses in the agreements between the employers and the trade union officials in several industries.

The proposed agreement between the Employers’ Federation and the reactionary Tailors’ and Garment Workers’ Union makes provision for the establishment of local or area committees consisting of equal representation from both bodies who shall before any stoppage of work occurs inquire into differences and disputes in the areas, and further provision is made for national machinery to operate on the same basis. In return for this concession on the part of the Tailors’ and Garment Workers’ Union, the Employers’ Federation has found it mutually convenient to have some organisation representing the workers with which to negotiate on their behalf, and while there is no obligation on the part of any employee of any member of the Federation to join a trade union, the Federation recognises the Tailors’ and Garment Workers’ Union as an organisation representing the workers employed in garment making processes.

Similarly the Agreement arrived at between the employers and the trade union bureaucracy in the heavy steel industry provides for all points of difference between employers and workers being settled locally in each individual shop and for the local managements to discuss with the local trade union officials the time and manner of the operation of the agreement.

Thus it is clear that the Labour Government intensifies and legalises the rationalisation drive in industry; that the method of arbitration is being more and more utilised as a weapon against the working class and that the T.U. bureaucracy is lined up with the Labour Government and the employers.

The extra pressure brought to bear upon the workers has led to a rapid development of a militant spirit and a desire to struggle which is expressed in the rapidly growing wave of strikes breaking out in most cases spontaneously and in the teeth of the strongest opposition of the strike-breaking bureaucracy and the repressive measures of the Labour Government. The struggles conducted by the cotton workers and the resistance put up by the woollen textile workers together with the wave of local and partial struggles that have broken out throughout the minefields are symptomatic of the revulsion of the working class against the policy of the Labour Government and the sabotage of the trade union bureaucracy. In Scotland, under the leadership of the United Mineworkers of Scotland, these feelings have found a more definite expression in the tremendous number of struggles that have been conducted successfully by that union against the reactionary union officials and, in many cases, the active participation of the police. As the rationalisation drive legalised by the Labour Government becomes more intensified and with the more general application of repressive measures and arbitration as a means of enforcing wage reductions the wave now being generated must be directed into a conscious mass movement against the Labour Government, against the rationalisation drive, against all forms of arbitration and for the offensive demands of the workers in every industry.

In relation to this situation it is necessary to examine critically the organisation and forces of the Minority Movement in order to ensure that this wave of struggle is brought directly under its leadership and given the correct co-ordination and direction. The Sixth Congress of the Minority Movement directed itself to the development of factory organisation and brought about a sharp change in the old methods oŁ work of the organisation. This change, however, has not found expression in the real life of the organisation, its methods of work and its structure. There is still a strong tendency towards fighting within the confines of the trade union machinery, a scepticism with regard to the unorganised workers, and a disinclination to overcome the barriers of trade union legalism, and these tendencies retard the drive of the Minority Movement towards the factories and the struggle for leadership in the economic conflicts of the workers.

An understanding of the rôle of the unorganised workers and the extent to which the whole machinery of the trade unions is being tied up with the State and the employers points to the factory and workshops as the main source from which to harness and direct the forthcoming struggle and thereby provides a real basis for the Minority Movement to carry out a successful policy of independent leadership.

The grievances and problems of the workers in a given pit or shop must be formulated in a programme of demands suited to the specific circumstances and in line with the general struggle against rationalisation.

Definite organisation consisting of the Minority Movement and most militant elements must develop agitational activities around the programme for the purpose of establishing a Committee of Action elected by all the workers on the job and representing all the workers—organised and unorganised.

The Committee of Action created out of the determination of the workers to resist the rationalisation drive exists for the sole purpose of leading the workers into action against the employers. The rôle of the Minority Movement is to direct these mass actions and to win the workers away from the influence of the Trade Union reactionaries and bring them under its own revolutionary leadership.

The separate struggles in the various districts and industries arising from the same root causes can only be co-ordinated and directed successfully under the leadership of the Minority Movement from the factory upwards. Thus the achievement of the tasks outlined at the Sixth Conference of the Minority Movement depends primarily on the concentration of all our forces in the factories. Our work in the Trade Unions must in the main be directed towards facilitating our approach to the organised workers in the factories and to a utilisation of the lower organs of the T.U. movement in the building of the Committees of Action.

By a reorganisation of our forces to meet this end and by the application of carefully-thought-out plans for concentration, the Minority Movement can start from a real mass basis and direct the daily struggles of the workers, at the same time consolidating itself at the head of the upward surge of the masses against rationalisation, against the fetish of adhering to Trade Union agreements and acceptance of arbitration, against the forces of Social Fascism, the Trade Union Bureaucracy and the Labour Government.