The National Minority Movement
Publisher: National Minority Movement
Printer:The Dorritt Press, Ltd., 68-70 Lant St., London, S.E.1.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.
WITH the end of the mining lock-out every section of the movement is busily engaged in endeavouring to draw the necessary lessons from this terrific struggle of the miners, as well as the lessons arising from the General Strike. It is necessary that the Minority Movement should take this opportunity of clearly explaining to trade unionists exactly how it sees the present situation, and what is to be done if our movement is to prevent a repetition of the appalling mistake in leadership and organisation that has brought the miners to their present terrible situation.
The central feature of the present situation is undoubtedly the capitalist offensive against the trade unions. This is now no longer a statement of theory or imagination, but a cold statement of fact—the experience of millions of workers. The problem before us, therefore, is how can we adapt the existing trade union organisations to the new conditions of the class-struggle.
The National Minority Movement is an attempt to build up an organisation within the existing trade union structure. Its objective is to completely change the conception regarding trade unionism and to revolutionise the existing structure in order to meet the new conditions facing the working class. Thus, as a result of the new ideas and new form of organisation developed by the Minority Movement, we shall fit the trade unions for the task, not only of defending themselves from the immediate capitalist attack, but of developing that form of organisation which will enable them to play their necessary part in the final struggle for power, and the control of production after the workers have taken over complete political power into their hands and have formed their own government.
Many trade unionists, and particularly those of long standing, have been amazed at the rapid collapse of the traditional basis of trade unionism during the years that have elapsed since the close of the War. It is necessary to state that the basis upon which the existing trade union movement developed has now completely changed as a result of the transformation of the world situation in general and of British capitalism in particular.
The trade unions, and particularly the craft unions, reached their present stage of development at a time when it was possible for the capitalist class to give them many concessions.
This was the period of capitalist expansion when England was still the workshop of the world. Not only was she able to export, practically without competition, her manufactured goods and commodities to the various countries of the world, but, on account of the stranglehold she exerted, on her Colonies and Dependencies, she was able to use these cheap fields of exploitation and profitable markets as a means whereby she was able to give concessions to the working class of this country, thus creating at that time an aristocracy of labour and a trade union movement that felt it had nothing in common with the workers of other countries.
This period led to the class-sectionalism and craft outlook which still characterise the movement: it led to the development of narrow, isolated opinions and tendencies in our Movement, and led, more particularly still, to the possibility and belief in the efficacy of class co-operation, conciliation and arbitration as between masters and men, without the necessity of participating in a direct fight against the exploiters.
It is therefore necessary to grasp firmly the fact that this basis, upon which the trade union movement developed, has been destroyed once and for all.
The conditions arising as a result of the War, when England was compelled to give all her attention to supplying and producing munitions and the paraphernalia of warfare, made it impossible for England to supply many of the countries formerly dependent upon her for necessary commodities.
This led to a terrific development of capitalist production in these other countries, and also made it possible for countries like Japan and the United States, to seize the opportunity of jumping into markets formerly held by this country; and when the end of the War came, England was no longer in a position to regain them.
Further, many of the Colonies and Dependencies which were formerly held in strong subjection by England have now definitely embarked upon capitalist production themselves, and are in a position not only of not wanting English commodities, but of being England’s competitors in the markets of the world with precisely those commodities formerly supplied them by England, and owing to their later methods of production and increased technical efficiency, the are able to compete with England, whose industry is bound down with a whole system of debts and vested interests, such as is not experienced by any other capitalist country in the world.
The position facing British capitalism is the endeavour to retain what markets it now possesses, and the problem, therefore, for British capitalism is how it can reduce its cost of production in order that it may meet its new competitors. It refuses absolutely to abolish any of the restrictions and vested interests which weigh so heavily upon it: it refuses to wipe out the millions of watered capital, and the system of royalties: it refuses to reorganise upon really scientific lines, and, instead, chooses to reduce the standard of living of the working class, which in effect and actual practice simply means attacking existing wages, hours and workshop conditions of the trade unions, in order, as they say, “to lower the cost of production” and enable them “to meet competition from other countries.”
This offensive has been particularly intense in character since 1920, when singularly enough the miners, as now, were the first to be attacked. This led not only to an attack upon conditions, but to a long period of unemployment, which by draining the trade unions of their funds has undoubtedly assisted in weakening the resistance of the trade unions from a financial point of view; and in addition, by continued attacks on section after section, has weakened the structure of the movement as a whole.
We have therefore seen a continued reduction of the standard of living, and we have seen many of the oldest trade unions in the country, such as the Boilermakers’, Engineers’, Shipwrights’, Blacksmiths’, etc., all craft unions of the oldest standing, having either to reduce their superannuation benefits, or in many cases stop paying all forms of benefit, and in the case of the Shipwrights’, now having to go so far as to cease their affiliation to the Trades Union Congress and Labour Party in order to save money.
This has led to the development of an attitude suggesting that trade unionism is played out and the essential thing for the workers to do, therefore, is to concentrate the whole of their resources upon the parliamentary machine in order to enable them to obtain by the ballot what they have been unable to obtain as a result of their trade union organization.
The National Minority Movement believes that this is a false statement of the position. Trade, unionism is not played out, it is still the mightiest weapon of the working class; but what is necessary if further defeats are to be staved off, is for the Trade Union Movement to adapt itself to the new conditions of struggle facing it; and the main task of the Minority Movement is to assist by its constructive work inside the existing trade unions to bring this new form of trade union organisation into being.
It is clear to most workers that the old favoured position of England has gone, and has gone for ever. We are in a period of definite capitalist decline, when capitalism can only retain its hold by an unceasing attack upon trade unionists. In many industries this has led to the closer concentration of capitalist forces in order that this attack may be better carried out. For example, within the last months we have seen the formation of huge combines of the shipping and shipbuilding employers, the employers of the heavy chemical industry, and the formation of an iron and steel trust. The object of all these is, mainly, the concentration of forces in order to attack the workers employed in the respective industries with a more efficient capitalist fighting machine.
In the mining lock-out this year, and during the General Strike also, trade unionists have had more clearly demonstrated to them than ever the fact that the fights in which they are engaged in resisting wage attacks, the worsening of workshop conditions, etc., are political fights of the first magnitude. No longer can it be said that the State is an impartial tribunal, holding the balance evenly between what is known as the community on the one hand, and the trade unionists on the other. In the General Strike and the mining lock-out it was demonstrated beyond all doubt that the State is simply the executive power of the organised capitalist class, and in the hands of the capitalist government the whole resources of the State are used unreservedly on the side of the capitalists.
We have seen during the past year the naked use of the State power in the application of the Emergency Powers Act, in the abolition, by a stroke of the pen, of the power of local Boards of Guardians to grant relief, in the complete prohibition of trade union meetings, in the prevention of leaders (like A. J. Cook) from addressing their own members, in the imprisonment of thousands of the most militant fighters of the trade union movement, in the transport of armed forces and the police into the areas affected by the strike, in the open alliance between the coalowners and the Tory Government, in the passing of the Eight-Hours’ Bill; and, in short, what we have witnessed is the definite emergence on an unparalleled scale of the State playing its traditional role as the central custodian and defender of the capitalist class.
It is this situation, therefore, that calls for the most serious attention on the part of every active worker in particular, and all workers in general, just because of its seriousness and because of its threat to the future.
It has been said that the Minority Movement exists for the purpose of splitting and disrupting the existing trade union movement. This is a lie spread by those who are responsible for the existing state of trade unionism. What are the facts? There are in this country 1,135 trade unions, organising about 5,000,000 trade unionists. All these unions have their rival executives, their different societies, their conflicting and rival policies, their demarcation disputes, their overhead charges involved by the large bureaucratic staffs they are called upon to carry.
This has resulted in a situation where there is no common policy or understanding, where every union fights for its own ends, where questions are not examined from the point of view of the working-class movement as a whole, but where each union looks upon every question from the point of view of its possible effect upon that union. This, of course, has led not only to sectionalism, but to the development of a leadership that is totally incapable of leading the Trade Union Movement even to the most elementary victories.
Not only is it unable to do this, but its policy, as has been proved in the testing time of the years since the War, has clearly shown every thinking worker that the present leadership is totally unable to organise anything but colossal defeats of the workers it represents. Its attempt to discredit the National Minority Movement is a vain effort to hide its own responsibility for the terrible position to which it has brought the workers it represents at the present moment.
The failure of the trade union movement to function as the driving force of the working-class as a whole, particularly since 1919, was exemplified in the historic incident known as Black Friday, and culminated in the treacherous betrayal of the magnificent solidarity of the organised workers during the General Strike of this year; and, subsequently, in the way the miners have been left isolated and alone to fight the battle that every worker instinctively knew, in view of Baldwin’s declaration of July 1925 that “The wages of all workers must come down,” was the battle of the whole working class.
The National Minority Movement, whose first conference was held in August, 1924, developed from the British Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions. It has consistently fought for the policy of unity and for a common policy to be launched on the basis of every worker, in whatever union he may be organised, waging a common struggle under a common leadership.
It was largely due to the work of the National Minority Movement that propaganda and organisation took place which led to mass action in favour of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress having increased powers, and which also led to the development of the idea of the Workers’ Alliance. As a result of these facts, we saw in July 1925 a situation where the masses compelled the General Council to take up the cudgels on behalf of the miners, and as a result of the stand made at that time, the Conservative Government not having made its preparations for the defeat of the miners, was compelled to capitulate.
From July 1925, right until May 1926 the Minority Movement ceaselessly endeavoured to get the General Council to make the necessary preparations to meet the inevitable struggle that it felt sure would take place in May. No preparations were made—only deprecatory speeches to the effect that to talk about preparing for war, simply played into the hands of our opponents. The readers of this pamphlet have now had the experience and opportunity of seeing which leadership was right, the existing leadership which led to defeat, or the leadership of the Minority Movement which clearly pointed out the important tasks ahead in order that victories might have been achieved.
As a result of all these experiences there are comrades who are anxious to remedy the present position in every trade union branch. The National Minority Movement, therefore, places before such workers its programme and policy, believing that they afford a oasis upon which it is possible to build up a new form of organisation out of which will develop the new leadership that will be able to bring about rapidly an entirely new conception as to the role and function of the trade union movement.
Every worker is agreed upon the necessity for reorganisation: bitter experience has taught him what the present overlapping and sectionalism has led to, but we have no hesitation in declaring that the real solution for all these problems of organisation lies in commencing the task of reorganisation at the place where the workers are gathered together for the purpose of production. That is to say, the most effective form of organisation that can be built up to defend the workers against capitalism and to prepare the system that will one day be responsible for performing the functions now carried out by capitalist organisations, is undoubtedly that of workshop committees. Therefore we strongly propagate the idea of the formation of workshop committees which shall unite in a common movement all workers employed in a particular factory, irrespective of the craft, trade or occupation they happen to be following at the moment.
This will develop a real driving force which will immediately lead to an intensive campaign for the adoption of the policy and programme of one union for each industry.
Experience has shown us that the idea of one union for each industry is practicable: it is already being carried out in Soviet Russia, where we find the 8,000,000 organised workers have only 23 industrial unions, and that the basis of these industrial unions is organisation from the workshop upwards.
We also stand for the development of the existing local trades councils along new lines as we believe their function is entirely different in character. Too long have these trades councils been the happy hunting ground of careerists and political opportunists. They can be made, and will be made, local co-ordinating and unifying centres of working class organisation, having their delegates from the workshop committees, trade union branches and district councils, and cooperative Societies. They will be fashioned as weapons of struggle and -Till be of the greatest possible assistance to trade unionists in their everyday struggles against the exploiters.
From this naturally follows the necessity for a general council of the trade union movement as a whole, which will be the leadership of the movement and will thus end the present sectional leadership as exemplified in the existing General Council, where policies are still discussed and acted upon from the sectional point of view, where, indeed the representatives are simply elected as a result of their sectional contacts and not as a result of their capacity to lead the working class in any situation as a result of holding the entire confidence of the whole of the workers they are called upon to lead.
The conception we have of the General Council of the trade union movement is something entirely different from the existing body. We believe that it will be necessary for all future struggles to be directed by the best leadership that the movement can throw up. This leadership is obviously one that must arise from the new conditions and situation now facing the trade union movement: therefore, as we develop our factory committee organisation, as we strengthen and increase the powers of our local trades councils, as we popularise and intensify our agitation within the existing unions for the adoption of the principle of one union for each industry, the new leaders of the future will be developed.
That is why it is necessary to stress more than ever this question of complete power in the hands of the General Council: not because we believe in the present leaders of the General Council, but because we believe that a centralised leadership is a necessity of the movement, and as we develop our other forms of agitation, so we shall develop this fight for a centralised leadership, and out of the fight itself the new leadership will be developed to replace the existing discredited bureaucracy.
From this also follows naturally the policy of strengthening our fight for the unification of the international trade union movement. Again we must draw upon the experiences of the mining lock-out and the General Strike. There is no need to go further back: it has been amply demonstrated that without the practical help of the workers of all countries it is impossible for the workers of any country to wage a successful struggle. If an embargo had been applied, or if any sort of response at all had been made by the Amsterdam International to the appeals for financial help, a different story could be told now, of the mining lock-out than we have unfortunately to hear at the moment. Only the Russian workers have shown what real international class solidarity can do. We fight for the creation of a single trade union international which shall unite all the workers of every country in the world, regardless of whether they are already members of an International, and by the liquidation of the existing splits and disruption, develop our movement along the lines of unification of the workshops, of the localities, of the national and international movements, and thus fashion the weapon for the working class struggle that alone can be effective against our exploiters.
The importance of the co-operative movement to the trade union movement, despite the experience of the last few years, is not yet generally recognised. In all too many cases the active work of the co-operative movement is left to ambitious “place seekers,” or it is looked upon more as a woman’s job than a man’s.
The plain truth trade unionists have to face is that without the closest alliance with the co-operatives, success in any strike or lock-out is rendered increasingly difficult. For this reason alone, it is necessary that the active workers should give the same close attention to the policy and direction of the co-operative movement as they do to their trade unions. In particular is it necessary to pay closer attention to the Women’s Guild, largely made up of the wives of trade unionists, in order that no aspect of co-operative work that can be of value to the trade union movement shall be neglected.
This great co-operative movement is destined to play a most important part not only in the immediate struggles of the trade unionists, but after the workers’ final conquest of power, when the building up of socialism becomes the task of the new ruling class.
For this reason the National Minority Movement puts forward the following points for the serious consideration of its members in particular, and trade unionists as a whole, so that we can break the all too prevalent conception that the co-operatives should be dividend-producing agencies, and mould them into real weapons in the working-class struggle.
Our Five Points
(1) The co-operative movement must be reorganised so that there shall be the closest alliance between the co-operatives and the trade unions, in order that every material assistanoe can be given to increase the fighting efficiency of the working-class.
(2) The Liberal and Tory Parties have already realised the potentialities of such an alliance, and they are advising their members to join the co-operatives in order to prevent such a union. Further, the Tory Party has urged the Government to bring forward a bill to deal with the relations that should exist between co-operative societies, the trade unions, and workers’ political parties.
(3) Our own co-operative movement is not yet alive to the dangers confronting it, especially in these days of capitalist decline and the capitalist offensive against the trade unionists, which makes it a period of continuous struggle between the workers and the capitalists. As this struggle develops the co-operatives can help the trade unionists either to achieve victory or to suffer defeat.
(4) In alliance with trade unionists the co-operatives will not only receive organised support, but will be assured against any financial losses as a result of advancing credits to the workers during strikes and lock-outs. To refuse to combine is no guarantee that the co-operatives will themselves remain immune from attacks. The closer the contact with the trade unions, the stronger will be the defences that can prevent such attacks.
(5) To secure this alliance the co-operatives locally should be affiliated to the Trades Councils, there should be an alliance between the district co-operative societies and Federations of Trades Councils, and naturally the co-operatives should be affiliated to the Trades Union Congress.
It is in order to bring about the above objective that the National Minority Movement gives special attention to work inside the co-operatives. We do not stand for a “dividend hunting policy”; we are not disrupters or splitters, but we do desire to see that the co-operative movement shall not be the happy hunting ground for “place seekers” and opportunists, but a further weapon in Labour’s armoury, to wage successfully the class struggle.
The National Minority Movement is not a separate trade organisation endeavouring to fulfil the functions of a trade union, but is a body of active workers inside the existing trade union movement who are organised in their respective industries and grouped together in the various national sections of the Minority Movement, such as Transport, Mining, Building, Printing, Metal and General Workers’ Sections.
The purpose of these sections is to formulate a common policy applicable to all the unions in these industries. By popularising this policy in their existing organisations our members seek to make our Minority policy become the official and accepted majority policy of the unions.
We aim, therefore, at giving organised expression to the existing minority opinions in all trade unions, in order that as a result of constructive and organised activity our policy may be the policy of the trade union movement as a whole.
We do not aim at bringing into being any new organisations as rivals to those now existing; on the contrary, we are actively opposed to any attempts to split the trade unions or establish new organisations. The Minority Movement is not a splitting organisation endeavouring to disrupt the existing trade union movement—our chief object is to build up, strengthen, bring together and unify the existing organisations on the basis of a common policy. Below will be found the Workers’ Charter of the Minority Movement as adopted at our last conference, held on August 29th and 30th, 1926, and which we believe affords a real basis upon which it is possible to unify the activities of all serious-minded workers in trade unions, who are genuinely concerned at the present position and are endeavouring to find a way out of the present impasse.
In conclusion, the National Minority Movement sums up the lessons of the present situation, and concludes from its analysis that the following tasks are immediately confronting the whole of the workers now organised in the trade union movement.
(1) To fight against the capitalist offensive with its wage reducing and lengthening of hours policy, with its attempts to destroy trade union rights and practices, such as picketing, etc., with its efforts to nullify the unions and prevent them participating in political struggles.
(2) To fight against any tendency to leave the unions or to split the unions, and to wage an energetic campaign for a 100 per cent. trade union movement.
(3) To fight to expose the present discredited leadership of the reformist trade union leaders, showing clearly and concretely what their leadership has meant for the workers, and what it will mean in the future if left unchallenged.
(4) To show clearly to all workers the real role of the capitalist state in their struggles.
(5) To fight for the unification of workers in factories, in trade union branches, trades councils, district committees, and to agitate for one union for each industry, a centralised General Council and a single Trade Union International.
(6) To popularise and help organise the formation of Workers’ Defence Corps, which shall prevent the organisations of the workers being destroyed during periods of acute class struggle.
(7) To build up Minority Movement groups in every industry in the country in order that as a result of organised activity the policy, direction, and ideals of the Minority Movement shall be made the policy of the Movement as a whole.
(1) Wages.—An increase of £1 per week on all existing rates, and a minimum of £4 per week.
(2) Working Hours.—A 44-hour working week for all trades, except mining, in which a six-hour day shall he. worked.
(3) Nationalisation.—Nationalisation of the Mines, Railways, the chief heavy industries such as Engineering and. Shipbuilding, Banks, Land, without compensation and with workers’ control.
(4) Unemployment.—The application of the joint demands of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, and the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement, as embodied in the Six-Point Charter, with the addition of the confiscation of all idle land and factories by the Government with workers’ control.
(5) Housing.—The carrying out of an adequate housing scheme, the requisitioning of all empty houses, large and small, and the suspension of all forms of luxury building until sufficient new houses to accommodate all in need have been built.
(6) Foreign Policy.—
(a) The repudiation of the Versailles Treaty and the Dawes Report.
(b) The ratification of the Anglo-Russian Treaty, the extension of the Trade Facilities Act to Soviet Russia and the granting of long term credits.
(c) The appointment of a trade unionist as the representative of Britain in Soviet Russia.
(1) The formation, wherever possible, of Workshop Committees, the members of which are to be guaranteed from victimisation by their various trade unions.
(2) The re-organisation of the local Trades Councils, to transform them into local unifying centres of the working class movement.
(3) Affiliation of the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee Movement and the local Trades Councils, to the T.U.C. Also the acceptance of representatives of these organisations upon the General Council of the T.U.C.
(4) The adoption of the principle of one union for each industry, as a first step towards the unification of the National Trade Union Movement.
(5) The creation of a General Council of the Trades Union Congress with full powers to direct the whole activities of the Unions, and under obligation to the Trades Union Congress to use that power to fight more effectively the battles of the workers.
(6) Acceptance of the principle of the interchangeability of the card of the Unemployed Organisation for a trade union card, without any further entrance fee, upon unemployed workers becoming absorbed into industry.
(7) Demand that the General Council fight for International Trade Union Unity, and resume unconditional relations with. the Russia Trade Unions, through the Anglo-Russian Unity Committee, which shall conduct immediate propaganda and agitation that will lead to the organisation of a World Trades Union Congress, where all Trade Union centres shall be present, and where a single International Trade Union centre shall be created.
The Executive Committee of the National Minority Movement affirms that such an all-embracing programme as this will rally the whole of the workers to its support. It further places on record its willingness to co-operate with any working class organisation that is willing to fight for the realisation of this programme.
1. To organise the working masses of Great Britain for the overthrow of capitalism, the emancipation of the workers from their oppressors and exploiters, and the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth.
2. To carry on a wide agitation and propaganda for the principles of the revolutionary class struggle; to work within the existing organisations of the workers for the purpose of fighting for the adoption of the programme of the National Minority Movement, and against the present tendency towards a false social peace, class collaboration and the delusion of a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism.
3. To unite the workers in their everyday struggles against capitalism and at all times to advance the watchword of the united front of the workers against the exploiters.
4. To maintain the closest relations with the Red International of Labour Unions (R.I.L.U.) and to work for the unity of the international trade union movement.
Activities of the Minority Movement
The activities of the Minority Movement are generally:
1. The holding of meetings and conferences by workers in particular industries or generally under the auspices of the Minority Movement.
2. The visiting and addressing by Minority Movement speakers of trade union branches and district committees, Trades Councils, trade union conferences and congresses.
3. The preparation of plans and programmes of reorganisation for agitational purposes inside the trade union organisations.
4. The preparation of agitational programmes for wage increases, the shortening of working hours and improvement of working conditions.
5. Contesting all trade union office elections, with supporters of the Minority Movement of proved loyalty to the working class as candidates, and endeavouring to secure their return.
6. The mobilisation of all the active elements to support working class aims, particularly during crises in the national or international working class movement.
7. Supporting all strike movements of the workers which are rightly and intelligently aiming at the betterment of working class conditions.
8. The widespreading of working class literature—leaflets, pamphlets and periodicals—which have bearing on the work of the Minority Movement in particular, and the emancipation of the. working class from capitalist slavery as their purpose.
Join the Minority Movement
We appeal to all workers to join the Minority Movement, to induce their trade union branches and Trades Councils to hold meetings for the purpose of hearing Minority Movement speakers, and then to strive might and main to secure their affiliation. “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves.” Join with us in our struggle to overthrow capitalism and to conquer all power for the working class.
The Minority Movement is not itself a Union but consists of militant members of the existing trade unions, associating together in this Movement to make the unions real militant organisations for the class struggle.
The National Minority Movement hopes to become the Majority Movement by the conversion of the unions, from being supporters of an industrial system controlled by capitalists for profit, to becoming supporters of a system controlled by the workers for use.
It is optional whether a member of an affiliated Branch should become an Individual Member, but it is very desirable he or she should do so, as our workers in the Movement are drawn chiefly from these as the most devoted and energetic comrades.
It is our aim to enrol the workers as a whole for mi1%tant action, to raise the standard of life, to abolish poverty and to solve the social problem.
All trade unionists are eligible to join the National Minority Movement if they accept the above.
Individual membership consists of-taking an Individual Member’s Card at a minimum payment of one shilling per annum.
Trade Union Branches or Lodges and Co-operative Guilds pay an affiliation fee of ad. per member, per annum. Workshop, Factory and Pit Committees, Shop Committees and Unemployed Workers’ Committees, Trade Union District Committees or Councils and Trades Councils pay an affiliation fee of One Shilling per thousand members per annum.
Members of the Minority Movement are earnestly requested to make it a matter of honour to take an active part in the work of the Union, sharing in the humdrum detail work and demonstrating fitness for the more responsible official positions.