Vanguard December 1915

The Munitions Act

Source: Unattributed, possibly J.D.M. “The Munitions Act,” Vanguard, December 1915, p. 4 & 5;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The action that was threatened by the Clyde workers when the three Fairfield shipwrights were imprisoned for three out of four weeks imposed on them, induced the Government to send investigators to Glasgow to enquire from the officials of the unions the source of the dissatisfaction with what everyone now calls the Slavery Act. Whether the sifting of the situation has ended yet or not, does not matter to the workers affected. Suffice to know that the Government is now proposing alterations on the tribunals established for the working of the parts of the Act binding them down to particular masters.

Such pottering is going to bring on worse trouble than has been erstwhile experienced. What the workers demand, and rightly demand, is the complete abolition of the Act altogether. Nothing else will do.

The Act has not increased output any more than would have happened without it. In fact, the irritating arrogance of foremen and managers since its coming into force has induced quarrels and strikes sufficient to more than counterbalance the advantages the Act was intended to bring.

Foremen can easily dismiss men, but the men cannot easily leave one shop for another. The masters have perfect freedom to do as they choose; the men have no freedom at all. Many workers are agreed that the tribunals are a farce – even worse than a farce, a very menace to trade unionism. About three weeks ago Weir, of Cathcart, had our Comrade Bridges summoned before the Glasgow tribunal for “molesting” a worker in his department. As Comrade Bridges is the shop-steward he had in his official capacity to approach a non-unionist to find out whether he intended to join the A.S.E. or not.

This fellow must have complained to the firm which, as is natural, was only too eager to have revenge on one of the most active and daring shop-stewards on the Clyde. Hence the summons.

Bridges’ workmates realised that if they accepted this blow quietly, trade unionism in Cathcart and elsewhere was gone. Consequently, some stopped on the day of trial and marched up to the Court. All the others had previously met and agreed to strike if a decision adverse to their mate was given. Bridges received a telegram – too late, though – that the trial was deferred. As he and the others were in the Court, he insisted on the matter being settled. The reckless attitude of the others and the preparations for a fight determined the situation. Weir withdrew the charge and the matter was dropped.

This attack on Bridges by Weir, the man responsible for the more infamous parts of the Munitions Act, shows the absolute danger to trade unionism lurking behind this vicious measure. If the trade union leaders were responsible for any part of the Act and if they accept it to-day in the light of passing events, we do them no wrong when we call them absolute traitors to the men they are paid to represent, and to the very principle of trade unionism.

It is useless on the part of the workers, therefore, to pay any more attention to the officials. Let them be self-dependent and self-reliant. Let them prepare to strike for the complete death of the Act. Surely, the many who fancied the Act only affected the few now see the threat to organisation implied by the attack on Comrade Bridges. If they do not, it is the business of our comrades to get on the go again and hammer more sense into their shopmates. It will not take long till these realise the gravity of the situation, and prepare to assert whatever shred of independence and manhood is still left. Down with the Munitions Act!

That, however, is not enough. Here is a suggested counter-stroke. Let the Government, take over all munition works, pay the capitalists nothing per cent. dividend, double the workers’ wages, shorten the hours to eight, and give control of the establishments to the workers themselves. We guarantee that very soon the workers would treble the war output and justify the proposals from a pro-war standpoint. These are only timid immediate proposals, and we are willing to have better ones inserted in next issue, if some ingenious comrade flies to our rescue.