Vanguard October 1915

The Railway Shops Settlement

Source: Industrial Unionist, Vanguard, October 1915, p. 7;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The craftsmen employed by the different Railway Companies in the railway shops in Glasgow, have now got a taste of arbitration after making demands for increases in wages of 5/- per week in time rates and 21/2 per cent. on piece rates, to which the companies made an offer to give an increased bonus of 1/- per week to men paid on time rates who were only receiving a bonus of 2/-, and to give in lieu of a bonus an increase 71/2 per cent. on piece rates. This the men refused, but being too weak to enforce their own demands they referred the matter to the Government Committee on Production in the hope that that body would award them what they themselves were unable to enforce, with the result that the terms of the award are as follows:— The Committee have given careful consideration to the statements and arguments laid before them, and to all the circumstances of the case, and their finding is that in lieu of and in substitution for war bonus given in February the men concerned should be given, in case of time workers, an advance of 3/- per week on time rates, and in case of piece workers, 71/2 per cent. on piece rates, provided that this shall not in any case yield a lesser sum than the existing bonus, such advance to be regarded as war wages, and recognised as due to and dependent on the existence of abnormal conditions now prevailing in course of the war.

So the outcome of the men’s appeal to the Committee on Production is that they have to accept what the companies offered, and what they refused when such offer was made.

And the most generous interpretation that can be made of the award is that the time workers get an increase of a shilling per week, and the piece workers shall have an increase if they increase their output. The majority of the men are on piece work. This award clearly indicates that arbitration is essentially a device of the master class to impose their own condition under the guise of neutrality. It also shows that in all disputes between the wage-worker and the employers, the settlement must be one of compromise, but such compromise will favour the masters or workers according to the power of organisation which either party wields in the dispute. And, as in this settlement, the master class were able to impose their will on the workers unconditionally, it therefore clearly indicates that the Craft Unions are absolutely impotent to improve the condition of the craftsmen in the Railway Shops.

To anyone who takes the time to examine into the causes of the failure of Craft Unionism on the Railways, the reason is perfectly obvious. The primary business of a Railway Company is the transportation of passengers, goods, and minerals, etc. (for profit, of course). The making of engines, wagons, and carriages is secondary, and in normal conditions is only engaged in when necessary for the purpose of repairs and renewals of stock. A strike of three or four months’ duration would not in any way inconvenience them, but it would be quite long enough to bring the craftsmen back to work on the same conditions as they went out on strike against. When under abnormal conditions the Craft Unions were unable to make their presence felt, it demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt their total inability to improve condition of their members. Evidence of this exists in every Railway Shop, and in every department of these Shops there are Craft Unionists who are working at from 5/- to 10/- per week below the Trade Union rates in the district. Mr. John Hill (Boilermakers) at the Trade Union Conference said: –

“In Glasgow we have two Railway Companies, who have shops where they repair rolling stock, locomotives, and other plant, and on the other side of that road there is the largest railway contracting combine in the United Kingdom or anywhere else – The North British Locomotive Combine. In both these firms there is the same kind of work carried on, the making of railway stock and the repairing of the same; repairing particularly in the case of the Railway Shops The members of my craft and of other crafts are employed on the Combine side of the street. Then they may shift across to the Railway Shop’s side of the street. They are legitimate members of our Society upon one side, but when they go to the other side of the street they are in a Railway Shop, and, according to the rules of the N.U.R., they must be members of the N.U.R.”

What Mr. Hill omitted to say was that when these men were on the Combine side of the street they were working under Trade Union conditions at Trade Union rates, but when they went to the other side of the street, despite the fact that they were engaged on the same kind of work, and despite the fact that they had to perform the same amount of work with the same degree of efficiency, they were paid very considerably less in wages, whether on time rates or piece rates. Up to the present the men employed on the Combine side of the street have been unable, and must remain unable to raise the wages of their fellow craftsmen employed in the railway shops to the standard rates, and this much-to-be-desired state of things as a preliminary to a still greater advance can only be accomplished when the railway craftsmen are able to stop the railway service in its entirety, and thereby compel the Railway Companies to come to terms. To effect such a state of affairs, the first thing necessary is a clear recognition on the part of the Railway Shopmen that they are part and parcel of the useful wage labour necessary for the carrying on of the railway system, and to organise as a component part of that necessary labour power, ready to work together for their immediate improvement, to wage war relentlessly against the master class, to take advantage of every dispute among the blood-thirsty profit-seekers, and to wring still further improvements – ever on an increasing scale in proportion as the giant power of our labour combination grows – until the time when, with perfect organisation, we shall be able to lock out the master class from the machinery of wealth production, put an end to this cursed capitalist system, and establish the brotherhood of Man.