The Worker January 1916

Round the Yards.
Dilution of Labour.
Dramatic Discussion at Parkhead.

Socialists Agreeable but want Control of Labour in the Workshops.

Source: The Worker, No. 1, 8, January 1916, Anon., p.4;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Mr. George did not go to Fairfield; the men at Weir’s declined to listen to him, preferring to get on with the making of munitions.

The Shop Stewards at Parkhead Forge met in the offices to greet the Minister.

A force of police, about 100 strong, guarded the entrance; and seemed surprised that common working men should be permitted to pass into the great presence. The meeting was held in the large drawing office, and the workers were gathered discussing the business before them when Mr. Lloyd George was ushered into the room in the best stage manner. His companions included the works’ manager, Lord Murray, and Right Hon. Mr. Arthur Henderson, M.P. The entrance ceremony fell flat. The workers displayed little or no interest in the newcomers, but went on with their business.

After a minute or two the works’ manager approached Mr. Kirkwood, the Convener of Shop Stewards, and stated that Mr. Lloyd George wished an introduction to him. Davie appeared to bear the new distinction that was being conferred on him with his usual modesty, for when the Minister, in the course of the usual formalities, inquired how he was, Davie replied, “No sae bad at a’.” Then there were a few moments of general conversation, during which it was suggested that Kirkwood act as chairman, while Lord Murray volunteered the hint that he should introduce Mr. Lloyd George as “The Right Hon. Mr. David Lloyd George, chief Minister of Munitions for the British Empire.” Kirkwood agreed on condition that his acting as chairman did not in any way restrict him in putting questions or discussing what was said. But at the outset and before going on with the proceedings, he wished to state that the workers had been discussing a meeting that was to have been held that night, and there was a rumour to the effect that some action of the Clyde Workers’ Committee had caused it to be postponed. He wished to know if Mr. Lloyd George knew anything of this report? Mr. George replied that the rumour was absolutely false. He had discovered at the last moment that he could devote two or three days to investigating the unrest on the Clyde. The meeting then proceeded.

The Chairman said- “This is Mr. Lloyd George. He has come specially to speak to you, and no doubt you will give him a patient hearing. I can assure him that every word he says will be carefully weighed. We regard him with suspicion, because every Act with which his name is associated has the taint of slavery about it, and he would find that they, as Scotchmen, resented this, and that if he desired to get the best out of them, he must treat them with justice and respect.”

This reception seemed to flabbergast the Minister of Munitions. He spoke about our brothers in the trenches, of the number of new factories, of big guns to blow the Germans out of France and across the Rhine, and of the need for unskilled labour being used for work on which skilled labour is now employed.

When he finished, Kirkwood asked if he was prepared to give the workers a share in the management of the works. They, as Socialists, welcomed dilution of labour, which they regarded as the natural development in industrial conditions. They were not like the Luddites of another generation; who smashed the new machinery. But this scheme of dilution must be carried out under the control of the workers. They recognised that if they had not control cheap labour would be introduced, and unless their demand was granted they would fight the scheme to the death.

Mr. Lloyd George here interjected some remarks to the effect that the workers were not capable of managing workshops, to which Kirkwood hotly retorted – “These men, for whom I ask a say in the management, carry the confidence of the workers, and have confidence in themselves. They brought out the men of the Clyde in February in defiance of you, in defiance of the Government, in defiance of the Army, and. in defiance of the Trade Union leaders. They not only led them out, but they led them back victorious. They let it be known that if their demands were not granted, masters might force them to the workshops, but could not make them work. Who ran the workshops now? Men drawn from the ranks of the working class. The only change would be responsibility to the workers, instead of to the present employers. If production was to be improved, the benefit must go to the workers.

Mr. Lloyd George stated that this was a revolutionary proposal, and the present was not a time for revolutions, when the country was engaged in a life-and-death struggle with a foreign foe.

“Ah,” said Kirkwood, “you are thinking as a lawyer. It takes engineers to reason out an industrial situation like the present one. The settlement of it would affect engineers, not lawyers. This war has proved conclusively to the workers that one engineer is worth a hundred lawyers, even of your kind.”

A number of questions on the Munitions. Act were afterwards put by various members of the audience, one speaker pointing out that he was prevented by Lloyd George’s Act from taking another job in which the wages would be increased by 8/- a week.

Kirkwood added that this Munitions Act bound the workers to Beardmore as effectively as if they had branded a capital BDM on their brows.

Mr. Lloyd George said that he was not responsible for the Munitions Act. It emanated from their leaders, men like Mr. Brownlie and Mr. Arthur Henderson, who was present.

Kirkwood turned dramatically towards Mr. Henderson, and declared, while waving his hand, “We repudiate this man. He is no leader of ours. Brownlie has been told the same to his face. And if you, Mr. Lloyd George, want to know the mind of the workers, don’t go to these men. If you wish to do away with the discontent in the workshops, do away with the cause.”

Mr. Lloyd George and his party then left the meeting.

* * *

From The Forward.

This report from The Forward is the fullest and most correct that has yet appeared, and as the issue containing it has been seized, for some reason not stated, we wish it to get full publicity.

We wish to state, however, that this report, in common with those in other Labour and Socialist papers, errs in stating that the Clyde Workers’ Committee demands that “the Government take over all munition-factories, etc.”

Our demand is: – “That the Government must take over all industries and national resources and vest Organised Labour. with direct share in the Management.”

A further omission is that when the meeting broke up a big procession was formed outside, which marched through the principal streets to the Glasgow Green., where a meeting was addressed by H.Hopkins, T. Clark, J. M'Lean, A. M'Manus, Councillor Wheatley and J.W. Muir.

Printed by the Socialist Labour Press, 50 Renfrew Street, Glasgow.