The Worker January 1916

The Clyde Workers’ Committee and Mr Lloyd George

Source: The Worker, No. 2, 15, January 1916, p. 3, Anon;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

When it became known that Mr Lloyd George intended visiting Glasgow the C.W.C. decided to try and get him to receive a deputation so that he might not go away without having heard the opinions and the policy of the men on the Clyde.

A deputation was accordingly appointed before his arrival.

During his visit to Parkhead Forge the deputation was mentioned, and he expressed his willingness to meet them on Friday, 24th December. The deputation consisted of twenty-six delegates representing most of the trades, and had also four women in it from different factories. The deputation was accompanied by Wm. Gallacher, President, and J.M. Messer, Secretary. It was agreed that J.W. Muir should state the case for the C.W.C., and then, after Mr. Lloyd George had spoken, any points raised should be taken up by A. M'Manus, D. Kirkwood and T. Clark.

It was also decided that one of the women delegates should make a general statement regarding their acceptance of the policy of the C.W.C., while the others would draw Mr. Lloyd George’s attention to specific grievances. Wm. Gallacher acted as chairman and explained the procedure he suggested should be adopted. Without any further remarks he called on J.W. Muir to state the case for the C.W.C.

No reports were taken, but the following is as near as possible the statement submitted by him:-

The Clyde workers have many times been blamed for getting up against the Government, against their employers, and against their Trade Union officials, but on no occasion have they done so without sound reasons.

In the present serious situation we are faced with problems which, if not dealt with in the proper manner, may well precipitate further trouble.

It is quite easy for people who do not know all the circumstances and, who will not have to bear the consequences, to tell us what we should and must do. But that is quite as unreasonable as the attitude of some people at home who criticise troops in the field for retiring when, in the opinion of those people, they should have advanced.

Now we have sufficient intelligence not to need any lecturing on the question of the urgency of supplies for military and domestic purposes, and, what is more, we have very strong views on how they can best be obtained. But I will come to that later. There is no need either to take up any time explaining to us the principle of the dilution of Labour. We are thoroughly conversant with it as are also goodly numbers of our men throughout the district.

It is not original at this time; it is not the product of any one man’s, or any particular group of men’s brains, nor can it be fixed within the limits of any very recent period. It has been going on practically since the Industrial Revolution. (Mr. Lloyd George: Yes! with every introduction of new machinery.) Not only so. Every new subdivision of Labour and every new adoption of standard parts has made for its extension.

The present demand for the widespread employment of unskilled men and women is, therefore, merely an effort to accelerate the extension of an already firmly established custom.

We have no objection to that, provided its application conforms to certain clearly defined conditions which I shall specify later. We regard it as progressive from the point of view that it simplifies the Labour process, makes Labour more mobile, and tends to increase output. In short it is a step in the direct line of industrial evolution. But – and this is where the present difficulties arise – its progressive character is lost to the community unless it is accompanied by a corresponding step in social evolution.

What is the situation just now?

The dilution of labour has been proceeding somewhat tardily, for war purposes, for some months back – not with the good-will and co-operation of the skilled men, but against their sullen and barely concealed opposition. The scheme has been imposed on them without their voice having been heard in the matter, and without provisions having been made for them having any control over it.

What we (the Clyde Workers’ Committee) are fully conscious of, the mass of the workers only feel instinctively.

You may have been led to think that the resentment against certain clauses of the Munitions Act showed the need for certain amendments, which, I understand, are now being considered. That there are immediate grievances of a serious nature we know, but you may tinker with them – you may even remedy them out of existence – but you still leave untouched the fundamental grievance. Instinctively, as I said before, the mass of the workers feel that their future is menaced.

And who can blame them?

Consider how we stand in this respect. The employers have long wished for an opportunity to try just such an experiment on a large scale, and the war has given them that opportunity practically free of risk, and on a scale far beyond their dreams. They are taking full advantage of it and they will never go back on it.

They stand to gain too much by it.

Under the latest regulations women in controlled establishments doing work hitherto done by skilled men are to receive a wage of 1 per week. Compared with the wage received by some of these women in other employment, that may mean an advance of from nine to twelve shillings a week. But compare it with the wage of the skilled man whose place she has taken and you find a difference of from 18,/- to 1 per week.

That means an actual gain to the employers and a loss not only to the skilled man, but to the entire working class. It means, in fact, a lowering of the whole working class standard.

Are the employing class likely to give up such a position? We are convinced they are not.

Of course we know of the scheme for taxing surplus profits, but we feel certain that the taxes will not materialise as expected. (Mr. Lloyd George: Oh! yes they will. I have the figures here.) Well! make a note of that and deal with it later on. Any figures you can produce now will not prove much, I am afraid.

The employers are allowed to make their average profits of two years prior to the outbreak of war, plus 20 per cent. plus certain allowances, which can be expanded in such a way as to make their surplus almost a negligible quantity. If you had the co-operation of the workers they could inform you of many things which never come under your notice in this connection. We know also that the Munitions Act contains a guarantee of a return to pre-war conditions, but we have no faith in it.

We are pretty much like Lord Derby in one respect. During what has come to be known as “Derby week” the Glasgow tramcars carried a poster – “A promise to enlist is of no value. Attest now.”

That is our position – a promise is of no value. (Mr. Lloyd George: Unless it is attested.) You cannot attest that promise except on the conditions which I shall lay before you. Without questioning the intentions of the Government we say that the guarantee cannot be fulfilled.

What can you do to fulfil it.

In the normal course all you can do is to withdraw the Munitions Act. (Mr Lloyd George: We can do more) If you do something extraordinary you may introduce a measure compelling employers to revert to pre-war conditions. But you will be compelled to put a time-limit on the operations of the Act – say a twelvemonth or two years.

By that act you would set back the hands of industrial progress, and would continue to hold them back during the period fixed, and that at a time, too, when we are told we may be engaged in a commercial war.

But even at the expiry of the time-limit the employers would be free to take advantage of the experience gained during the war, while we would not be so free to resist as before the war.

No! there will be no return to pre-war conditions, and in all the circumstances the workers are justified in their resentment at the proposal to impose this dilution scheme on them without real safeguards. You have to remember that for some years past there has been considerable nibbling at the individuality of the worker.

During all his working hours he is merely a cipher – known by a check number.

At the Labour Exchange he has a number, and when he is ill, under the State Insurance, he is also known by a number. The Munitions Act and the Defence of the Realm Act have divested him of the last shreds of individuality, and it begins to look to him as if they were gone permanently.

Such being the facts of the case no one need be surprised to find this proposal to further dilute labour meeting with wide-spread resentment. If it is put in operation now, on the basis of things-as-they-are, it will require to be imposed on the workers. It will never be agreed to. That is merely stating a fact which you seemed to realise when you said in the House of Commons that the trade unions had set aside their printed rules and regulations, but that there were unwritten rules which you could not get at. That was true at the time, it is true to-day and will continue to be true – not in the sense of the sweeping charges which have been made of wholesale slacking, but in the sense that skilled men will not heartily co-operate with the new-comers – so long as real safeguards are absent.

Trouble is bound to result from this, and in that event we shall be duty bound to stand by those who are seeking to defend the working class position against the machinations of the profit-mongers.

That trouble can be averted by making the scheme conform now to certain conditions at which I have already hinted. These are: –

That the benefits shall not accrue to one class in the community.
That it shall not react detrimentally on any grade of labour.
That organised labour must have a share in controlling it.

These conditions can only be fulfilled by the Government’s compliance with the demand of the Clyde Workers’ Committee that all industries and national resources must be taken over by the Government – not merely “controlled,” but taken over completely – and that organised labour should be vested with the right to take part directly and equally with the present managers in the management and administration in every department of industry. I have used the word “demand” advisedly, as this is no propagandist statement. It is our fixed determination to force the matter to an issue. It may seem to you to be drastic, but the serious situation in which we find ourselves demands that drastic action should be taken. Then again it is no more drastic or revolutionary than an attempt to impose conscription on a people who have never known militarism in any broad sense. That proposal aroused the bitterest hostility and will be resisted by the workers and large sections of the middle class, and yet the Government are even now considering the matter.

Our demand, then, cannot be said to be too drastic. On the other hand, it does not arouse any wide-spread opposition, but is accepted by the workers as the only guarantee of security now and for the future wherever we have stated it.

That it will receive opposition there is no doubt, but it will be from the people who do not matter at any time, but particularly in such a crisis as the present. This war has shown better than any amount of argument could have clone that the workers are the only “indispensables”; that, in fact, they are the only people who do matter.

Such being the case, and knowing that we are voicing their demand, we say that such a social change is neither too revolutionary nor impossible of achievement.

Its accomplishment would be easy and rapid in view of the hearty co-operation called into being between skilled and unskilled, manual and mental workers. Its results would soon become apparent in the factories and workshops in diminished friction, more equitable distribution of skilled labour over the whole industrial field and increased efficiency, all of which are absolutely necessary before production can be increased to any appreciable extent.

The methods now employed – coercive and repressive legislation – will never promote these essentials, but can only result in intensifying the misery and discontent already so prevalent until a point is reached when anything at all might happen. At such a point reason may not get much chance. The only alternative to coercion and repression is the policy I have put before you on behalf of the Clyde Workers’ Committee.

By its adoption the coming fight on conscription would be avoided – because conscription would be rendered absolutely unnecessary.

Whatever the Government may do in the matter the Clyde Workers’ Committee are going to devote themselves to fighting for the policy outlined.

* * *

As Mr. Lloyd George’s St. Andrew’s Hall speech appeared in all the morning and evening papers of the following Monday, and as it was practically the same as delivered to us at the interview we need not take up any space with it. There were, however, one or two points of difference. In criticising our policy he quoted historical cases (which we knew) of attempts at Government ownership and national workshops in different countries having failed.

That, however; does not square very well with the emphasis and significance which he placed on the building of thirty-three State factories since the outbreak of war, and the fact that another twenty-three are in course of erection. Are they, too, doomed to failure? We think they are if private profit-mongering is allowed to operate elsewhere all round them and if the workers are still to be excluded from any real interest in them.

Another criticism of our policy was that it would be “impossible to carry through such a social and industrial revolution at a time when the nation is struggling for its very existence.” That was anticipated in Muir’s statement of the case.

He finished up by saying that if he did not get the men and the supplies as he wanted them he could only conclude that we abandoned our brothers in the trenches. It would then be a question, not for the Government, not for any organization to consider. It would be a question for a population of forty-five millions, and undoubtedly we would have to take the responsibility for the slaughter of our brave men at the front.

After Mr Lloyd George had spoken there were only a few minutes left, and A. MacManus dealt with one or two points raised but the time was far too short.

After that J.W. Muir challenged Mr Lloyd George’s statement about responsibility for the slaughter at the front. (This statement, by the way, was also repeated at the St Andrew’s Hall meeting.) Muir said: – I emphatically repudiate your placing of responsibility for any slaughter. It is an absolutely untrue and grossly unfair interpretation of our position. Most of us have relatives at the front as well as you, and we are as much interested in their welfare as anybody else can possibly be. What is more, ninety-five per cent. of these men come from our class. They are coming back to our class, and if things continue on the lines they are moving now they are coming back to much worse conditions than they left. We would be traitors to them if we permitted it. We are determined to prevent it if we can, and in doing so we are not fighting for our own hand alone, but also for these men and the workers of the future.

The Government is responsible for the slaughter, and you must share the responsibility if you go back to London after having heard our case, and do nothing to further. You need not say it is impossible. The public man who would push it in the House of Commons strenuously would rally the workers of the country behind him. I suggest to you that the next time you have any occasion to refer to responsibility you be a little fairer, and remember our side of the case. We repudiate all responsibility.

* * *

Government ownership by itself will not do. Share in the management by itself will not do. The one is complementary to the other, and both are necessary to give us the proper safeguards.