The Worker January 1916
Source: The Worker no. 4, 29 January 1916 p. 4, By Anon;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
When the conference was held at the Treasury, between the Government and Trade Union officials, on the question of setting aside all union regulations and restrictions for the purpose of accelerating output, many of us thought, and said at the time, that there was trouble in store for Labour. We contended that full safeguards should have been secured before any such thing was done. We were assured by our respective officials that all was well; they were satisfied that our position was safe-guarded. We are still wondering however what the safeguards are? But that by the way. Piece rates and premium bonus time were to remain as before, no matter how much the output might be increased. That pledge soon broke down. All over the country the most absurd alterations were made in methods of doing jobs, such alterations being merely pretexts for reducing piece rates or premium bonus time. In the latter case, in some instances, when skilled men on the job have protested they have been removed and unskilled men put on and this was to the employer, an additional reason for reducing the time – it had become the work of unskilled instead of skilled men. The employers gained in three ways by this.
(1) The unskilled men were paid a wage rate, ten to fifteen shillings per week less than the skilled men displaced.
(2) The premium bonus rate was reduced.
(3) The premium bonus actually payable being based on the reduced wage rate per hour of the unskilled man, less bonus, was paid, than a skilled man would have got.
This conduct of itself created wide-spread discontent, but aggravated by the arbitrary decisions of Munition tribunals on quite trivial matters and the grievances of the leaving certificates the situation became intolerable to the men. The murmur, which was rapidly growing to a roar, reached the Government and a Commission was appointed to inquire into the causes of the discontent on the Clyde. The findings and report of that Commission amply justified the workers’
resentment, but the suggested remedies fell far short of meeting the needs of the situation.
The fundamental grievance which we have not mentioned so far in this article was not dealt with by the Commission. We refer to the instinctive feeling of the workers that all these changes for the worse arc permanent so far as Government pledges and existing laws are concerned.
The Government have all along burked this question, and when Mr. Lloyd George visited the Clyde it faced him at all turns. He burked it also. Why? Because the only answer he can give might quite well be repeated by a parrot, viz., “A return to pre-war conditions is guaranteed in the Munitions Act.”
Such a statement does appear in the Munitions Act, but it cannot be fulfilled.
Mr. Lloyd George must know that the whole Cabinet must know it; Trade Union officials are not blind, they also must see it.
But even if none of these people know it the workers do, and that is the reason for most of the trouble. The scheme for the dilution of skilled labour has not worked very smoothly up till now owing to the certainty of skilled workers that it will be permanently beneficial to the employers and detrimental to themselves. Speaking of the difficulties of diluting labour, Mr. Lloyd George said in the House of Commons, on Monday, 20th December: – “They (the employers) must really face the local Unions, and put forward the demand, because until they do so the State cannot come in. We have had an Act of Parliament (the Munitions Act) but the law must be put into operation by some body, and unless the employer begins by putting on unskilled men and women to the lathes we cannot enforce that Act of Parliament. The first step therefore, is that the employer must challenge a decision upon the matter, and he is not doing so because of the trouble which a few firms have had. But let us do it.”
The Glasgow Herald leading article on Lloyd George’s speech says: “Without this dilution of labour we cannot obtain the munitions we still require,” and at last recognising the uselessness of making further appeals to men who will not hear, he invites the employers “to face the Trade Unions” and “challenge a decision.” Unless they take this action the Government cannot bring its own legislative powers into operation. We interpret this as a definite pledge on the part of the Government to see the matter through at whatever cost. “It is now for the employers to respond.”
Mr Lloyd George visited the Clyde after that, and everyone knows the result.
Now the Prime Minister has made a statement on the matter. He retails the stereotyped intimation that “Guarantees its to the nature and temporary character of the changes have already been given,” but offers no explanation of it.
He then proceeded: –
“The Government accordingly propose to take steps without further delay to bring about this dilution of labour wherever needed in accordance with the necessities of the situation, and on the conditions laid down after agreement with the representatives of the workmen in the Munitions of War Act as amended.”
This then is the position we have arrived at. The Government, the employers, and the Trade Union officials have failed to secure the co-operation of the workers in this scheme and now Government Commissions are being, or have been, appointed to visit the various industrial centres to push it forward. One has already arrived on the Clyde and should command the respect and sympathy of the workmen according to the press. We ha'e oor doots.
Mr. Isaac Mitchell certainly commands no respect or sympathy in the Clyde area. Mr. Lynden MacAssie; as a lawyer, stands little better chance, while Sir Thomas Munro is, well, we have no idea who or what he is.
But it makes no difference who is on the Commission as the matter stands at present. The Clyde men’s claim that the scheme will be a permanent disadvantage to them is irrefutable and they know it.
What use is it then for any Commission to come down and appeal to the shop stewards and delegates for their whole-hearted assistance in such circumstances.
The shop stewards are they representatives and servants of the men, and would not, even if they dared, run counter to the wishes of the rank and file. The rank and file want nothing to do with the scheme unless they get the only safeguards that will satisfy them.
The only way in which they can be satisfied that the scheme is no menace to them is that the Government take over all the industries and give the workers, through their organisations, a direct and equal share in the management. If that is not done there be no willing acceptance of the scheme and the only way in which the scheme can be given effect is by the Government imposing it on the workers.
Friction is bound to arise from it, and that added to the bitterness that exists over the conscription measure, create a positively dangerous situation. At the moment of writing the Commission have already been informed at various works by the shop stewards that there can be no co-operation on the present lines, but that there will be the bitterest hostility.
We know what the Clyde men are when roused, and if the Government push them in their present temper then so much the worse for the Government: They have the remedy in their hands. Instead of attacking the interests of Labour and defending the power and privileges of Capital the Government must reverse the treatment.
We know that they will not do this voluntarily, but they must be forced to do it. Only the policy of the Clyde Workers’ Committee can prevent a permanent degradation of Labour. We urge the workers everywhere and at all times to insist that they are not going to be bullied by either employers or Government, or both, into accepting anything that will place them at a disadvantage in the war that never ends. That is the attitude the employers adopt.
Consider this from the Evening Times of Monday, 24th of this month. A leading article referring to the dilution of Labour says ... It means that organised and necessarily skilled labour will require to permit the influx of women and unskilled men on the Trade Union preserves.”
On another page of the same issue under the heading, “Shipowners and Freights,” is a statement on the better organisation of shipping. All ship owners are said to “insist that whatever plan be adopted to give relief the ships retained in commerce must continue to be managed by owners themselves.”
If that is not enough to convince anyone that the propertied class consider only their own interests then there is another point. Mr. WE Anderson, M.P., intends introducing a Bill into the House of Commons to confiscate to the State all unearned incomes during the period of the war, and to make every able-bodied person, between the ages of 19 and 60 perform some useful work.
There are certain exemptions relating to the unearned incomes portion of it. Interest on deposits in a Savings Bank or Co-operative Societies, dividends on purchases payable by Co-operative Societies pensions and superannuation allowances, benefits from Friendly societies, Union and organisations, under the National Insurance Act – all these are exempted. Now watch the callous cynicism of the propertied mind.
As a retaliation for WE Anderson’s proposals Sir Herbert Raphael, the Liberal member for South Derbyshire, has in hand the Conscription of Wealth (No. 2) Bill.
Its object is to confiscate all working-class savings exempted in WE Anderson’s Bill. It should be quite clear to the poorest mind that the profiteers are determined that they will be in a stronger position than ever at the finish of the war, and that we shall be weaker. We must be equally determined to prevent it, and the only way to do it is to fight out the issue now.