Saturday, December 9, 2017

Trade Unions in the Post War Picture (1945)

From the April 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the early stages of the present conflict, the leaders of the British Trade Union movement temporarily relinquished, at the request of the Government, many rights and privileges which had been won by struggles both on the political and industrial field during a period of sixty years.

It is very doubtful, if, with the information now available, the leaders consulted the rank and file of their members before agreeing to relinquish these rights and privileges, and appears to be a case of the dispensation of largesse without consultation. In addition to the rights and privileges forfeited—which the ruling class and the leadership of the Trade Union members “assure” the working class will be restored immediately the present conflict is brought to a successful conclusion—many additional embargoes and restrictions have been placed on the Trade Union movement by numerous legislative acts. These too have been, almost without exception, accepted on behalf of the membership by the leaders—again without consultation—and the assurance that all restrictive legislation will be withdrawn at the cessation of hostilities given by the capitalist class through its political mouthpiece, the National government.

Whilst the position has perhaps been accepted in a laissez faire manner by most trade unionists who have at best a very limited knowledge of capitalist society and its mechanics a minority of class conscious trade unionists are extremely sceptical concerning any assurance given by the capitalist class through its political machine. A sound knowledge of the industrial and political history of capitalism—in this or any other country—fully justifies this sceptimism. In spite of the fact that the old adage "History repeats itself" is generally considered to be moth eaten and obsolete, it remains nevertheless true.

It appears conclusive that the restoration of rights and privileges and the removal of restrictive legislation, either wholly or partially, will only be accomplished-by an intensive struggle on the industrial field. Whilst a struggle of this nature may be necessary, and even if the working class are able to secure the restoration of industrial rights and the withdrawal of repressive legislation—and the writer is by no means sure that will be accomplished either wholly or in part—the class position of trade unionists as members of the propertyless class will remain generally unaffected. Whilst the working class operate the machinery of production and do in fact produce wealth in superabundance, they do not own the machinery of wealth production. The ownership is vested in the hands of a small minority who play no part, or at best a very insignificant part in wealth production. All that is possessed by the working class as a whole is its labour power. In return for producing wealth, it receives a small proportion back in the form of wages, in order that it might purchase the common means of life. The working class is obliged to sell its labour power in an open market, a market wherein the possessing class follow the inexorable maxim of buying labour power as cheaply us possible. During periods of so-called booms or prosperity within capitalist society, when there is what is termed a shortage of labour power, the working class or at least sections of it may be able to secure a higher return for labour power. Daring periods of so-called depression, when unemployment looms large on the industrial horizon, the working class as a who!e is forced to sell its labour power at a much lower figure. "When ten men compete for one job, wages will of necessity fall " said Marx.

Trade Unionists will sooner or later realize that capitalism—i.e., the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution—is the cause of their poverty and its attendant evils, and that any and all reforms within capitalist society will do nothing more than to bring about some slight amelioration of the poverty problem. Trade Unionists will ultimately accept the Socialist case of the S.P.G.B., that the only solution is the ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by the working class, to be administered in the interests of the community as a whole. With this understanding clearly established in the mind of the working class, we shall be standing on the threshold of a new and happier era in human history.
Lewis Lee

1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

Lee was only a member of the SPGB from '43 to '46 but, interestingly enough, he had previously been a member of the DeLeonist Socialist Labor Party of the USA.