Editorial from the September 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard
The hardy annual of Compulsory Arbitration makes another appearance at the Liverpool Trades Congress. Mr. Ben Tillett, of emigration notoriety, writing in Reynolds on the subject of the Industrial Arbitration resolution, claims that it will abolish sweating, reduce the hours of labour and assure a living wage, also that, in regard to unemployment, the “Arbitration Courts are the only useful method of dealing with the problem”! Truly, of the quacking of quacks there is no end. It should be noted that it is in support of the candidature of this man that the S.D.F. have issued an appeal to their branches in the Eccles Division.
The reports which reach this country from those colonies that have adopted Compulsory Arbitration in labour disputes are most conflicting, and by no means convey the impression that the workmen are all pleased with the working of the Acts, whilst it is reported, significantly enough, that in many cases the employers are strongly in their favour. It is moreover abundantly clear that they have not abolished sweating, whilst the problem of unemployment is as acute where the Acts are in operation as it is in other capitalist countries.
The effect of the Arbitration laws, even under the most favourable conditions, must be to hasten the development of machinery and to cause a further speeding up of the workman, whilst those who are below a given standard cease to be employed at all. Thus the tendency of this trade-union cure-all is to still further swell the unemployed and, moreover, to prevent the workers by means of these sacred awards or contracts from reaping any advantage from sound organisation, or during a period of good trade. The men are tied hand and foot, and are compelled under penalty to wait until the expiration of the award (which probably happens at the worst moment for the labourer,) before making any effort to improve their lot.
The resolution before the Liverpool Congress reads in part, “The Court shall determine a minimum wage, and shall have power to punish any infringement of awards by fine, imprisonment and payment of compensation to the victimised worker.” It is also stipulated that the Courts shall be constituted by an equal number of workmen and employers’ representatives, and that where not mutually agreed upon the labour Department of the State shall appoint chairman or referee. The resolution, let it be remembered, also expressly limits the application of the proposed arbitration law to the members of those trade unions affiliated to the Trade Union Congress.
We know the astuteness of those employers’ representatives with their life-long training in driving a hard bargain, and we fear for the integrity of even the most steadfast of the men's representatives when exposed to the temptations they must meet from the employers in those Courts. Obviously, the man who favours such a resolution can be no Socialist; he cannot be aware that there is an irreconcilable antagonism of interests between the master class and the working class, and that in the waging of this struggle for emancipation there can be no truce or the workers lose.
The mere fact that a man sincerely supports such a resolution which pretends to ask a capitalist government to legislate on behalf of the workers, and to legislate in such a way that the victim must arbitrate with the brigand about the share he may have of his own product, and to arbitrate, above all, in such manner that the casting vote is always in the hands of the enemy with power to enforce his commands by fine and imprisonment, the mere fact that a man supports such a resolution stamps him as one ignorant of the very fundamental principles of working-class politics.