Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Labour Party and Strikes (1945)

From the October 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Churchill suggested in one of his election speeches that a victory for the Labour Party would lead to the suppression of Trade Union rights. He stated, “the freedom of the wage-earner to choose or change his employment or to use collective bargaining by all means, including the right to strike, runs absolutely counter to the Socialist doctrine and theory of the state.”—(Daily Herald, June 22nd, 1945). He revealed no other “rights” to safeguard—only this somewhat dubious “right” of a wage-slave to sell or not to sell his energies. Mr. Attlee repudiated the suggestion that the Labour Party would deprive workers of these “rights” and claimed a “clean record.” Mr. A. Deakin, a member of the T.U. Congress Council, stated, “Trade Unions under a Socialist Government would occupy the same position os hitherto”—(Daily Herald, July 2, '45).

It is absurd for the Conservatives to pose as defenders of working-class interests, but has the Labour Party a “clean record”? Some years ago, Mr.. G. Lansbury, then leader of the Labour Party, wrote a few articles in the Clarion, some very critical of his past reformist activities. Among the damaging admissions he made was this: 
   “In the archives of all Government departments will be found the most elaborate machinery for dealing with what is described as a ‘national crisis. By this they always mean great strikes.
The Labour Government not merely had the machinery on paper to deal with the Passenger Transport dispute, but had chosen a good anarchist as head of the strike-breakers with a number of Socialists as assistants.” — (Clarion. May 5th, 1934). (It will be noted that Deakin, Churchill and Lansbury all have the ‘dishonest practice, of using the term “Socialist” when they mean “Labour”). 
Lansbury was referring to the threatened strike of 1924 of trainwaymen and underground railwaymen when the Daily Herald reported, “Had the underground railways been stopped, a Royal Proclamation was ready to have been issued on Saturday last, declaring a 'state of emergency.’ ” Apr. 1, 1924). Lansbury referred also to the 1927 Trades Dispute Act, but did not condemn it: “A general strike in this country is now illegal. The Trade Disputes Act has made that quite plain and simple. As for disputes against local authorities, I find myself almost without reservation opposed to them.” These views were not condemned by his followers and it was not until the 1935 Conference that he was removed from leadership. Then he was deposed not because of any opposition to working-class interests, but because he opposed the Labour Party's policy on the grounds that it would lead to war. His anti-strike views were swallowed but his opposition to capitalist war roused the fury of the Labour leaders!

Have the Labour Party changed since those days? Daring the war they have supported all the restrictive measures of the Government. As members of the Coalition Cabinets their leaders joined with Churchill in 1943 when he refused to remove certain clauses of the Trades Dispute Act. The removal of these clauses would have allowed Civil Service Unions to affiliate to the Trade Union Congress. Now (August. 1945), they are the Government and through the War Office they are disrupting the “go-slow” strike at Surrey Docks by sending soldiers to work there. Lately they have pointed proudly to the “Socialist” administration of Australia. Did they miss this item of news? “300 coal miners between the ages of 18-25 who have been, on strike in New South Wales were to-day served with call-up notices for the Army.”—(Daily Herald, February 29th. 1941). Probably they regarded these men. as Mr. W. Lawther regarded the Wearmouth miners as men, “guilty of an act of treason and cowardice”—(Daily Herald, July 22nd, 1941). Seemingly such men should be firmly dealt with by a Labour Government.

It must not be assumed that the Labour Party would willingly jeopardise the legal position gained by the Trade Union movement during the last 100 years. It must be remembered, however, that they have been elected on a reformist and not a Socialist policy. They have to work within the very narrow limits imposed by capitalist conditions. They have to administer capitalism and ensure its smooth running. If strikes interfere with that administration the Labour Ministers follow the example of Tory and Liberal ministers by using the coercive forces. The alternative would be to allow strikers to gain their ends, an alternative that invites the ridicule and opposition of their “more reasonable” supporters, not to mention the loss of the hard cash of their wealthy business supporters. The Economist has warned them in a reference to the railway dispute; “ Nothing would be more fatal to the prospects of stable government than for individual sections of workers to exercise pressure to secure their own claims.”—(August 4th, 1945).

They warned them of the fate of the Popular Front Government in Franco which, '‘was wrecked even before it had started by the widespread series of stay-in strikes. An outbreak of strikes and 'go-slow' movements in this country would have the same effect.” The position is, as it always has been in capitalism; woe to the reformist party that cannot keep the workers in check.

We can see that Attlee's claim that the Labour Party has a "clean record ” is not correct. The main fact that emerges is this; that when Labour Parties in this and other countries have become the Government of the country the coercive forces have been used against workers by those who falsely claim to be Socialists. Thus have they dragged the name of Socialism in the mud. They have given opportunities to the Churchills and Hitlers to deride Socialism. The complete and utter failure by Labour Parties, here, in Germany and in France, to deal with working class problems has led in the past to the growth of anti-socialist and antidemocratic ideas. They will fail again. They are not Socialists. They have neither intention nor mandate to remove the relations of employer and employee, wage-slave and capitalist. They will not remove the dependence of workers upon those who own the means of producing wealth. They will not make those means the common property of the whole of society.

Our political opponents stressed that they stood for various "rights” and "freedoms” for workers—significantly we alone advocated free access to the means of life— Socialism. Socialism, a classless society means the end of conflict, economic or military, between human beings. We will lose the "right to strike” together with the "right to starve” the "right to fight ” and other unpleasant "rights.” We wish to abolish a society where the most important rights are those that reflect the fact that society resembles a jungle. Workers must understand that suppression and coercion are ever present dangers while capitalism lasts whether the government is Labour, Tory or Communist. The end of these conditions will come not by the sterile policy of altering governments, but by the revolutionary act of changing the basis of society from private to common ownership or the means of producing wealth.
Lew Jones

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