Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Engineers' Strike. (1926)

From the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The strike of engineers at the Hoe Printing Works presents problems that merit the serious consideration of working men. The union leaders gave ample illustrations of their anti-working class policy, and the tricky way they forced the national committee to support them should enlighten members of the unions who are willing to pause and ponder a little.

The position ultimately taken up by the unions was the policy advocated by their paid officials and was an obvious policy of defeat.

In the “New Leader” of the 5th March W. M. Citrine, acting secretary of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, had an article on the subject headed “Back the Engineers." The following are two quotations from the article which throw light on the circumstances surrounding the dispute.
  It may not be out of place, however, to observe that although the Hoe dispute would appear to furnish the excuse for a lock-out, that incident cannot be dissociated from the negotiations which have dragged their weary way over the past two years. Men who are in receipt of wages entirely out of proportion to their degree of skill, and labourers who receive 37s. per week for 47 hours’ work, cannot reasonably be expected to exhibit Job-like patience. The . average time rates in the sixteen principal districts are: Fitters and turners, 56s. 6d.; unskilled labourers, 40s. 2d.
  The interminable negotiations have created the impression amongst rank-and-file engineering workers that the employers were deliberately operating a policy of procrastination and had no real intention of making any concessions. From time to time during the past two years district applications have been presented for advances which appear to have had substantial justification, but practically everywhere the districts have been met with refusal on the plea that, while national negotiations were proceeding, nothing could be conceded locally. (Italics ours.) 
There one can plainly see the advantage to the employers of the Agreement known as The Provisions for Avoiding Disputes, the interminable Government Commissions of Inquiry, and negotiations between Union Committees and Employers’ Councils. These are different ways of delaying improvements in workers’ conditions and yet they have the whole-hearted support of Trade Union leaders. J. H. Thomas gave public expression to this when he said :—
  The trade union leader who wants a strike is not fit for his job . . . Talk of class warfare can lead nowhere but to hell. (Quoted in No. V. Labour Research booklet from “The Times,” 28/4/23.)
Since the end of the war the wages of the engineers 'have gone down until they have now reached a figure that will hardly keep “body and soul” together. While the employers see no sign of vigorous opposition from the workers’ side there is little likelihood of their making concessions. Under such circumstances how humiliating has been the attitude of the officials the workers appoint and pay with the avowed object of safeguarding their interests. From the posting of the lock-out notices the union leaders have given a public exhibition of their fear of the employers. They have been running to Sir Allan Smith for private conferences and then after each meeting issuing their instructions to the Hoe workers to return to work.

The assertion that the Hoe workers were acting in a way that broke the Agreement can be met from two points of view. The Hoe workers meet it by the contention that their employers had already broken the Agreement themselves. From the other point of view an agreement that allows months and years to pass before a union can take strike action renders the strike (the workers’ only real economic weapon in industrial disputes) abortive.

On Sunday, March 7th, a meeting was held at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, to consider the Hoe dispute. This meeting consisted of London District Committees, Branch Secretaries, and Shop Stewards of the unions concerned. The executives desired the meeting to back their policy and instruct the strikers to return to work. The meeting, however, not only refused to do this, but it endorsed the demand of the London Engineering Trades Committee for a wage advance of £1 a week, and failing a settlement that the executives be asked for permission to take a district strike ballot.

They further moved that the executives be asked to take a ballot on the ending of the York Agreement, containing the Provisions for Avoiding Disputes, and endorsed the demand for a consultation on the question of a national strike ballot.

The executives were not satisfied with the conclusions of the meeting so a special conference of the National Committee of the Amalgamated Engineering Union was held at Manchester on Saturday and Sunday, March 13th and 14th. At this meeting J. I. Brownlie, President of the Union, presided and three other executive members attended. A motion was put forward in support of the men who had ceased work at Hoe’s. Before this motion was put to the vote Brownlie stated “that the Committee regarded this resolution as a direct challenge, and if it were carried it would be construed as a vote of no confidence in the executive ” (“Observer,” 14th March, 1926). After that statement, an obvious trick to sway the delegates over to the side of the Executives, the motion was of course lost by a large majority. The next day a motion was carried supporting the policy of the executives.

Since then pressure has been exerted from all quarters on the Hoe workers—even to the extent of a threat to expel them from the union—and yesterday’s (Saturday, 20th March) papers announce that they are resuming work on Monday under protest.

The attitude of the leaders, the daily papers, and the “New Leader” that the men should return to work and allow things to take the “constitutional” course, rather than do anything that would break the agreement, merits a few further remarks.

The leaders want a nice, properly-arranged strike that could proceed peacefully on its course without disturbing anybody or doing any real harm. This is evidenced by their concern for so-called essentiaL services and the opinion of the “public.”

The “public,” about whom there is so much concern, is really the shopkeepers, the Press, and the “salaried” workers, the groups to whom the workers in general need pay no attention. They are the hangers on and blind supporters of the employers in their attacks upon the workers, and from their ranks often come the blacklegs that help to defeat strikes.

The engineers, the coalminers, the railwaymen and others ought to know by now that a strike means the disorganisation of essential services or a failure. It is an attempt to force from the employers something the latter are not prepared to concede willingly. If all the essential services are arranged so that a strike will not disturb them; and if the employers are to be given weeks to prepare for the struggle, then how can the workers possibly expect success? Obviously they will only inflict minor discomfort on the employers, who can await with equanimity the rapid collapse of the movement owing to the privations suffered by the strikers.

As we have so often in these columns pointed out the limits of trade union action, I will forbear using up any more space on the subject.

Sport and Socialism. (1926)

From the May 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whereas the term “sport” was at one time associated with the idea of pleasure in “disparting” together, it would seem that the progress of Capitalism has rendered such an association (except in rare instances) ludicrous in relation to prevailing facts. It has, moreover, debased the original motive of social enjoyment into either a means to acquire profit, on into one of the potent methods of distracting the attention of the workers from the incessant gnawing of their problems of poverty and slavery. At the same time it helps to increase the physical efficiency (and thus the profit-making capacity) of those workers who participate, and provide an effective nerve-restorative for the tired wage-slaves who have merely the stamina required of spectators.

However far we may look back into the distant past, we fail to discover a period where games or sports of a similar character to those now indulged in were not prevalent. Indeed, Montague Shearman, who wrote the celebrated “History of Football," found traces of that pastime throughout the whole period of recorded history. It is not, however, our purpose to probe this question of origin, but rather, at this stage, to draw attention to the corrupting influence of Capitalism in revolutionising ideas which at one time were uninfluenced by the motives of a ruling class, and to point out that “sport," once free to all except the bodily impaired, has become, like other institutions, an organised business ministering predominately to the interests of the master class.

To those who may doubt the soundness of our contentions we would ask “Why do the master-class in their Press (which is largely dependent upon advertisement revenue) devote whole pages to the discussion of future sporting events?” “Why do they pour out reservoirs of slush in detailing the family history of Mademoiselle Pit-pat, who is to meet the doughty American champion, Tilly Slapbonk, at the Tooting Stadium?” “Why are we regaled with stories of the ingestive prowess of Charlie Bashem, and tales about the fondness of his protagonist, Teddy Tinribs, for Metaphysics and the Einstein Theory, before the inevitable fiasco is staged at the Talbot Hall?” "Would not the revenue to be derived from advertisements be more profitable than the insertion of some of this atrocious flap-doodle?” The answer to these questions is simple; the paid scribes of the master-class have acquired the grip of your psychology and they know how to take advantage of your gregarious instincts and innate love of sport to blind you to the imperative necessity for devoting some time and energy to the study of your slave position and the means of escaping therefrom.

Religion, Patriotism and "Sport"— these form the holy trinity of dope lavishly ladled out by the ruling class. Quite recently, through its mouthpiece, the Duke of York, the Government announced its intention of devoting £200,000 towards the development of "sports" in the Civil Service. This token of good will towards its employees was accompanied by further instances of benevolent intentions in the wholesale sacking of temporary workers (“ex-service" and others) and strenuous efforts in the direction of "speeding-up" and depressing the already exiguous conditions of the “permanent" staff. Could a better example be adduced to show the paramount value of sport to the employer in his attempts to gloss over the glaring class antagonism that now exists! It can be said, however, that this proposal of the Government was merely typical of the actions of the ordinary industrial “sweater” who will not demur at providing bowling greens for his employees or at subscribing to their football or other funds, but test his generosity in respect of the payment of higher wages or shortening hours of toil and a far different result is obtained !

Another aspect of the class division in society may be observed in the designations employed in various branches of "sport." We have the "amateur" and the "professional,” the "gentleman" and the "player,” the "select” clubs and the "working class” clubs; and the gulf between these divisions is the chasm that separates riches from poverty. It would be "infra dig” for a University boat-crew to row a race with a working class crew [especially as such a contest might reveal the unpalatable truth that the latter (who would be referred to as "those bounders") might achieve a "walk-over." !] Anyway, such a contest is inconceivable, for are not the workers, although capable of doing piece-work for eight hours at a stretch upon arduous and monotonous tasks, deficient in the stamina so essential for the sustained exertion of a twenty-minutes race?

Lest it be thought that the socialist is of the Puritan mould and disdains participation or interest in ‘‘sports” we can assure the reader that we begrudge the jaded worker none of the exhilaration he experiences in playing or looking on at games, and we see nothing pernicious in such indulgence provided he is alive also to his own class interests. Furthermore, the "sports” in favour with the workers are of a character entirely different from, and in no way so brutal or degrading as those held in regard by a large section of the bourgeoisie, whose atavistic desires, impulses, and propensities are fully catered for in the "blood" sports which occupy so much time and attention during a large portion of their useless existence. Tame, carted, deer and specially nurtured foxes afford excellent hunting material for these people of such "delicate sensibilities," but for whose genius, monumental industry, thrift, and "directive ability" (so we are assured), the worker would be bereft of the conspicuous amenities he is allowed to "enjoy"—amongst which amenities the hunting of a more prolific, a far less expensive kind of "livestock," is often an unwished-for privilege! We have no time for mawkish and sloppy sentiment—that can safely be left to our masters; but we confidently challenge the records of the most benighted “savage" customs to produce a more preposterous and equally abominable practice than that of "blooding" or bedaubing and smearing the blood of the slaughtered fox over the features of some girl of tender years after the completion of the chase. If additional evidence of the existence of a peculiarly "bourgeois" psychology is desired the pictures recently published in the Press depicting the “heroine" of the Quorn, whose horse fell dead beneath her during the hunt, should help to remove any doubts that might be entertained upon the subject. As to the effects upon character of these brutal "spirits," is not the evidence to be found in the chronicles of the Divorce Court?

Fortunately, in but one respect, the economic conditions affecting the working class tend to produce in them a more tolerant attitude towards non-human varieties of animal life, but this phase of the subject is not entirely relevant to our purpose. The easy gotten plunder which enables a robber class to live without the expenditure of physical effort in wealth production, tends to divert the energies of such a class in the direction profitable to their own comfort and pleasure, and so abundant leisure seeks its outlet in those "sports” which satisfy a craving for excitement and rescue idleness from the letters of "ennui." On the other hand, the worker who spends much of his time in looking for, or in holding, a “job,” is always afflicted by a desire to overcome the torture of insecurity. Hence some workers fall an easy prey to the press sirens of the master-class who encourage a belief that they can escape from poverty by “putting a bob on” or  "beating the book” and such-like fantastic nonsense, and so lure them from the study of the one solution to their problems—Socialism. A little thought would convince the down-at-heel “punter” that the millionaire race-horse owner, and the “bookie” (that somewhat sebaceous gentleman of the expansive smile and a protuberant frontage, seemingly held together by a heavy gold chain, which partially circumscribes that modern denotation of prosperity) do not exist solely to dispense largesse to the poor and needy. But this disease of betting, in its present form, will be swept away when the workers have tested the remedy offered by the socialist.

Again we emphasise that we do not deplore ‘‘sport ” as such, but we desire the workers to realise that the blighting influence of Capitalism has perverted the idea of seeking joy in social rivalries into a means on the one hand for the slaves to forget their lot, and so become more amenable to their task of grinding out profits, and, on the other hand, for the masters indulging in a quest for unwholesome pleasure, resulting in the reckless dissipation of wealth robbed from the wage-slaves.

Socialism alone can bring that joy which will express itself in an exuberance of healthful movement, such as is at present conceived of only in the dream which brings a transient solace to the weary worker when “slumber’s chain” has bound him to a world of pleasant unreality.
W. J.