Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Some Facts About The Dock Strike (1945)

Editorial from the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hypocritical Attitude of Labour Spokesmen
A great deal of cant has been spoken and written about the dockers' “unofficial ” strike which ended on November 5th, but with the threat that they will come out again if the negotiations now resumed do not give them satisfaction. The line taken by the daily Press and by the spokesmen of the Labour Government has been that there can be no recognition of “unofficial” action not endorsed by the central executives of the Transport and General Workers' Union and the other unions involved. The pious attitude of the newspapers would be more convincing if there was the slightest reason to believe that they would have given their support if the strike had been official,—but experience shows that if it had they would have opposed it just the same. After the last war the same problem arose of the attempted stabilisation of wages at war-time levels, and there were innumerable strikes, official and unofficial. One of the biggest official strike# was of railway men, and it took place after long negotiations. The strike was widely condemned by the newspapers, though it was official, and Hr. Lloyd George’s Government refused to negotiate while the men were on strike. That is the typical attitude of the employers, the capitalist press and governments. Trade union officials, who are quite familiar with it, ought to have something better to do than lend themselves to sidetracking capitalist propaganda about unofficial strikes. If members of the unions think that negotiations are being needlessly prolonged by the employers, or if delays and lack of contact exist because of the unwieldy machinery of huge composite unions like the Transport Workers, with its million members and dozen separate trade groups, or if there is a suspicion that the men's interests are being sacrificed in order not to embarrass the Labour Government in its task of administering capitalism, trade union officials cannot justifiably disown responsibility.

If the Press has been hypocritical so have the Labour Ministers. Many of them in the past have been engaged in activities likewise denounced by the capitalist Press or by the men who at that time controlled the Labour Party and trade unions. Some of them on occasion have been active in unofficial strikes and have incurred the displeasure of the officials they were repudiating.

Many of them were associated with the national strike of 1926 and would be wise to remember how the politicians and lawyers denounced it as “unconstitutional." Mr. Shinwell, as Chairman of the 40-hour Committee in 1919, was charged with inciting to riotous conduct and imprisoned for five months, and Miss Ellen Wilkinson was once a fiery advocate of “direct action." The Labour Government should also explain how they square their use of thousands of troops to do the work of striking dockers with their traditional opposition to the use of soldiers in industrial disputes. Have they forgotten that on May 12th, 1939, when the Government was introducing the Military Training Bill to conscript young men for the coming war, the Labour Opposition moved an amendment which would have freed the conscripts from liability “to take duty in aid of the civil power in connection with a trade dispute, or to perform, in consequence of a trade dispute, any civil or industrial duty customarily performed by a civilian in the course of his employment.’’ It was Mr. Shinwell, now Minister of Fuel and Power, who moved the amendment and said that his Party would “resent very strongly the use of conscripts who might be employed . . . . either to assist in supporting men who were on strike and bringing the dispute to an end, or to take their places in any particular department of industry."—(Hansard, 12th May, 1939. Col. 690.)

The principal cause behind the present dispute is the reduction of earnings with the ending of the war. A correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (3rd October), writing on the dockers at Liverpool, states that “during the war they have been working hard and drawing good wages—£8 to £10. . . . Now they feel that they are faced with a peace-time cut to about half that amount." Overtime has ceased and the dockers are seeking to offset the big reduction of earnings by claiming a daily wage of 25s. in place of the present 16s. (15s. in smaller ports). What helped to aggravate the situation was the fact that at Liverpool 500 dockers had just been discharged as redundant—a bitter pill that fine words about “full employment" did not make any sweeter.

One aspect of the dockers' dispute is of general application and deserves the closest attention of trade unionists, that is the dependence on leaders. They found themselves denounced and opposed by their own elected officials, men whose salaries are paid by the men's contributions. Leadership is of no use to the working class movement. Officials should not be made, or allowed to make themselves, into leaders. The members should decide themselves exactly what they want done and see that the officials carry out their instructions. What counts in the last resort is the pressure that can be exerted on the employers by the strike, and the object, time and duration of strikes should be solely in the hands of the union members. There is no magic art of leadership or negotiation that will take the place of the workers' strike weapon. Lastly, the workers should realise—and if they don't, experience will teach them—that nothing essential is changed because a Labour Government is trying to run capitalism. Long ago the Daily Herald (then only an “unofficial" Labour organ) stated the truth of this. If the price of nationalisation is giving up the strike, then “under capitalism a nationalised industry would actually be worse off than those left in private hands" (13th September, 1922).

Again the Herald said:—
  “We do not believe that there is any fundamental distinction so long as the wage system exists between the relationship of a private employer to his workers and the relationship of a municipality or State to its workers. In each case the latter sell their labour-power and their capacity to sell it at a fair price depends on their capacity, through their trade unions, to refuse to work."—12th April, 1924.)
There is particular point in this in view of the fact that dock work at present is to a large extent under the control of the Government, and that some of the dockers are employed by the Port of London Authority, a body once denounced by Mr. Herbert Morrison as a “capitalist soviet," but now used by him and his Government as a model for nationalisation, and wrongly described as “socialism."

Those who fancy that employment by the State or by a public utility corporation is the solution of the workers' problems should think over the action of the P.L.A. when its workers came out on strike. “A notice warning Port of London permanent labourers that they would be 'deemed to have left the service of the Authority without notice' if they did not return to work . . . was posted outside the Royal Albert Dock yesterday."—(Daily Herald, 13th October, 1945.)

Capitalism runs true to form even if a Labour Government chooses to pretend that it is different because it now runs under different colours!

Letter: The Change Over From Capitalism To Socialism (1945)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (A. Outram, Dagenham) asks the following questions about the coming of Socialism :—

"It is reasonable to presume that one of the companion parties will be elected to office in advance of the others. In such circumstances would the party administer capitalism under government supervision, at the same time passing laws to alleviate the workers' suffering, and using its influence to carry on intensive Socialist propaganda amongst the workers of other lands, who by this time would be well advanced on the road ho Socialism?

"With the wages system finally overthrown in the advanced countries, how would the distribution of food, clothing, etc., be arranged in the early days of Socialist administration? By coupons issued according to a man's needs? I presume that the transition from capitalist to Socialist methods would not take place overnight."
A. Outram, 


Does Socialism make headway in all countries at the same rate?

Our correspondent's first question turns on the rate at which the Socialist movement grows in different countries. At present the Socialist movement is small in all countries though large and increasing numbers of workers are sympathetic to the general idea of Socialism. They have yet to convinced of the truth that Socialism cannot be brought about by "Labour” Governments put into power by the votes of the discontented, who want to improve capitalism by means of reforms but are so far unable to understand that capitalism needs to be abolished. The experience the workers are having of "Labour" Governments in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and elsewhere, will hasten the process of winning the workers from Labourism to Socialism. Whatever differences there may be now between the spread of Socialist ideas in one country and another will become smaller not larger as the Socialist movement grows, because of one factor which is operating with more and more effectiveness from year to year. That is the extent to which the workers in one country observe and profit by the experience of workers in all countries. Workers in Britain do not need Fascism here to appreciate its uselessness to the working class, they can learn from what happened in Italy and Germany. Likewise workers in countries under Liberal or Conservative or "Communist" Governments will learn not only the uselessness to them of these governments but will also more and more appreciate the inevitable failure of Labour Governments from what they observe takes place in countries with Labour Governments. Capitalism is forcing the workers to take an international view of the problems of the working class.

We can therefore state confidently that by the time a majority of workers have become Socialist in one country there will be majorities or near-majorities in all the industrialised capitalist countries. Moreover, the Socialist parties will constitute an international body acting harmoniously together as a single movement. At that time the capitalist parties and governments will ho longer be in a position to offer serious opposition to the world Socialist movement either in the countries with Socialist majorities or in those where the Socialists, though strong, are not quite in the majority. The time for action to establish Socialism internationally, and the steps to be taken to deal with the weakened remnants of capitalist parties and governments will be matters for decision by the international Socialist movement as a whole, and the capitalist remnants will be unable to interfere effectively. There is no need to envisage a long marking-time by a Socialist majority in the first country where Socialists gain political control.

Distribution in the period immediately after Socialists have gained control.

Certain economic problems would require immediate attention since it is not possible "overnight" to produce the larger quantities of useful articles that would be needed for the world’s population, but this does not mean that "the transition from capitalist to Socialist methods" need be delayed if by Socialist methods is meant the abolition of the wages system and of production for profit. The introduction of a Socialist system would involve the immediate abolition of capitalist ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. The working class would simply continue production but for the benefit of the whole community. Short-term scarcity of certain articles may exist while, for example, the ex-capitalists (and the workers now engaged on financial operations needed only for capitalism), are being brought into useful occupations, and while armament factories are being turned over to the production of useful articles. What administrative method may be used to secure satisfactory distribution of the articles temporarily in short supply is a minor question, to be dealt with at the time. The important factor will be that the Socialist majority will make the decision with full understanding of the nature of the problem and will carry it out with a full realisation that distribution will be made in the interests of the whole community and not in the interests only of a section.
Editorial Committee

Glasgow Branch Municipal Election Fund (1945)

Party News from the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Glasgow Branch of the S.P.G.B. reconsidered their organisational strength for such a venture, and decided to withdraw from the Glasgow Municipal Elections. Members and friends who contributed to the election fund, and wish to have their donations refunded, should apply to the Secretary, S.P.G.B., 13, Maryhill Road, Glasgow, N.W.

Failing applications being received before March, 1946. the Branch will transfer all monies in the Fund to the S.P.G.B. Parliamentary Fund. -
Thos. A. Mulheron. Organiser.

Observations: Santa on the spot (1986)

The Observations Column from the December 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Santa on the spot

Playing Santa Claus can be an extremely disagreeable way of contributing to a Christmas party. It's not just that all those robes and false whiskers make you feel like the pudding in the steamer, nor the physical assaults which must be uncomplainingly absorbed from impatient, disappointed or inquisitive children. There's also the fact that you're being set up to work a deception on people who, by their age, are assumed to be nicely vulnerable to it.

Whatever the hazards faced by the amateur Santa Claus they are as nothing compared to those of the professionals, those derelict actors who seem ready to take almost any risk for the sake of a bit of work in the Christmas spending spree. This year it promises to be even worse; if there are any Santas getting job satisfaction by resisting the idea that Christmas is a vast festival of commerce, 1986 should make them change their minds.

The pressure is on, in all the big stores, for the jolly Santas to turn in higher sales figures and some decidedly unromantic methods are being used in the process. Harrods, where Santa has always wandered freely about the toy department chatting with the kids, are now confining him to his enchanted castle because, the store say, the old method was too random to ensnare all the possible children. Hamleys, where they have never had a Santa before, now have three of them working shifts in a magic forest where the time and motion people roam among the clockwork animals. Each child is allocated 25 seconds to state their dearest Christmas wishes and the Christmas sport of mishearing the child's name, traditional but time-consuming, has been eliminated through a system of name cards.

It is worse outside London. In Glasgow and Manchester Santa had to bid perilously for publicity by shinning up a 100-foot ladder, amid exploding fireworks, onto the roof of the store. In Chester he was winched up to a high window by the fire brigade. For all this, of course, youth and fitness are needed; Santa, like so many other jobs, is no longer for the older man.

None of this is calculated to bring a magic sparkle to a child's eyes, but to enliven the sales figures. Selfridges are planning to process a quarter of a million children through Santa's grotto this year — a quarter of a million spenders, that is. Maximising customers, to use the stores' jargon, means maximising profits, which is a nice seasonal present for the shareholders.

It gives a new meaning to the old saying about Christmas being for the children.

Bus de-regulation

The recent de-regulation of buses is absurd even by the warped standards of capitalism It is the latest outcome of the Tory Party's central economic tenet: "If it's profitable then privatise it”. The result: total chaos in many towns and cities outside London as hundreds of private bus operators compete for a limited number of profitable routes; inner city streets in towns like Glasgow congested with hundreds of almost empty buses looking for passengers, while on the outskirts of the city and in rural areas people stand at bus stops waiting for buses that no longer run. paying the price for living on "uneconomic" routes.

For such people some form of public transport will still have to be provided: employers will still expect their work force to get to work on time. So the local council will be obliged to lay on public transport on these "uneconomic" routes. In other words the state will still be involved in public transport provision, albeit on a more limited scale.

The reason why utilities and services like transport, gas. electricity and water were nationalised in the first place was because it was recognised that it was more efficient and cost-effective for the state to run certain essential services than private capitalists. But it looks as if the Tory obsession with privatisation now means that that lesson must be learned all over again. In the meantime it's workers who will suffer as a result of the chaos — capitalists may run bus companies, but they certainly don't have to travel by bus.

Undeserving poor

In the nineteenth century the Poor Law made a distinction between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor. The "deserving" poor, people like widows and the long term sick or disabled, were granted Poor Law relief: the "undeserving", especially the able-bodied unemployed, were subjected to the workhouse test to see if they were really desperate or just shiftless scroungers. The idea was that only the really desperate who had no other alternative would put up with the brutally punitive regime of the workhouse.

That same mentality has always been present in the modern system of welfare benefits (hence the different benefit rates for unemployed and other claimants). So the government's latest "available for work" test is just the last in a long line of methods for sorting the "deserving" from the "scroungers" (with the added bonus of bringing down the embarrassingly high unemployment figures before the next election).

The unemployed are to be required to fill in a new questionnaire when they claim benefit to enable (according to Lord Young) "a proper assessment to be made of a person's entitlement to benefit". The claimant will be asked a series of trick questions: if they give the wrong answer then they are likely to have their benefit suspended. Questions like:

  • Are you immediately available for work? (Correct answer: "Yes")
  • What wages will you accept? (Correct answer: "I'll take anything, no matter how low, that is offered me").
  • Do you have children or a disabled relative to care for? If so can alternative arrangements for their care be made immediately? (Correct answer: "A neighbour or relative has promised, that in the event of my being offered a job. then they would be prepared to step in to look after baby/granny/disabled relative").
  • Are you prepared to accept work in another town? (Correct answer: "I'll get on my bike and go anywhere just so long as you 'll give me a job").

Although the government has dismissed claims that they are merely trying to fiddle the unemployment figures Kenneth Clarke. Paymaster General, said that if the new scheme reduced the number of claims allowed by less than two per cent then it would pay for itself, including the £14 million cost of employing 1,400 extra benefit staff. A senior civil servant wrote a letter to all regional benefit managers saying: "We may be able to deter two to four per cent of fresh claimants who are not serious about looking for work and disallow another two to three per cent who are not available".