Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Notes by the Way: Cock-eyed Trade Unionism (1950)

The Notes by the Way Column from the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cock-eyed Trade Unionism

Before the Labour Party became the Government, when Labour propaganda was more exuberant and unrestrained, trade unionists were always told that a Labour Government would push up wages at the expense of profits.

But Labour in power is very different from Labour in opposition, and now the Government devotes its principal efforts to persuading the workers not to make wage claims. This turnabout reached the peak of the fantastic late in December, 1949, when the Government held parallel meetings, with the T.U.C. on the one side and with the British Employers’ Confederation on the other.

The purpose was first to persuade the T.U.C. to accept wage-freezing and recommend it to its constituent unions. The T.U.C. agreed. The Government then appealed to the employers and we are told that they also pledged their support to Government policy on wages, production and profits. Here are some Press reports of the pledge given by the employers' spokesman to Mr. Bevin:—
“The Foreign Secretary gave a review of the present national situation, and asked for the co-operation of employers in the necessary efforts to secure stabilisation and increased production.

“Sir Greville Maginess (president), on behalf of the Confederation, gave the assurance that the employers would co-operate fully in the national interest.” (Daily Herald 22/12/49).
The Herald went on to explain:—
“The mention of “stabilisation” is believed to refer to the continued need for restraint on personal incomes, including wage rates, profits and dividends.”
The Times (22/12/49) added a few points, under the charming heading
"Employers promise support for wage stabilisation.”
Lastly, Mr. Ernest Bevin appealed to representatives of 50 employers' federations for their help in securing stabilisation and increased production. The last meeting was remarkable in that it found Mr. Bevin, the old trade union leader, appealing, among other things, to employers for their co-operation in stabilizing wages. . . . Sir Greville Maginess, on behalf of the confederation assured him of the employers* support.” (Times 22/12/49).
So we have reached the ironical position that the Labour Government (which promised higher wages) asks for and receives the backing of the T.U.C. (which exists to press for higher wages) for a policy of wage-freezing; and as if that isn't funny enough, the Government then appeals to the employers (whose interest it is to resist wage claims anyway) to promise in effect that they will go on resisting them.

The supporters of Labour Government, of course, defend themselves by saying that circumstances compel the Government to act in this way.

We agree up to the hilt; with, however, the slight amplification that the “circumstances" referred to are that the Labour Government has taken on the job of keeping Capitalism going.

Mr. Horner and the “Daily Worker

In its issue for 30th December. 1949, the Communist Daily Worker reported that the miners’ national delegate conference had voted in favour of “wage-freezing” by passing a resolution endorsing the policy of the Trades Union Congress General Council. The resolution read: —
“Having regard to the serious economic situation of the country, we approve the terms of the report of the General Council in relation to T.U.C. wages policy.”
The Daily Worker condemned the resolution and urged the miners to reject it; and described the “wage-freezing” policy as one "foisted on the Trades Union Congress by the Government.” The Daily Worker reporter, Mr. George Sinfield, stated that "several leaders” of the miners told him that if the policy of withdrawal of wage-claims is pursued there will be serious repercussions in the pits.

It will be noticed that Mr. Sinfield talked about the matter with several miners’ leaders, but one of them he does not mention. That one is Mr. Arthur Horner who is General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, and is a year-long member of the Communist Party. The Daily Worker said nothing at all about their esteemed Communist Party colleague, but the omission is made good by the Manchester Guardian. The latter, on the same day, reported that the resolution which the Daily Worker found so obnoxious and which was presented to the delegate meeting by the Union's Executive, was “moved by Mr. Arthur Homer," secretary of the Union.

Ask the Basutos to come and help us

The following are recent news items: —
“Professor G. I. Jones, lecturer in anthropology at Cambridge University, has been sent to South Africa by the Colonial Office in an attempt to trace to its psychological source the wave of ritual murders which is sweeping Basutoland” (E. Standard 26/11/49).
The other items refer not to Basutoland, but to crime in Britain:—
”Except for the year 1946 there has been an annual increase since 1938 in the number of indictable offences. The 1938 figure of 283,220 rose to 522,634 in 10 years.

The 1948 figure of 40 murders was the highest in the 10-year period. The lowest was 20 in 1944.” (D. Telegraph 6/1/1950).

“Number in gaol, highest for 38 years.” (D. Telegraph 29/9/49).
The Professor seems to be travelling in the wrong direction.

The Catch in the "Welfare State"

The Labour Government claims credit for having introduced or extended various social services, and tries to give the impression that they represent a clear gain for the workers. This is only half the story. In the first place part of the expenditure on unemployment pay, sickness benefits, etc., is met from the workers’ own national insurance contributions.

Secondly, as was pointed out by the S.P.G.B. when the Labour Party campaign for social reforms was in its infancy, when the workers are relieved of the need to pay for certain necessities, they have to struggle against pressure by the employers to reduce wages correspondingly.

Bodies responsible for arbitrating on wage claims, even when they do not put it down in black and white, take these factors into account in their awards.

And to put the matter beyond any possibility of dispute we have had the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, stating the position in set terms in Parliament.

He was explaining the Government’s insistence that there should be no departures from the wage-freezing policy except in the case of very low wages, and he made it clear that when you are considering whether a wage comes under this heading it is necessary not only to consider the wage itself but also the benefits provided under the social service schemes.
“The White Paper must, therefore, be observed strictly, and it is only in the exceptional and genuine cases where some wage survives which, together with all the subsidies and social services, is insufficient to provide a family with a minimum reasonable standard of living, that there can be any possible excuse for going forward with a claim for an increase.” (Cripps, Hansard, 27/9/49. Col. 26).

Old Age Pensions in the U.S.A.

The same issue is arising in U.S.A. in a slightly different form. There is an old-age pension scheme covering 35 million workers, the fund being financed by equal contributions from employers and workers, supplemented by additional income raised by taxation. The old-age pension is 26 dollars a month for a single man and 41 dollars for a married couple.

But in recent months workers in some big industries have, by strikes, forced the employers to agree to pay a non-contributory old-age pension in addition to the Government old-age pension. According to the Manchester Guardian, from which the above details are taken, the steel employers and the Ford Motor Co. have agreed to pay whatever amount is required to make up the old-age pension to 100 dollars a month. Workers in other industries are threatening strikes for similar agreements, and “it is likely that this system of industrial pensions, to which the employees do not contribute, will spread widely through American industry.” (Manchester Guardian, 5/1/50.)

Just at this moment the Truman Government, with its eye on forthcoming elections, is proposing to extend the Government old-age pension scheme both by bringing in millions of workers now outside and by increasing the amount of the pension, which at present is small by American standards.

The cost of the scheme will of course go up but the interesting point is that the American employers have an obvious financial motive for supporting the increase in the amount of Government old age pensions because the larger the Government pension the smaller will be the amount the steel and other employers will need to bring the total up to 100 dollars a month.
“Industrialists have therefore a strong motive for supporting, or at least accepting, a liberalisation of the Federal scheme. It will put some additional weight on their shoulders, both in taxes and in levies on wages; but it will relieve them of the threat of a much greater weight" (M. Guardian 5/1/1950).
It will be seen that capitalism works in much the same way whether it be called a Labour “Welfare State” or a Truman “New Deal ”.

No Wage-freeze here

The Government's attempts to get the workers voluntarily to refrain from demanding wage increases to compensate for the rising cost of living are meeting with more resistance and there is no doubt that one of the reasons is that trade unionists note and resent the way in which lucky individuals vastly improve their own position by being appointed to highly paid jobs on the Boards of nationalised industries.

In the issue of the House of Commons Hansard for 8 December, 1949, the Prime Minister gave a complete list of all the members of the Boards and all their salaries and allowances. The full-time posts range up to £8,500 (plus allowances), which is the amount paid to Viscount Hyndley, Chairman of the Coal Board, to Lord Citrine, Chairman of British Electricity Authority, and to Sir Cyril Hurcomb, Chairman of the British Transport Commission.

Other full-time members mostly receive £3,100 or £5,000, and part-time members £500, £750 or £1,000.

Many are former trade union officials and the large difference between what they were paid for that job and what they get on the Boards sufficiently explains the competition for appointments. The Labour Correspondent of The Times (31/12/49) points out that about a quarter of the members of the T.U.C. General Council in 1945-6 are now on State Boards. He writes:— 
“In addition to Lord Citrine, then T.U.C. general secretary, the list includes seven general secretaries of important unions—Mr. Ebby Edwards, of the miners; Mr. Jack Benstead, of the railwaymen; Sir Joseph Hallsworth, of the distributive workers; Mr. E. W. Bussey, of the electrical workers; Mr. W. P. Allen, of the locomotive engineers and firemen; Mr. George Gibson, of the mental hospital workers (who later resigned), and Mr. C. N. Gallie, of the railway clerks, who has a part-time appointment."
Apart from these ex-members of the T.U.C. General Council many other T.U. officials have been appointed to National and Regional Boards.

The Times Labour Correspondent also, for comparison, summarises the position in the trade union world:—
“One striking feature is the difference in the salary levels of members of boards and of trade union officials, who have often increased their earnings by four or five times by the change. Salaries of trade union officials probably average less than £800 a year. They vary from £400 or £500 a year up to about £1,500, or in one or two cases may be as high as £2,000. There are still chief officers who earn less than £1,000, though actual salaries are often augmented by such things as a free house and expenses arrangements." (Times 31/12/49).

Wisdom from Nigeria

To protect themselves and their dependants against destitution in old age people who can afford it take out life assurance policies and do so voluntarily. The Labour Government boasts that its national insurance and old age pension schemes are a very good thing, yet so little do the workers want to be compelled to contribute that the Government has to threaten them with legal penalties if they fail to do so. The purpose behind it is to even out the poverty of the working-class by taking contributions from the young to be returned when they are old; and from the more healthy to be paid out to the less healthy; and from those who are working to those who are unemployed. Some individuals can say that they gain out of this and welcome it, but in the final analysis the capitalist class anticipate that it is cheaper for them than was the old arrangement when the sick, unemployed and aged had to be given State relief and charity.

It appears from evidence given to the official inquiry into the troubles at the Nigerian mines that the miners have seen that there is a catch in the social reform argument. The following is from a report in The Times (19/1/50):—
"Mr. L. P. Ojukwu, one of the three I.B.O. members of the colliery board . . . told the Commission that steps had been taken to induce the workers to resume normal work when information of the go-slow strike had been received. On each occasion that he spoke to the men the reply was always that they wanted money. When he explained proposals for the extension of housing schemes, hospitals, and maternity homes and for the provision of other amenities he had been met with the argument: ‘Give us more money and we will provide these things ourselves.' "
They have something there and it is a pity we do not know what kind of answer they were given. It is an aspect on which our Labour Party defenders of reformed capitalism are always silent or obscure. 
Edgar Hardcastle

SPGB General Election Meetings (1950)

Party News from the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Party News Briefs (1950)

Party News from the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hackney Branch has received short notice to vacate its present meeting place at the Co-op Hall in Mare Street, Hackney, owing to a scheme for re-building. Future branch meetings will be held at the Bethnal Green Town Hall on Friday evenings until further notice. The Mile End Baths have been booked for a debate with the Conservative Party candidate for the Mile End (Stepney) Division, on Monday, February 13th, at 8 p.m. Application has also been made for a further booking of the same hall to hold a Social and Dance sometime early in March.

The Manifesto of the S.P. of Ireland is at the printers. We are expecting copies to be available before the next issue of this paper.

The W.S.P. of U.S. has moved its National Headquarters from Boston to Detroit. The address is now World Socialist Party of the United States, 3000 Grand River, Detroit 1, Michigan, U.S.A. The previous headquarters at 27 Dock Square, Boston, Mass., will remain the centre for publication of The Western Socialist, and all matters concerning that journal should be addressed there. All matters for the National Executive Council should be sent to Room 307 at the first-mentioned address.

The Report of the 45th Executive Committee to the 46th Annual Conference (1950) is now in the hands of the branches. The Conference will be held at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, W.C.l, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 7th, 8th and 9th of April. The report is a very detailed one covering 22 foolscap pages. From it we learn that membership figures are still slowly increasing. At 31st December, 1949, we had 1,071 members. The Executive Committee, acting on a 1949 Conference resolution, agreed on a procedure for enabling members of our Central Branch (comprising those members who reside in an area where no branch of our Party is established) to vote at Annual Conferences. The procedure is being implemented. The Central Organiser reports on a series of meetings held in the provinces at Derby, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Bristol, and says: —
“ At the. moment it is difficult to assess the value of these meetings, but they must contribute to the ultimate formation of branches in the areas mentioned. In 1950 attempts will be made to hold meetings in other parts of the Provinces and it is hoped that our increased speaking strength will make this a practical possibility."
Since the increase in the size of the Socialist Standard from its war-time 12 pages to its present 16 pages, our Head Office has suffered a loss with the publication. Figures are given in the report which show that the normal monthly deficit is approximately £18 10s. 0d. and this does not take into account the expenditure connected with posting and packing of library copies, free issues, etc. Objection is raised to any increase in the price of our paper to offset this deficit. It is suggested that increased sales are the remedy. A 1949 Delegate Meeting resolution recommended that the cover design of the Socialist Standard be changed. This matter, together with proposals for a new lay-out, is receiving attention.

Detailed statistics of the year’s propaganda meetings are included in the report. The total number of outdoor meetings reported to Head Office during 1949 was 950. Other figures are as follows: Indoor meetings, 108; Debates, 14; Addresses to other organisations, 21. Total for all meetings, 1,093. Not included in the report, but for readers who are interested, we give comparative figures for the past few years. These are for meetings that have been reported to Head Office. It has been estimated that approximately 33 per cent, are not reported.

Under the heading “Education” the Executive Committee makes a statement in reference to a 1949 Conference resolution calling for the setting up of machinery “ . . . to more effectively utilise the energies of those members who have passed through the tutorial classes at Head Office.”
“The view of the Executive Committee is that it should be borne in mind that the production of speakers, writers and tutors is not simply a matter of attendance at classes. These kinds of Party work, like others, produce themselves, as always, by doing work and keeping on with it and this would happen, better or worse, if there were no classes. What the classes do provide (in addition to a general survey of Party theory) is a more systematic training and encouragement They also help to sort out Party members leanings, and provide refresher experience for older hands, and their existence as a permanent part of organisation helps to maintain the general level of Party work in various fields.”
The report then reviews the work of the Introductory Class, the Speakers' Class, the Writers’ Class and Special Classes together with the arrangements for an Advanced Economics Class.

The difficulties experienced by the Committee that was to inaugurate the Research Bureau are reported. It had been hoped to publish a regular publication composed of the material produced by the Research Committee, at least once a quarter and possibly once a month. Unfortunately plans did not materialise, not because the response by branches was lacking or that the matter was insufficient, but mainly because the members of the Committee, for reasons of employment and pressure of other work, could not continue the job. Under “Electoral Activity” we are informed of the nomination of G. McClatchie as prospective Parliamentary candidate for North Paddington by the Paddington Branch and of H. Young for East Ham South by the West Ham Branch. Following a Delegate Meeting resolution calling for a new procedure in the manner of appointing Parliamentary candidates, the Executive rescinded the two previous candidate appointments. The new nominations from the two branches concerned were approved (C. Groves being unable to stand for health reasons and W. Waters expressing a desire to withdraw).

It is not possible to deal with all the matters covered by the report. It must be sufficient to say that it is a clear statement of the condition of our organisation, containing no false encouragement, but a plain explanation of what has been done, what has been left undone, what it has not been possible to do and what it is intended to do in the future. Altogether it is good reading and gives one a feeling of satisfaction with the progress made.

The Publicity Committee reports that the Star has declined to accept an advertisement for the Socialist Standard. No reason given.
W. Waters

Election Forecast (1950)

From the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

Extract from letter in The Times (17/1/50) from Sir Geoffrey Bracken, Joint Editor of the "Economic Digest":
"Whatever the result, no spectacular change in policy is to be expected: the man in the street will find things going on very much as they have been going."

Labour Honours for Capitalists (1950)

From the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

We wait with interest a reply from any Labourite willing to offer us an explanation for the following selection [only a selection] of awards made in the recent New Year Honours List, issued under the authority, and with the blessing of a Labour Government “in power as well as in office.”

Sir Alexander Steven Biisland. Member of the Dollar Export Board. Chairman of Glasgow Industrial Finance (Development), Ltd. Chairman of the Union Bank of Scotland, Ltd. Chairman, Glasgow Stockholders Trust, Ltd. Chairman, Hillington Industrial Estates, Ltd. Director, Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Co., Ltd. Director, Colvilles, Ltd. Director, Burmah Oil Co., and other companies.

Mr. Colin Skelton Anderson. President, U.K. Chamber of Shipping. Director, Union Bank of Australia. Director, Orient Underwriting Co., Ltd. Director, Vancouver Investment Co., Ltd. Director, Not- grove Trust, Ltd.

Col. Robert Chapman. Chairman, North-Eastern Trading Estate, Ltd. Chairman, North-Eastern Investment Trust, Ltd. Director, Manchester Dry Docks Co., Ltd., and other companies.

Mr. Henry Laurence Urling Clark. Late Chairman of the Council of the Stock Exchange.

Mr. Cuthbert Barwick Clegg. Chairman, Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers' Association. Vice-Chairman, British Cotton Industry Research Association. Vice-President, British Employers’ Confederation. Director, London and Lancashire Insurance Co., Ltd. Director, Martins Bank, Ltd., and other companies.

Mr. William McGilvray. Director, National Benzole Co.

Mr. John Coldbrook Hanbury-Williams. Director, Bank of England. Chairman, Courtaulds, Ltd. Chairman, British Nylon Spinners, Ltd Chairman. British Cellophane, Ltd. Director of other companies. 

Col. Douglas Stephenson Branson. Director, Park Gate Iron and Steel Co.. Ltd. Director. British Law Insurance Co., Ltd.

Sir Hugh Trevor Dawson. Director, British Drug Houses, Ltd. Director, Decca Navigator Co., Ltd. Director, British Tyre and Rubber Co., Ltd. Director, Northern Commercial Vehicles, Ltd., and other companies.

Whatever may have been the feelings of Labourites, the Financial Times was very pleased to find that “Many ‘City names’ appear in the New Year Honours List . . . .” (2nd January, 1950).
Stan Hampson

Science under capitalism (1950)

From the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held its last session in January. After being considerably shaken early in the proceedings by Professor Einstein’s announcement of his new theory in the realm of physics, it proceeded to review the reports of new advances and discoveries made in other fields.

It heard details, for example, of the new evidence brought to light that cancer may be allied with certain type of fungi; that another substance. Compound F, has been isolated from the adrenal gland and appears to be as effective as Compound E in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis; and of the discovery of a new drug, neomycin, capable of killing the bacilli causing tuberculosis. The meeting also heard the confirmation of a simple blood test for the early diagnosis of cancer, and the invention of a device whereby people who are stone-deaf are enabled to hear through their finger-tips. Numerous reports of discoveries and inventions in other fields of science were also discussed, ranging from the discovery of a planet between Mercury and the sun one mile in diameter to the discovery of a glue-like substance in the teeth that prevents bacterial decay.

But just in case anybody has relaxed back in his chair marvelling at what science is capable of doing for the human race, even under the handicap of Capitalism, we should also state that there was much speculation during the meeting as to whether the American Government will decide, in the words of Alistair Cooke in the Manchester Guardian (3rd January, 1950),
“ To go ahead and make the monster atomic bomb that its Atomic Energy Committion now knows to be
practicable—namely, one achieved by the nuclear explosion of hydrogen. The Alsop brothers report this morning the debate on this grisly weapon—a thousand times as destructive as the Hiroshima squib—which is now disturbing the high policy men in Washington.”

“But inside the conference rooms,” he adds, “ most of the papers presented testified to the life-giving knowledge that is abundantly at hand,” following it with the cynical comment, “ if we can manage to stay alive to use it.”
It is a fitting comment on the relationship of Science and Capitalism that whilst one set of scientists is busy at work trying to prolong the life of mankind, another group is working like hell to shorten it.
Stan Hampson

What! Another Mistake? (1950)

From the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. Old.
In the October, 1936, Socialist Standard there appeared an article “The Russian ‘ Terrorist ’ Trial,” dealing with the infamous “Moscow Trials.” It contained extracts from a special number of “International Press Correspondence,” Vol. 16, No. 41, September 9th, 1936—a journal of the late, unlamented “Third International” (“Comintern,” Moscow). The article is contained in the pamphlet "Russia Since 1917 (Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1948, 1s.) from which the following is quoted (pages 59, 60):—
(Vishinsky, prosecutor, cross-examining Holzman):
" 'We drove in a taxi—Holzman continued his deposition—but I do not remember the street. Sedov took me into a flat. It was on the fourth floor. Here I gave him the report and code. ... I met him like this six to eight times in the course of four months. 'In November,' Holzman continued, 'I again 'phoned Sedov, and we met again. Sedov said to me: 'As you are getting ready to go to the U.S.S.R., 1 would advise you to go with me to Copenhagen, where my father is.' "

“Vishinsky: ‘That is?'

“ Holzman: 'That is, Trotsky?'

“Vishinsky: 'You went? ’

“Holzman: "I agreed and told Sedov that in two or three days I would go to him in Copenhagen and stay at the Hotel Bristol, where we could meet. I went straight from the station to the hotel, and met Sedov in the lounge.' (Page 1120)."
The writer of the “ S.S.” article commented:
“ Let us consider this statement.

“ The second paragraph states that Holzman went to a flat with Sedov, but Holzman could not remember the street, although he visited the flat ’six to eight times in the course of four months.' How very curious!

“This paragraph states that they met in 1932 at the Hotel Bristol in Copenhagen. Unfortunately for this statement the diplomatic correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (September 17th, 1936) points out that the Hotel Bristol was pulled down in 1917! Possibly one of those who took part in preparing the case had been in Copenhagen during the war but did not know the dirty trick someone had played in 1917! ”
There is much more in the article quoted from, which throws grave doubts, to say the least, on the reliability of these confessions and the evidence on which conviction is obtained.

2. New.
“. . . Two and a half years ago, ... the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party passed a resolution of congratulation on the occasion of ... (the) birthday ... of the party’s general secretary.” (Vernon Bartlett, News Chronicle, December 19th, 1949.) 
He continues: —
“ One sentence in it is worthy of repetition: ‘ Your deep Marxist-Leninist knowledge, your great culture, your well-known industry and steadfastness, your modesty, your iron will, your unquestionable loyalty towards the Party and [! ] the working class, are those Bolshevist characteristics which beautify your whole life.’ ” 
This was for Traicho Kostov!

Later, when his Bulgarian Nationalism appeared to be superceding his Russian Nationalism, “Kostovism” became “Titoism on Bulgarian soil,” according to a report from Sofia. (“Titoism” appears to mean Yugoslav Nationalism superceding Russian Nationalism “ on Yugoslav soil.")

The following is quoted from the Evening News December 13th, 1949. If a correct report of proceedings it would indicate an incident similar to the “Hotel Bristol 'mistake'. "
"The Foreign Office said to-day that Mr. 'Billy' Watson, whose name has been mentioned in the treason trial in Sofia of Traicho Kostov and others, was a business man who lived in Sofia. It was alleged that Mr. Watson had contacted Kostav in February, 1948; in fact, he died in January of that year . . ."
Perhaps this is a case where we should add : "Psychic News: please copy ”!
Alec Hart

SPGB Meetings (1950)

Party News from the February 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard