Thomas Bell

Rally to the Unions

Source: The Communist, October 7, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE figures published this week by the Govemment’s Labour Gazette of the membership in Trade Unions is being given the widest publicity by the Capitalist Press.

One is prompted immediately to ask oneself, why this special interest in such matters by a press noted for its hostility to all things Labour? Why should they be concerned with such matters, which are purely the domestic affairs of the Labour Movement? What is their motive for giving such publicity and writing leading or special articles on the question? The answer is obvious to anyone with the slightest insight into the class relations in modern society. Newspapers are not the “disinterested organs of public opinion” that most working people believe they are. Newspapers are invariably the organs of some special business interest, subsidised by the particular business concerned to voice their special interest.

We used to hear much about the subsidised Labour or Socialist Press. This is the favourite argument of the “stop thief” frame of mind. Subsidised heavily themselves, they cannot imagine a rival paper, especially a Labour paper, without financial aid from outside sources. It is only when a crisis is reached in a newspaper that we learn about the controlling interests.

How many people knew, for example, before Lord Northcliffe died, that the Ellerman Shipping interests had a big hold in the great Northcliffe Press. Who knows about the interests behind the Glasgow Herald? Running newspapers is not a separate industry. It is a composite part of great capitalist interests, as, e.g., the Manchester Guardian and cotton. When, therefore, these “disinterested organs of public opinion” write up on the decline in trade union membership or other matters concerning Labour, you can take it for granted there is a fly in the ointment. The fly in this case is the conspiracy to discredit and weaken Labour organisation and leave the working class an open prey to the greedy grasping Gradgrinds of modern industry.

A well organised and strong trade union movement is always a source of irritation to the employing class. It would prevent the Gradgrinds from walking over the bodies of the workers who are compelled because of their poverty to sell themselves to an employing class, like slaves in the market place, in order to live.

A declining membership and a consequently broken Labour front is the capitalist’s opportunity. But this opportunity is more than a matter of mere wages and conditions. Of paramount importance to the working class is the general morale in Labour’s ranks. Everything that tends to weaken the self-reliance and confidence of the working class in its own strength is an advantage to the employers. We are not merely concerned here with the increase in the economic strength of the capitalist, but his political power. And just so long as the workers are without industrial organisation or a weak trade union organisation, the political power of the employing class is assured. That is why the “kept” press is rubbing its hands with glee this week at the exodus from the Labour unions. It sees in the broken Labour front the perpetuation of its power. But this very glee of the Capitalist Press should teach us the lesson. We must do everything in our power to stop the exodus from the unions. To the slogan of “Back to the Union” we must do all in our power to restore faith in the union. Without faith in the union the workers will be at the mercy of the employing class. Nothing is to be gained by brooding over the phenomenal decline in trade union membership. It was inevitable after the artificial and inflated war period there would come a reaction. The exceptional industrial slump with its unemployment and starvation; the pawning of furniture and clothes and every article of value to keep the profiteering sharks away from the door, was bound to affect the Labour organisations. The marvel is that many of the unions who have been the hardest hit by the slump have been able to keep intact. This shows that the spirit of the working class as a whole is all right. There is therefore no need to encourage the pessimistic outlook manifested in some directions which sees in the floating mass of non unionist unemployed the potentialities for new Labour organisations.

The cry of “To hell with the union” is the best propaganda for capitalism.

The National Unemployed Workers’ Committee is the custodian of the interests of the unemployed. In conjunction with the workers employed and in joint action with the trade union branches, the trades councils, etc., the broken labour front must be re-formed.

Faith in the union must be restored as a preliminary to the coming working class offensive against the employers who have ruthlessly exploited their opportunity occasioned by the war’s aftermath—the industrial slump. Joint action by the organised unemployed and the Labour unions is essential if the workers are to arrest the attempts of the employers to make our class “eat herbs.” The interests of the man outside the Labour Bureau is identical with the man at the machine or in the shipyard.

Both have a common interest in joining hands towards the single objective of wresting the political power from the gang of merchants and manufacturers and shipping lords who rule the destinies of this country. All in then, hand in hand with the Labour unions.