J. T. Murphy

End the Confusion

Source: The Communist, May 27, 1922
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
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.

AGAIN the negotiations have opened. Again the negotiating forces have split. The A.E.U. have rejected the new memorandum. The 47 proceeds to negotiate.

The capitalist press’ reports that the 47 unions are tired of the die-hard policy of the A.E.U. It is high time we got to the bottom of these differences.

A week ago we printed extracts from the secret circular of the employers concerning the present struggle. [The Worker gave it in full—ED.] It is the charter of the Employers’ Federation for the immediate future. If there are any who think that the employers have modified their position, they need only compare the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, with the Memorandum, which has split the union forces once again. If they can discover any modification they are welcome to the joy of it.

The circular is the completion of all the agreements since the lockout of ’99, with all the most vicious points in favour of the employer clinched and underlined for acceptance. Wage conditions have been held over. But don’t think that they have been dropped. Remember that the leaders of the 47 have already accepted in the teeth of rejection by the rank and file, 16s. 6d. reduction.

Do the engineers expect to escape? We are confident they will not.

Ten weeks of lock-out and ten weeks of confusion. Ten weeks and we have still to clear the way for action.

Once before in the dispute a leading member of the A.E.U. Executive declared that the Communist Party was the only body to which they could turn confident they would not be let down.

If the engineering and shipbuilding worker had followed the lead we gave on March 11th, there would be a much better fighting front than there is to-day. The A.E.U. Executive Committee was weak when it should have been strong. It is to-day attempting to be strong in negotiations without leading strongly among the masses.

We believe the splitting of the union in terms of the employers’ organisation, i.e., in terms of the federated and non-federated firms, is a source of weakness and not of strength. It produces demoralisation in those who are already locked-out, and leaves the unions from whom we want assistance, in the position to retort that we are not pulling our full weight. This applies as much to the 47 unions as to the A.E.U.

They are, by helping the employers to eke out the work they require urgently, helping them to wage the struggle against us with a minimum of inconvenience.

To keep the non-federated workers going on the grounds of finance, is weak. No fight has ever been won on Trades Union funds. Even Mr. Brownlie spoke to that effect before the Inquiry. The leaders of the 47 Unions show no sign of waging a fight. Nor is there unanimity in their ranks, as will be seen when the final terms are produced.

The issue before the industry is clear, if only the union leaders would be frank about the situation.

It is the old old battle between the skilled and the unskilled workers.

Sir Allan Smith leads, the union leaders are tricked into managing the details. Are the rank and file going to permit either Sir Allan Smith or the union leaders to shatter the position of the workers in the industry by dividing them against each other?

That’s the issue.

It is clear in the memorandum and we must make it clear in the negotiations. The A.E.U. Executive declare that the memorandum is based on the same principles as the first memorandum, which the rank and file of all the unions have rejected. That is true. The Court of Inquiry (brought into being on the demand of the unions on the “bold” initiative of the vote-catching General Council), proved to be a weapon of the employers. The report grants the principle of employers, control complete on overtime—with “conversations” on other points. The employers have banged this home in the new memorandum, which is the old one with its face washed.

In spite of this, the 47 go ahead. Up to Monday, May 22nd, they appear prepared to recommend a talking arrangement without the right to prevent the introduction of changes.

Why this difference between the unions?

Simply because if the skilled workers lose the power to prevent changes, their standards are destroyed. The leaders of the unskilled unions (aiming at immediate gains at the expense of the skilled workers) seek to cover this by demanding “conversations.” In the process they are breaking the solidarity of the movement. They will, if we do not stop them, in so doing break down every standard of unskilled and skilled workers alike.

It is utter folly to think it is possible to stop the development of machinery, which simplifies the labour process.

But, it is a greater, and a more damnable folly for union leaders to play the bosses’ game of dividing the labour forces for the boss to conquer.

I cannot too strongly emphasise that that is the meanings of the new memorandum and this is the game that is being played by the union leaders.

The whole memorandum is an elaboration of the process of creating machinery through which the union can talk whilst the employers act.

Take the overtime clause—recommended alike by McKenzie and Smith. The employers have the right to decide. The unions have in most cases the right to talk; but the employers decide.

Not only are the unions without a deciding voice, but the apparatus already endorsed by the unions for conversations with the employers, maintains the old, old, division among the unions.

We opposed this agreement when it was invented, we oppose it now, during the war period we encouraged every shop stewards’ committee, which came along because its activity was revolutionary. At the same time we pleaded and worked for the unity of the skilled and unskilled in a single organisation. To encourage sectional committees now, to make them part of our organisational machinery is to intensify the difficulties of unity a thousandfold.

So long as there is this discord among the leaders, we ought to prevent them going into negotiation with the enemy. Any army that goes into battle with its generals squabbling, is doomed to defeat. In scores of districts to-day the rank and file are united under common leadership. Let us get together and hammer out a common policy. The basic principles must be:—

(1) The unions shall have the right to prior consultation on all proposed changes and the power of veto until agreement as to terms and conditions have been arrived at.

(2) There shall be no overtime on production work so long as members of the unions are unemployed.

(3) The workers in the factories shall be united on a single organisation under the control of the district joint boards which shall include all the unions and all the unions shall act together and control the labour of the industry.

On the first two items there ought to be no disagreement whatever. The third proposal, we are convinced is the only way in which we shall get a revival of factory organisation. There can be no factory organisation without agreement amongst ourselves. The unions must act together. Consolidate the lock-out unity by making engineering joint boards, which shall include all the unions in the industry. Second, drop this idea of each union having its own stewards. Let the stewards be elected by shop meetings of all the unionists in the shop. These constitute the shop committee, receiving endorsement from the joint Engineering Board. Then let the works or Factory Committees be elected from a full meeting of the shop stewards in the factory, and the factory committee also receive the endorsement of the Joint Engineering Board. Thus consolidate the position in the factories and lay the foundation of the larger amalgamation which shall make one union for the industry.

These proposals were practiced successfully during the war in Coventry. They can be practiced again to-day if the unions agree. Then we progressed from the factories to the unions. Now unity among the unions must come first to get the organisation in the factory. This is no question of unofficialism versus officialism. It is a straightforward plan for the unions.

Adapt the principles and the plan we have indicated, both with regard to the memorandum and the organisations, and there is some hope for the engineering workers.

Refuse, and there is none.