Trade Union Travesties
BY HARRY DOUGLASS• WE live today in an age of Governmental appeals: appeals for productivity, appeals for restraint, appeals to have regard for the evils of inflation, appeals to men not to strike. Whether this habit of appealing to the noble side of our nature is a legacy of wartime experience is a matter for conjecture. During the war appeals could be made successfully to all sections of the community as the goal was clear, definite, simple and much to be desired —the winning of the war. But when the war came to an end the atmosphere changed and the different pressures in a democratic country naturally emerged, e.g., investors pressed for high profits, workers pressed for high wages. The various employers' organisations went into action, some encouraging high prices, even creating monopolies. The trade unions, with their vastly increased power, negotiated wages and conditions on the basis of the prosperous conditions of which the Government boasted.
It will be remembered that after 1945 the Conservative Opposition was ruthless. The primary objective was the unseat- ing of the Socialists. 'The duty of the Opposition is to oppose' was quoted by no less a person than Churchill himself. With such an authoritative voice to support them, small wonder that the 1949 devaluation was hailed by the Opposition as a political victory rather than economic tragedy. There will, therefore, be no political restraint, nor can it be expected, in attacking the present Government, who now find themselves pushed towards the same brink of devaluation.
How far then can we expeCt an industrial response to political appeals for economic sanity? The answer is simple : to the extent that employers' organisations and trade unions believe it is to their respective interests. It is not an appeal that is necessary but argument; and, let us be frank, argument directed to self-interest. After all, men who pay their trade union con- tributions expect trade unionism to pay off; they expect better standards of living and better conditions of work to be nego- tiated by their unions. That is the reason for the existence of trade unions. There can be no doubt that wages have increased much more quickly over recent years than ever before. If increased wages mean that trade unionism has paid off, trade unionists have, at least, had a measure of satisfaction. There is, however, a growing cynicism in the mind of the wage-earner as increasing prices not only chase wage increases but often anticipate them. The wage-earner also has savings and is concerned that their value is decreasing.
Many wage-earners approaching retiring age are, indeed, distressed at the threat to their standard of life in retirement. Here is self-interest for the trade unions—and it is arguments, not appeals, which compel attention. TUC visits to the Chancellor inevitably bring to the surface the conflict in political policies; these have been made clear in TUC statements, anyway. But the issues are too serious to allow the discussions to be confined to recrimination. The TUC delegate with experience of the inter-war years is keenly conscious of the shadow of unemployment and insecurity which trails in the wake of inflation, wherever the fault lies. Political jubilation at the discomfiture of the Government would turn a bit sour in the dole queue. No trade union leader can ignore the threat to his members' security inherent in the present economic situation. An irresponsible attitude would react adversely on the whole of the Labour movement. An attitude of responsibility is essential if Labour is to persuade people that it would be good for the country if in power. With the balance of payments against us last year to the extent of £103 million, our consumption must be cut if inflation is to be controlled. No political party disputes this; the quarrel is not whether consumption should be cut, but how. It is a melancholy thought that in one year British exports rose by 6 per cent., West German by 17 per cent. and Japanese, by 24 per cent. At the same time our imports rose by 111 per cent. These are matters which warrant continual attention by the TUC and it is a good thing that the door of the Treasury is open to them.
What has happened to bring us to this sorry state of affairs? Why are we falling behind in the competitive markets of the world? There are many reasons but not the least are lost pro- duction and loss of customers' confidence because of strikes. Delivery dates are as important to our customers as prices, sometimes more important. It is bad enough when delivery dates are far ahead; it is much worse when they are further delayed by strikes, particularly when these are unofficial. There must be sanctity of agreements between employers and trade unions, and unions must accept responsibility for their obser- vance. The first step towards productivity is a smooth flow of well-organised production, which is the only sound road to a well-filled pay packet. Unofficial strikes, i.e., strikes against the advice of a union's Executive Council, are not only foolish but reprehensible as they both stem the flow of production and upset the plans of the union. The day is long past when trade union officials could be short-term opportunists. If unofficial strikes against the employers are reprehensible, what can be said about inter-union strikes? Are trade unionists becoming so reckless that they must use 'Teddy-boy' tactics on each other? The brotherhood of man has a hollow sound in such an atmosphere. The movement which was built by sincere men on a religious and ethical foundation is being made to look not only foolish but vicious, and if persisted in will discredit trade unionism and ultimately destroy it. Then there is the striker who takes up outside work at his trade whilst the less fortunate, often those not directly involved, either have reduced pay packets or become unemployed as
• General Secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.
a consequence of the strike. Such callous disregard of fellow trade unionists is at complete variance with the elementary principles of trade unionism.
If unofficial strikes are closely examined, Communist organisation will be found at the root of most of them. We have been much too prone to underrate the success of the Communists and their friends in Britain in holding up pro- duction. It is the Communist axiom that capitalist economies must fail and they are determined not only to prove this but to bring it about. One of the reasons Russia does not have balance of payments problems is that purchase taxes are put On to food and clothing and the essentials of life; such luxuries as television and cars are untaxed. The bulk of wages, therefore, go on food, clothes and such essentials. The elite can buy their luxuries cheaply while taxation skims the roubles from the pay packets of the more lowly. Strikes and restrictive practices are illegal; the norm is set by the Stakhanovite. Yet it is the disciples of such a system who persuade British trade unionists to indulge in strikes on the most trivial pretext.
Malenkov has much to stimulate his laughter when studying 13riti sh production problems.