THE strike settlement resembled nothing so much as the ending of a musical comedy. All the apparently irrecon- cilable misunderstandings inexplicably vanished; the happy couple were found smiling bravely at each other through their tears; and that dear old uncle-figure, Lord Justice Morris, prepared to donate the dowry. We, the audience, applauded happily. Only when we found ourselves outside, in the dank June night, did we recollect that the dowry will come out of our pockets without as much as a by-your-leave; and we began to wonder how we could have applauded so foolish a perform- ance.
Foolish it has been—particularly the last scene, with strikers and employers, Ministers and unions, Government and TUC, all performing a kind of lunatic lancers'—'setting to partners' between Smith Square, Whitehall, and Marylebone. It Idoked very energetic and worthy, but nothing came of it all except a different and (on the face of it) unwise form of arbitration. One incident in particular typifies the antics of the last few days. The Transport Commission had been instructed not to negotiate under duress : the strike must end first. But the footplate men's union executive had been instructed not to call the -strike off before a settlement was reached. So an ingenious backstage compromise was reached whereby the BTC gave way, tem- porarily, in order that the union might call off the strike `voluntarily'—and boast of its statesmanship and sense of responsibility. Significantly, it was the wretched BTC which had to lose face—not the union.
What emerges from all this play-acting, as we said last week, is that labour disputes on the railways need to be put on a different, civil service footing. Peccavimus: the civil servant does not pledge himself formally to renounce strike action. But in effect the pledge exists. The isolated cases Mr. Mayne mentions in our correspondence columns are on the periphery, where it is sometimes a matter of opinion whether 'civil servants' is the correct term. The civil servant, proper, knows that he is not as other men are; that he does not withdraw his labour as a bargaining counter, because the danger to the community out- weighs the advantage to his group of retaining the right to strike. The railwaymen should accept the same limitation.
But the correspondent who chides us for demanding new legislation is mistaken. We were advocating a new climate of opinion, leading to a change not of laws but of custom—to the ending of irresponsible and dangerous strikes. As our corres- pondent says and as we have been urging, the first need is for better labour relations. Workers in the nationalised industries appear to have reached the stage when even the most foolish cif strikes satisfies a psychological need. This strike was the product not of specific grievances, but of a sense of frustration and resentment. The removal of such feelings is one of the new Government's most urgent tasks.