23 SEPTEMBER 1960, Page 8

In Suspense

ever endured. The three weeks which elapse between the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party Conference usually have no special significance. But this year, after the passage of Mr. Cousins's motion on defence alongside the official policy declaration at Douglas, a great delirium has arisen, compounded in equal parts of semantics, block-vote mathematics and fortune-telling. Beneath the gloomy excitement there exists in the hearts of some trade-union leaders a cold fury about the position in which they find themselves—devoting a disproportionate amount of their time and energy to, wrangling over the policies of a future Labour Government when their own immediate industrial problems need far more attention than is being given to theta. It is scarcely surprising that one hears from time to time murmurings that 'something will have to be done about it.' But the something will not be a weakening of the links between the industrial and political wings of the Labour Movement.

Can a mother's tender care Cease toward the child she bare?

Mr. Gaitskell or Mr. Michael Foot—au choix —may be hard to love, but collectively they are somebody's children : the TUC's in fact. They may often require the parent's chastening word, but they and their breed are the fruit of the youthful trade-union movement and they will not be lightly cast off.

A deep disillusionment, however, has de- veloped about the priorities of trade-union ac- tivity. The moral, if not absolute, defeat of the General Council's defence policy at Douglas has a lot to do with this, for many who support collective defence see that defeat as a disaster for Labour. It may be the result of a mixture of sour grapes and political realism, but it represents a widespread mood which is deepened by a natural feeling that with a Labour Govern- ment so far away the unions could be better occupied. The two principal political debates at Douglas were on defence and public ownership. The latter was less a debate than a series of testimonies, which really got the TUC nowhere, except that it set the General Council what could conceivably be the useful task of taking a serious look at the practical uses to which public ownership can be put in modern industry.

What made both debates so unrealistic was the inescapable impression that they were only dress rehearsals for Scarborough next month, and that the Congress was being used as a convenient but insignificant stage in the political struggle within the Labour Party. We have now sat through practically the same defence debate for three or four years at the TUC and Labour Party Conferences; it is hard to believe that a speaker ever brings a shining new light to one of his audience. And of the two, the TUC debate is always less useful.

Nor can it be argued seriously that what the TUC has to contribute on the Bomb is an accurate representation of the great beating heart of British working people. There is no evidence at all to suggest that trade-union leaders know clearly what their ordinary or even their in- dustrially active members think about such

things. I have become chary of jumping to con- clusions ever since one of Mr. Cousins's most militant bus-strike leaders gave me his verdict on the Suez affair: we should, he said, have blown Nasser out of the water. As for Cyprus, he would have had H-bomb patrols constantly over Athens—the gunboat up to date.

What makes the discontented trade unionists take such a gloomy view of this concentration on failing to solve the world's problems is the knowledge that things are going badly nearer home. The TUC unions still represent only one employee in four, and membership last year actually slid back slightly. The non-manual unions are not satisfied that they are making the same kind of reputation among black-coated and white-coated workers that the manual unions made in their fields half a century and more ago.

Help and leadership are needed in a number

of ways. For an organisation which pays lip-5e1" vice to planning, the TUC allows an enormous number of vested interests, large and small, to Stand in the way of efficient organisation Per' haps Sir Tim O'Brien was only being realistic when he complained, during a debate at Douglas on wasteful competition between unions in re' cruiting, that the General Council could not be expected to pull rabbits out of hats. Its powers are limited and the constituent unions show no great eagerness to extend them. But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that If the unions are to be led out of the private possi' rnism and public disaffection into which they wandered over the past year, stronger leader' ship, influence and perhaps power at the Centre will be needed—to deal not only with the public image and recruiting, but eventually to give some limited direction to wage-bargaining as well.