3 SEPTEMBER 1898, Page 8

THE TRADE-UNION CONGRESS. T HE Trade-Union Congress at Bristol is noted

f■ certain important features. In the first place, tl number of workmen represented is said to have bee unusually large ; next, an international character wi given to the gathering by the presence of delegates fro the United States, New Zealand, and Japan • in the thir place, the President of the Congress, Mr. O'Grad. delivered a moderate but still a distinctly Sociali address ; and in the fourth place, the proposal which been put forward for a great Federation of Labour was the mind of every delegate. It was held that the stron Socialist resolution in favour of the public ownership o all " means of production" which was passed at th Norwich Congress four years ago had unfavourabl affected the Trade-Union movement ; and the " self denying ordinance" by which Mr. Heir Hardie am others who supported that resolution were in futun excluded from the Congress was expected by some to be likely to eliminate Collectivism in the future This has certainly not been its result, so we may tab it that in the ranks of skilled industry Collectivisn is a force to be reckoned with, though how far it has permeated the minds of workmen, and to how greal a degree it is intelligently held, is a very different matter English working men, we are glad to say, are apt to hold Collectivist doctrines much as the members of certair religious sects hold views about the immediate coming of the end of the world. They believe in these views sincerely and yet they never dream of acting on them, but cheer. fully conduct their lives on an entirely contradictor3 basis. The President of the Congress is, however, clearlt a Collectivist, and he set forth his creed in a speech marked by some ability. Mr. O'Grady does not seem to belom to the revolutionary variety of Socialist, whose day, t fact., is declining in most countries. He is rather of thi evolutionary variety, as shown by his remarks on 6, Workmen's Compensation Act, which he thankfull; accepted as an instalment of a wide scheme of industria legislation. Mr. O'Grady holds that the Act must b extended in its operations ; that it must and ought t damage the position of the friendly societies, which wer " usurping the functions of the State; " that if it wa right to insure the workman against accident, it was ale right to insure him against old age ; and, finall3 that no contracting out should be permitted. I short, Mr. O'Grady conceives that we are alread on a sort of inclined plane which may lead (an which he thinks ought to lead) to a complete Stat organisation of labour. He does not appear to note very broad distinction between the position that the Stat should compel certain humane conditions of labour to observed, and the position that the State itself should 1 the employer of labour, that it should carry on maul facturing and trading operations, that it should buy an sell, and should distribute the means of livelihood to al Yet the distinction is vital, and all our existing lakr legislation has kept strictly to one side of the line of d. marcation. Not only is the historical process in hurtle affairs very different from the logical process, but even i the domain of logic we are not committed to Governmei coal-mining merely because Government has determine certain conditions under which coal-mining shall 1 carried on.

The President of the Congress is evidently of that a vanced body of labour agitators who hold that Trad Unionism, as we have known it, is a spent force. Recent an elaborate proposal has been put torward for discussie as to the superseding of the Trade-Union Congress by gigantic Federation of Labour, in which all trade skilled and unskilled, shall be represented on the bas of numbers, and which shall also develop a fighting fund and a political programme of a quasi-Socialist type. The idea seems to have penetrated the minds of many of the active men that, as things are, capital is winning all along the line, and that, consequently, some new method must be tried by which the working classes may be better equipped for the double end they appear to have in view, —legislation affecting the hours of labour and a minimum wage. The conflict of last year in the engineering trade, and its unfortunate issue for the men, has certainly played into the hands of those who may be called the legalists, as contrasted with the voluntaryists, and Mr.

O'Grady's address was intended to burn the moral in on the minds of his hearers and the million and a quarter of workmen they represented. You have tried,' say the legalists, ' to secure an eight-hour day by combina- tion, and you have failed, as you will fail every time ; you must now try combined political pressure, so as to secure by law what is denied you by private arrangement.' Mr. O'Grady argued this matter out with much energy. He asked his audience to observe " the trend of modern industry," which was "distinctly towards Collectivism," huge combinations of capital succeeding smaller individual concerns.—An assumption which is far too sweeping and certainly not true of one great industry, i.e., Agriculture, where small farms usually pay better than great ones.—Labour has not yet, was his conclusion, been organised on methods efficient enough ; Trade-Unionism did its own work in its own day, but now a vaster and better-led combination is needful if working men are not to be ground to powder by the action of the new Trusts, rings, and syndicates. " Trade-Union action alone would never bring about industrial emancipation," therefore apparently it must be succeeded, or at least supplemented, by direct political action by the working classes as a united whole. Mr. O'Grady went on to indicate the kind of measures upon which such united working-class effort should be concentrated. They included the three methods of labour legislation, taxation, and " nationalisation." The legal eight- hour day came first, then followed the taxation of land values, mineral rents, and royalties, and finally, the " nationalisation of railways,"—it being added, however, that these were but preliminary steps to a complete in- dustrial Collectivism, to be brought about by pacific means through the united political action of the working classes. Mr. O'Grady quoted from a published estimate that a subscription of ld. a week from Trade-Unionists would amount to £224,000 a year, which might be utilised as a political fighting fund, with which sum "they could, if need be, threaten every seat in the Kingdom." In short, Mr. O'Grady hints at a political movement here analogous to the Socialist movement in Germany, but based upon a prior organisation of industry.

We have, of course, no space in which to discuss this very large and vague programme—it is needless to say that we think it mischievous to the true interests of labour where it is not merely visionary—nor do we know how far it met with the approbation of the Congress. But there are two points we should like to urge for special consideration. In the first instance, Mr. O'Grady does not realise that the Trade-Union movement has but grasped the fringe of our industrial population. The great mass are outside, and the experience during the last ten years of the so-called " new Unionism " lends little warrant to the belief that the swarming unskilled masses (we use thp word " unskilled " for lack of a better,—really all work except that of turning a handle is skilled in some degree) of,London, where Trade-Unionism is as a drop in the ocean, will go into and remain inside a Labour Federation, which wOuld be merely an extension of Trade-Unionism. The Arterican Federation of Labour, though headed by able me `t, has only attracted a million and a half out of the tweve millions of workmen of the United States. We see to evidence that essentially different results would be likely to obtain here. Our second point is this : Is the movement towards aggregation of private capital in every industry inevitable ? A more important, nay vital, matter so far as social organisation in the future is concerted, cannot be imagined. If the Trust is the pre-destined form into which all business will be absorb4, it is evident that both the workman and the con s% mer must seek protection against a power of overwhel ing might and indefinite possible dangers. But there are various forces which make for dispersion as there are forces making for concentration. There is in the very constitution of society, apparently, a dispersive power which breaks up dangerous combinations if we only give it liberty to act. So far as Free-trade is adopted, while we do not pretend that it will solve all our indus- trial problems, it will make against capitalist aggregations by giving play to the competitive forces inherent in human society. We should also like to suggest that the substitution of electricity for steam as a motor-power would tend to the reconstruction of individual ownership and control by its dispersion of manufacturing forces which were under the regime of steam industry neces- sarily concentrated. It would, therefore, seem to be most unwise on the part of the working classes to rush to the conclusion that Collectivism is "inevitable." In truth, there is nothing so little inevitable as State Socialism. Nc one has a right to say that, and very much of the activity of the immediate future will be taken up with the problem of separating absolute monopolies from com- petitive forms of industry. The former will be doubt- less subjected, as railway industry is, to more or less State control, rising in certain extremer forms of monopoly to State or Municipal ownership. The latter will, we hope, while being carried on under new conditions, be given the utmost liberty which is compatible with the existence of organised society. Meanwhile, we should like to see the energies of the Trade-Union movement, or of any possible Federation of Labour that may supplement its action, devoted to securing a minimum wage or a level of decent living for the millions who are, and who are likely to remain, outside the limits of organised labour. No doubt no absolute propositions can be laid down as to what ought to be the minimum wage, but in spite of that a living wage is not only morally, but economically, a sound and just aspiration. It is bad economy to starve our plough horses. Are we to have a less generous maxim for our labourers ? Competition, and not Collectivism, we do not doubt, will continue to be the basis of society, for com- petition is, we believe, a necessary stimulant to human effort. But to say this is not to deny that competition can and ought to be moralised like other human forces.