4 AUGUST 1961, Page 7


The Story of the ETU Case

N February, 1960, the two National Scrutineers of the Electrical Trades Union signed la document declaring that, in the election for General Secretary, Frank flaxen, an avowed Communist, had obtained 19,611 votes against the 18,577 votes of his opponent, Mr. John Byrne, a strong anti-Communist trade unionist.

On June 28, 1961, in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr. Justice Winn in a 35,000-word judgment, after a trial lasting thirty-eight days, declared Mr. Byrne the law- fully elected General Secretary. The judge held that Frank Haxell, together with four other card-holders of the Communist Party, all members of the ETU, had 'conspired together to prevent by fraudulent and unlawful devices the election of the Waintiff 11) rne, in place of the defendant, HazeII.' The two National Scrutineers were dismissed from any charge early in the case, the plaintiffs disclaiming that there was any suspicion upon them.

Since the National Scrutineers were absolved from any kind of blame for the declaration that Haxell had won the election of December, 1959, how was it that a judge of the English Queen's Bench Division concluded that the balloting had been 'rigged'? The story begins with the con- stitution of this 'great and important' Union and the way in which, according to the Rules of 1958, it conducted its elections. There are about 240,000 members of the Union. They are organ- ised in branches; some are local town branches, some consist of the electrical workers in a particular plant. Each branch elects its own officers, of whom those relevant to this matter are the Chairman, the Secretary and the two Scrutineers. Branches within a geographical area elect members to serve on an Area Council. Each Area in turn elects one member to serve un the Executive Council. The whole member- ship votes to elect National Officers such as the General President, General Secretary and Assistant General Secretary. Of the total number Of members about 2,000, it is generally agreed, are Communists-1 per cent, of the total.

Communists and their sympathisers have in fact been elected to eight out of the eleven seats On the Executive Council, and to almost all the senior National Offices. How the Communist 1 per cent. were able to elect to office a man Whose political views were rejected by the 99 per cent. was brought out in the evidence in the tiYrne/Haxell case.

It is important at the outset to make one im- Portant point. Frank Haxell, whatever may be said about either his politics or his methods, is admittedly an experienced trade union official. Under his General Secretaryship the Union's be and resources have grown. There may De different opinions about how wisely that in- fluence has been wielded, or those resources spent, but many members of the Union, when voting for a General Secretary, must have taken Iank Haxell's experience and ability into con- sideration. This much said, it emerges clearly L'Il.at there were not enough such members to give "0 a majority. On an average, about 20 per cent. of the Union membership vote in an election for General Secretary. To win, therefore, a candidate needs something like 20,000 votes. A Communist candi- date can count on those of his 2,000-odd fellow Communists; he can also count on a certain number of members who are sympathetic to Communism, a number who vote quite regard- less of politics for the most experienced candi- date, and a greater number quite unversed in politics who have the traditional habit of trade unionists—particularly marked in Britain—to vote for the sitting member in preference to a newcomer. When all these groups of voters had been added together by Frank Haxell and the four men involved with him, Haxell realised, the Judge concluded, that he had not a sufficient number of supporters to be assured of a majority, Yet, the events which followed produced an actual majority of 'allowed' votes for him, a majority of 1,034 votes.

The way in which members of the ETU vote for National Officers is similar to that in many other trade unions. Branch Secretaries indent to the Head Office for the number of ballot forms required. Each member who is not more than five weeks in arrears with his subscription is entitled to vote; the Branch Secretary indents for all those eligible, whether or not they in fact vote; often he indents for his total membership not knowing who may or may not at that moment be eligible. At Head Office a list is com- piled of the requirements of all the branches, and this list is sent to the printers. In this election Mr. J. Humphrey compiled the preliminary list. He is a Communist, appointed (not elected) as 'office manager' by the Executive Council.