4 AUGUST 1961, Page 9

The Impact of Hungary The decision by the militant and

highly active Communist members of the ETU to maintain, come what may, their hold upon this Union's affairs stems from October, 1956. The events of that period demonstrated how personal decisions, When divorced from morality, cast their shadows forward into history. One of the two principal events of that time was the Soviet decision to suppress the uprising of the Hungarian intel- lectuals and workers by force of 'Stalin' tanks. This action was so horrifying that, among the Many who vowed they would never forget Buda- Pest, were several leading members of the Com- munist Party, not only in Britain, but in every country of the world including the Soviet Union. 111 Britain, a number of long-service members left the Communist Party; among these were two hoPortant figures in the ETU. One was Frank Chapple, and the other was Leslie Cannon.

Before the Hungarian uprising Frank Chapple had been a member of the Union's Executive Council. Cannon was the Union's Education Officer. What happened to these two men when they exercised their democratic right to change their political allegiance is significant.

Until the Hungarian uprising, Leslie Cannon had been the head of the Union's Education College. Shortly after he had left the Communist Party, the Executive Council closed down that College on the alleged ground that the Union (which had £1 million reserves) was short of funds. Not long afterwards the college was re- opened with a different Education Officer in charge.

During the period following the October uprising Frank Haxell was General Secretary; his assistant General Secretary was also a Com- munist, Robert MacLennan by name. The latter's term of office was due to come to an end -in the autumn of 1960. In June, 1960, as the Union's rules provide, an election was held for the about- to-be-vacant office of General Secretary. Robert MacLennan was one candidate; the other, Frank Chapple. In July, 1960, Frank Chapple applied to the Chancery Division of the High Court for an injunction restraining the Union from count- ing the votes on the alleged ground that false ballot papers bad been cast for his opponent. The Court granted the injunction, and the scrutiny was suspended until after the Byrne case had been heard. The reaction of the Executive Coun- cil was curious and significant. It appointed Robert MacLennan, the man charged with fraud, to continue in office after the end of his elected term as 'Acting Assistant General Secretary'; and that office he still holds today, although Mr. Justice Winn had found him guilty of fraud.

In December, 1959, an election was held for the office of General Secretary. The candidates were the retiring General Secretary, Frank Haxell, and a District Officer, John Byrne. As has been stated, the National Scrutineers declared that Frank Haxell had been duly elected, and he continued in office. John Byrne, together with Frank Chapple, then brought proceedings in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court for an injunction restraining Frank Haxell from con- tinuing to act as General Secretary, and for a declaration that John' Byrne had been validly elected by a majority of votes. In these proceed- ings, although not strictly a party, Les Cannon played an important role behind the scenes. In- deed, if it had not been for the information possessed by Frank Chapple and Les Cannon of the methods of the Communist Party to retain control over the policy and machinery of the ETU, the action could never have been brought to the conclusion of Mr. Justice Winn, that the ballot for General Secretary had been 'rigged.'

The part which Les Cannon and Frank Chapple have played in exposing the tactics of the Communist Party has additional significance. On the one hand, it explains the excessive bitter- ness with which the Communist-dominated Executive Council have resisted the Court case. On the other, it explains the significance of the decision of the Executive Council last week to abandon its objection to John Byrne employing these two men as his personal assistants at the Union Headquarters. This withdrawal by the Executive Council is a great 'deal more important than its refusal to bar from office the five officers found by Mr. Justice Winn to have been guilty of fraud. It is a sign that the Executive Council, while unrepentant as to the strictures made by the trial judge, is taking stock of the wind of criticism which is blowing against them among their fellow trade unionists. Nor is this the only withdrawal which the Executive Council made last week. The Council agreed not to proceed with the working of a number of sub-committees set up after the trial with the purpose of removing from the validly-elected General Secretary, John Byrne, the principal functions of his office. These were, instead, to be exercised by the various sub- committees, leaving him so shorn of power that he could not send out even the Executive Council's decisions to the branches without the appropriate sub-committee's censorship. The membership of the sub-committees, some of four members, some of six, had been such that there was to be no more than one non-Com- munist (and John Byrne) on each It has been a feature of the struggle by the Communist Party to retain its control over the ETU in the post-Budapest years, that they have taken a great deal more notice of adverse pub- licity than of proceedings brought in the courts of justice. Even so, during the first years the Executive Council endeavoured to brazen out criticisms made in the press and on television. On December 14, 1957, Frank Foulkes, General President of the Union, a Communist, and one of the five found to have conspired to 'rig' the ballot for General Secretary, appeared on television to answer repeated charges made in the press that his executive was a party to 'rigging' elections. In answer to a question 'Will you publish any voting figures?' he replied, 'Voting figures will be published in full to members through the Execu- tive Council minutes within two or three weeks.' • In fact, no such voting figures were ever pub- lished. As Mr. Justice Winn said : 'He must have known that the votes of disqualified branches were never published, and I regard this important public statement as a lie.'

The reluctance to bow before the demand ex- pressed by many trade unionists and Labour MPs in the press and on platforms obliged those who, were determined to expose the 'rigging' of elections to go to law. The Judge expressed the view that it would have been much better for the Union to have done a little self-examina- tion and rooted out itself any fraudulent conduct in elections. This was clearly not feasible; and since the TUC, to which the ETU has always been affiliated, had until last week failed to take any decisive action in dealing with alleged 'ballot-rigging,' resort to the courts was inevitable.

The cost, however, of litigation—never a small matter—has fallen justly upon the ETU and the five conspirators. The public has in fact had a thorough judicial investigation of the Union's affairs at little or no cost to itself. John Byrne and Frank Chapple were legally aided; the public was therefore 'at risk' if they should lose this ac- tion. In the event, costs will be recoverable from the Union, with its £1 million assets available for payment.