5 APRIL 1957, Page 4

Furled Banners

AN uneasy breathing-space has been secured in the engineering and shipbuilding disputes, and for all the blustering of Mr. Ted Hill and the'insidious 'manoeuvrings of Mr. Frank 'Fbulkes (the Communists have 'begun to creep out front tinder stones) it Will not 'now'be easy for the unions tOdeclare war again, whatever the courts of inquiry decide.' But it has been a depressing biisiness," from Which both sides have ' ernerged 'with banners furled. Still; the recision to go baek to work enables the'courts of inquiry to go a little snore deeply into the causes of the dispute than they could have done if the strike was on.

The difficulty the courts face is that their investi- gation cannot be confined'to wages or conditions on the one side, and restrictive practices on the other, because theSe are really symptoms of the real trouble—the inappropriate and top-heavy structure of the shipbuilding and engineering in- lustries. The suggestion that increases of wages should be negotiated firm by firm, or in groups of firms, is obviously' the courts of inquiry should consider. But to adopt such a policy will mean the abandonment of the federation structure by the employers and, to some extent, by the unions. And this is not going to be easy. Federa- tions create their own vested interest, usually in inefficiency of one kind or another; it is easier to say they should be broken up, than to suggest ways in which the breaking-up process can begin.

In the meantime, the risk remains that isolated incidents, trivial in themselves, may help to create or revive intransigence and rancour, which is far from being felt by most workers or employers. The case of the 'black' Queen Mary is an example; once again, union members have shown the extent to which, when they get irritated, they are prepared to cut off the nose of other union members to spite the industry's face. No doubt the Hills of the trade union world will do their damnedest to see that this and any other similar silly dispute is played up and kept up. But the cost of the strike in wages, in orders, and in trade union funds should be enough to remind both sides that ahe time for this type of warfare is past.