First published July 1966
From MILITANT No. 12, December 1965 / January 1966
The press, radio and television have for some years been preparing a climate of opinion which some form of "restrictive" measures could be taken against me organised working class. The decline of British capitalism relative to the other advanced countries in the post- war period, and the recognition by the most conscious sections off the ruling class of the likelihood of a contraction of world trade in the coming period has given added urgency to the demand to limit me power of organised labour.
A howl has gone up in the press. The Financial Times recently published an article entitled "Incompetent Managers or Lazy Workers?" which complains of overstaffing in British industry. Fords' methods are cited as an object lesson of how to deal with this problem: "...the Company stood firm, dismissed the few notorious trouble-makers and insisted on the right to manage". This, of course, they would like to do in a piecemeal fashion undermining employment in one factory after another in order to "cut labour costs", "improve productivity", and so on. Unfortunately for the capitalists, the post-war boom has immeasurably strengthened the workers' organisations by creating a sellers' market in labour. It is virtually impossible to sack workers in individual factories without provoking repercussions on a national scale. The problem is therefore posed sharply far British capitalism: either break the power of the workers' movement as a whole, or go to the wall in the next period.
Papers like the Daily Mirror would like to give the impression that Britain's economic difficulties are caused by "lazy workers" who earn much money for too little work, and that, in future, wages must be brought into line with productivity. What are the facts?
In 1964 the Gross National Product was £32,847 million. Personal consumption only amounted to £21,334 million. By 1970, it is proposed in the so-called "National Plan" that the G.N.P. should be £41,057 million and personal consumption only £25,789 million. The intention is thus to increase the amount of wealth created by the workers and reduce their share of what they produce.
It is a lie to say that wage costs in Britain have outstripped productivity. When the press refers to wages in this context, what is meant is nominal wages, i.e. the amount of pound notes in the wage packet. Every house-wife knows what this nominal wage is really worth. But in any cause, this is not the reason why Britain has fallen behind her competitors in the world market. Nominal wages have also outstripped productivity in Japan and the U.S.A. In West Germany, both nominal wages and wage costs have risen faster than productivity over the past decade. No, the stories about lazy, overfed British workers will not do as an explanation of the diseased state of British capitalism. The real reason is that British capitalism has failed to invest enough in modernising the important section of the economy. Only 15% of the British G.N.P. is reinvested in useful production as against Japan's 35%, 30% in West Germany France and Italy, and 20% in America. Who is responsible for the huge wastage of capital on prestige building advertising, office-blocks, and armaments? Not the "lazy British workers"!
WHAT THE COMMISSION MEANS
In a capitalist society, the law and all its appendages are organs for the protection of the property of the capitalist class. When the capitalists use the term "national interest", they refer to no interest but their own. The job of the Royal Commission set up to look into trade union affairs is, therefore, to assist the owners of industry in their struggle with the workers over the division of the wealth created by the latter.
The Confederation of British Industry, in its recommendation to the Royal Commission, calls for a "Union Overlord". an official responsible for "counselling and prodding Unions to take action against unofficial strikes and breaches of agreement. The Registrar would have sanctions in the form of financial penalties and as a last resort re-registration".
Thus, the bosses are hoping that they will be able with the backing of the Commission and the T.U. leadership, to resist and even punish the workers who "unrealistically" are demanding a little more of the wealth they themselves have created.
Can they involve the Trade Unions in this? For the present, it would appear that the T.U. bureaucracy is going along with the scheme. There is no doubt however that Brother Woodcock feels apprehensive, since one of the jobs of the Registrar would to be "approve Union rules". This is heretofore been the privilege of the rank and file and the T.U. leaders. Interference in this democratic right would not only affect the rank and file but would also create problems for the Union leaders themselves. For the C.B.I. suggests that the Registrar "should be satisfied, particularly on provision for the control of a Union's activities by the general body of its members and for the appointment of officials and shop stewards."
Not only does the C.B.I. want the leadership and rules of Unions to be vetted by an official stooge, but also "that there should be no penalties for inadequately defined offences, such as acting against the interests of the Union or failing to apply a 'restrictive practice'". By such insolent demands, the C.B.I. risks provoking opposition even from the Union bureaucrats, who will see them as an attack on their own privileged position.
WILL THEY SUCCEED?
As a reaction to the hulabaloo in the capitalist Press some comrades have been pushed into an alarmist position, predicting immediate all-out attacks on the workers' organisations, the banning of unofficial strikes, and the undermining of the gains made by the workers in the past period. It would be entirely wrong, however, to see the sabre rattling threats of the Daily Mirror as an accurate reflection of the real balance of class forces at this stage.
The capitalist class cannot implement their threats until the workers movement has been undermined by a whole series of serious defeats....
In spite of all the threats of the Tories and the appeals of the Union bureaucracy, in spite of all the paper "agreements" on prices and incomes the workers' organisations remain intact and continue to press forward their demands which the bosses are incapable of resisting.
The hollowness of the employers threats is evident from the deliberations of the Royal Commission itself, Lord Robens had the brazen effrontery to suggest that unofficial strikers should be deprived of the benefits of the social services. This sleek, well paid "Labour" lord was quite prepared to see workers and their families in the so-called "Welfare State" forfeiting sick pay, maternity benefit, and pensions for protecting their living standards by the only means at their disposal! But the more serious representatives of the capitalist class threw the idea out of the window. Sir George Pollock, director of the former British Employers' Confederation, suggested "that instead of looking for penalties for people who broke the law, they might think of giving advantages to people who do not break the law."
This gives the game away. The capitalist class is ready to use the most vicious and inhuman measures to cripple the Labour movement. But it dare not lift a finger at the present time. Even if a law were passed banning unofficial strikes, it would prove a dead-letter in practice, as Pollock clearly understands. For the time being, even the British capitalist class can afford to give concessions to the workers. This they prefer in any case as a method of keeping the workers quiet. However much they squeal when the workers demand more wages, their threats are meaningless.
The final solution will be found once and for all on the basis of a socialist re-organisation of the
economy. In the meantime, all attempts to hinder the workers in their struggle to defend their
living standards by industrial action must be vigorously opposed by all sections of the Labour movement.