Page images

desirous also that the status and conditions of railway workers should be improved, and to this end he maintains that the workers should be granted a bigger share in the control of the service. But he wants nationalisation first and foremost for the benefit of the community as a whole, which is, at all events, a type of communism' many of his more revolutionary confrères have not yet advocated.

[ocr errors]

Yet, though he expressly disclaims any intention of depicting a Utopia where everything is perfection,' Mr Thomas does, nevertheless, succeed in conveying the impression that when the railway men are fully represented on the Boards of Management we shall necessarily have 'peace' in the railway world.

'Had he [the railway worker], however, his own representatives on the Board he would trust them. If they came to him and said, "That's all right; it is straight. The reason for it is good, take it from us," even though the facts and figures remain secret, the worker would understand-understand that his interests were not being ridden over roughshod, but were in safe keeping' (p. 35).

This passage betokens a sturdy faith in the future, but is hardly an accurate account of industrial experience in the past and present-even of Mr Thomas's own experience. Surely the heaviest burden that the Trade Union negotiator often has had to bear in recent disputes is that of the recalcitrant flock which is ever ready to bleat that the shepherd has 'betrayed' them, when they have not received the full measure of their demands. Nationalisation—of the railways or anything else might be a small price to pay for industrial 'peace,' but with such a being as man in such a world as the present there is no guarantee that we should get it.

'Peace' and 'efficiency' are, however, not the ultimate ideals, even of industrial politics. That section of the proletariat (a negligible factor in this country) which likes to flirt with the idea of 'dictatorship,' certainly cares for neither of these things, but it would be a libel on the main body of the Labour movement to say that it cared for nothing more. By narrowing the issue to the claims of his own particular Union Mr Thomas may have increased our knowledge of what might be done to

improve the machinery of organisation in an important branch of public service; but he has only a limited vision of the sociological possibilities implied in the general uprising of Labour. Everything does not depend on transport facilities.' These might be perfect to the last train and truck, and the whole nation perishing for lack of that 'good life,' the means of which it should be the aim of all human government to promote. True, Mr Thomas proclaims, in a sort of airy aside, that ‘all we want is justice,' a dictum not very helpful when unrelated to any basic plan on which 'justice' could be secured.

Most of the other contributors to this symposium, though applying themselves mainly to that sphere of Labour they know best, go much further in their advice as to what the workers must do to be saved. In this respect Mr Robert Williams, Secretary of the Transport Workers' Federation, and Mr Tom Mann are outspoken in the platform style; the former preaching the gospel of the International Co-operative Commonwealth, and the latter that of Industrial Unionism on the principles of the notorious I.W.W. We have travelled far in these two articles from Mr Thomas's railway 'efficiency,' and, in some passages of Mr Williams's chapter especially, would seem to be well on the way to the 'Never-NeverLand' of Labour politics. He devotes the first part of his remarks to a recapitulation of the reasons for the breakdown of the Triple Alliance during the Coal Crisis of last year. Those reasons are obvious, and have long been known. The Triple Alliance collapsed because it had no real existence, except as a rather imposing formula. When the pressure was exerted upon it to make it act, it was discovered that it possessed no functions at all, other than those which belonged to the three separate Federations which composed it. One of these was already in a state of disintegration; while the members of the remaining two could not be relied upon to back up their unfortunate partner. In consequence, the muchvaunted Triple Alliance broke up into its component parts, with accusations of 'treachery' flying on all sides.


It is all very well for Mr Robert Williams to be 'firmly of the opinion that had the Government forced the issue at any period in 1919 or 1920, there would have been a different result' from that of 1921.

It is possible, but it can never be proved. Things were what they were, and their consequences were what we have seen. Why, then, should he deceive himself? Mr Williams's capacity for self-deception may be gauged from his admission that,

'To those of us who attempted to look a little more deeply, it appeared that war developments had brought us appreciably nearer the social revolution, in which men and women would be appraised not for whom they were, nor for what possessions they had, but for the services they rendered and were prepared to render to the community' (p. 51).

We should like to think that the social revolution' would bring us nothing worse than this, but what miraculous change had taken place in human character and habits of thought at the end of the war to induce Mr Williams to hug any such delusion? If he had attempted to look a little more deeply' still, he would hardly have seen much to justify his belief in the imminence of such millennial perfection. A good deal of what he says about the mal-distribution of wealth, and especially in regard to the wanton sabotage to which our food supplies are periodically subjected by producers who desire to maintain high prices, is just and salutary, and can be endorsed by all who have any true economic 'conscience'; but his flamboyant rhetoric trips him up on every page when he comes to deal with the 'rights' and claims' of the workers. We do not believe, for instance, that the workers feel that they are the legitimate heirs of all the wealth of the ages.' And if they do feel this, it would be as well if their leaders pointed out to them that, though there may be an individual-right, or a community-right, to the social inheritance, the 'workers,' as such, have no more right to it than anybody else. The increment of wealth due to the total efforts of labour of all kinds would, no doubt, if shared on some economic plan not yet discovered, yield an abundant life to everybody, but the 'worker's' own personal contribution to that pool, when detached from all the auxiliary aids that make it possible, would not to-day fetch him a bare living in the market. The final paragraphs of Mr Williams's essay are nothing more than the fag-ends of a hackneyed stump-speech: His

International Co-operative Commonwealth' may be the 'one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves.' And it may be only a mouthful of empty words. We fancy that British Labour in 1922 wants something more immediately practical than this.

Mr Tom Mann offers a more detailed scheme for the 'emancipation' of Labour which, however, leaves much to be desired in point of lucidity and completeness. Two main ideas govern Mr Mann's industrial politics. One is that the workers should have the sole control of the machinery of production, and the other that this cannot be obtained by means of parliamentary legislation, but must be won on the economic field, i.e. at the point of production. To this end, therefore, Mr Mann advocates the abolition of all sectional or 'craft' unions, and the adoption of Industrial Unionist principles, on the basis of which the Trade Union as a whole, and not the individual workman, would be responsible to the employer; would take on all contracts for labour; control all the processes of the workshops; allocate the jobs; train the apprentices and pay the wages. Under this proposed system,' says the writer,

‘. . . time payment would disappear, and a higher form of cooperative payment for co-operative results, would take its place. It would largely, and when universally applied, completely solve the unemployment trouble' (p. 115).

We do not see precisely how. True, that by this scheme the Trade Union powers of collective bargaining would be carried far beyond anything we have known hitherto. And once the Trade Union, and not the private capitalist or company, became the direct employer of labour we might find, as Mr Mann claims, that 'Not only would work become more interesting and congenial, but, with a general consciousness of power, men would grow less servile and more audacious.' The point to be considered is, how would this changed psychology of the workers affect the demand for goods, the policy of production, as distinct from its process, and the financial operations that dominate the supply of money-capital? Who is it, too, that Mr Mann visualises when he says that the Union shall bargain with the firms for a price for the whole job,' etc.? Are these the old capitalist-owned

concerns which, formerly, would have controlled both labour and production? If so, what, in Mr Mann's view, will be their precise function in the new régime? If they neither employ labour nor pay wages; if their part in the management of the industrial machine is to go, along with their ownership of it, will they become nothing more than commercial agents of the Trade Unions-mere middlemen between the consumer and the producer-accepting orders for goods from the public, and passing them on to the 'self-governing workshops' at a price which will yield them their old rate of profit? Who, in fact, is to fix prices in Mr Mann's Industrial Unionist Society? If he is going vastly to increase the cost of production in the workshop (and we agree that it must come to that if wages and hours are brought up to his co-operative' standard), and still leave us with the financial entrepeneur to make his pile on top of that, we do not see how the community, as a whole, is to gain from the transaction, or how such methods of 'cooperation' would benefit us more than our present methods of competition.

[ocr errors]

A good deal of modern Trade Union teaching is vitiated by its underlying assumption that the workmen, as such, have a right to the whole proceeds of industry; or, if not that, to a deciding voice in how the product shall be distributed and what shall be charged for it. Many Trade Unionists, of both the old school and the new, fail altogether to allow sufficient weight to the consumer-element in society; but, after all, the 'dictatorship of the producer-however harmoniously he may work in conjunction with the financial 'firm' at the back of him-would be very little better than the 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' In his exposition of the theories of Guild Socialism, Mr G. D. H. Cole recognises and reconciles-so far as mere formulæ can reconcile-the disparate interests of the producer and the consumer; but Mr Mann's paradise seems to consist of nothing but producers, whose sole concern is to avoid unemployment' and enjoy the full produce' of their labour.

According to him, 'What has taken place in Russia has given an enormous impetus to the spread of Communist principles '-presumably in this country. He omits to add that 'the impetus' has been considerably Vol. 238.-No. 473.

« PreviousContinue »