« PreviousContinue »
increase of the workers' interest in their work and an enhanced productivity have also follwed. Thus, despite failures, and many a set-back, Labour Co-partnership, on its record as well as on principle, enters the new era past the experimental stage. It affords to the deepestrooted of our industrial problems a solution on broad and comprehensive lines, inasmuch as it presents to the mass of the wage-earners a stimulus to productive effort, a means of increased remuneration and of capital accumulation, an open road to industrial status.
It would be inexcusable if the Unionist Party were to keep silence on a subject of such immense industrial, social, and national importance; it has no constructive task in the years ahead more important than to explain and expound to the country the principles and the practice of Co-partnership, and to use its influence, actively, consistently and continuously, to mould in its favour public opinion amongst both employers and employed. And it is a constructive task none the less because it is a matter far more for exposition than for legislation.
Co-partnership cannot be imposed by a direct Act of Parliament for many reasons, chief among them, perhaps, being that thus introduced it would lose much of its healing and remedial effects. Yet there are certain measures which the Government and Parliament can take. These deserve the closest consideration. The Bill introduced in the House of Lords last year by Lord Cecil is an instance of how the State can help, its main provision being that every company, incorporated or registered, and public authorities such as municipalities, should be deemed to have power to introduce co-partnership or profit-sharing.
There are some who think that, if the Safeguarding of Industries Act is re-introduced, any special assistance thus given to particular industries should be accompanied by the stipulation that, in return, the trade should be organised on a co-partnership or profit-sharing basis to be approved by Parliament. This proposal, of course, is not without difficulties; if they can be removed, its industrial and moral effects would be immense.
Whether or not it be practicable to assist its development by legislation, the duty to hold up Labour Co-partnership as the true line of advance for our industrial democracy is urgent and imperative. It is only a property-owning democracy which will permanently refuse to admit a Socialistic Government to its confidence. To the property-less man the distinction between nationalisation and individualism is too remote from his experience and his circumstances to stand out at all times with perfect clearness through the scud and spindrift of political storms; for if he have no property of his own, how can he be greatly interested in the fate of the possessions of others? But a property-owning democracy knows that nationalisation is its bitterest foe : into the hands of a nationalising party it will never deliver itself.
There remains one last question-What is to be the future of the Trades Unions? How do they stand at the opening of the new era ? Should they, and can they, set their house in order? Of the necessity and value of the Trades Union as giving to the wage-earner, in an age of organised industrialism, both the power and the means of collective bargaining, there can be no doubt. Nor would the development and growth of Labour Co-partnership change this; for in the words of Lord Leverhulme, When we have Co-partnership ... there will continue the underlying wages system, and the wages system must be maintained on the highest scale practicable in the particular industry.' To maintain the wage-standard would remain the function of the Trades Union, as necessary under Co-partnership as it is now, since, unless the sharing of the profits of increased productivity be based upon a standard wage, the worker would find that he was losing on the swings what he gained on the roundabouts. Just as Co-partnership alone can break the spell of Socialism, so its real effect upon the Trades Unions would be to exorcise some of the evil spirits that haunt them. Ca' canny and Copartnership cannot live together, and though Trades Unions would necessarily hold in reserve the strike as their ultimate weapon, the strike mood would no longer form part of the everyday psychology of the worker. No one, in short, who looks on the industrial scene with an unprejudiced eye would wish to see Labour, in an age when the organisation of employers for mutual
assistance becomes increasingly elaborate, deprive itself of the strength which Trades Unionism gives. Yet even the well-wishers of Trades Unionism must tremble for its future. It enters the new era with its organisation physically weakened by a long period of bad trade. In the three years 1920-23 Trades Union membership in Great Britain and Northern Ireland fell from 8,336,000 to 5,405,000. Its purely political influence must have suffered in the General Election a very severe shock. Last October, whatever may happen in the future, the wageearner certainly voted as a citizen and not as a Trades Unionist. But, worst of all, Trades Unionism enters the new era employing methods which are grotesquely and intolerably tyrannous and corrupt. It is almost incredible that an organisation which claims to be in the van of democracy and progress should manage its finances as no capitalist organisation would dare to do. The Trades Unions, indeed, largely succeed in hiding from their members all that is included in costs of management'; but enough has been revealed of recent years to show that grossly extravagant, if not irregular, payments on a large scale are habitually made out of the funds of the Unions.
The practice of open voting on the most vital questions of course allows, and cannot but be meant to allow, the minority to feel the pressure and coercive power of the majority. Moreover, so loose and inadequate is the system that under it it is largely a matter of chance if the will of a real majority of the members of a Union prevails. Lastly, the use of the political levy to extract funds for the support of Socialist propaganda from members who are not Socialists is utterly base and unscrupulous. The Trades Unionist leaders will be mad to continue such practices. For tyrannous methods never prosper long in Britain, and Trades Unions will provide no exception to the rule: not even the class loyalty of the wage-earner will permanently accept from his Trade Unionist officials authoritarian methods which Toryism, for instance, has abandoned since the days of the Holy Alliance and of Metternich, Unless the leaders are warned in time, they will find growing up against them in the Unions a powerful and determined
public opinion. And the nemesis of illegitimate methods invariably is
that when a public opinion is once aroused against them, against the policy also—even if legitimate--which the illegitimate methods support, that angry public opinion vents its wrath. The leaders have no time to lose in setting their house in order. And, further, they must tackle the work themselves. Nobody else, least of all the Conservative Party in the present Parliament, can do it for them. Reform of Trade Union methods must come from within, not from without.
To attempt reform from without, and above all for an anti-Socialist Party to attempt it by legislation, would be an error and blunder gross indeed. If it were the considered view of any political party that Trades Unions were a danger to the State, the case would be different, for then such a party would be bound to recommend their abolition. But every party, and especially the Unionist, fully realises the necessity for Trades Unions. Thus approved in principle, the Trades Unions must be left to work out their own salvation. Nor is it to the point to recall that they are the children and creatures of Statute. Parliament has approved the Unions and given them power and rights. Within these powers and rights they have all the necessary means for reform. Honest finance, the secret ballot, voluntary political levies-all these the Unions can order for themselves. There is here no analogy to the situation which necessitated the Factory Acts, where helpless people had to be delivered from their distresses by the community,
To alter, for instance, the present right of the Trade Unionist to contract-out of the political levy, by forbidding the Union to charge him with the levy unless he had contracted-in, would be obviously to legislate in advance of public opinion within the Union. It is no case of protecting a minority, for if the Unions were faced with a bold and determined minority of members bent on making the levy voluntary, it would be impossible for the majority long to exercise on that minority any effective pressure. The right to contractout amply protects a minority which has the energy to organise itself. Moreover, legislation in advance of public opinion is always a failure. Here more than mere failure is involved, for it is legislation by short-cut, and by the short-cut the Trade Unionist members would be deprived of the training and education in the use of their own democratic machinery. Legislation, without demand or request made for it by any organised body of Trade Union opinion, and before that opinion has attempted to make its influence felt within the Unions, is not merely short-cut legislation in advance of the public opinion concerned; it is an attempt at a benevolent paternalism.
And it has another vice. It carries with it, inevitably, the taint of being political in motive, and under the cloak of justice and emancipation it is, in truth, proscriptive legislation. Of all types of legislation that is the worst. Once a party uses its power, under whatever guise, to weaken its rivals, public life degenerates into a mere vendetta, and Acts of Parliament become instruments not of reform but of reprisals. Such legislation never achieves its object. In this case it would be regarded by the wage-earners as an attack upon the Trades Unions, and many who are at this moment beginning to regard their methods with suspicion would respond anew to the appeal to class loyalty, would rally to the cry of The Unions in danger.'
For the Unionist Party in particular, such legislation would be madness, since it would accentuate and revivify that very class-consciousness which, as a national Party appealing to the best in every class, Unionism endeavours to assuage and remove.
That the present Trades Union methods are unconscionable every Conservative will admit. But it is by the formation and support of a more enlightened public opinion within the Unions that they can be improved. When that public opinion is formed and organised, the Trade Union leaders will bow to it. They are much too experienced men to cling to an abuse, once it is detected and resisted by any considerable body of their followers. Even the Union official will be obliged to bring himself abreast of the new era.
Thus to the three main questions that arise in considering the position in which the Labour Party and the Labour Movement find themselves to-day, these, it would seem, are the answers: The Labour Party's liaison with revolutionary Internationalism is at an end; and