John Maclean Internet Archive
Transcribed by the John Maclean Internet Archive

The Trade Union Congress and After

by John Maclean

Source: “The Trade Union Congress and After”, The Call, 25 September 1919, p.2, (1,290 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Copyleft: John Maclean Internet Archive ( 2007. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

I have no desire to trespass on the work of Comrade Ebury, whose report of the Trade Union Congress was printed in last weeks CALL; I simply wish to touch on the main issues and lines we as a Party might proceed along to mould the methods of class towards the great and rapidly approaching social revolution inside the British Empire. The B.S.P. can claim to have performed our share of the doing and the daring that have characterised the workers of Britain this year because we focussed ourselves on the vital economic and political issues interesting the workers. Some of the results of our determined efforts manifested themselves in this year’s Congress, so that disappointing as may appear to be the net results of the Congress sufficient change has been noticed to justify us deciding on our next steps for the preparing of the gathering forces of revolution.

The only true note struck by Stuart-Bunning was his assertion that the nation was disgusted with the Government’s intervention in Russia, and the whole tone of the Congress repeatedly manifested itself in hearty expressions of disgust at the attempt to enslave Russia in the interests of world capitalism. Let us then proceed apace with our “Hands off Russia” conferences and demonstrations, knowing that the hatred against this unprovoked onslaught on Russia will lead to a revolutionary explosion against the robbers and murderers of human society. And let our renewed effort be made fresh by the cry “Hands off India,” “Hands off Ireland,” and “Hands of Persia,” since Wadia’s appeal for the workers of India created the pleasure-storm of the Congress and Thomas’s resolution, seconded by Smillie against the Government’s present fury-mad abuse of Irishmen at the very end of the Congress showed an enthusiasm amongst the remaining tired delegates that was quite astonishing to us exhausted spectators.

Brownlie, the “pioneer” of increased production, tried to play the dirty work of saving capitalism by backing up his well-boomed letter on the “harder work” stunt with a pathetic speech. Just as he was turned down at the huge engineering amalgamation meeting on Congress Sunday in St Andrews Hall and removed from the chair to give way to Tom Clark (S.L.P.), his speech was wiped out by Jack Mills (Woolwich Shop Stewards), who spoke the mind and decision of all the A.S.E. delegates present. It is to be hoped that that finishes the career of Brownlie, inside the ranks of Labour. Let him hop it over the side of the five big banks that boss Britain; if not, shove him over boys.

The wash-out Mills gave him made others afraid to back up the “hard work” whine except qualified with the proviso that the workers should be in power to reap where they had sown. The only man who dared come this game without reservation or qualification was Arthur Henderson (of Round Mat legend) when he spoke as fraternal delegate from the Labour Party and I suppose as camouflaged Labour Prime Minister. If we can help on the death of Capitalism by applying the brake production let us put on the B.S.P. Westinghouse one. Let us be out to show the workers that increased production means more plunder as surplus value for the propertied, class to fill the gap created by the war wealth-wastage and to hold as a reserve in the death-struggle with America for Markets and Empire.

The general acceptance of nationalisation was brought out by Havelock Wilson’s opposition. The main factor was the Government’s national control of industry to fight Germany. The delegates seemed to wish the same to fight poverty. It is now our chance to show that the Bolsheviks have adapted socialisation to kill robbery, and that what is good enough for Russia is good enough for us. When men like Clynes, Henderson and Thomas urge nationalisation as their policy when in power (soon, they say) let us forge ahead with socialisation.

The central issue of the Congress was the debate on the use of direct action for political purposes. As was to be expected, all the Labour statesmen who have been thrust to the surface by their industrial organisations and their powerful oratorical ability to say nothing with tremendous emphasis, and who expect soon to be ministers in a Labour Government, fought tooth and nail against direct action except J.H. Thomas, who knew that if he did not walk warily Cramp would have laid him out as Mills polished off Brownlie.

The whole issue arose out of the miners’ fight all this year, and happily it swung round that fight championed by Smillie, the hero of the Congress, and Hodges, who made the finest speech of the week’s debate. The Parliamentary Committee refused by a majority of two to summon a Special Congress to discuss action on Russia, conscription, and other political issues. The P.C. was afraid of a general strike with perhaps revolutionary consequences.

Smillie, then, led the attack on the P.C., the ultimate result being that the P.C. has been forced to summon a special congress immediately on Russia, conscription, and military intervention in strikes. This will be followed by at least one on nationalisation of mines. It looks as if the P.C. had behind the scenes played for the exclusion of the miners from the P.C., for despite the size of the M.F.G.B. and its importance this year the two miners’ candidates for the P.C. were defeated. The enemies of direct action have over-reached themselves. A P.C. without the miners is a sickly shadow, and such a P.C. could and would never attempt to conduct a general strike. What must we do?

I believe our best course is to push every union to go to the Special Congress pledged to 40 a general strike on Russia, conscription, military intervention in strikes, Ireland, etc., if a General Election has not been announced publicly and authoritatively; to show distrust of the P.C. by appointing a Special Committee to undertake the task of running the strike; and to show disapproval of the methods adopted in appointing the P.C. by having the Special Committee selected by open card vote.

This Special Committee and the P.C. must eventually give place to a permanently sitting Labour Committee or Council evolved out of the Triple Alliance. All metal workers ought at once to be brought into one union and attached to the Triple Alliance with the object of fighting out the class war to a finish for Communism.

The driving force must come through the workshop movement, which ought to work in conjunction with the miners’ unofficial movement as led by our South Wales comrades. Their recently-issued pamphlet ought to be sold everywhere as a new impulse to the miners, and, with industrial adaptation, to all other sections of workers. Another big wave of enthusiastic and intelligent propaganda to make the issue Communism or nothing at the coming special congresses will bring us near to the death of capitalism.

Our Communist hopes rest on the resistive power of Russia, which calls us and on to her side. Let us back Smillie in the process of getting Labour united on the industrial field with the object of pressing the class war to victory for our side. Smillie knows the importance of the vote, but only as an agency auxiliary to that of industrial pressure. The vote will rise at the rate of the resistance to capitalism. Increase the resistance, you increase the votes. Even Henderson is benefiting by the general industrial conflict) this year. By classes, pamphlets, papers, and meetings let us create clarity and width of vision needed to guide our forces to success. Let us into the fight bolder than ever.