John Maclean Internet Archive
From the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement

One Big Union

by John Maclean

First Published: The Vanguard, July 1920
Transcription\HTML Markup: Scottish Republican Socialist Movement Archive in 2002 and David Walters in 2003
Copyleft: John Maclean Internet Archive (, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Tom Mann’s admirable little article on the death of the ASE suggests a discussion on the whole question of organisation, industrial and social.

We communists believe that the working class is a unit, and in organisation ought to be a unity; in other words, that in industrial affairs there should be One Union, inclusive of all workers, subdivided according to industry for economic purposes, and resubdivided again for technical or craft purposes since craft crosses industries.

All know for instance that engineers are found in all industries requiring machinery. These ought to be aggregated inside the industry they are engaged in, and also brought together with comrade engineers on a craft basis for purely technical purposes.

This double shuffle is only possible inside One Union for All Workers. Two factors are making for solidarity… First of all, labourers constantly migrate across a host of industries, and hence their unions are being forced together with at least a quarter of a million members.

One can easily imagine that once this amalgamation takes place every labourer in every industry will have to show his or her union card and badge. The numbers must soon rise to at least five millions. This General Labourers Union, or whatever it may be its baptismal name, will consequently overshadow all the old skilled and semi-skilled craft and industrial unions, and wrest organised power from them.

It is, surely, clear to all that the struggle to retain power will force the skilled unions to carry the amalgamation process a stage or two further on towards the One Big Union for All. Engineers will have to amalgamate with iron and steel workers, and then shipbuilders. One textile union must come into being, and so on…

Another factor – the main one – making for the One Union is the process of trustification at present evolving very rapidly towards One Big Trust of all British industries… Trustification means specialisation of the various works in an industry. This, with standardisation of parts, means mass production of uniform work. In these circumstances a man is confined to one machine and one job for life perhaps. He loses his craft skill or never needs to learn it. He thus becomes only a ’handy man’. The machine thus becomes a leveller, a breaker of craft and skill barriers…

This is the main factor in driving 14 unions into the AEU, of which Tom Mann will be the secretary. Still the AEU is inadequate against Beardmore and Vickers, as these Capitalists control several industries. Not organisation, but profit, determine the line of activities…

The One Union implies workshop committees representative of everyone inside particular works – a scientific reorganisation from the bottom up through the district and national committee. The national committee must be a permanent one, linking up all industries and organising the production and distribution of wealth, and in conjunction with political representatives will do the work that ought to be done by the Capitalists’ Parliament. Parliament must fade away when Labour unites scientifically, and commands control of the land and workshops of the country.