Showing posts with label red clydeside. Show all posts
Showing posts with label red clydeside. Show all posts

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Rhymeating lion tamer (1978)

Book Review from the December 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

John S. Clarke: Parliamentarian, Poet, Lion-Tamer by Raymond Challinor (Pluto Press)

This little book, published a couple of years ago, is well worth reading containing, as it does, illuminating sidelights on the genesis of the British Communist Party and its later left-wing off-shoots.

Clarke was an extraordinary character, leading a colourful life as a lion tamer (he came of circus stock) and merchant seaman. He travelled all over the world but, although entirely self-taught, showed remarkable gifts as a writer and Scottish "rhymeater" in the Burns tradition. He gravitated to the Socialist Labour Party where his journalistic talents soon made him the actual editor of The Socialist during the first World War. With the advent of the Bolshevik seizure in Russia, Clarke was the first (with Willie Gallacher) to make the Moscow trip. Whereas Gallacher (a muddlehead if ever there was one) swallowed the Russian bait, Clarke refused to come back to England and, as editor of the Glasgow Scottish Workers Committee paper The Worker, wrote critical articles, exposed the unsuitability of Russian tactics in Britain and, above all, the lying, glowing reports sent to Lenin by the greedy job hunters of the British Socialist Party. "Information by the mass, specially preened, pruned, doctored and cooked by the officials of the old BSP was sent to Russia with the deliberate object of misleading the Bolsheviks as to the true state of affairs in Britain" he wrote.

This certainly did not suit the new Russian paymasters who, after buying up The Worker, promptly had Clarke sacked. He was the first publicly to denounce the absurdity of Lenin's tactics of supporting the Labour Party. Challinor claims to have "subjected all Lenin's statements about Britain to a close analysis" and to have come to Clarke's view. "Lenin's mistake was his belief that most British workers considered the Labour Party to be Socialist, and that this myth could only be dispelled by seeing it in office but, in fact, most British workers are aware the Labour Party is largely the mouthpiece of the Trade Union leaders, whose limitations have been known for many years. Hence Lenin's tactic was an unnecessary exercise, telling workers what they already knew," he writes. What a pity that Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Foot, Tony Cliff, Gerry Healey, Chris Harman and co., many of whom were still, up to a few years ago, urging workers to vote for the Labour Party, did not know what "most workers knew". We would have been spared the rubbish of WRP, RWP, Big Flame, IMG etc., "New CP", "Old PLC." Chinese Leninists and so on.

Clarke was persuaded by the Glasgow ILP (Maxton and co) to run for Parliament. He was elected, sat for Maryhill for two and a half years and, to his, credit, chucked it up in disgust!

Borrow the book from the local library, like I did.

Horatio 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The "Friends" of Scottish Workers (1945)

From the April 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the working class was granted the vote there has never been a shortage of busy-bodies who—hand-on-heart, have declared their ardent sympathy and interest in workers' problems.

When elected, of course, the workers become the "constituency" and each M.P. "looks after his constituency" and looks ahead to the next election. W. GallacherA. WoodburnD. Kirkwood and other Parliamentary luminaries are engaged at the moment—amid other equally laudable pursuits—in pressing the post-war claims of Prestwick Aerodrome. All three are campaigning for the "Forth Road Transport Bridge and have endorsed Hector McNeil, Labour M.P.'s efforts to modernize the Clyde so that the largest ships can be docked at Greenock and Glasgow"

Other Scottish M.P.'s—with an eye on their constituency—are eloquently expatiating on Scottish needs and problems. The "Daily Express," February 15th, gave considerable space to a report of a Parliamentary debate on a Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill. Thos. Johnston—the mover the bill said: "In the Tradeston division of Glasgow, for example, there are 127 houses or more than 700 persons to the acre." He said: "The measure won't bring a new Jerusalem to Scotland, but would assist local authorities to deal with problems." In short, a confession of impotence unuusal in its frankness. In the came report there is a gem of a phrase coined by Campbell Stephen, I.L.P., M.P.:— "We in Scotland have had a raw deal. Our association with England has not given us an opportunity to deal with housing and industry." Characteristically, however, W. Gallacher, M.P., capped the lot with "Effete Sassenachs were incapable of dealing with the planning problems which confronted them in Scotland and in consequence the Sturdy Scot had been bound hand and foot and dragged behind them in this miserable bill." He then went on to talk about the class war, which, he said, had done a thousand times more damage that the War.

Have the Scottish workers any doubts that Gallacher, Woodburn, Campbell-Stephen and Co., are really interested in working class affairs? Could they have?

Those of them who have, however vaguely, identified Socialism with an international outlook will be bewildered at Gallacher's talk of "effete" Englishmen and "Sturdy" Scots, particularly in view of his later and inexplicable reference to a class war.

They will think of "effete" "Scots," who bide here in Scotland for the "Glorious 12th" and "sturdy" Englishmen who "carry hods" here all the year round.

Supporters of the "Socialist" I.L.P. should feel uneasy about Campbell Stephen's "Our association—hasn't given us an opportunity."—They will, or should wonder who "Our and us" means and conclude that if it was Scottish workers—that is was Capitalism rather than association with England that had been and still is the source of working class problems.

The England, Irish, Welsh and American capitalists with investments in Scottish aviation, building, shipping and transport will applaud the efforts of the Scottish Communist, Labour and I.L.P. M.P.'s.

Kirkwood has already earned the title of "M.P. for John Brown's" among Clydeside workers: now it will be Woodburn "M.P. for Scottish Airways," McNeil "M.P. for Clyde Trust" and Gallacher "M.P. for Arrols and Wimpey's."

What all this has to do with the interests of the working class in Scotland no one knows. Perhaps the M.P.'s could tell us?

It certainly does not require genius or a microscope to perceive that Scotland, like every other country, has a population which is divided into a majority who are non-owning workers and a minority who are non-working owners. And that after centuries of joint development with England that all means of producing wealth are owned and controlled by large concerns whose shareholders are spread throughout Britain and the rest of the world.

Just as certainly it does not need extraordinary intelligence to know that workers in specifically "Scottish" concerns merely receive in wages enough to continue working—barely enough, as for workers everywhere.

The Scottish workers don't have to attend a University to know that the ruling class of Scotland since the days of the Highland "clearances" referred to by Marx in biting terms in "Capital" (Vol. 1), are any less brutal and avaricious than their English counterparts. Or do they?

Thos. Johnston's burning indictments of the Scottish ruling class make curious reading nowadays when he is Secretary of State for Scotland and seems to be on terms of easy familiarity with the present scions. The same remark applies to old copies of the "Forward" during his period of editorship.

There is a story told by John S. Clarke regarding Lenin's estimate of Gallacher in which he described Gallacher as a "#### fool"; a story which Gallacher repudiated indignantly and inexplicably as "an insult to Lenin." Whether the story is true or otherwise is unimportant but at least reflects a view of Gallacher, increasingly common, among workers with memories and intelligence.

The ability of the Gallachers, Johnstons, Maxtons, Kirkwoods in getting away with their anti working class nonsense and buffoonery rests on the—as yet, political ignorance of the Scottish workers.

Their political and social interests—like their fellows everywhere—are opposed to those of their masters and does not lie in schemes which will enable their employers to wring yet more surplus value from their skill and energy.

The political power that enables the privileged class to retain their social privilege is vested in control of the machinery which has its centre in Westminster.

This fact enables the Scottish, English and Welsh working class to co-ordinate their task of intelligently wresting this supremely vital control of political machinery from the hands of their class enemies—the masters; a co-ordination which has a fit and ready instrument in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The duty of the Scottish workers—like the workers the world over—is to-day—not tomorrow—to attempt an understanding of the basic nature of their problems and having done so, to organise in the Socialist Party democratically to take over power to establish Socialism.

Capitalism in Scotland, in England, America, Germany, Russia, in every country in the world produces the same set of problems to workers—poverty, unemployment, insecurity, war, and so on.

These problems arise with sublime impartiality as to forms of government, climate and previous political history, they arise in democracies and dictatorships in the two hemispheres and in big and wee countries.

The Socialist analysis and solution is international in scope and outlook and the only way in which the Scottish workers can assist their fellows in India and Greece as elsewhere is to study, understand and organise for Socialism. As they do so, the baloney of the Labour, I.L.P. and Communist M.P.'s will become clearly apparent. "Our" problems are the problems arising from the capitalist nature of Society which is now world-wide and the solution for "us"—World Socialism in which wealth will be produced, controlled and enjoyed by all.
Thomas Anthony.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Myth of Red Clydeside

 "We will support the officials just so long
 as they represent the workers,
 but we will act independently immediately
 they misrepresent them"
 From the April/June 1976 issues of the Socialist Standard

The "Red Clydeside" first put itself on the map in the agitated years of the First World War. Since then, it has received plenty of examination. It has been portrayed as a possible revolution in the making; one that could have formed a link with the Bolsheviks and the Spartacists. The Clyde Workers' Committee was the main body in the agitation of the period. It was an unofficial industrial organization of the type that is today favoured by various claimants to the Bolshevik title.

When Britain entered the war in August 1914, the Clyde area joined in the nationwide enthusiasm. Yet soon after, it proved to be an area that would tolerate opponents of the war who were elsewhere reviled. John MacLean, in particular, soon became noted for his pugnacious attitude. A member of the British Socialist Party,[1] the local members shared his stand along with Independent Labour Party and Socialist Labour Party members. All three groups were relatively strong in the area although only the ILP had any significant strength.

 At first the recalcitrance of part of the population was not strong enough to warrant any special attention. More important was the production of munitions from the local engineering works. The government had soon realized that success in the war depended as much on the armaments as the bodies that could thrown into the fray. Clydeside as an engineering centre was thus under heavy scrutiny on the home front.

Trouble first arose over the negotiation of a wage agreement by the local engineers. The skilled craftsmen who had lost out on the last deal, put in a pace-setting claim for 2d an hour which the employers rejected. Early in 1915, an overtime ban and then a strike in support of the claim brought patriotic wrath down on them. The executive of the men's union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, had already pledged its support for the war effort and condemned the strike. With no official support, the strike was organized by the shop stewards — a growing influence in the Union. A ballot conducted by the ASE showed a 10-1 majority against the acceptance of an offer by the employers. However, with no strike money and in an atmosphere of slander and government threats, the strike folded after two weeks. In the end they half of their original claim.

The gulf between the Clyde militants and their union widened during the year. The ASE executive signed the Treasury Agreement and a referendum endorsed this.[2] Then the passing of the Munitions Act in July established the ground on which the CWC was to form. The Act, to be applied to munitions work, outlawed strikes, abolished restrictive practices and limited the right to leave a job. Prosecutions and convictions followed and the weak response of union officials to this prompted the establishment of the Clyde Workers' Committee in November.

The CWC was based on the organization that had developed during the second strike. Their manifesto proclaimed the Committee's aim as the defence of the trade union rights summarily abolished by the Munitions Act. It claimed to be " . . . composed of Delegates from every shop . . . untrammelled by obsolete rule or law . . . We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file." This was a challenge to the government and was soon recognised as such. Government officials began discussing the best way to dispose of this obstacle to their plans.

Unrelated to the activities of the CWC, the 1915 rent strike was coming to a conclusion at about the same time. The war had brought an influx of workers into an area already infamous for its housing and the landlords had been raising rents to an extent that earned them the title — "the Huns at home". A rent strike had been in progress and in November some men were taken to court to get unpaid rent stopped from their wages. On the day of the case a number of sporadic strikes took place and a demonstration outside the courtroom threatened a wider strike unless the rises were stopped. The cases were dismissed and soon after rents were frozen. This was done seemingly on demand in order to avoid what would have been, in the government's eyes, unnecessary trouble (and, even more important, more wage disputes).

Meanwhile the CWC was more concerned with the looming threat of dilution. In recent years, the development of new techniques had been making the skills of the engineering craftsman increasingly redundant. The ASE, in which most of them were organized, had resisted this threat to their livelihoods by a closed-shop policy designed to keep semi-skilled workers and their lower wages out of the craftsman's traditional preserves. In this they had a measure of success with the results that their skills were often under-used and the employers reluctant to introduce new methods. This was an obvious obstacle to the government's demand for the maximum output of armaments and they were determined that it should go. A greater division of labour was to be brought in and dilutees, mainly women, were to be put on much of the work. In the short term this would have no effect on the engineers as there was an overwhelming demand for them. However, when the war was over it was likely that ASE members would find a restricted market for their abilities in a modernized industry.

The CWC was now operating regularly with 250-300 delegates attending their weekly meetings. The most representative delegations came from the heavy engineering works and this was reflected in the composition of the small working committee. This included men from the ILP, BSP and SLP with the latter having the most coherent influence.

The CWC was not an anti-war organization and this was shown by the policy adopted to meet dilution. This, in contradiction to the ASE, accepted the inevitability of dilution but wanted nationalization and workers' participation in management in return. This led to the expulsion from the CWC of two of MacLean's associates who wanted opposition to the war effort, not workers' participation in the management of it.

It was wishful thinking to believe that any great opportunity was missed by the consequent split between the CWC and MacLean. Quite simply, when it came to the crunch they were concerned with industrial matters where he was concerned to oppose the war. After this, he and a small band of supporters, interrupted by jail sentences, continued with tenacious opposition gaining much sympathy but no real support. Despite his principled stand, MacLean's optimistic illusions about the development of the Irish nationalist and Bolshevik movements show that he did not understand Socialism and what was required to achieve it.

The CWC ignored political reality in pursuing their dilution policy. Regardless of the implications of their demands, they made no provision to back them up. On a visit to Glasgow in December, Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions, contemptuously dismissed the proposals. Later, after the Minister's stormy meeting with 3,000 workers, and ILP and a BSP paper were suppressed for printing truthful accounts of the proceedings.
Con Friel

[1] The BSP was basically the Social Democratic Federation under a new name. Statements in some publications that the BSP was a breakaway from SDF are wrong.
[2] Of 190,000 eligible to vote, 18,000 were for and 4,000 against. (Quoted in "The First Shop Stewards Movement" by James Hinton.)

Part 2

The Clyde Workers' Committee resistance was broken after government intervention in Glasgow. In January 1916, workers at Beardmore's (whose strong representation in the CWC proved to be a maverick one) accepted a dilution scheme contrary to the CWC policy. Next month, the suppression of the CWC's paper, three associated arrests, a dispute at Beardmore's over the working of the dilution agreement, and subsequent strikes on these issues provided the opportunity for the removal of those identified as the trouble-makers. Eventually, seven were jailed and a further ten deported to other parts of Britain.

The Government's attack revealed disunity and a lack of resolve within the CWC and they went down without much of a fight. It was basically a weak organization. Like all so-called "rank-and-file" groups, the most significant thing about them was that they embraced less of the rank and file than the parent unions. Unable to gain any support from them, the place where their particular concerns were most relevant, they were never likely to do anything more substantial. Mindless of this, they challenged a government with dictatorial powers and were slapped down.

Till late 1917 the truncated CWC was subdued, taking no part in the engineers' struggle as it developed in England. In the same year, the political climate on Clydeside began to change. The liberation of the prisoners and deportees, the turmoil in Russia and the growing war-weariness all combined to raise the temperature. The CWC revived and in January 1918 stated opposition to the war. However, no action was ever taken to support this. Possibly, they had realized by this time that David only beats Goliath in fairy tales.

After the war's end, unemployment began to grow. The idea had also been developing that the time was ripe for cutting the working week. Inevitably, the two issues became linked with the aim of cutting hours to reduce unemployment. Early in 1919, local union officials and shop stewards met with Glasgow Trades Council and eventually resolved to issue a call for a general strike in support of a 40-hour week.

The strike began on January 27th with mixed success. There was a wide response from shipbuilding and engineering but power and transport, two prime targets, continued. After a few days, 100,000 were claimed to be out. Contact with the authorities began on the 29th when a deputation asked the Lord Provost of Glasgow to put the strikers' demands to the government. This he did, but not in the way that the strikers intended. He wired to London representing the strike as an unconstitutional threat and indicated that the strikers' request was an ultimatum. This was partly true, as the mass picket had been introduced to "induce" recalcitrant workers to come out. The government decided to hold fire in the absence of a more obvious challenge but to make the preparations to enable quick military intervention if necessary. Mindful of similar discontent in Belfast and recent events in Russia and Germany, they were prepared to take no chances.

Oblivious to these developments, the strikers returned on the 31st to hear the reply to the Provost's telegram. While a deputation went to see the Provost, trouble broke out among the thousands outside in George Square. A tramcar trying to pass through the throng was stopped and police drew batons to try to clear a way. Violence then spread throughout the Square and the Riot Act was read. Although there were allegations of plots by both sides no proof of any premeditation was produced.

By morning, troops were on guard in the city and six tanks were being held in reserve. Attempts were now made to spread the strike but the most hopeful effort was averted by the government. Power workers in London threatened to black-out the city but after the wartime Defence of the Realm Act was invoked to make the strike illegal, the Electrical Trades Union backed down. Within another week the strike was over.

The strike failed to go outside the West of Scotland and had failed to become general within that area. The need for mass pickets was proof of the lack of support from many workers, and any "induced" to strike were hardly likely to be reliable.

The end of the strike was claimed to be a tactical retreat to organize a better effort, but the movement died. The most significant political outcome of the period was the election to parliament in 1923 of 10 ILP members from the 15 Glasgow constituencies. The Labour Party has dominated politics in the area ever since. Others joined the new Communist Party, and that has also remained relatively strong in the area. From then on, energies were concentrated on the mainstream of British politics, and the idea of Clydeside as a maverick area within the nation was largely dead. Against this trend was MacLean. He formed the nationalist Scottish Workers' Republican Party which withered away after his death in 1923.

The most notable thing about the period was the parochialism of the activities. They were always centred on Clydeside and mainly in the engineering industry. However, they faced a capitalist class organized nationally and proved no match. This lesson seems to have been realized by the end of the 40-hours strike.

As a possible revolutionary movement, the Clydesiders were non-starters. Apart from the occasional pronouncement, nearly all their actions were in support of purely industrial aims. The exception was the rent strike. As the government had no real opposition to their aims, however, the achievement was not great.

The events of early 1916 and early 1919 show that the power of the state must be treated very seriously. Capitalist democracy, paltry though it may be by Socialist standards, is well enough organized to defeat any minority. Just as important, on the same basis it is possible for a revolutionary majority to gain control of political power. However, this is not enough. Capitalism is organized on a world scale operating through national units and, thus, any serious challenge to this order of society must follow the same pattern. This is an enormous task but it is the only one that fits the measure of the Socialist aim.
Con Friel
Glasgow Branch



Tuesday, June 02, 2015

James Maxton

Book Review from the August 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

"If it were not such a dreadful thing to say of anybody, I should say he meant well"
The Way of All Flesh


A biography can be written in one of two ways. It may be an "objective" study, an attempt at critically assessing the man, his work and his place in history. On the other hand, it may be a personal piece—an extended obituary notice, wherein the author pays his tribute to the departed. John McNair's James Maxton, the Beloved Rebel (Allen and Unwin, 12s. 6d.) is unashamedly the latter: a chronicle and eulogy of a leader whose faults, if he had them, are allowed no place.

Maxton is presented as a man of deep, passionate sincerity, devoted to the welfare of the poor, earning the affection even of opponents by his integrity and his refusal to compromise. He opposed the two world wars which his Labour colleagues supported; in the first he was imprisoned, in the second he led the tiny I.L.P. group of M.P.s that constituted the permanent opposition to all war measures. Above all, Maxton is shown as a Socialist, aiming to abolish exploitation and misery, working for the unification of all interested parties towards that end.

The book is heavily—perhaps unavoidably—weighted with reference to Maxton's Scottish background: for example, the poverty of the working class seems, at any rate to this writer, to be made almost a regional affair. Nevertheless, it provides an informal, informative history of Labour politics from 1920. The growing Labour movement threw up men like Maxton, protesting against the degradation of the working class. From 1920 to 1939 there was never less than a million unemployed. Towns became derelict; children were born, grew up and married on the dole. "Ten million working men, women and children underfed, underclothed, badly housed at a time which was 'generally regarded as prosperous.'" (J. Kuczynski, A Short History of Labour Conditions in Great Britain).

Maxton's party, the I.L.P., supplied most of the Labour leaders of the "twenties"; of the 192 members in the first Labour Parliament, 120 belonged to the I.L.P. Describing itself—in the New Leader in 1923—as "the militant Socialist wing of the Labour Party" the I.L.P. pressed vigorously a "living wage policy" aimed at "a narrowing of the gulf that separates rich and poor." Mr. McNair makes much of this policy and its advocates, and thereby raises some awkward questions. It may be protested that his is a work of biography, not of political theory, but since much of the praise of Maxton rests on the policies he pursued, facts must be faced.

For the truth is that, however ardently Maxton spoke of Socialism and the abolition of poverty, he and his party had contracted for neither: the "wild men from the Clyde" were as dangerous to the Capitalist system as a pantomime lion to its audience. Leave aside, if you like, the economic aspects—for example, that Socialism has nothing to do with wages; leave that aside and consider merely that many of the men Maxton supported and Mr. McNair praises were avowed upholders of capitalism.

Thus, a whole chapter of the book is given to reporting Maxton's allegation of murder against the Tory Government for the malnutrition deaths of poor people's children, and his subsequent suspension from the House of Commons. But in 1924, when Labour was in office, Ramsay MacDonald—Prime Minister, a leader of the I.L.P.—told the House: "We are not going to diminish industrial capital in order to provide relief." There was no denunciation by Maxton, nor is there any reference by Mr. McNair. Again, John Wheatley is praised for his work on housing as Minister of Health in the first Labour Cabinet. But Wheatley himself made quite clear what his position was. Introducing his housing bill in 1924, he said:
"Labour does not propose to interfere with private enterprise in the building of houses . . . It says to the man with small capital: 'Instead of putting your private capital into a risky investment, lend it to the local authorities at 4½ per cent. Without your having any trouble at all you will get a safe return for your money . . . ' The Labour Party's programme on housing is not a Socialist programme at all."
What is more, he repeated it a week later:
"I notice that the Right Honourable member for Twickenham in criticizing my proposals the other day, said: 'This is real Socialism' . . . The proposals which I am submitting are real Capitalism½an attempt to patch up in the interests of humanity, a capitalist ordered society,"
Maxton's hope was that the Labour Party would become Socialist. In 1929, seeing his lack of an overall majority, he urged that it should attempt sweeping legislation on behalf of the workers; it would fail, of course, but then could turn to the electorate and ask for the mandate it would undoubtedly receive. Perhaps in that one incident is shown what Maxton really failed to perceive. All his life he had hopes in the Labour Party as the agent for emancipating the working class; he never saw that the Labour Party had never set out to that end—or, when he did see it, he hoped he was mistaken.

Maxton lacked, in fact, any clear-cut conception of Socialism, much as he talked about it. In 1928 he debated with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and expressed his entire agreement with the case Fitzgerald put forward—adding that he appreciated also the Fabians and the Communist Party! He held that Socialism was a question of "human will and human intelligence," to be attained by any variety of possible means.

Indeed, the I.L.P.'s attitude to the Communist Party and to Russia comprises one of the more curious matters in the book. One might set aside Maxton's early co-operation with Gallacher, but McNair will not do so. He writes with undisguised sympathy for the Russian Revolution and the early Bolshevik Government, condemning the British Government's attitude towards it. The I.L.P. today condemns the Russian dictatorship as strongly as everyone else, but Mr. McNair does not explain the difference. Would it be too uncharitable to suggest that the I.L.P. was "taken in" by the illusion of Russian "Socialism" and can deal with its mistakes only by ignoring them?

Maxton's lack of understanding is made the more regrettable by his undoubted sincerity. He was a fine orator, commanding respect and sympathy, but his moral indignation against injustice was never supported by analysis of the real causes of that injustice. Those who followed him were impelled by the same emotional force that drove him: "beloved rebel" is an apt and proud title, but its pleasant emotional sound is the key to Maxton's weakness.

Much has been written in recent times about the "decline" of the Labour movement. The phrase lacks accuracy, since a decline implies a height previously reached. The Labour movement gained its strength from the hopes of working people: men were sent to Parliament who spoke fervently of their opposition to capitalism, inequality and privilege. Many of them, unlike the Tories and Liberals, were from the working class itself, had experienced poverty, knew the problems. When at last they came to govern with an unassailable majority, after the war, their policies gave birth to nothing; the real truth is that they had always been barren.

The I.L.P., a negligible force today, was nothing more in its strongest days. It stood for a benevolent capitalism, its leaders for the most part unaware that capitalism contained no seeds of benevolence. Only Maxton's idealism distinguishes him from the MacDonalds and Hendersons and Snowdens; had he attained parliamentary office, he would have been no more able than they to deserve the title of "beloved rebel," or even rebel. Perhaps the most pointed comment on all that Mr. McNair's book describes is contained in two recent death notices—David Kirkwood and George Buchanan. These, with Maxton, were firebrands among the "wild men" of the 1920s. They died reconciled to capitalism: the one titled, the other with his wildness tamed by service on the National Assistance Board.

Robert Barltrop  

Saturday, May 30, 2015

THE CONFESSIONS OF A CLYDE "RED."

From the September 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The only time in my life that I have allied myself with the enemies of the workers has been since I came to the House of Commons, and that is by the order of the Labour Government. Almost every time I go into the Division Lobby I join such tried and trusted friends of the Labour Party as Lloyd George, his daughter, Sir Herbert Samuel, etc. They are keeping the Labour Party in office on condition that the workers and the Labour Party programme are deserted."
Thus writes the Labour M.P. for Shettleston ("Forward," August 2nd). He was, however, the official Labour candidate, and stood for the official Labour Party Programme. He was attacked during the election by another Labourite, Mr. C. Diamond, who has been on three occasions official Labour candidate, and who stated that he has supported the Labour Party because it is not committed to Socialism.

The Party that the Member for Shettleston—McGovern—stands for, is not out for the working class. Read his own words: -
"There is no danger of chasing away the Liberal votes, as they have all joined us at Westminster. The Labour Cabinet coddle them too much to drive them away, and are more concerned about them than about the working class."
He became the official Labour Candidate—because it's the best way to get elected. "Getting in" —that's the game, even if it means going into the Lobby to vote against the programme he ran on.

The little conflict between the "wings" has now been settled at a joint meeting of the Labour Party and I.L.P., and the following terms were agreed upon: -
(1) That the I.L.P. accepts the Labour Party Annual Conference as the supreme authority of the organised political movement of the workers.
(2) That the I.L.P. wishes to remain in affiliation with the Labour Party. (Forward, Aug. 2.)
So, now Lloyd George, the I.L.P., and the Labour Party may continue their united front—in the same Lobby.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Clydesiders - Book Review

Book Review from the January 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Clydesiders by R. K. Middlemas 

In the general election of 1922 twenty Independent Labour Party members were elected from Glasgow and the West of Scotland alone. As a vast, hymn-singing crowd saw the new MPs onto the London train one of them, Emmanuel Shinwell, was aware that "they had a frightening faith is us . . . we had been elected because it was believed we could perform miracles and miracles were needed to relieve the tragedy of Clydeside in 1922." (Conflict Without Malice by E. Shinwell) The miracles, of course, failed to come. Capitalism proved more than a match for the reforms of the Independent Labour Party. Mr. Middlemas traces the gradual decline of that organisation.

The cover announces his book as "an important contribution to contemporary political history." This claim would not be so wide of the mark if he had got a few more of his facts right. Take, for example, his confusion of the founding of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain with that the British Socialist Party on page 32:
The impossibilists', the hard core of followers of the American Daniel De Leon broke off in Scotland in 1903 to form the extremist Socialist Labour Party (SLP), and two years later in London to form the British Socialist Party.

Let us make it clear that our founder members were opposed to the confused industrial-unionism if De Leon and that the date of formation was 1904, not 1905 as he suggests. He is plainly mixing up the SPGB with the so-called 'British Socialist Party' (BSP), the inaugural meeting of which was held on 30th September, 1911—with Hyndman in the chair. (See H. M. Hyndman and British Socialism by C. Tsuzuki and the Socialist Standard, November 1912). The BSP held negotiations with sections of the SLP and of the ILP, and others, in 1920-21 and it was this reformist cocktail which eventually became the 'Communist' Party.

Despite the unfortunate mistakes, there are some interesting passages in this book. One of these, on page 276, gives a classic example of policy reversal by the Communists. In October 1932 the CP and ILP were co-operating and they organised the first Hunger March. Yet, only a year before, a Communist Party manifesto had referred to "the struggle against the ILP which is an inseparable part of British social fascism." Elsewhere we find that Shinwell gained his 'socialist' education by reading "the German Socialist Bernstein" and that Maxton, with unconscious schizophrenia, claimed to recognise the class struggle and the labour theory of value—but not the materialist conception of history!

Mr. Middlemas has little to say about the present little group, all that remains of the once powerful ILP. He merely reflects that "like the old-time SDF and the contemporary 'Impossibilists', the ILP was on the inverted road of splinter groups for whom it is more important to decide the details of the socialist millenium than the present methods of achieving it." But it is quite wrong to imply that the ILP sacrificed numbers for the sake of socialist understanding. They have been strongly influenced by anarchist ideas and, now that the great days of Maxton, Brockway and Wheatley have gone, feel that "parliamentary action . . . has many limitations, and its members cannot adequately represent the interests of the working class." Their demands include the extension of the "comprehensive system of education and abolition of the Grammar School system: and the introduction of "differential rent schemes", although "only a socialist society will be able to bring down the rents"! Finally, they have pledged themselves "to fight within the capitalist system" so that "commodity production (can) be organised for the benefit of the community." Could confusion go any further.

From the start the ILP followed an opportunist line and sneered at the 'impossibilists' in the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain. Never having Socialist principles, it could at least boast of a fair body of working class support. Now that that is gone, there is nothing left. It should be a lesson to all those who preach reformism.

John Crump


Friday, November 01, 2013

Quote of the Day



“Self-determination under capitalism is therefore an impossibility, and demands for its realisation a preceding social revolution. Such a fundamental change of the internal structure of society liberates the social aspirations of the peoples of the world, shatters the exploiting factions, and rising from the age-long struggles free citizens of the world combine.” - Arthur Macmanus, Red Clydesider, 1918

Friday, May 31, 2013

The ILP Poodle

The Independent Labour Party in 1922 returned several MPs, among them James Maxton, David Kirkwood, John Wheatley and John McGovern, who had provided Clydeside with the nick-name “Red Clydeside”. They were sent to Westminster in a wave of left-wing enthusiasm. Some had been imprisoned either, like Maxton, for sedition (interfering with army recruitment in wartime) or for involvement what became known as “The Battle of George’s Square”. They had taken part in some of the most bitter class struggles experienced by Britain in the early20th century and they had garnered a credible working class following.


However, they were dominated by ideas of the reform of capitalism rather than by the determination to destroy capitalism. We need not accept Engels overly enthusiastic optimism of the founding of the ILP that it was “the very party which the old members of the International desired to see formed” (Workmans Times, 25 March 1893)

The I.L.P. may have used the language of radicals but instead of calling workers to revolutionary indignation, it frequently appealed to the good sense and kindness of the ruling class. Lacking as it did any real position of principle, the ILP could accommodate practically any demand. Socialism was, of course, variously interpreted, but to most it meant state control and planning in varying proportions with import and export boards, investment committees, public corporations and the rest. The I.L.P. M.P.s. rarely missed an opportunity to try and “reason” with the capitalists, showing them the “folly” of their ways. Maxton and McGovern and their friends were wasting their time. The ruling class understood the position better than they did. It should not be the work of the socialist to warn the capitalists about the inadvisability of their actions but to prepare the workers.

David Kirkwood, explained:
“We were going to do big things. The people believed that. We believed that. At our onslaught, the grinding poverty which existed in the midst of plenty was to be wiped out. We were going to scare away the grim spectre of unemployment ... Alas, that we were able to do so little!”

Unlike the Clydeside Reds of the ILP, whose ghosts still haunt the Scottish Left-wing, the Socialist Party are not reformers but revolutionaries. We do not propose to change forms. We care little for forms. We want a fundamental change of society. The Post Office is the “public" property of the people (at least for the moment), and yet the workers in that industry are mere wage slaves. In itself, the question of ownership affects only external forms. The socialist fights for the abolition of the system of wage slavery under which the proletariat is working. We are not duped by those who demand nationalisation. We seek the emancipation of the working class and the abolition of all exploitation.

The overthrow of capitalism, that is our DEMAND. Reforms are non-demands and are legion in their number and variety. A political party with a list of “immediate demands” blurs its goal and it is goals that determine methods. The presence of these palliatives invites compromise and concession, collaboration and corruption. It is for our trade unions to improved conditions and seek amelioration but the political party should strive not for temporary respite but permanent solutions. While many one-issue reform organisations and philanthropic charity organisations possess within their programmes the highest humanitarian hopes socialism alone supplies the basis for any permanent improvement in the condition of humanity. Socialism is not the establishment of environmental regulation, not the abolition of sweat-shop labour, nor the enforcement minimum wage laws. None of these, nor all of them together, is socialism. They might all be done by the government tomorrow, and still we would not have socialism. They are merely reforms of the present system.

The one demand of the Socialist Party is socialism. While not opposing any reforms or improvements which may be secured under capitalism, the Socialist Party steadfastly sets itself against taking time away from its main battle, for revolution, in order to carry on the struggle for reform. It refuses to be maneuvered into abandoning its main demand with campaigns for palliatives.

No matter how you clip and trim a poodle it always stays a poodle and regardless of how much you re-shape and re-fashion capitalism, it remains capitalism.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Not so red

Ideas of reaction and bigotry can often be just as powerful as those of solidarity and class unity. The celebrated Forty Hours Strike in 1919, when English tanks occupied the centre of Glasgow and which culminated at the ‘Battle of George Square’ also witnessed violent anti-black rioting. On 23 January 1919, tensions among dock workers at the Broomielaw over the ‘employment of Chinese and alien coloured seamen on British ships’ spilled over into a battle with sailors from Sierra Leone, with ‘revolvers and knifes’ used. The role of the two seamen’s unions on the Broomielaw was essentially of deep seated hostility to immigrant labour, which they saw as driving down wages and conditions. Shipping companies did exploit the differentiation in wages between white and African workers, yet it’s unclear if much attempt was made to challenge this by the organised Left or from within the labour movement. The racist riots were ignored by Forward and the Socialist Labour Party’s The Socialist.


David Kirkwood was one of the men feared by an establishment which believed him capable of igniting a Bolshevik revolution in Britain and who once famously warned that "the socialist republic would be established at the point of a bayonet'. In the “Battle of George Square” Kirkwood had a policeman crack him on the head with a baton, knocking him unconscious. As chairman of the shop stewards committee at Beardmore's Kirkwood came to be forever linked with Red Clydeside through a series of war-time strikes against the introduction (dilution) of unskilled workers to do skilled engineers jobs. Nevertheless, Kirkwood took pride in the productivity records achieved by the Beardmore's workforce. He was able to say: "What a team! There never was anything like it in Great Britain. We organised a bonus system in which everyone benefited by high production. Records were made only to be broken. In six weeks we held the record for output in Great Britain, and we never lost our premier position.''

Kirkwood was one of 29 Labour MPs elected in Scotland at the 1922 election. He remained in Parliament until 1951. He then became Baron Kirkwood of Bearsden.

Local children would sing this ditty:
“Vote, vote, vote for Davie Kirkwood,
Vote, vote, vote for all his men,
Then we'll buy a tommy gun,
And we'll make the Tories run,
And you'll never see a Tory again."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Without the Rose-tinted Glasses


This rather unsympathetic article by Gary Girod about Red Clydeside is of interest and a rich source of facts and details.

The Background

For many years, the Left have painted a picture of Glasgow and Red Clydeside as a revolution that almost was. Some have argued that the unrest in Glasgow during WWI and the immediate post-war period was a prelude to the establishment of a workers' republic in Scotland. Willie Gallacher's said of the 40 Hours' Movement that "we were carrying on a strike when we ought to have been making a revolution." Memoirs written decades after the 1914-1919 period and the government's hysteria paint a picture of Clydeside which was far more revolutionary in hindsight than it ever was in reality. In 1983 Iain McLean's "The Legend of the Red Clydeside" asserted that Red Clydeside was neither a revolution nor "a class movement; it was an interest-group movement." Glasgow was not Petrograd and it never could have been. Its goal to maintain the standard of living in Glasgow as the war strained the economy. According to the 1916 STUC report, the cost of living between July 1914 to July 1915 increased by 35% while food prices increased by 17% in small towns and 19% in cities.This would prove to be but a mere taste of the war's costs for the lower class. By December 1917, food prices had increased 106% while the cost of living increased by 85% to 90% as compared with pre-war levels. Workers' wages did not even come close to keeping up with this inflation. By April 1917, skilled laborers' wage increased by only 50%.

In 1913, for the first time in the history of Great Britain, a census of production catalogued the wealth of Great Britain. According to the report the £712,000,000 that formed the net output of Great Britain was divided between 6,984,976 workers, which would mean that if this wealth was divided evenly, each person would make  £102 per year. However, the average wage of workers in Great Britain was "officially stated to be not more than 24 shillings per week, or  £62 4/- per annum. Thus in 1907, the British worker was generous enough to pay the manufacturer  £40 per annum for the privilege of working to produce wealth. The Scottish Trades Union Congress uses the findings of the report to calculate the inequality amongst engineers and determined that the "net output per person employed [was]  £108." Meanwhile, the average annual wage of engineers was £67. "There is the simple answer, £41 per employed person to the capitalist." The 1920 Manifesto of the Socialist Labour Party notes that "of the wealth produced in this country, roughly £1,700,000,000 per annum, the workers' share is, according to capitalist authorities, less than £665,000,000 so that the working class gets little more than a third of the wealth produced." The manifesto would conclude that "this is wage-slavery."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tom Bell - Industrial Unionist

What they said before they became Moscow's men and followed the Moscow line.

British Advocates of Industrial Unionism
Glasgow Branch


Extract

The above body has come into existence to advocate the principles of Industrial Unionism, i.e., an economic organisation embracing all wage-workers, irrespective of the trade or craft to which they belong, and having for its object the taking and holding “of all the means of production for the entire working class.” ...

...What we aim at is an Industrial Union broad enough to take all wage-workers into its ranks, thus making an injury to one the concern of all. As the old handicraft form, of production has been brushed aside in the march of economic development to make way for the modern machine industry with its sub-division of labour and complexity of form, so craft unionism, which is a reflex of the former, must make way for an industrial organisation of the workers to suit modern conditions....

...The Industrial Unionist stands firmly on the bed-rock of the class struggle, and; declares, that so long as the means of production are in the hands of a numerically small class, the workers will be forced to sell their labour-power to them for a bare subsistence wage. Consequently, between these two classes a struggle must go on until the toilers come together on the political as well as on the industrial field and take over for themselves that which, being the result of their labour, justly belongs to them...

....Industrial Unionism in recognising that there never can been anything in common between the employing class and the working class, instils into the workers’ mind a sense of class solidarity on the economic field and promotes unity on the political field. With these two separate though complementary movements, the political to destroy the capitalist political State, and the Industrial to back up the political and form the Parliament of Industry in place of the defunct class State,— the workers could forthwith lock-out the employing class and accomplish their freedom...

 Secretary,
THOMAS BELL.
333 Westmuir Road, Parkhead.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Quote of the Day

"Written right across every page of human history is the declaration that no people can be free so long as the private ownership of the means of production and distribution endures. Self-determination under capitalism is therefore an impossibility, and demands for its realisation a preceding social revolution. Such a fundamental change of the internal structure of society liberates the social aspirations of the peoples of the world, shatters the exploiting factions, and rising from the age-long struggles free citizens of the world combine. Thus the League of capitalist groups sinks out of sight, joins the barbaric ages, to which it rightfully belongs, and on the basis of the social ownership and control of the means of life there rises the new order—the self-determining combined in the great Federative Republic of the Workers of the World."

 Arthur. MacManus, Red Clydesider, (1889 – 1927)

Friday, June 08, 2012

Red Clydeside's Racism

In previous blogs on the history of Scottish labour we have observed how religious bigotry often marred attempts to unite the working class. But racism has also existed and been exploited for sectional advantage by supposed internationalists.

In all the major sea-ports of Britain communities a non-white sea-farers arose, many marrying local women. In Glasgow they mostly settled around the harbour area, commonly known as Broomielaw.

Many Red Clydesiders have become Scottish national heroes, remembered for their fight for workers' rights. Seamen's leader, president of the Glasgow trades and labour council and chairman of the 40 hr workers’ strike committee, Emanuel – Manny – Shinwell gained fame for his part as a left-wing trades union official in 1919, finding himself thrown into jail on Bloody Friday. But Stirling University historian Dr Jacqueline Jenkinson, in her book "Black 1919", accuses Shinwell of encouraging Glasgow seamen to launch a series of attacks on black sailors. Jenkinson reveals how Shinwell's British Seafarers Union banned black members and how labour histories of the period  fail to mention this Glasgow race-riot .

Jenkinson said: "There has been a reluctance to accept that many of the Red Clydesiders promoted actions that were discriminatory and unfair to the black sailors. Manny Shinwell was one of those who campaigned to stop black sailors getting work. His radical seamen's union, the British Seafarers Union, openly banned black members. It was felt they were keeping Scots out of jobs when they returned from service in the First World War, and lowering wages. Shinwell gave what some consider inflammatory speeches in which he condemned the employment of black sailors in the merchant fleet."

Professor Elaine McFarland, a specialist in modern Scottish history at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: "Red Clydeside does have this dark, racist underbelly, and there has been a reluctance to expose it. It may be due to the political leanings of some historians, but there has been a sentimental view of those who took part in Red Clydeside."

Socialists are only too aware of the racism that can inveigle itself into the trade union movement. Our companion blog SOYMB  recently re-published an appeal from Jewish workers about the descrimination they were facing from elements within the British TUC in the 1890s

The SPGB had reason to distance itself from certain members of the Socialist Party of Canada for their anti-Chinese statements in the early 20th century.

Addressing a meeting of migrant workers in London in 1892, dockers leader Ben Tillett told them: “Yes, you are our brothers, and we will do our duty by you. But we wish you had not come.”

Keir Hardie argued: “It would be much better for Scotland if those [Scottish emigrants] were compelled to remain there [in Scotland] and let the foreigners be kept out. Dr. Johnson said God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.” According to Hardie, the Lithuanians migrant workers in the mining industry had “filthy habits”, they lived off “garlic and oil”, and they were carriers of “the Black Death”. He described the typical Irish immigrant coal-miner as having "a big shovel, a strong back and a weak brain"

E.D. Morel of the Independent Labour Party and future Labour MP, could describe colonial French troops as "black savages" .

The Glasgow Evening Times were able to employ the words "sambo" and "nigger" in its articles.

The two main sailors’ union, the British Seafarers Union and the the National Sailors’ and Firemen’s’ Union, played the "race" card to attract and mobilise white members at the expense of their black co-workers. The operation of a "colour" bar by sailors’ unions heightened dockside tensions around Britain’s seaports. Prominent Glasgow labour leaders enforced and supported the "colour" bar on black and Chinese sailors. They opportunistically played on this manufactured division within the low-paid and low-skill seafaring workforce as part of the wider campaign for a 40-hour week to reduce unemployment pressures caused by demobilisation. Trade union leaders endeavoured to involve white British sailors in the general strike called in Clydeside, by tying on-going white sailors’ protests against the "unfair" competition posed by overseas labour to the 40-hours strike action. During waterfront speeches at sailors meetings, Shinwell linked the predudices among white British merchant sailors about the ‘unfair’ competition provided by overseas "Asiatic" labour, placing them into a wider industrial setting. He offered dissatisfied white British merchant seaman an opportunity to voice their concerns about workers from overseas undercutting their wages and threatening their job opportunities as part of the wider strike movement. The rioting at the harbour and the threat of more in the succeeding days drew public attention to the 40-hours campaign. The day before the general strike descended into violence on ‘Bloody Friday’ Shinwell presided over a third meeting of sailors in a week, where he ‘…urged them to take effective steps to prevent the employment of Chinese labour on British ships….’  A newspaper report reads: “...Councillor Shinwell, of the BSU, who addressed the meeting, directed attention to the large number of British seamen and firemen who were at present unemployed and the large number being demobilised who would find it difficult to secure employment aboard ship. This he attributed to the refusal of the government to exclude Chinese labour from British ships, and it was essential, he said, that action should be taken at once.”

Willie Gallacher joined with Shinwell on 28 January to address sea-going members of the BSU and other unionised sailors at the harbour to persuade them to take part in the strike action. The tenor of this meeting was no different from the ones addressed by Shinwell; again, the tactic was to import the old demand that black and Chinese crews should be expelled from British ships into the broad strike campaign. The strike committee viewed support from white sailors as useful in widening the 40-hours protest movement and were none too particular as to how such involvement was secured. Shinwell and Gallacher were simply parroting the mis-conception that it is the poor unfortunate immigrant who is responsible for wage cuts and unemployment.

Jenkinson uncovered newspaper accounts that reported Shinwell's role in a Glasgow race riot in 1919. She said:"He played a celebrated role in the protest in George Square on 31 January 1919. But just a week before, on 23 January, he also played a key role in a very violent attack on 30 African sailors. Newspaper reports tell how he spoke to 600 sailors and it was quite a rabble-rousing speech about black and what he called Asiatic, or Chinese, sailors. This led to around 30 black sailors being chased by a baying mob down James Watt Street. On 23rd January that year fighting broke out on the Glasgow waterfront between black and white sailors waiting to sign on to a ship. According to three newspaper reports, whites were being signed up in preference to blacks. A fourth report claimed that blacks were being signed up in preference to whites."

The riot on Thursday 23 January 1919 began at the signing-on hall in James Watt Street a few hours after a Shinwell speech. The black sailors, fled from the hiring yard, pursued by a much larger crowd of white sailors. Locals joined the crowd, swelling its numbers to several hundred. The mob, using guns, knives, sticks, bricks and other makeshift weapons, attacked the nearby sailors' retreat in Broomielaw in which the black seafarers had taken refuge but the mob smashed all the windows and they were turned out on to the street. The black sailors fled back to their own boarding house. When this, in turn, was attacked by the rioters, some of the black sailors fought back with guns, shooting one of the mob. One black sailor was singled out and attacked with knives, leaving him with a gaping wound in his back. The police eventually intervened, this time by taking thirty of the black sailors into 'protective custody'. All of them were charged with riot and weapons offences. Only one of the white rioters was arrested. Shinwell blamed the violence on the arrival in Glasgow of black West African sailors from Cardiff and the recent appearance of a group of Chinese sailors from Liverpool.

The 1919 Glasgow race riot proved the first of a number that spread to major ports throughout Britain such as South Shields, Salford, Hull, London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Newport and Barry. Five people were killed, dozens seriously injured, and over 250 people – usually blacks – arrested and soldiers deployed to stop the rioting. The origins of the riots in Glasgow and elsewhere lay in the policies pursued by shipowners in that national wage rates for sailors hired in Britain (who were almost certain to be white) had been  established after the 1911 seafarers’ strike but rates of pay for those hired overseas (who were almost certain to be black or Chinese) were lower by as much as 25-50%. The trade union response to shipowners using black sailors to cut their labour costs was not to campaign for an extension of the 1911 wage rates agreement to cover all sailors employed on British ships but to demand an end to the employment of foreign (black and Chinese) sailors. Instead of directing the union's wrath at the capitalist class which exploits and takes advantage of the lack of working class unity, Shinwell openly backed the idea of securing jobs for white British sailors at the expense of foreign black sailors.

Such was the perception, that when shipping companies employed foreign (black and Chinese) sailors rather than white (British) sailors, the latter saw themselves as being undercut in the jobs market by the former. This was exacerbated  by the increased unemployment of the  post-war demobilisation when white sailors who had quit the merchant navy to join the Royal Navy, or who had been conscripted to join it, demanded ‘their’ jobs back in the merchant navy. Yet  many of those jobs had already been filled by foreign seafarers. Thus, at the time of the Glasgow riot there were an estimated 400-500 unemployed white sailors in the city. The rioting was triggered by intense job competition among merchant seaman. However, a black sailor from any part of the Empire eg Sierra Leone (where the 30 sailors originated from) was just as British as a white sailor from Glasgow and would be paid the higher rate, and likewise any foreign sailors hired in Britain – because they had arrived here on another ship, or because they had settled here. While whites viewed blacks as foreign, different and inferior, blacks viewed themselves as citizens of the British Empire. The black workers attacked in Glasgow were regarded by the white crowd not as fellow Scots caught up in the same contracting post-war job market but as outsiders trying to snatch employment from white Scottish workers. Shinwell's speeches amounted to not much more than “British jobs for British workers”, scapegoating black and Chinese sailors for unemployment amongst ex-servicemen.

Colonial Britons were used as a convenient "industrial reserve army of labour" during wartime but after the war soon found their continued presence among the white British working class was resented. Black people were viewed as an "alien" element in the workforce by white rioters whose violent actions against their employment were ultimately appeased by the launch of an extended programme of repatriation for black colonial residents throughout Britain in summer 1919. By August 1921 repatriation forced two thousand black workers and their dependents out of Britain under protest. However, many others stayed put in Glasgow, continuing to live and work in the city. But the race-rioting at the docks had served its purposes, limiting the job opportunities for black sailors. Following the riot shipping employers’ were more reluctant than previously to hire black sailors in the port. The increased difficulty in finding employment provoked an organised  protest campaign as members of Glasgow’s black population worked together to publicise the growing destitution among black seafarers caused by the long-term unemployment. The African Telegraph in April 1919 reports "In Glasgow there are more than 130 British seamen walking on their uppers, down and out. They happen to be coloured men, but they are all true British-born subjects, who have served on British ships during the war."

Sylvia Pankhurst's, Workers' Dreadnought, of the Workers Socialist Federation described the sea-port race riots as by-products of capitalism and a divide and rule tactic of the employers. "Do not you know that if it pays to employ black men employers will get them and keep them even if the white workers kill a few of the blacks from time to time?"  It also wrote: "The fight for work is a product of capitalism; under socialism race rivalry disappears.” and asked "...those who have been Negro hunting: - ‘Do you wish to exclude all blacks from England?’ If so, ‘do you not think that blacks might justly ask that the British should at the same time keep out of their countries?’ "

The Socialist Labour Party's journal The Socialist commented: “It is useless to contend that coloured labour cannot be organised. If white men have approached coloured labourers in an arrogantly superior manner, it is small wonder that they have been unable to organise them. ... ‘Alien’ on the lips of one of the working class should have only one meaning – the Boss and all that is his." It bitingly explained  "The Trades Unions have prided themselves on having ousted coloured labourers from certain occupations... Black men and yellow men have been attacked for doing precisely what white men do. This, of course, is but the logical development of the Trades Unions’ policy which is prepared to strike rather than that any unskilled white worker should get a 'skilled job.' "

The temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. The clash on the Broomielaw can be taken as an example of how one element of the working class can be made the scapegoat, by those supposedly protecting the interests of all workers, in order to secure a better deal for their members, at the expense of the minority.

Shinwell went on to become a Independent Labour Party then Labour Party MP, chair-person of the Labour Party, Minister of Fuel and Power in the post-war Labour government, Secretary of State for War, Minister of Defence, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Baron Shinwell of Easington. It is ironic that he played a role in this campaign against black sailors when Shinwell himself was a victim of anti-semitism. After a Tory MP told Shinwell, who was Jewish, to "go back to Poland" during a debate in Parliament in 1938, Shinwell crossed the floor of the chamber and punched him.

Sources from here and here and here


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