Showing posts with label strikes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label strikes. Show all posts

Monday, January 06, 2014

The function of a trade union

The function of a trade union is to eliminate competition among workers on the labour market. But if the trade union, as an organization of living human beings, is to attain its goal, it can do so only through the will of its members. The transient personal interests of the individual worker often clash with the interests of the class as a whole. The organisation requires certain sacrifices: dues, expenditure of time, readiness to engage in struggle. Anyone who remains outside the union earns the good will of his employer and avoids conflicts, unemployment, or demotion. The stronger the trade unions become the more the entrepreneur strives to keep his workers out of them. He substitutes his own social security arrangements for those of the trade union, and deliberately exploits the conflict between personal and class interests. The trade union struggle is a struggle over the labour contract.

The capitalist is opposed by the individual worker while the individual employer is engaged in conflict with an organisation of workers, and organisations of workers are locked in battle with employers' organisations.  The existence of employers' organisations involves a change in the balance of power between capital and labour.  As long as the isolated employer confronted an organized workforce the trade union had a great many measures available to it which the development of employers' organisations has now rendered ineffective. The more fragmented an industry is, and the smaller the average size of the firms, the greater, in general, is the power of the trade union.

As long as trade unions confront individual employers their position is a favourable one. They can bring their concentrated power to bear upon the isolated employer. The wage struggle is thus a series of individual strikes. The workers of the employer concerned are supported by the whole financial strength of the trade union, which does not diminish during the struggle because the members who are still working continue to pay their dues, and perhaps special levies. The employer has to fear that his customers will be taken from him by employers who continue to produce, and that his sales will be considerably reduced even after the strike has ended. He has to make concessions, and from that moment it is in his interest that the terms to which he has agreed should become general throughout the industry, that all the other employers, whether voluntarily or under duress, should concede the same terms of employment. The isolation of the employers enables the trade unions to compel them to come to terms one after the other, through systematically conducted individual strikes, without these strikes putting too great a strain upon the resources of the unions themselves. Their successes increase their power by increasing membership and income from dues, and they emerge from the struggle stronger than before.
 It is clear that these tactics can be employed all the more successfully, the more tenuous the co-operation between employers, the keener the competition among them, the greater the number of employers involved, and the smaller the power of resistance of each individual employer. It is here that the influence and power of the unions is greatest. Large-scale industry resists such individual strikes much more strongly. In this case a strike can only be successful if it is general throughout the industry. An individual strike encounters much greater resistance which is far more difficult to overcome because the power of even a single large employer is far more considerable, and an understanding among a relatively small number of employers can be achieved more rapidly. The combination of workers is now confronted by the combined power of the employers which makes it more difficult for a trade union to achieve success in an isolated struggle, since the individual employer is now backed by his organisation, which compensates him for losses, ensures that the striking workers do not find other jobs, and makes every effort to fill the firm's most pressing orders itself.  If necessary it resorts to the offensive by extending the struggle and declaring a lockout in order to weaken the union and force it to capitulate. In such a struggle between the combined employers and the trade unions, the employers' organization is quite often the stronger of the two.

As long as labour organisations are in conflict with individual employers the choice of timing rests with the workers, and timing is a decisive factor in determining the outcome of a struggle. A work stoppage is most damaging during a boom, when the rate of profit is at its highest and the opportunities for extra profit are greatest, and in order not to lose his whole profit even a major employer would try to avoid a conflict at such a time, for the opportunity to earn that profit will not recur, at least not until the next boom. From the standpoint of the union's chances of success, a strike should be called at a time when production is at its maximum, and it is one of the difficult tasks of trade union educational work to persuade the members of the wisdom of these tactics. For it is precisely at this time that workers' incomes are highest, as a result of regular employment and overtime, and the psychological incentive to go on strike is consequently weakest. This also explains why most strikes occur during a period of prosperity before the peak of the boom is reached.

This choice of timing, however, ceases to be the prerogative of the trade unions once the employers' organisation becomes well established, for the latter can now determine the time of the conflict. For them the lockout is a form of preventive war, which can best be waged during a depression when overproduction makes it quite useful to halt production, and the workers' power of resistance is at its lowest because of the excessive supply of labour on the market and the financial weakening of their organizations as a result of the large demand for financial aid and the decline in membership. This ability to postpone the occurrence of a conflict, which results from the development of an employers' organisation, in itself represents a massive transfer of power. The employers' associations attempt, by a process of careful selection, to retain unorganized workers, rather than those who are organised, in employment, the most dangerous among the latter are proscribed by the use of blacklists. By organising company unions - institutions for breeding class traitors - the employers try to divide the workers with the aid of bribes and the granting of special privileges, and to ensure the availability of a strike-breaking squad. By refusing to negotiate with the union leaders they seek to undermine their moral influence. But they are fighting a vain battle, for in the final analysis the class interests of the workers are identical with their personal interests, and the trade union organization has become a matter of life and death for them. But the battle does retard the progress of the trade union movement and restrict its influence.

 The guerrilla war of the trade unions against individual employers has given way to mass struggles which affect whole branches of industry, and if they grip the most vital sectors of production, which have become interdependent through the division of labour, they threaten to bring all social production to a standstill. The trade union struggle thus expands beyond its own sphere, ceases to be the concern only of the employers and workers directly affected, and becomes a general concern of society as a whole, that is to say, political.  There is growing pressure from those who are not directly involved to end the original wage conflict, and since there is no other means available for this purpose they call for intervention by the state. The question of ending the strike is thus transformed from a trade union question into one of political power. The balance of power is tilted in favour of the employers by their de facto control of government.

The very scale and intensity of the unions struggles gives them a political character and demonstrates to workers how trade union activity is necessarily complemented by political action. Hence a point is inevitably reached in trade union development when the formation of an independent political labour party becomes a requirement of the trade union struggle itself. Once an independent political party of the workers exists its policy is not confined for long to those issues which led to its creation, but becomes a policy which seeks to represent the class interests of workers as a whole, thus moving beyond the struggle within capitalism into a struggle against capitalism - the struggle for socialism

Taken from here

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Against the General Strike

“Solidarity for ever,
  For the Union makes us strong.”

The union movement has proven itself to be a powerful instrument of a defensive character and as a force that poses the possibility of a transformation  from wage labour to a free association of workers and common ownership. The labour movement has won through battles on the picket lines but has often been lost, due, to counter attacks by the representatives of the employers as a class in control of parliament, and the state in its totality. The employers, through their agents in control of parliament and the entire state apparatus, have erected a whole network of laws and regulations designed to hamstring the labour movement. Organised labour is weak in relation to the power of the ruling class. Large numbers of workers, poorly paid and helpless before the onslaughts and insecurities that are products of capitalist society, have fallen prey to the capitalist- inspired propaganda that the union movement is a narrow, a sectional power bloc, insensitive to their needs and concerned only with its own welfare. Wage increases, hard fought wage increases to meet the rising cost of living, are being wiped out time and again. Big Business attempts to narrow the area of collective bargaining, the trade union militants must fight to widen it and to open up the entire process of capitalist production and distribution to their scrutiny. The workers have the right to know the secrets of a factory, of  the multi-national corporations, of an entire industry, of the whole economy, built by their labor. For the workers, independent labour political action is the beginning of their intervention into affairs that determine every single aspect of their lives and the future of their children.

It is easy to criticise parliamentarism and to criticise it justly, but criticism does not prevent it from existing. Those who strive to keep the working people out of the field of political action do not suspect that they are thus playing the game of the ruling class. By shouting, “No politics!” they are merely echoing the rallying cry that the capitalists has always given to the working-class. The property qualification for the suffrage and the absence of remuneration for office-holders, such as members of the Parliament, were nothing but means to keep workers out of politics. Even though that failed, we now have those “socialists” eager to accomplish what the ruling class could not.

Some socialists suggest the political struggle is insufficient and in its stead propose  the “general strike.” We must be clear, we are not talking about strikes that are the  inevitable product of a class struggle based on antagonistic interests. Even if  it  wish to, socialists cannot disarm the working class of the strike weapon.  It is the workers only means of defense or attack which it has for the protection of its immediate material interests, the strike is a right which the working people are right in jealously guarding. But while socialists should fully support this right for for all the workers, it is not their business to incite them to make use of it. It is not for them to urge or discourage strikes. It is for those immediately interested, those who will have to endure the consequences of their decision, to decide, without pressure of any kind from the non-interested. When those workers whose interests are at stake have decided upon a strike, we ought to aid them to gain every possible advantage from the situation in which they have placed themselves. That is, generally speaking, what is and what should be the conduct of socialists so far as concerns strikes. We acknowledge the strike as a weapon, but recognise its effectiveness should not to be exaggerated, it possesses limited power. Under the favourable circumstances it may  compel some employers to yield to union demands but it has never been able to produce any  radical change in the capitalist system. Here or there, there have been obtained some ameliorations but they have not been incompatible with the increasing prosperity of capital.

Many left militants think that a general strike of the most important trades would be enough to bring on the social revolution, that is, the fall of the whole capitalist system and the establishment of  socialism. Those militants who still cherish illusions and laud strikes as a panacea should understand that on the economic battle-field, the struggle is too unequal for the working-class despite tremendous strikes carried out with enormous resources and prepared with an incomparable talent of organisers and regardless of the great sacrifices, the self-denial and  energy of strikers, they lose the battle more often than win it, and when there is victory, the advantages that it reaps do not alter the fact that the gains proved very expensive and remain precarious.

Yet still a faction wishes to generalise the strike – a weapon good, at the most, only in particular cases – and to make the general strike the goal for the working class. It is time for such activists to take a reality check. On the political ground the working-class are more numerous than the employing class so it enjoys a real advantage and only a mere matter of propaganda and time for the socialist to convince his or her fellow workers to use their ballot in the right manner. Instead the militants rather confront the military power of the state, facing the provocations and arrests by the police, and risking the genuine threat of a massacre of the workers. But even if all these dangers and difficulties were avoided or overcome, the labour movement would inevitably be overwhelmed for success must be at the first attempt.  A conquered strike would result in an impotent, emasculate union movement. A defeat at the election polls is one thing, but the failure of a general strike is one of real sufferings and discouraged and disconsolate, defeated strikers withdraws from the movement into passivity and apathy.  A general strike is “All or nothing!” Workers should think twice about supporting such a gamble.

The political expropriation of the capitalist class today, is its economic expropriation tomorrow.  The state  in the hands of the working class the instrument of its liberation and transformation. Whether or not a revolutionary situation is destined to arise, the duty of socialists consists in educating his or her fellow workers, in rendering them conscious of their condition, their task and their responsibility, of organising them in readiness for the day when the political power shall fall into their hands. To win for socialism the greatest possible number of partisans, that is the task to which socialist parties must consecrate their efforts. What is necessary is to make socialists, to make the masses conscious of the economic movement in progress, to bring their wills into harmony with that movement, and thus to lead to the election of more and more socialists to our various elective assemblies.  In ordinary times, such as those in which we live today, any sort of action, except peaceful and legal action with a view to the instruction and organization of the masses, is sure, whether so intended or not, to have a deterrent and reactionary influence, and to interfere with the spread of socialist ideas. But this depends, not upon opinions, but on actual situations and circumstances. What is the use of talking of anything but socialism and to waste time talking about a contingent event that circumstances may force upon us in the future, but the time or character of which no man can define or describe to-day?

Instead of allowing ourselves to be led astray by romantic notions of the general strike, let us  examine the facts and see what conclusions they impose upon us. Socialism flows from the facts, it follows them and does not precede them. Socialism means the socialization of the means of labour and the abolition of classes. Its means, the transference to the political battlefield of the class struggle. Socialists are not worshippers of violence. Above all do we try to guard against the sporadic, meaningless and inevitably self-defeating violence that suffering and resentment are so likely to prompt. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The General Strike Weapon

The possibility of a general strike keep cropping up within the trade union movement. There have been many different types of general strikes in the history of the working class internationally. A general strike is a practical tactic or a token gesture, useful or detrimental, according to the conditions under which it takes place, the method it employs and the end it proposes. When we speak of the general strike we are not concerned with the general strike of a single trade union but of all workers. The movement is no longer, a trade union movement but has become a class movement.

For the general strike to succeed, the working-class must be convinced of the importance of the aim for which it is declared. It must be demonstrated that the purpose is legitimate and victory is realisable. The general strike must not be a disguise for revolution, but simply the right to strike on a wider scale and with a more clearly marked class character. The Socialist Party dismisses the idea that the general strike is the panacea of the proletariat. If the weapon of the general strike is to be used, then the organisation must be so built up that this weapon will stand ready for instant use. For the certainty of success in a general strike lies in its suddenness.

The Socialist Party oppose those who think that a general strike would be enough to bring on the social revolution and the fall of the whole capitalist system. The Socialist Party call for for participation in elections, as a means of propaganda, organisation, and struggle. The class vote has as its goal the self-emancipation of the working class. Yet, despite those who like to claim otherwise, we have never subordinated the taking of political power by the workers – which is necessary for the emancipation of labour and society – to a socialist majority in parliament. But we are also obliged to reject as a mirage the general strike as the only way to achieve socialism. We argue that the working class can vote for itself, for its own candidates and against the candidates of the exploiting class, with little need for the social disruption required to make a general strike as effective tool.

There are some who desire to transform the proposed general strike against austerity into a political general strike, using the opposition to the cuts as the slogans to mobilise around. They expect that because of a sustained general strike the normal economic life of the country will be suspended, rail and roads would be deserted, container ships unable to dock. Everywhere there would be a stoppage in distribution and in production. Naturally, this great discomfort would arise since workers would be depriving themselves, and therefore would be forced to adopt more forceful methods in order to live. They would seize food and other provisions wherever they could lay hands on them. The privileged classes, threatened, would respond in kind with repression and so the general strike is envisioned to escalate into a revolutionary character. That is the idea of the “revolutionary socialists".

This sort of strategy is a trick to delude the working-classes. It proposes to drag them far beyond what was proposed. By the attraction of certain concrete, definite and immediate reforms they are to be led to believe from the general strike they will be conveyed almost automatically to the Revolution. To imagining that a social revolution can result from misleading workers in such a manner is nonsense.
The idea of carrying through a social revolution by means of a folded arms policy is romantic. A stoppage of production and transportation is not enough to bring about the overthrow of a society. Strikers will stand outside the gates of the factories, and even if the workers occupy and take possession of the factory, it is a pointless exercise for the factories cannot function while the economy is suspended and production is stopped by the universal strike. The general strike is centred upon the economic and does not supply the working-class forces with a broader but more central aim by which they can unite. So long as a class does not own and control the whole social machine, it can seize all the factories and yards it wants to, but it really possesses nothing.

The general strike, although, quite powerless as a revolutionary means, is none the less important. It is a warning to the privileged classes, rather than a method of liberation for the exploited classes. It tells the governing class if they are mad enough to threaten or attack universal suffrage, if by the persecution of employers and the police they made the right to unite in trade unions and the right to strike empty forms, then a forceful general strike would be certainly the form that a labour revolt would take. It would be an act of desperation, more as a means of damaging the enemy to save ourselves than a means of liberation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

China's class struggle

More than 1,000 furious migrant workers besieged a factory in Shanghai and held 18 Japanese and Chinese managers against their will for more than a day, after the workers were subjected to unequal regulations. 400 police freed the managers.

The workers of Japanese electronic appliance maker Shanghai Shinmei Electric staged a strike and besieged the factory for two days following the introduction of a new factory policy calling for heavy fines, demerits or immediate termination for workers who made a mistake.

A worker wrote via a microblog about the desperate situation management allegedly put them in. "We earn less than 2,000 yuan a month, but we could be subjected to fines of 50 to 100 yuan for arriving late or spending more than two minutes in the toilet,"

 The National Bureau of Statistics last week revealed the country’s Gini coefficient – which measures income inequality. The official figure of 0.474 is a belated acknowledgment that China has a serious problem. On the Gini scale, 0 is perfect equality and 1 is total inequality – any rating above 0.4 is considered to be dangerous to social stability.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

How Clydebank stitched up Singers

The 1911 Clydebank Singers strike is considered the first battle between labour and international capital in Scotland if not in the UK. It was also the biggest single firm strike in Scotland up to 1914. The strike lasted three weeks.

In 1867/8 the American company Singer Sewing Machine Co. expanded into Scotland. It first opened a small sewing machine factory in Glasgow near John St. However growing demand forced the company to expand to a larger factory in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow. In 1882 they moved again, to a greenfield site at Kilbowie in Clydebank. It was a very anti-union company. Tom Bell, an activist during the 1911 strike, in his book “Pioneering Days” states; “The firm refuses to recognise any union, and those union men that were employed had to keep it quiet.”

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The class struggle

Members the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Scotland's largest teachers union, yesterday voted in favour of fighting austerity measures in a renewed campaign which could lead to industrial action in the autumn. The union backed motions calling for action to protect the profession from public sector cuts and oppose changes to their pensions being made by the UK government. While pension reform is reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government has said it must implement the changes or face losing £100 million a year it receives from the UK government. Last November, Scots teachers took part in a UK-wide strike over pension changes – the first nationwide walkout by the profession in Scotland since 1986.

In a scathing attack the newly-elected EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said  “We understand that it is the UK government, the coalition, that has been the driving force behind the attempt to make teachers pay more, to work longer and to get less. We know who the guilty are in this great cash robbery. But we have a clear message also for the Scottish Government and for Mike Russell, the cabinet secretary for education, in particular. You cannot hide behind the coat-tails of some Eton toffs and say, ‘It wisnae me’. Scottish teachers expect the Scottish Government to stand up for Scotland on this issue and if they fail to do so, if they fail to deliver a fair settlement on pensions here in Scotland, we are prepared to fight them every bit as hard as we will fight the UK coalition government on this issue...There is a simple choice: fight the cuts or fight us, because we are not minded to pay the price for the greed of others.”

Mr Flanagan said Westminster’s austerity measures had been “firmly rejected” by voters. Local elections in May made it clear “not only in Scotland but across Britain, that the UK government’s austerity programme has been decisively rejected”. Mr Flanagan said: “It is clear that what the electorate wants is for elected politicians to fight back against austerity and not to simply administer a cuts programme." Teaching was a stressful profession, he said, adding: “The suggestion that teachers should stay in the classroom till they are 68 or even longer is not a credible notion and it is one we will resist: 68 is way too late.”

Charlotte Ahmed, a union member from Glasgow, said: “This is theft. It’s a smash-and-grab. They’re taking money out of our pockets and putting it where exactly? The autumn is the time to turn the screw and commit ourselves to action.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Strike to defend pay and pensions

Tens of thousands of Scottish workers will be on strike today protesting at government pension reforms. Departments affected include Jobcentres, tax and benefit offices, courts, coastguards, Historic Scotland venues such as  Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, and civilian workers at the Faslane nuclear base and the Scottish Parliament. Some health workers, mainly porters and technicians from the Unite union, are also expected to take action.

PCS Scottish Secretary, Lynn Henderson, said the changes, which appeared in April's pay packets for the first time, were costing some members up to £150 a month.

 STUC general secretary Graeme Smith said the action demonstrated the frustration people were feeling. "People feel aggrieved at being asked to pay more, having to work longer and get less at the end of the day," he said.

We are being told practically every day that we are living in hard times and that we must be prepared to tighten our belts. Longer working lives, lower pensions and more unemployment are the prospects for the working class. Socialists recognise the necessity of workers' solidarity in the class struggle defending pay and pensions against the capitalist class.

It's simple really.Your pension is your wage deferred until you retire. And we need to be very clear. Lowering pension levels and raising the retirement age are cuts in real pay. That there is at present a "problem" once more proves that the market economy is incapable of going beyond the limits of the wages system. That capitalism cannot adequately provide for the needs of the class that creates all the wealth in the first place and it cannot offer us security in the long run.

Unions cannot work miracles. Unions cannot make revolutions. What is required in addition to trade union action is socialist political action.

If you accept the logic of capitalism, you play by its rules – and by its rules, government cuts are just necessary and inevitable. By its rules, to fight against the cuts and for higher wages is as senseless as trying to shake fruit from a dead tree. Without a decent anti-capitalist argument, and an idea of what we are for, we've lost before we’ve begun. That’s why socialism is so important. Yes, it is, as we are often told, a ‘nice idea’. But when it takes hold of workers, it could become much more than that.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The 1926 May Days

“The miners occupy the front trenches of the position singled out for attack and if their wages are reduced it will be the beginning of a general wage reduction” (John Wheatley, Labour MP)

The General Strike lasted from 3rd to 12th May

Over the years a struggle had been developing between a growing militant working class and the employers and the state.The industrial working classes defined British politics in the 1920s; some 7 Million workers (one in six of the population) were employed in heavy industry or the land. Two million men worked down the mines and hundreds of thousands of others were employed in the iron and steel industry, in the railways and docks, in the building and engineering industry and in textiles and transport. The 1926 General Strike was initiated to defend the living conditions of the miners. The longer-term view of the 1926 General Strike sees it as the inevitable outcome of a struggle between classes that began during the First World War. Soldiers returning to Britain after the Great War did not find their land fit for heroes, rather one fit for zeroes. Miners that had spent years in trenches returned to pits where they were treated worse than before they had volunteered to defend the British Empire. The miners together with the dockers and railway workers formed in 1919 a Triple Alliance of one and a half million trade unionists. 1919 saw major strikes and demonstrations taking place, although they ended in disunity and failure. In 1920 a general strike was threatened to prevent British intervention in Russia against the Bolsheviks. During 1921-22, the mines were given back by the Government to private ownership and wage cuts were introduced. When the miners responded with industrial action, lock-out notices appeared, troops were deployed at the coalfields and the government declared a state of emergency. As hundreds of thousands from other industries came out in support of the mineworkers, the leaders of the other big unions reneged upon the promises of sympathy strikes. The day became known as Black Friday. Its consequence for the mineworkers was wage cuts that reached as much as 40% in some pits.(the pattern that was repeated as tragedy in 1926) In a planned a general offensive against workers, targeting the miners in July 1925 mine owners announced that they were increasing the working day, cutting wages and tearing up all previous agreements. The TUC responded by ordering an embargo on the movement of all coal, of which stocks were low and so the government encouraged the pit-owners to climbdown. The unions declared this Red Friday, a victory. In fact, it  was only a postponement of the coming battle.

On the eve of the strike a May Day demonstration (estimated at 25,000) marched in support of the miners through Bridgeton to Glasgow Green with a sense of solidarity. There was a realisation by workers that joint action by the whole trade union movement was needed to defend the wages and conditions of the working class. It was a matter of an injury to one, was an injury to all. Because of a general reductions in profits,  British capitalism was intent upon reclaiming their losses by attacking the pay and conditions of their employees. Stanley Baldwin made it clear that what his government required was pay cuts throughout British industry. Once again, the miners were the initial target. Workers concluded that the struggle in the mining industry was the key to the future working conditions of all British workers. The government was primed for a fight and was in no mood for compromise. Parliament was to be sidelined as Regional Civil Commissioners were appointed and given control over the country. Britain was to be ruled by decree. All leave for members of the armed forces was cancelled, as troops and armoured cars were stationed at the key centres of industrial militancy. The government was worried about what might happen in the great industrial cities like Glasgow and sent 7 naval vessels to the Clyde in an attempt to overawe the strikers. Naval ratings were used to protect the strikebreaking Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies volunteers unloading cargo at the Glasgow docks.

The main groups of workers who were called out on 3rd May were those in transport (dockers, railwaymen, seamen, tramway, bus and underground workers), the printing trades and the building trades. The main impact of the strike in Glasgow, as elsewhere, was therefore the disruption of transport and the disappearance of the normal press. 

The organisation of the strike in Glasgow was in the hands of the Trades Council which became, for the duration of the strike, the core of a Central Strike Coordinating Committee (CSCC). Seventeen local area strike committees were also formed as a means of keeping closely in touch with the rank and file strikers. The maintenance of communications was one of the main functions of the strike committees. Couriers carried instructions from the STUC, which was based in Glasgow, to the central and local strike committees and the trade unions, and back came reports of local support, strike-breaking incidents and requests for advice and help in solving problems which arose at local level. Problems arose from ambiguities in instructions to unions where only some members were called out, and to whom exemptions had been granted by the TUC, e.g. to building workers involved in hospital and municipal housing. The CSCC had the job of adjudicating upon many of these individual cases. Food permits for the transport of essential food supplies were issued by the STUC. Picketing was organised by the unions who had their own strike committees.

In Airdrie and Coatbridge in Lanarkshire, the local Council of Action issued permits for transport through its transport sub-committee and organised pickets of up to 4,000 to shut down road and rail movements which it had not sanctioned. In Arran the same procedure was adopted, though here, unlike anywhere else in the west of Scotland, the transport committee granted permits for the local buses on the grounds that they served working-class people. Mass picketing was the chief means used to try to keep scab transport off the roads and rails. In Irvine and Auchinleck in Ayrshire, pickets of up to 500 stopped buses taking workers to the local docks and obstructed railway lines to hold up trains.

In the Vale of Leven, one of the most militant areas in the west of Scotland, another Council of Action were formed. Strike committees were also formed throughout North Ayrshire, the Stirlingshire coalfields and East Renfrewshire.

"Defence militias" were created in some places such as East Fife, which consisted of 700 workers who fought pitched battles with police and paramilitaries. The  STUC stayed outside of these groups, condemning them.

The Perth Strike Campaign Committee was responsible for coordinating action and making the strike as comprehensive as possible. One of its actions was to control the main roads in and out of Perth, so that only vehicles with a Strike Committee permit could do so, pickets controlled the roads to Forfar, Dundee, Edinburgh and Crieff. Striking workers held mass meetings on the North Inch throughout the strike, which was very effective in Perth. The vast majority of the men on strike came from the railways - 1800 NUR and ASLEF members employed by London Midland & Scottish Railways and London & North Eastern Railway. Other strikers were road workers; tram company workers; and those employed at John Pullars & Sons, (later to be Pullars of Perth, the dry cleaners) and Campbell’s Dye works.  A key figure in the General Strike in Perth was Tom Murray, ILP member and of the National Union of Clerks (he later joined the International Brigades in Spain and became a political commissar in the Machine-Gun Company of the British Battalion). Another important local man involved in the strike committee was the railwayman, John Haig. A churchman and an elder of the United Free Church. One of the most intimidating and menacing sights of the General Strike in Perth must have been when columns of soldiers marched through the town in full combat gear. Several companies of the 2nd Black Watch were brought down from the north in a show of state strength. From Perth, they marched through Fife and onto Stirling.

Strikers in Kinross occupied the town hall, which then became the headquarters of the strike committee. Pickets in Kinross controlled roads in and out of the town and issued permits to drivers wishing to use these roads.

In Edinburgh a central strike committee operated from the NUM headquarters in Hillside Crescent. A football pitch was used to impound vehicles that did not have trade union passes. On the 6th there were serious disturbances in Edinburgh.

Women also joined the industrial battlefield and joined picket-lines, protesting against blacklegs and fundraising for the cause. In Lochgelly, Fife, a crowd of "hostile women" assaulted workers who tried to go back to work. Seven were imprisoned as a result. In Ayrshire, 29 women were arrested for intimidating workers who had returned to the mines: they beat tin cans and trays as they followed the men along the road to the colliery. In South Lanarkshire, women threw mud and shouted at blackleg labour. In Lockerbie, women followed such men home, bawling and shouting "scab", hitting tin cans and spitting on them as they walked.  Women were also involved in protest marches and parades. In early May, women in East Lothian, drove around in an open-top carriage, singing "The Red Flag", waving the red flag, and urging others to join them. In Edinurgh, one Mary Gagen was charged with throwing "earthenware vessels" at police from her window. 

The police and OMS volunteers tried to run a tram service through Rutherglen. The first tram driven by university students protected by police got as far as Rutherglen High Street where it was surrounded by hundreds of strikers. The trolley was taken off the overhead wires, the students were manhandled, and the police beat a hasty retreat. The tram stood in the High Street silent and still for the rest of the strike. Crowds were inclined to gather in the streets, they were unorganised crowds who resented the activities of blacklegs and tended to show their anger. Spontaneous mass picketing frequently occurred throughout the strike, large numbers of men and women from a district would go out to try and stop any strike breaking activity, putting themselves at risk to arrest and imprisonment. The usual targets were buses, trams and lorries. On Tuesday the 4th of May, in the east-end of the city, three buses were attacked and overturned. On Thursday the 6th of May a miners' picket marched to Ruby Street tram depot, Ruby Street was a cul-de-sac with the tram depot gates at the top; as the miners reached the tram depot gates the gates swung open and an army of police charged out with batons drawn, a violent scene ensued with many arrests. On the same day in the city centre of Glasgow attempts were made to stop buses, one being overturned and ten people arrested. There were other violent clashes at Bridgeton with 64 arrests. There were riots on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with 120 arrests. In Glasgow the solidarity of the strike and the spontaneous mass picketing was an indication of the strength of feeling in support of the strike.

On Monday May the 10th 100 people appeared before the Glasgow Sheriff Court, 22 were given from 1-3 months hard labour. On the same day at the Glasgow Police Courts a further 100 cases were dealt with for minor offences. There were a large number of arrests in Glasgow during the nine days. By Monday morning about 300 had been arrested, of which 120 had been arrested in the east-end of the city between Wednesday and Friday. The police violence and high number of arrests seemed to have no effect on the morale of the strikers. Towards the end of the first week of the strike there seems to have been unprovoked police violence. This may have been an attempt to intimidate the people in the hope that they would abandon outdoor meetings and mass picketing. Bridgeton seems to have seen some of the worst of this, following the mass picket of the Ruby Street tram depot. During the day of Friday 7th the police attacked the Bridgeton area, a busy, densely populated working class district, making 44 arrests. The reason given was that youths were holding up bread vans and coal lorries. In the evening crowds gathered in the streets around Bridgeton Cross, the police and mounted police attacked the crowds with batons. The following day the Bridgeton Parish and Town Councillors complained to the superintendent of the Eastern Police Division of, "The molestation of unoffending citizens by agitated policemen who were accused of unwarranted interference with a number of persons."

There was widespread anger at the conduct of the police, even more so against the Specials - they were reviled by the strikers even more than the regular police - and at the severity of the sentences. Regulations were passed giving power to the police to prohibit public meetings. Courts were being seen as instruments of class hatred and vengeance. In one hearing a well dressed young man was charged with stone throwing in a disturbance and given 3 months on the evidence of two policemen, contrary to several independent witnesses. A woman charged with mobbing and rioting was arrested on Friday the 7th of May she was refused bail and held in remand for two weeks in spite of the fact that she was the mother of 5 young children. On May the 14th the Labour group on the City Council called for a full inquiry into the conduct of the police after receiving several complaints from uninvolved citizens about unwarranted attacks on them, in particularly by the Specials. Tales of police and strikers playing football together never happened in Glasgow. There were calls for workers to carry "walking sticks" as a means of defending themselves, however instructions from the higher echelons instructed the workers to be peaceful and law abiding even though this was proving almost impossible due to the attitude of the police.

The Students' Representative Council of Glasgow University proclaimed itself neutral, and the number of students involved in scabbing was never as high as in Edinburgh or St Andrews. At Edinburgh University, over 2,000 out of 3,953 students enrolled as “volunteer workers” during the strike (in recognition of which a local ship-owner donated £10,000 to the university). At St. Andrew’s University, virtually all 650 students signed up as scabs. However: at Glasgow University only 300 out of 5,000 students scabbed.

In Scotland the only distribution of general news to those involved in the strike were the four editions of the STUC strike bulletin, and the STUC warned strikers against believing news from any other source, especially the BBC. The lack of published material during the strike had been a difficulty, information being carried by word of mouth round the area by walking, cycling or motorcycle. Political divisions of the Left that had been fiercely debated over the years had been forgotten, the main theme of all debate was to make the strike solid. The STUC appeared critical to local unauthorised strike bulletins and in the second week the STUC organised the publication of the Scottish Worker, which was compiled from material from the London-based Worker along with reports of local news from around Scotland in what seems to be an attempt to provide a moderate “official” alternative to the local strike bulletins. The "Scottish Worker" was published on May the 10th and for the next six days. On the first day of issue 25,000 copies sold in the first hour.  In Edinburgh the print-run of a daily duplicated strike bulletin rose from some 6,000 at the start of the strike to over 12,000 by its close. The bulletin contained strike news only, plus a commentary on such news and a reply to government propaganda. The Communist Party's rank and file National Minority Movement, issued a daily "Worker's Press" until raided and closed down by the police. The police prevented strikers from holding meetings, this was a serious hinderance to attempts to discuss and share news of the strike. There were instances of the police forcibly breaking up strikers' meetings.

How solid the strike was can be seen from the these figures: of the 2400 railway clerks in Glasgow only less than 300 turn up for work, Glasgow Corporation had 1087 tramcars but less than 200 were able to run, none of them were running on the east-end routes, but only on city centre routes. A few buses were running between Glasgow and some places south and west of the city. There were almost no blacklegs from the great mass of unemployed in spite of their poverty and suffering.

The reaction by the vast majority of the Glasgow strikers to the end of the strike was of: surprise, anger, betrayal and disgust. The rank and file movement were still loyal and would not only have carried on but would have willingly heightened the struggle.
The Partick Strike Committee held a mass meeting in a cinema with an overflow meeting outside which resolved that, "We protest against and deplore the calling off of the general strike and, furthermore, we call upon the Scottish TUC to issue an immediate call for the resumption of the strike until such time as a definite basis for a settlement is forthcoming and an assurance given that there will be no victimisation as a result of the general strike."  The Glasgow Trades and Labour Council on the 14th of May passed the following motion by 149 votes for and 36 against, "That the Trades and Labour Council express to the TUC strong disapproval of the manner in which the general strike was terminated."

In spite of the depth of feeling, they made no attempt to continue the strike locally. It would appear that in Glasgow none of the strikers disobeyed the TUC's orders by continuing the strike in support of the miners. The end of the strike was bitter for those most closely involved in its organisation and for those who lost jobs or union membership as a result. Victimisation of strikers was rife. On the railways, tramways, at the Clyde Trust, at Singer's works in Clydebank and in the newspaper industry strikes continued on terms of reinstatement, strikers eventually having to make concessions to the employers. On the railways new conditions were inferior to those in place before the strike. On the Glasgow tramways 188 T.& G.W.U. members lost their jobs. In the newspaper industry in Glasgow the three main publishers, taking in the Glasgow Herald, the Evening Times, the Bulletin, and the Evening Citizen, refused to negotiate with the unions and refused to employ union labour. In many industries throughout Glasgow leading strike activists were never reinstated to their jobs.

Overall there existed little national coordination of the Action Councils and Strike Committees, and the STUC were attacked for reining in militancy. The relatively slight impact which the strike seem to have had on the city was because of the TUC's decision not to call out workers in the engineering and shipbuilding trades at the very outset of the strike. Engineering and shipbuilding workers did eventually receive the strike call on Wednesday 12 May - the day the General Strike was called off !!

The General Council betrayed every resolution upon which the strike call was issued and without a single concession being gained. The miners were left alone to fight the mine-owners backed by the government. Most commentators agree that the strength of the strike came from the solidarity of the grass-roots mass support and the weakness from above by an indecisive bureaucracy. The strikers shock at the call off was only matched by the employers' and government's unexpected surprise. It was claimed that a significant proportion of the union leadership feared victory:

“I am not in fear of the capitalist class. The only class I fear is my own.” J.R. Cleynes - General and Municipal Workers Union

Winston Churchill spelled it out clearly “It is a conflict which, if it is fought out to a conclusion can only end in the overthrow of parliamentary government or its decisive victory.” Labour Party leader Ramsay MacDonald echoed Churchill's view: “If fought to a finish as a strike, a general strike would ruin Trade Unionism, and the Government in the meantime could create a revolution…I hope that the result will be a thorough reconsideration of trade union tactics…”

And the trade union leaders were not going to challenge the state for as the strike continued, more and more control over the day-to-day functioning of society passed into the hands of the strikers. An Independent Labour Party activist remarked “There’s never been anything like it. If the blighters o' leaders here dinnae let us down we’ll hae the capitalist crawlin’ on their bellies in a week. Oh boy, it’s the revolution at last.”

Revolution was exactly what the trade union leaders didn't want. The General Strike had opened a Pandora's Box and in the words of NUR leader Charlie Cramp “Never again!” and said Turner of the TUC General Council:I never want to see another.

The rank and file of the trade union movement were disgusted. “A victorious army disarmed and handed over to its enemies.” (A Glasgow Strike Official)

The Socialist Party of Great Britain realistically understood that there was no immediate question of revolution. It favoured the general strike for the limited objective of exerting massive pressure upon employers to concede over pay or conditions.

Throughout those tumultanous events the Socialist Party had advocated "combined action by the workers to resist the wholesale onslaught by the masters upon wages and working conditions... that the old sectional mode of industrial warfare was obsolete; that, while the development of industry had united the masters into giant combinations, with interests ramifying in every direction, supported at every point by the forces of the State, representing the entire capitalist class, the division among the workers, according to their occupations, led automatically to their steady defeat in detail. The only hope, even for the limited purpose of restricting the extent of the defeat, lay, therefore, in class combination...economic and political ignorance kept the workers divided and the defeats went on. Yet even worms will turn, and rats forced into corners will fight...There is a limit even to the stupidity of sheep; and not all the smooth-tongued eloquence of their shepherds could prevent the flock from realising that they may as well hang together as hang separately."

The Socialist Standard lamented the TUC's lack of strike plans. "As an expression of working-class solidarity the response of the rank and file was unquestionably unprecedented; but the long months, nay, years of delay found effect in the official confusion between "essential" and non-essential occupations, the handling of goods by some unions which were banned by others and the issuing of permits one day which had to be withdrawn the next. Just prior to the strike the railwaymen were working overtime providing the companies with the coal to run their blackleg trains..."

The SPGB urged the working class to learn the lessons of the General Strike. "The outlook before the workers is black, indeed, but not hopeless, if they will but learn the lessons of this greatest of all disasters. "Trust your leaders!" we were adjured in the Press and from the platforms of the Labour Party, and the folly of such sheep-like trust is now glaring. The workers must learn to trust only in themselves. They must themselves realise their position and decide the line of action to be taken. They must elect their officials to take orders, not to give them!...It is useless for the workers either to "trust" leaders or to "change" them. The entire institution of leadership must be swept by the board." At the time we urged workers to workers that they "must organise as a class, not merely industrially, for the capture of supreme power as represented by the political machine...The one thing necessary is a full recognition by the workers themselves of the hostility of interests between themselves and their masters. Organised on that basis, refusing to be tricked and bluffed by promises or stampeded into violence by threats, they will emergence victorious from the age-long struggle. Win Political Power! That is the first step."
Socialist Standard June 1926

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Red or Pale Pink Clydeside?

In the eyes of many, Glasgow during the First World War and its aftermath gained the reputation of being a centre of socialist ideas, a hotbed of revolution. The city acquired the nickname "Red Clydeside". There remains a debate on the Left, over whether the Red Clydeside movement constituted a genuine revolutionary opportunity for the working class, or that the revolutionary potential of the Clydeside working class has been exaggerated. Prior to the Red Clydeside, Glasgow was quite solidly Liberal at elections and did not have a significant history of workers’ militancy. The city shared the jingoistic wave which swept Britain at the outbreak of the First World War. Thousands of Glaswegians signed up for the armed forces of their own volition. The trade unions, supported by the overwhelming support of their members, agreed not to call any strikes and didn’t bat an eyelid at repressive pieces of legislation such as the Defence of the Realm Act. To undermine the war effort was to risk alienating the working class, which many labour leaders were unwilling to do.

Although, at Clydebank, there was a fore-taste of the militancy in 1911 when 1,000 workers at the largest factory of Singer sewing machines factory went on strike in March–April, ceasing to work in solidarity of 12 female colleagues protesting against work process reorganisation. Following the end of the strike, Singer fired 400 workers, including all strike leaders and purported members of the Industrial Workers of Great Britain , the Socialist Labour Party affilated offsping from the Industrial Workers of the World, among them Arthur McManus. Labour unrest, in particular by women and unskilled labour, greatly increased between 1910-1914 in Clydeside, with four times more days on strike than between 1900 and 1910. During these four years preceding World War I, membership of those affiliated to the Scottish Trades Union Congress rose from 129,000 in 1909 to 230,000 in 1914.

When war broke out excepting John Maclean, none of the labour leaders on the Clyde developed a class analysis of the war, nor did they seriously consider threatening the power and authority of the state. Some of the labour leaders, including Maclean opposed the war; others, including David Kirkwood, who later became manager of an ammunitions factory, did not. It was the behaviour of those conducting the war, not the war itself that really provoked opposition within the labour movement. As the war dragged on, a disenchantment with politicians, who had claimed the war would be over by Christmas, grew as those in power were exposed as liars.

The Clyde Workers' Committee (CWC) was formed, with Willie Gallacher as its head and David Kirkwood its treasurer. The CWC led the campaign against the Liberal government of David Lloyd George and their Munitions Act, which forbade engineers from leaving the company they were employed in. While another core issue was the skilled workers' protest against "dilution", which meant bringing in unskilled men and women to do parts of skilled trade jobs. Dilution was a calculated move by the state and employers to free up engineers, to fight and die in the fields of France and Belgium. This movement has received a great impetus from the introduction by the Government of a measure for extending the power of Conscription by the military authorities, usually referred to under the misleading but catchy title of the “Man Power Bill.”   It was seen that trusted and prominent men, both parliamentarians and trade union officials, were associated with every piece of legislation that fettered the workers more. The growth of the “Shop Stewards” movement up and down the country helped to undermine the influence of the “official” cliques in the trade unions, as shown by the numerous “unauthorised” strikes. It would be a big mistake to suppose that these strikes and threats to strike indicate an acceptance of the principles of socialism, or even a general awakening to the fact that they are slaves to the master class, on the part of those engaged in this movement, nevertheless,  the oppression became so unbearable, the injustice so apparent, that little scrappy revolts and outbreaks ensued.

The Socialist Standard wrote at the time:
"The Clyde trouble of Christmas 1915 is perhaps the best specimen of these sectional and local revolts. The principle of the men was strong, but they were driven down by lies, hunger, victimisation, deportation of their leaders, and, what is more important still, because the strike was local. Instead of abandoning the political machine to ambitious wiseacres and unscrupulous plotters, and letting them, in the secrecy of Cabinet conclaves, everlastingly scheme to set the social changes on you, see to it that those who are now proven the enemies of your class are no longer sent to represent you. Fill their places with class-conscious men of your own ranks, controlled and guaranteed by the political organisation of your own class.Engineers! At an early date you will be confronted with other trouble. We want your demands to be more exacting, and more deep the principles you struggle for. Fight with your brothers of other industries for these bigger and nobler things as earnestly and solidly as you recently fought. Fight politically as well as industrially, then, with the principle of the class struggle to guide your fighting."

In Germany and Austria strikes began on the dire problem of securing of food, but nearly always accompanying this demand, and in some cases forming the sole object, was the call upon the governments to declare an armistice and enter into negotiations for peace. In this country a similar movement spread. A resolution moved at Glasgow at a meeting resolved: “That having heard the case of the Government, as stated by Sir Auckland Geddes [the manpower Director of Recruiting], this meeting pledges itself to oppose to the very uttermost the Government in its call for more men. We insist and pledge ourselves to take action to enforce the declaration of an immediate armistice on all fronts; and that the expressed opinion of the workers of Glasgow is that from now on, and so far as this business is concerned our attitude all the time and every time is to do nothing in support of carrying on the war, but to bring the war to a conclusion.” Better late than never the Clyde workers realised that they have nothing to gain but a good deal to lose by the continuance of the war.

As these outbreaks were only spasmodic they were easily over-ridden by the ruling class. Of course, the Government soon arranged for a counterblast. Government propaganda denounced the strikers for their self-interest. "Even now your protest is not on behalf of the working class, but a claim that a small section – the members of the ASE. – should not be placed in the Army until the ‘dilutees’ have been taken. Surely if you did not complain when we smashed agreements and pledges given to the whole working class it is illogical to complain now when a section of that class is being similarly treated.” This latter fact is the fatally weak point in the ASE. case, and was being used effectively by the capitalist press and spokesmen against them, keeping alive the jealousies and divisions that are so useful to them in their fights with the workers.  A. G. Gardiner, of the Daily News was easily the cleverest of their agents at the game of misleading the workers by using a style of seeming honesty and openness to cover up a substance of slimy deceit. A good example of this was his ‘Open Letter to the Clyde Workers’. His articles, while appearing to condemn the government, were strenuous attempts to defend the existence and maintenance of capitalism. Their purpose was to persuade the workers to still leave in the hands of the bosses  the manipulation and direction of affairs. And there was a great danger that the workers, so long used to following this course, so long in the habit of following “leaders”, would succumb to this influence. Some of them not daring to trust themselves to manage their own affairs, believe it better to leave the management to their "betters" ” If only half of the blunders and appalling crimes of this war had been brought into the light of day, these timid workers would  have had a rude shock concerning the ability of those “experts.” The biggest danger that confronts them – the biggest mistake they can make – is to place power in the hands of “leaders” under any pretext whatever. It is at once putting those “leaders” in a position to bargain with the master class for the purpose of selling out the workers. It allows the master class to retain control of the political machinery which is the essential instrument for governing society. All the other blunders and mistakes the workers may make will be as dust in the balance compared with this one, and not until they realise this fact will they be on the road to socialism.

The Rent Strikes

Class struggle activity also took place outside the workplace and on the streets in general. Many working class women were outraged that while their husbands were off fighting and dying for King and country they and their children lived in worse conditions and with less money. Was the war really worth it? Was it really being fought in the interests of all sections of British society? The drastic rent increases of 1915 proved massively unpopular. With their men fighting at the front, the women left behind were seen as vulnerable by landlords, and massive rent increases became the norm. With the city becoming a major centre of arms manuafacture during the war, it was necessary to bring in workers from outside the city, which only added to the overcrowding problem and pushed up rent. Existing tenants who could no longer afford the rent were evicted, causing widespread alarm among the now mainly female populace. By October of that year, some 30,000 tenants were withholding rent and huge demonstrations were called whenever bailiffs dared to attempt an eviction. When three engineers were arrested for non-payment of rent, some 10,000 workers in Govan downed tools and marched to the court to demonstrate. The initial failure of the government to restrict the raising of rents revealed that the interests of working people in Glasgow were not the real priority of the government. In Govan, an area of Glasgow where shipbuilding was the main occupation, the women organised an effective opposition to the rent increases. The main figure in the movement was Mary Barbour, later to be elected a Labour Party city councillor, and the protesters soon became known as "Mrs. Barbour's Army".The usual method of preventing eviction was to block the entrance to the tenement. Photographs of the time show hundreds of people participating. If the sheriff officers managed to get as far as the entrance, another tactic was to humiliate them - pulling down their trousers was a commonly used method. The mood of the placards carried by the protesters was that the landlords were unpatriotic. A common message was that while the men were fighting on the front line the landlords were in league with the enemy e.g. "While my father is a prisoner in Germany the landlord is attacking us at home".

Bloody Friday - The Battle of George Square

After the war a campaign for a 40-hour week and improved conditions for the workers took hold of organised labour. 40,000 Glasgow workers came out on strike on Monday 27 January and 70,000 on the following day. On January 31, 1919, a massive rally organised by the trade unions took place on George Square in the centre of Glasgow. It has been estimated that as many as 90,000 were present, and the red flag was raised in the centre of the crowd. The riot which ensued on between the police and protesters is widely believed to have been started by a police baton charge against what was, up until that point, a peaceful demonstration. Some sources indicate that trams running through the strike may have started the riot. City magistrates had been forewarned of the dangers of keeping trams on the streets at a time when thousands of strikers were marching to occupy George Square. But the warning was ignored, and the riot started after a tram tried to make its way through the square. The peaceful protest having been provoked changed the scene and the mood almost immediately and the rally transformed  into what is generally considered to now have been a police riot, with the Riot Act being read.  The police were now confronted by an angry crowd of workers who met baton charges with fists and bottles. As they exited the City Chambers, Davie Kirkwood and Emmanuel Shinwell to try and quell the riot and before they could reach the crowds outside Kirkwood was beaten to the ground by police and both himself and Shinwell arrested.

 The police had anticipated that their baton charge would drive the crowd out of the square - not so. Not only did the strikers and their supporters stand their ground but drove the police back. Eventually there was a re-grouping and the workers began to move off from George Square to march towards Glasgow Green. When they reached the Green the police were waiting, ready to charge again. Undaunted the strikers, including many ex-servicemen, pulled up the park railings and chased off their attackers. For the rest of the day and into the night, further fighting took place throughout the city.

Troops based in the city's Maryhill barracks were locked inside their post, with troops and tanks from elsewhere in the country sent into the city to control unrest and extinguish any revolution that should break out. No Glaswegian troops were deployed, and few veterans, with the government fearing that fellow Glaswegians might sympathise with the strikers if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow. Young, mostly untried, troops were transported from camps and barracks around the country and stationed on the streets of Glasgow specifically to combat this possible scenario. Howitzers were positioned in the City Chambers, the cattle market was transformed into a tank depot, machine guns were posted on the top of hotels and, remembering Easter 1916, the main post office, and armed troops stood sentry outside power stations and patrolled the streets. New regulations were also introduced by the government to legalise whatever violence the troops might need to use to break the strike. If the troops were used to suppress any fighting involving the strikers the Riot Act must first be read - but only "if circumstances permit". Similarly, the commanding officer had to consult with the magistrates before opening fire - but again only "if time permits". Most revealing of all was regulation 965: "It is undesirable that firing should take place over the heads of rioters or that blank cartridges should be used."

Willie Gallacher, as well as Harry Hopkins, secretary of the ASE and George Edbury, national organiser of the BSP were also arrested. Shinwell and Gallacher were found guilty and sentenced to 5 months imprisonment.

"It is a misnomer to call the situation in Glasgow a strike - this is a Bolshevist uprising." 
were the words of hysteria from the Secretary of State for Scotland to describe what was happening in Glasgow at the beginning of 1919

William Gallacher, who would later become a Communist MP claimed that whilst the leaders of the rally were not seeking revolution, in hindsight they should have been. He claimed that they should have marched to the Maryhill barracks and tried to persuade the troops stationed there to come out on the protesters' side. "We had forgotten we were revolutionary leaders of the working class. Revolt was seething everywhere, especially in the army. We had within our hands the possibility of giving actual expression and leadership to it, but it never entered our heads to do so. We were carrying on a strike when we ought to have been making a revolution."
Plainly, that would have been a recipe for a disaster and a massacre, in light of the government's determination tosuppress sedition through use its military might.

At the 1922 General Election,  10  Red Clydesiders were elected to serve in the House of Commons. They included Maxton, Wheatley, Shinwell, Kirkwood, Neil Maclean and George Buchanan. Before leaving together from St Enoch Station to take their seats at Westminster, they had a send-off where the audience sang "The Red Flag" and Psalm 124, the Covenanters' "Old 124th", described as "Scotland's psalm of deliverance". Red Clydeside nurtured some people who later became prominent in the Labour Party or the Independent Labour Party or went on to be founders of the Communist Party.

The story of Red Clydeside is one of disappointment in that the "revolutionary" movement was not truly revoltuonay and was ultimately unsuccessful. Red Clydeside was far more pragmatic, from a trade union perspective, and not to mention more patriotic, than the Left's rhetoric asserts. But it does offer us a message of hope and a glimpse of what we can achieve. In 1919, Lloyd George in a memorandum remarked “there is a deep sense not only of discontent, but of anger and revolt amongst the workmen… existing order in its political, social and economic aspects is questioned… by the population from one end of Europe to another”. That statement is as relevant today as ever when we witness the protests of the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

class war in India

India factory workers in revolt and kill company president. Workers at the Regency Ceramics factory in India raided the home of their boss, and beat him senseless with lead pipes after a wage dispute turned ugly. The workers were enraged enough to kill Regency’s president K. C. Chandrashekhar after their union leader, M. Murali Mohan, was killed by baton-wielding riot police. Once news of Murali’s death spread, the factory workers destroyed 50 company cars, buses and trucks and lit them on fire. They ransacked the factory.

The workers had been calling for higher pay and reinstatement of previously laid off workers since October. India’s factory workers are the lowest paid within the big four emerging markets. Per capita income in India is under $4,000 a year, making it the poorest country in the BRICs despite its relatively booming economy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fight back or revolution

Education, hospitals, transport and the like are primarily a service for the smooth running of capitalism and were brought in as such. It is the essential nature of the services in these industries which has led to their being associated with state control. In other words, they are useful to the capitalist class and so it is in their interest to maintain them at a reasonably efficient level. On the other hand, the public sector costs money to run and this can only come in the end out of taxes, which ultimately fall on the capitalist's profits.

Cameron and other apologists for the status quo claim that the whole population will have to make “sacrifices” to keep paying for those public services. What these defenders of capitalism utterly and deliberately fail to tell us is that the overwhelming burden of the sacrifice will have to be made by the working class. The rich will, for the most part, as usual keep their privileges and luxurious lifestyles. Capitalism always works in the interests of the rich minority and against the interests of the majority of the population, no matter how many reforms are introduced. Work harder, pull together, make sacrifices today, they used to say, and in a few years you’ll reap the rewards. Of course tomorrow never came. They are no longer saying this now.

Most economists and political commentators are saying that the UK’s budget deficit and indebtedness will usher in a period of significant austerity. This problem is a global one, as the problems of Greece has well publicised. Instead of meekly accepting that it must pay the price for capitalism’s crisis, and waiting for the austerity measures to be handed on down, the Greek workers set about angrily resisting them. There has been general strikes in the country.

To-day over 300,000 Scottish public sector workers will stage a strike against the Government pension changes. Success through striking may well encourage other workers to stand up for their rights in the workplace more. A group of workers' strength, however, will continue to be determined by their position within the capitalist economy, and their victory a partial one within the market system. Only by looking to the political situation, the reality of class ownership and power within capitalism, and organising to make themselves a party to the political battle in the name of common ownership for their mutual needs, will a general gain come to workers, and an end wrought to the need for these battles. Otherwise, the ultimate result of the strikes will be the need to strike again in the future. There can be no real and lasting "victory" within the profit system.

In a world that has the potential to produce enough food, clothes, housing and the other amenities of life for all, factories are closing down, workers are being laid off, unemployment is growing, houses are being repossessed and people are having to tighten their belts. Capitalism in relative "good" times is bad enough, but capitalism in an economic crisis makes it plain for all to see that it is not a system geared to meeting people's needs. What can be done? Nothing within the profit system. It can’t be mended, so it must be ended.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cameron threatens the unions

In his first television interview of the year, Cameron, facing a possible spring of discontent as unions consider co-ordinating strikes against public-sector cuts, sent a tough message against any militant action. "Striking is not going to achieve anything and the trade unions need to know they are not going to be able to push anyone around by holding this strike or that strike or even a whole lot of strikes together – they can forget it,he declared.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union countered: “If David Cameron thinks he can batter working people into the dirt through his undiluted brand of fiscal fascism, then he’s got another think coming.” He added: “Millionaire public schoolboys, who are insulated from the lives of working people taking the daily hit of VAT increases and spending cuts, are in no position to tell the unions what we should and should not be doing to defend our members.”

Grahame Smith, the STUC general secretary Cameron was deliberately raising the political temperature with an anti-union sentiment, which, he argued, was “extremely unhelpful" and explained that "If union members want to take industrial action, they do so not against the Government but against their employer. Any industrial action will not be politically inspired,”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Council workers in strike action

Up to 150,000 council staff in Scotland staged the second 24-hour strike over pay in two months.

Schools, ferry services and rubbish collections are being disrupted as members of the Unite, Unison and GMB unions take part in the action.

It comes after the rejection of an amended offer from local authority umbrella group Cosla to change the 2.5% pay offer from three years to one year.

The unions are calling for a 5% increase in line with inflation.

Matt Smith, Unison's Scottish secretary, said he was impressed by the turnout for the strike and threatened more industrial action if the dispute continued.

Members of the Socialist Party participated in this walk out, just as ordinary workers who are union members.We reject any notions of wage increases 'ever' being the cause of inflation.Wages always play 'catch-up' with inflation.

There is over a century of socialist writing on this subject which can be accessed on the SPGB website, as this search will show.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The police and the class war

Scotland's rank and file police are to call for the right to strike, currently denied them by law.
Members of the Scottish Police Federation , representing ranks up to chief constable, will debate the issue at their annual conference.

Police are prohibited by law from striking. The nearest they came to industrial action was a demonstration last year when 22,000 off-duty officers south of the Border protested over the pay deal they had been given. Many officers believe not being able to strike means they enter pay negotiations at a disadvantage and there is an increasing feeling within the federation that pay levels have been slipping.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Charity doesn't begin at home

Staff at Shelter Scotland went on strike yesterday for the first time in the homeless charity's history in protest over pay and conditions. Offices around the country were closed as more than 100 workers and their supporters gathered at a rally in Glasgow to voice their opposition to new employment contracts.

The union Unite said that a proposed extension of staff hours would see employees working an extra three weeks a year without pay.Workers are also opposed to plans to downgrade 40 posts across Shelter's UK services, including four at Shelter Scotland, and to make up to five staff redundant. Unite said the walkout, following the breakdown of earlier talks, would be repeated on Monday unless management was prepared to negotiate a new offer. The prospect of a resolution looked unlikely, however, as Shelter's UK head warned that if the current offer was refused, up to 200 of its 850 staff UK-wide could lose their jobs.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tesco drivers' strike

Tesco drivers' strike continues
Up to 150 Tesco lorry drivers have begun a strike after refusing to sign up to new working terms and conditions.

The dispute came after the supermarket chain revealed plans to move its depot in Livingston, West Lothian, to a new site nearby.

Local MP Jim Devine has called for a one-day boycott of Tesco for threatening to sack drivers who refuse to sign the new contract.

A Tesco spokesman said the chain "strongly refuted" Mr Devine's claims.

The drivers, all members of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G), are taking part in a strike which is due to last from Thursday until Saturday.

Tesco vehicles were having to turn around at the warehouse as workers formed a picket line, according to union members.

The T&G claims the new contracts, brought in with the move to the new site, mean losses to the drivers of between £3,000 and £6,000 and the de-recognition of the union.

Tesco strongly refuted claims that the drivers would lose any earnings under the new conditions.

The T&G, now part of the Unite union, said drivers voted by 126 to six to strike.

Ron Webb, the T&G's national transport secretary, said: "We said we'd fight back against the way our members were being treated and that fight has begun.

"We are determined to expose this company for the arrogant way it has treated its staff, our members, and the union itself."

He said Tesco had stepped up security in the area.

A strike involving almost 150 Tesco delivery drivers enters its second day on Friday, with no sign of a settlement between the workers and supermarket giant.

Drivers at the Livingston depot in West Lothian walked out after midnight on Thursday over proposed changes to their contracts.

Members of the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G) formed a picket line at the site, claiming to have turned away several lorries.