Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 10, September 1929, No. 9, pp. 551-557 (1,539 words).
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The acceptance of the wage-cut of 2½ per cent. by all the railway unions is an event of importance: it marks the harvesting of the first fruits of Mondism by the owning class; it records a significant decline in the British railway industry; and it indicates that the struggle to retain existing wage-standards for railworkers will be, from now onwards, a revolutionary struggle.
Less than three years ago a frontal attack on railway workers’ wages would have roused a stubborn opposition, and the intervening period has embittered rather than harmonised the relations between rank-and-file railway workers and the railway managements. The economies effected by the companies have been of a particularly exasperating character, affecting all grades. The permanent-way men have had long periods of short-time working; and when employed economies over “look-out” men has made their dangerous job still more dangerous; economies in locomotive staffs have led to a “de-grading” of drivers and consequently to loss of normal promotion to firemen and cleaners; the “pilfering” of the normal promotions in the clerical grades has occasioned a considerable amount of stagnation and consequent unrest; the worsened standards for the young workers taken on to the adult staff and the failure to transfer junior temporary workers to the permanent adult staff has also caused much discontent.
This general treatment of the railwaymen during the post-strike period, together with the numerous special cases of victimisation, has made the much-advertised goodwill between the Railway Managements and the Railway Trade Union Managements a thing utterly alien to the frame of mind of the railway rank and file. The attitude of railwaymen is such that any body of owners who dare not face a long and bitter strike would do well to avoid a frontal attack on their wages and conditions.
The financial position as evidenced by the 1927 figures did not justify a frontal attack on wages: an increase in receipts of £1,250,000, and a reduction of £4,250,000 in working expenditure (of which 2,250,000 was “saved” on wages) did not justify the plea of poverty; especially ludicrous does the contrast between the “well-paid” rail worker and the “suffering” shareholder become when it is realised that in 1927 railway capital received more than 10s. for every 20s. paid in wages to railway workers (two-thirds of whom get less than 60s. a week; half of them less than 50s.).
It is clear that given a fighting lead the railway workers would have stubbornly resisted any such claims as those which the companies put out (in order to retreat from them):—
Withdrawal of the whole of the remaining war bonus.
Cancellation of the payments for night work, Sunday work and overtime.
Abolition of the guaranteed day and week.
The discussion of the case for such claims at the Central and National Wages Boards, and a strong lead against them, would have roused railway workers to put forward the drastic demands which the present railway position necessitates. So steps were taken to secure the maximum of wage reductions with the minimum of opposition.
The miners’ struggle has taught the owning class many lessons: it has made it clear that the “local” leadership as well as the “national” trade union leadership must be won for class-collaboration. The Mansion House Railway “Peace in Industry” gathering arranged by Sir Rowland Blades (now Lord Ebbisham); the carefully arranged conferences of rail workers and railway management subsequently held in many districts to produce an atmosphere of “our industry”: the Unions’ Campaign for the Companies’ “Road Powers Bill”—all these produced the atmosphere in which they force opportunities for self-sacrifice upon their members. Of the Rail Union leaders it is true to say “They do not sell their men—they give them away.”
Sir Felix Pole, of the Great Western Railway, made an appeal on the eve of the N.U.R. A.G.M. (just as Baldwin on the eve of the Edinboro’ T.U.C. made an appeal which found an echo in the heart of Hicks). Pole proclaimed the serious position of the Companies and the need for “sacrifice.” “Sacrifice” was the magic word; it echoed in the heart of Thomas, who took it up with such effect that railwaymen knew before their representatives met the management that they were “to make sacrifices equally with the other side to solve the problem.”
Never have wage-increase negotiations been conducted with such indecent haste as this for wage-decrease. The International Transport Workers’ Federation Conference was a difficulty; the difficulty was dealt with. An indiscretion of Thomas’s “created an awkward situation for the A.S.L.E.F. and the R.C.A.”; a fresh understanding was speedily arrived at and the negotiations were continued (Railway Service Journal, August, 1928). A mass of figures was presented by the Companies to the bewildered T.U. Executives (“all the cards on the table” J. H. Thomas calls it); all undigested they were swallowed, while Bromley (who has a restless Executive) indulged in the amateur theatricals of breaking off negotiations but keeping well in touch all the time with Thomas, Cramp and Walkden; the business was rushed on. Most of the shopmen are covered by various craft Unions; so anxious were the Railway Union Leaders to effect the reductions the companies desired that they could not await the time till they could consult their fellow T.U. Leaders: Bromley was brought back to the negotiations. The original terms were rejected according to plan; the 5 per cent. cut was discussed; the “magnificent negotiating machinery” so dear to the heart of Thomas, Walkden, Bromley & Co., was not appealed to; “equality of sacrifice” was agreed upon (£3,000,000 from Railway Workers; £2,700 from Railway Directors; unspecified sacrifice from shareholders): and the General. Managers informed their Boards of Directors “that 2½ per cent, was all they could expect for the moment.”
The T.U. Leaders then reported back to their members what they had agreed with the Railway Managements and recommended it to them for acceptance. Wherever Railway Trade Union Leaders and the majority of Railway E.C. men spoke they did so as the apologists of the Railway Companies, urging reductions from workers’ wages to make up owners’ dividends.
The charge against Mondism is that it sets to work to make the Trade Unions a part of the machinery of Capitalism: every Railway T.U. Branch room has found its national and local officials engaged in the amazing task of urging trade unionists to accept wage-reductions to keep dividends up and to maintain the price of railway stock above Trustee Level. These recent negotiations have been in method and in result a triumph of Mondism. So tied to the owning class is the T.U. bureaucracy that it comes forward with its slogan: “Equality of Sacrifice among all workers, that Railway Profits may be kept near to the maximum net profit permitted by the Railway Act of 1921.”
To conclude without considering the elements hostile to Mondism would be unduly pessimistic. Information from all districts indicates amazement among the keen trade unionists that their local and national leadership should be presenting to them “The Case for the Boss”: this amazement found its expression in the close voting and the indignation at the A.S.L.E.F. Executive; in the character of the questions at the mass meetings addressed by Thomas; in the storm of questions to Walkden at even the R.C.A. Conference; and in the embittered feeling among the shopmen who are organised in the craft Unions. This amazement at the line taken by the national and local leadership, in the disturbed times which await railwaymen, can soon be transformed into an intelligent determination to get a new leadership and a fighting policy.
The Shopmen’s question almost held up the ratification of this “Arrangement between the Railway Companies and Unions,” and it may yet lead to important consequences. Despite the many appeals to all rail workers to sacrifice 2½ per cent. and “get the shopmen back into their jobs,” the “Arrangement” states in Clause 3 that where sufficient work is available normal full time working shall be restored in the shops, but
“Where at any establishment at any time sufficient work is not available and full-time working would necessitate extensive dismissals, it is agreed that, as an alternative to full-time working and to minimise such extensive dismissals, the company may book off the employees on Saturday mornings.”
This clause points to “extensive dismissals” awaiting shopmen: when those dismissals take place a number of disillusioned railway workers will want to have a more detailed explanation from their leaders of the reason why their “sacrifice” in the interest of shopmen has not saved them from “extensive dismissals, minimised.” The shopmen’s question is the danger signal for the Mondites.
The railway crisis is just developing. With amazing speed the railway financial position has deteriorated. It seems that the rapid deterioration of the Railway Companies’ financial position is fundamental and that the British railways which rose with heavy industry are falling with heavy industry. Can railway finance save itself by the formation of a Transport Trust? What part will road and rail workers play as this question comes to the fore? These questions will be dealt with in a further article.