[Book] Ted Grant Writings: Volume Two


Statement of the Political Bureau on redundancy

Political Bureau, RCP

[RCP Internal Bullettin, December 29 1944]

The editorial in the last issue of the Industrial Bulletin has aroused a discussion in the party along unexpected lines. From our older comrades in industry, and particularly those with a craft background of the skilled worker, we thought that a difference might arise on questions of factory tactics, but not on policy. Differences of a craft character which might arise could readily be eliminated and clarified after a short discussion. But the opposition has arisen from a different source: from comrades who are in the main young, and whose experience in industry is confined mainly to war time relations and forms of work.

Notwithstanding the belief of our comrades that their differences are on policy, they are in fact, differences on factory tactics. Questions which are considered in the editorial as factory tactics – an appendage of cur[rent] transitional political programme – are raised falsely as the proposed solution of the PB to the problem of redundancy. It is said that the question of “nons first” is a political question and that the future of the party will depend on our attitude towards the tactic of “nons first.”

While the comrades have sought the editorial with a microscope, they did not see quite important political omissions – omissions of programme: the question of a scheme of public works, workers’ control, etc. The editorial, of course, did not claim to be a complete exposition and concretisation of the party’s transitional programme as it relates to redundancy. It specifically pointed out that there would be future elucidation in future editorials. As the discussion proceeds this political elucidation will be carried out simultaneously with the discussion on industrial tactics.

Unemployment can only be solved politically. Commencing from a correct base – unemployment is a political question – the comrades try to negate the transformation of political strategy into its component parts, including industrial tactics. “Nons first”, the partial question is equated with our transitional programme, the general solution. Phrases replace concrete tactical directives – sectarianism converts the programme into a lie. Word from comrade Trotsky to those comrades who wish to think:

“An idea, correct from the point of view of revolutionary strategy as a whole, is converted into a lie, and at that into a reactionary lie, if it is not translated into the language of tactics. Is it correct that in order to destroy unemployment and misery it is first necessary to destroy capitalism? It is correct. But only the biggest blockhead can conclude from all this, that we do not have to fight this very day, with all of our forces, against the measures with whose aid capitalism is increasing the misery of the workers.”[1]

And one of the most important “measures with whose aid capitalism is increasing the misery of the workers” will inevitably be the attack on the trade unions and the maintenance of the unorganised workers in the plants at the expense of the organised workers.

The discussion as it has already taken place, has revealed in our opinion a very grave confusion on the part of the comrades who oppose the editorial precisely on the lines indicated by Trotsky.

The question of “nons first” is taken out of its context and tends to become the focal point of the discussion on redundancy, thereby standing the discussion on its head. We propose therefore, to elaborate somewhat, the editorial on the policy as well as on the tactical issues and hope thereby to re-establish a correct relationship between strategy and tactics.

The fluctuations of employment, redundancy, during the period of transition and before the end of the war in the Far East; the readjustment of industry before the general crisis, throwing millions on the streets; the possibility of a post-war boom lasting a year or two – all these are important for us in determining our factory and industrial tactics. But they do not affect our general transitional programmatic demands, which are conceived and arise out of the structural crisis of capitalism. At most, conjunctural and transitional, these fluctuations in employment would determine the weight to be given to slogans and propaganda. But whatever the immediate fluctuation, we base our programme on the perspective of mass unemployment.

Despite the optimism of sections of the Labour, Stalinist and trade union leaders as to the future prospects under capitalism with a “progressive” regime, the masses are sceptical and uneasy. Correctly, they instinctively fear mass unemployment and the repetition of the suffering of the last post-war period of crisis. In this the instinct of the masses is entirely sound.

In opposition to all other trends in the labour movement, we Trotskyists have a programme based upon this real crisis of capitalism, which answers the questions of the masses on every point.

One thing we have in common, so it appears at least, not only with other workers’ organisations, but with the petit bourgeoisie, is the demand for full employment and decent living conditions for all. But having said this together, we immediately part company, because we alone seriously fight for this end and lay down a programme of struggle. Briefly, our programme can be summarised as follows:

  1. Work and decent living conditions for all, from which arises the sliding scale of hours and wages, the latter fixed at a guaranteed minimum; and,
  2. A general plan of industrial production and public works, which, from the point of view of the workers necessitates factory committees and workers’ control.

Out of the struggle for these transitional demands we daily raise the question of power.

The factory committees are conceived of as organisations uniting the workers for the fulfilment of these demands and the whole question is linked to the expropriation of the separate groups of capitalists at first and Labour to power.

During the war, this aspect of our transitional programme has been pushed into the background by the objective turn of events. But with the evolution in the international situation, particularly in “liberated” Europe at the present moment, this aspect of our programme comes to the forefront and can act as a torch, settling alight all that is decaying and burning it to the ground.

Workers’ control

As the war approaches its end and the war market collapses, capitalist war time “planning” (possible only because of the unlimited market) disintegrates into the anarchy of the pre-war market. The chaotic planlessness of capitalism is more readily exposed. In response to the growing demand from the mass of the workers for a plan which will keep them in work, all the labour organisations (and even the middle sections of the capitalist class) demand a “plan of production.”

But the demobilisation of industry, the transformation of labour from one industry to another and from one part of the country to another, all these can be effectively planned only if there is workers’ control of industry. And this demand, whilst offering the only effective answer to the chaos which accompanies the capitalist change-over from war to peace production, at the same time separates us effectively from the renegades and traitors in the trade unions and labour movement. These gentlemen, in the words of the Transitional programme, “...stop short in pious trepidation before the thresholds of the trusts and their business secrets.”

We must explain to the workers that workers’ control of industry is not of course, socialism. But it is a transitional step towards socialism. The capitalists still privately own and manage industry, but their ramifications are under the open observation of the factory and trade union organisations.

The workers must have access to the plan of production. They must have access to the “secrets” of the banks, heavy industries and transport systems. Only then will the workers be able to effectively counter the “plans” of the government and its bosses – the trusts; only then will the workers be in a position to offer a genuine plan as an alternative solution.

By patient explanation of the need for the working class to fight for workers’ control in the factory and industrial organisations, we will give conscious direction to the coming workers’ struggles. But once the workers grasp the need for workers’ control, and effect it, we are already on the road to socialist revolution. The next stage of explaining the credits and debits of capitalist society becomes simple: what share of the national income is eaten and squandered by the capitalists as a class, as well as what share is taken by the individual capitalist owner or group of shareholders; what swindles take place to avoid taxation, etc., by the trusts and banks. A concrete picture of squandering of labour resources and of actual labour as a result of the anarchy which arises out of the capitalist lust for profits can be drawn.

With all these mal-ramifications of the capitalists under the close and constant observation of the trade unions and factory organisations, it would not be long before the workers swept the system and its capitalist benefactors into the dustbin of history.

The close-down of industry poses the question of a large scale industrial plan. In answer to the capitalists who close down the factories, on the grounds that contracts have ceased and there is no more market, our party agitates for the opening of the closed factories and their resumption as public utilities. In such cases the workers and technicians would directly manage the factories through the factory committees.

The full revolutionary significance of such a step is demonstrated by a resolution recently adopted by the new Belgian Miners’ Union demanding the opening of the closed mines previously operated by collaborationists and their operation under the control of the trade unions and factory committees. Obviously, the leaders put forward such a demand as the result of the pressure of the masses and not as a programme of struggle to give a lead to the workers, unless, of course, they are under the influence of the fourth internationalists who are giving a revolutionary lead.

In South Wales the capitalists are threatening to close down almost the entire new industry as well as the older tinplate plants. Here our programme would find an immediate response among the mass of the workers, who in any case are not among the most class conscious in the country. It would be possible to link our transitional programme up with the expropriation of these industries. The coal mining industry is a classic example where the slogan of expropriation, or nationalisation without compensation is immediately applicable. All the time we link our programme with Labour to power and the seizure of power by the working class.

That section of our international Transitional programme should be repeatedly studied and concretised in the present stage of the struggle.

It is on the basis of these political and economic alternatives to the capitalist crisis and collapse, and on the basis of the factory committees, that we bind the workers, organised and unorganised, together in common struggle.

But side by side with our generalised forms of struggle, we are faced with the partial struggles which arise out of the real relation of forces at every given stage. To turn one’s back on these daily problems, hold up our hands in horror and say: “we have our programme, if we can’t get that we won’t contaminate ourselves” is to replace Marxian tactics with sectarian phrases.

It is impossible to write a blueprint of tactics from which the party cadres must not deviate in the course of the coming struggles. A flare-up in one industry or area, the beginning of a wave of stay-in strikes, etc., all these problems will demand concrete answers and will arise but of the struggle itself. But one important tactical consideration is constant while capitalism remains: the defence and extension of the mass trade union organisations – at least until they are replaced by more revolutionary and more widespread forms of organisation. This is particularly true in Britain where the trade unions have now 40 percent and more of the industrial proletariat.

Industrial unionism

Inside the unions we have the duty to be foremost in conducting a struggle against sectarian, craft ideology. In demonstrating that the technical development of capitalism has outmoded craft skill and created all the conditions for its complete elimination, we show the necessity for industrial organisations. We attack the conception of the skilled worker who demands the operation of the Dilution Agreement[2], not because it protects the positions he has won in the past (or so he thinks) but because it splits the workers who are already organised in the mass trade unions, and weakens the fight against the ruling class.

To the organised as well as the unorganised workers we have to explain the character of the trade unions as class organisations. We do not thereby fail to point to their reactionary features, in particular the treachery of the present leadership. But despite their shortcomings, the trade unions are class organisations and have to be defended from capitalist attack. Simultaneously they have to be defended from being undermined by the more backward strata of the unorganised workers, and in particular that strata which refuses to be organised.

In a period of rising unemployment the slogan of the closed shop is raised as a defensive slogan. Faced with attacks on the part of the ruling class against their existing wage conditions, as well as unemployment, the unorganised workers will turn in greater numbers towards trade union organisation. Particularly if they receive a fighting lead from the union organisation in the shop.

The exact tactics which will have to be pursued in our task of uniting the workers as a whole and of defending the trade unions, will depend on the relationships that exist from factory to factory, districts and trades. But insofar as we cannot succeed in moving the workers in the direction of conscious seizure of power, we have still to defend the positions already won.

It may be possible to unite the workers in the first stages of the struggle against unemployment in stay-in strikes and other forms of struggle. Our party comrades will strive to the utmost in this direction. But we will have to base ourselves on the level of consciousness of the masses.

Of course, we have the most optimistic perspectives in the struggles that lie ahead, but there will be, we think, many ebbs and flows in the tide of battle before the class enemy will be finally defeated. The workers will have to retreat from time to time before the counter-revolutionary onslaughts of the reaction.

It is precisely during the coming period, when workers are being thrown into the unemployment queues and when the worker-soldiers will be returning home from Europe to swell these ranks, that the bosses will inevitably seek to weaken and destroy their organisations. By this means the capitalists can better strike blows at the living standards of the workers. Under such conditions, necessity and not desire, will compel us to retreat at certain stages of the coming struggles. We will have to fall back and defend the positions we already hold. We will have to give ground in order to regroup the fighting forces of the proletariat in readiness for the favourable stages in the conjuncture which will again permit us to press forward with our revolutionary offensive demands.

But, in order that tactical retreats shall not become routs, it is necessary to have one’s mind completely clear regarding the layout of the defensive lines to prepare our second line trenches well in advance so as not to tail on behind the masses at the decisive moment. Above all, the mass trade unions are the main lines of labour defence. In the Transitional programme comrade Trotsky took this proposition as self evident to the cadres of the Fourth International when he wrote:

“They [the workers] must defend their mouthful of bread, if they cannot increase or better it. There is neither the need nor the opportunity to enumerate here those separate partial demands which time and again arise on the basis of concrete circumstances – national, local, professional...”

The importance of the trade unions as class organisations was commented upon again and again by Marx, as also the question of their defence. As far back as 1846 Marx wrote, polemicising against Proudhon:

“If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, combinations, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite in the idea of repression, and in face of always united capital, the maintenance of association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages.” (Karl Marx, Poverty of philosophy – our emphasis)

Our comrades might say that Marx was talking about the defence of the trade unions from the attacks of the united bourgeoisie, but we on the contrary, are talking about uniting the trade unionists against the unorganised workers. But this conception would be entirely false. It was just this consideration – the need to prepare ourselves to defend the workers’ organisations against the attacks of united capital which will accompany so-called redundancy – that motivated our raising the tactical question relating to the closed shop.

The proposition of non-unionists going first when actual sackings take [place], and relating this tactical proposition to the constant struggle for the closed shop, is nothing more than preparing the cadres for the correct solution to problems which will have to be solved.

Our critics may argue that even in these conditions “nons first”, and after that, dismissals on the basis of seniority are far from perfect positions to occupy. With that we are in agreement. But we cannot expect that partial and minimum demands will be free of shortcomings. Those comrades who disagree with these tactical demands have the duty to counter-pose better ones, or at least show where and how they could be improved. Instead, we are confronted with such infantile ultra-leftism as: “We do not recognise the crisis of capitalism”; “We will not recognise the sackings even when they have taken place.”

Our demands put forward under conditions of actual transfers and dismissals, that the trade unions, the shop stewards and factory committees must control transfers and dismissals, that the trade union organisations must be protected and that the first to go shall be those non-unionists whom we have, right up to the sackings taking place, tried to recruit to the side of the unions on the basis of our general propaganda and participation in union struggles – these demands are opposed, because, it is claimed, they will split the ranks of the workers. But unity of the workers is an empty phrase, or worse – it can lead to betrayal if it is raised to the proportion of an end in itself and thereby self sufficient.

Comrade Trotsky often warned us against the dangers of making a fetish of such abstractions and showed the necessity for struggle, under certain conditions, between even the different sections of the organised workers – let alone with the most backward layers of the proletariat. In Where is Britain going Trotsky wrote on the question of trade unionists paying the political levy:

“While standing on the general principles for permitting backward and non-conscious workers to join unions, we do so not from an abstract principle of freedom of opinion or freedom of conscience, but from considerations of revolutionary expediency. But these same considerations tell us that in Britain, where 90 percent of industrially organised workers pay political levies, some consciously, others out of desire not to violate solidarity, and where only 10 percent decide to throw down an open challenge to the Labour Party, it is necessary to carry on a systematic struggle against this 10 percent, to force them to feel that they are renegades, and to ensure to trade unions the right to exclude them as strike-breakers. In the last resort, if the abstract citizen has the right to vote for any party he chooses, the workers’ organisations have the right not to allow into their midst those citizens whose political conduct is inimical to the interests of the working class. The struggle of the trade unions for the right of refusal to allow the unorganised workers into the factory has long been known as a manifestation of workers’ ‘terrorism’, or, in the language of today, Bolshevism. It is just in Britain that this very method may and ought to be introduced into the Labour Party, which has grown up as the direct extension of the trade unions.”

Our present demands could in no sense be regarded as less inimical to to the abstract unity of the workers than this proposition of comrade Trotsky.

At the same time this makes clear a point that we believed would be understood as axiomatic by every member. Such tactics can only be successfully applied in suitable circumstances. Let us reiterate, it is not we but our critics who have elevated these tactical formulas to the status of political principles. If, in any particular establishment, despite all our efforts, it has not been possible to win a majority into the union, then it would be fantastic to suggest that we could rally the major part of the workers on our demand that “nons” go first. This should be self-evident, if one only pauses to pose the question: “who would propose it if there were not a trade unionist in the factory?” Further, on this point, what our critics do not appear to understand is the danger constituted by scabs in non-revolutionary conditions, when mass unemployment exists.

Under conditions of manpower shortage, it is not so difficult to get unionists and non-unionists alike out on strike in defence of a victimised shop steward or union militant; but in conditions of mass unemployment it will be an entirely different matter, as any comrade who had conducted pre-war struggles of such a character can well testify. To come forward under such conditions and demand equal rights for scabs and even plain nons, as for the organised workers, is to court disaster. Moreover, even from the standpoint of trade unionism, unless you are prepared to conduct a struggle in the interests of the union, not only against the bosses but against the backward, unorganised strata of the workers, then you will only lose any respect which you may have won among the best of these unorganised elements. They will justify their abstention from union membership on the grounds that the union is not capable or prepared to conduct a struggle in its own defence and in defence of its members.

Our comrades argue that there are many unorganised workers who are militant fighters and who only remain outside of the trade unions because of the sell-out of the leadership; and that there are many reactionary types who hold a union card. That if the policy of the PB were put into effect, these militants would be driven out of the plants whilst backward elements with a trade union ticket would be protected. No-one can doubt that in many cases this would be quite true. But our policy and tactics do not depend on [this] or that example or incident. Failure to generalise is impressionism and empiricism and not Marxism. As soon as these militants see that the organised workers are going to make a stand, they will be the first to stream into the unions. We have to base ourselves on the experiences of the working class in a century and a half of struggle. The trade unions contain the distilled experience and organisation of the overwhelming mass of the organised workers, and in that sense of our class. Without making a fetish of the trade unions, it is possible to say that the revolution will not be accomplished in Britain without them. To equate them to the unorganised mass is about the same order of mistake as equating the trade unions to the revolutionary party. But in essence, by refusing to generalise, this is precisely what the comrades of the opposition do.

Another corollary which ought to be self-evident is that the demand for “nons” to go first automatically flows from the demand of a closed shop. The closed shop means that every “non” shall go off the job if he refuses to join the union, at all stages of the struggle, whether there is unemployment or not. Literally thousands of strikes have been waged on this basis during the war period and before. How fantastic to promise that we struggle for the closed shop, for the sacking of “nons” during the time of hiring, but not during the time of firing! What a blatant contradiction!

We have been told by some comrades that the workers are demanding shop stewards’ consultation or control over sackings and transfers, but are not raising the “demands” put forward by the PB that “nons” should go first. In reply to this we can only ask: “For what do they want shop stewards’ control?” Obviously such control can only be operative through factory committees, i.e. the trade union organisation in the plant. Under such conditions is it not obvious that the “nons” will be the first to go? Is it suggested that where the shop stewards have control of sackings and transfers, they will pursue any other policy? Will they refuse to discriminate between an organised and unorganised worker? The workers will answer with the same voice as ours. For we will repeat one of the most important points made by comrade Tearse in the editorial, which so correctly evaluated the entirely sound, and if we might say so, revolutionary action of these workers: “...who should control transfers or dismissals? Our answer is that in connection with the “closed shop” demand we campaign for trade union control of any transfers or dismissals through the medium of the shop stewards or factory committee.”

Of course, in a badly organised factory the demand for consultation with the shop stewards before dismissals take place, or shop stewards’ control of dismissals, can act as a powerful means of recruiting to the trade unions, particularly if it is linked to a determined and fighting attitude on the part of the nucleus of organised workers.

The shop stewards may, of course want to operate the Dilution Agreement. As has bean outlined elsewhere, we would struggle against this. But it is highly inconceivable that craft workers, operating the Dilution Agreement, will discriminate against a dilutee who is a good trade unionist in favour of a skilled worker who is not in the trade union.

At the recent London aggregate discussion our opponents argued that if we fail to gain majority support for our transitional demand for the sliding scale we must at all costs keep the workers in the factories. We must “refuse to recognise the sackings” even after they take place! Of course we do not exclude the possibility of isolated stay-in strikes and other forms of struggle taking place on the basis of our demand to share out the work, right from the beginning. And we will give leadership to such a movement wherever it is possible. But these are not likely to develop immediately into a co-ordinated national struggle – otherwise, we have nothing loss than a revolution. Nor was this the point raised in the London aggregate, for at least half the comrades who spoke for the opposition developed their point to its logical conclusion and refused to “recognise the crisis of capitalism”, of which unemployment was only one manifestation.

From this completely ultra-left dogma, they landed, consistently in this case, in the sectarian mire. If we are not strong enough to win the demand for the sliding scale, then there is nothing more to be done than to continue to educate the workers on socialist principles. We are too weak, they claimed, to win the demand for the closed shop if we fail to win the major demand.

Let us assume that we are too weak to win either the transitional demand or the demand for the closed shop. What follows from this? We are then compelled to retreat even further back. We might raise such a [demand] as trade unionists should not be discriminated against during transfers and dismissals explaining the reasons, or some such tactical proposition which would serve to defend at least partially the trade union organisation.

But the question is stood on its head by the comrades when they claim that if we are too weak to win the sliding scale, we cannot win the closed shop. Here the transitional demand is equated with the struggle for a partial demand. The strategical struggle with the tactical struggle for the defence of organisation. The whole of working class experience shows that it is possible to rally the workers for the defence of positions already won and are under attack, much more readily, as a general rule, than for offensive struggle.

Seniority on the job

Another question upon which the comrades are somewhat confused is that of seniority. Lest any confusion arise out of inexperience or from the example given in the Industrial Bulletin editorial of the docks, we will restate and elucidate what it means here.

Wherever the principle of the closed shop (de facto or de jure) has been won, as a rule seniority operates. This means that the last to come into the job is the first to go when workers are sacked. This applies rigidly to public utility enterprises, railways and similar enterprises where there is a super-annuation fund or pension at the conclusion of service.

On a well organised building job, as the job grows, passes its curve and nears completion, workers are sacked. The last to come in all trades are sacked first, as these complete their part of the contract.

The workers fought many bitter strike struggles to force an agreement along these lines on the bosses. Its main aim was to establish a general rule, which, not in itself perfect, protected the workers from the whims and victimisation of the foreman and the boss. An employer finds it very difficult to sack an active trade unionist on the basis of this agreement.

In the case of the docks, cited by the Bulletin, the closed shop operated in the docks before the war. The newest workers who were the first to be sacked, were also the newest members of the dockers’ section of the TGWU. In this case it so happens that membership on the job coincided with membership in the union.

We would point out that when discussing this question with our docker comrades, members of the PB opposed the dismissal of the newcomers without a struggle to win the whole of the workers on the dock to the policy of sharing out the available work. We tried to demonstrate to the dockers that these new workers should be drawn fully into the union and not left in a probationary, dilutee – or second class section, as they were. In this way we opposed the craft outlook – if one can call dock labouring a craft – and put forward an industrial conception.

In pre-war days the rigid exclusion of “new” labour in the docks while dockers were idle is an example of “seniority” and one of the reasons why the wages of the dockers were so high in comparison with other sections of the working class when there was work to do. The mistake of the dockers in the case cited, was a craft mistake. They refused to allow the additional war time dock labourers to become permanent or full members of the union. Instead of demonstrating an industrial, class attitude welding the bonds of organisation more firmly together, they created a split among the workers who were already organised.

Of course, in some respects, the seniority clause protects the older workers at the expense of the youth. The younger workers are the last into industry and therefore usually the first to go. In the trades, agreements exist which lay down the employment of one apprentice to so many skilled or adult workers. The apprentices, in fact, are usually the last to go. This is not so in the building trade where the job shifts from month to month or period to period. But in the “stable” trades the older workers are undoubtedly protected at the expense of the youth. The seniority rule takes no regard of age, or of dependants. If an older trade unionist comes on the job after a young organised worker the young worker remains on the job when a sacking takes place. What other formula can our comrades suggest as a general alternative? This one was fashioned out of a century of trade union struggles.

Our critics triumphantly say: How can your policy unite the workers? How can you recruit unorganised workers, usually the newcomers into the trade unions on the basis of seniority? If they don’t come into the unions they are the first to be sacked; and if they do come in they are the first to go anyway, since they are usually the newest workers. You recognise the sackings – what is more you decide who is to be sacked and therefore take responsibility. We on the other hand unite the organised and unorganised together on the slogan of “no sackings”, before, during and even after they have been sacked.

This radicalism is, in reality an evasion in facing up to the real situation and burking the issue. It reminds one of the IRA members who refused to “recognise” the court but got 20 years just the same. The class struggle would be very simple and easy indeed if we had to take action only against the capitalists.

When we draw the unorganised workers into the union we don’t hold out a membership card as a magic meal ticket. We tell the workers bluntly that trade unionists will be unemployed as well as “nons”. But we can only protect each other and our class if we are united in class organisations. Only the will to fight together, united in the mass organisations and on the basis of a correct programme can provide a final solution to the problems.

The seniority agreement does not discriminate between workers on the basis of union membership. Let it be stated that the workers – young and old – seek a measure of security and stability within the system as it is. In general the young workers, not only accept the rule of seniority, but understand its significance and look forward to its protection as well as the old.

In conducting a struggle against the Dilution Agreement and craft outlook we fight to have the seniority agreement applied to dilutees as well. So that the craft worker would go from the plant before dilutee, if the craft worker was last on the job. Our answer is a class answer: organisation. It unites the craft and dilutee worker and gives a concrete answer to a concrete problem: who is to go? Our critics, substituting phrases for a correct tactical answer, precisely split the workers and force the craft workers to protect themselves at the expense of the dilutees in face of the very concrete attacks made by the employers.

Control of labour

At the discussion at the London aggregate one of our critics hurled the jibe at us that if we pursued our policy of trade union control of sackings to its logical conclusion, we would next be demanding that the trade unions control the labour exchanges! For the benefit of these comrades we would explain that there is nothing new or unheard of in this proposition. We will quote from a resolution proposed by the Bolshevik faction and adopted at the first All Russian conference of factory and shop committees on the eve of October:

“The organisation of workers’ control is a manifestation of the same healthy spirit in the sphere of industrial production as are party organisations in the sphere of politics, trade unions in employment, co-operatives in the sphere of consumption and literary clubs in the sphere of culture.

“...The plan of land labour must be carried out under the supervision of the peasants’ and the land workers’ organisations; ... the natural organs of workers’ control inside the industrial plant will be the factory shop and similar committees; and in the labour market, the trade unions.

Employment bureaux must be placed under the control and management of the trade unions as class organisations.” (our emphasis)

Are our comrades going to suggest, that under such conditions trade unionists would be considered “equal”? Of course, our comrades will reply: “but there was a regime of dual power, the revolution was on the order of the day.” Precisely. But dual power will never arise except as a result of a struggle. Our task is to prepare for dual power. Shop stewards’ control of sackings with all the practical conclusions that flow from it, including the protection of the mass organisations and “nons first” as part of that preparation. Of course, we fight for the day when unionists and “nons” will control through the factory committee or soviet and we can say not the workers, but the boss must go. But every task in its right time. Our comrades see only the negative function – the unhappy task of deciding which workers shall go and which remain. They conceive of workers’ control being exercised here exclusively against a section of the working class. They fail to see the revolutionary significance that the organised workers have control, and that this control is already a measure of dual power.

When the capitalists sack the workers from their plants during a period of lay-off, they take good care that the men who go are the men who cause them the most trouble – if they can. In general, they protect the unorganised workers, and sack the trade unionists so that they can weaken the cohesive resistance of the workers to later wage cuts and inroads into working conditions. The question of who is to control the flow of labour (in and out) is a question of conflict. A conscious fighting leadership in any plant will try and see to it that the organised workers control. We do not choose the ground of battle; it opens up before us. Our job is not only to be aware of our general strategic aim and plan of campaign but to be acquainted with and boldly face the tactical details and problems that face us at every stage.

Full maintenance

An argument advanced by some of the comrades that to adopt the demand for full maintenance is to recognise the principle of unemployment and we should refuse to do so, is taking sectarianism to its extreme. We recognise facts, and insofar as unemployment is a fact it is a “principle” of capitalism. But this is not to say that we accept the “right” of the capitalists to keep workers out of production, redundant or unemployed. It is very good that our comrades will tell the worker on the dole that he should be working and explain the sliding scale of hours. But the unemployed worker will also ask: “but what about my income now?” If our comrades reply: “We have a programme – the sliding scale of hours – but it does not say anything about maintenance because we do not recognise the principle of unemployment” we would agree with the inevitable rude reply of the worker.

The bureaucracy of the AEU see this question better than some of our comrades. It is no accident that they put forward the demand that redundant workers should be maintained on the basis of a 47 hour week. In their hands such a demand is a reformist and utopian stop-gap. They lack a programme; they fear the question of power. But our people should take up the demand of the AEU bureaucracy. Force them to match their resolutions with deeds; expose them before every employed and unemployed worker. “It is a very good demand – full maintenance. But what action do you propose to take, to implement it?” Workers who would turn from our comrades who talk about refusing to recognise that unemployed workers also need to eat will not be misled by the empty phrases of Jack Tanner.


Let us again repeat: our strategical objective is the seizure of power developed through the transitional programme. During certain stages of these strategical operations, we may, almost certainly will, have to carry out tactical advances and defensive retreats. Such a tactical manoeuvre, conceived as a means of defending the trade union organisations during such a retreat, is the operation of “nons first” at the time when we are not strong enough to prevent dismissals from taking place. It is not and cannot be anything more than this.

If we place ourselves on the standpoint of our opponents and relinquish without a battle, the right of the workers to control sackings on their terms, we may thereby retain our moral sanctity. It simply means, however, that we hand over the initiative to the bosses to attack and strangle the workers’ organisations.

What our critics have done is to confuse recognition with responsibility. By recognising sackings when they take place, and it is an elementary part of the Marxist method to recognise what is, we take no more responsibility for the curse of unemployment or the crisis of capitalism in its totality, than we do when we recognise the existence of war and develop our military policy accordingly. It is because of the recognition of the “crisis of capitalism” by our international leadership, above all comrade Trotsky, that we have today a Transitional programme and a “military tactic” to offer to the masses, while the sectarians stew in their own juice completely isolated from the struggle of the masses.

The fact that we are forced to solve partial problems does not mean that we abandon our transitional slogans even for a moment. Nowhere or at any time is it suggested that we give up the struggle for a sliding scale even after mass sackings have taken place. All we demand is recognition of the fact that the struggle for the strategic goal, involves participation in the tactical battles of the masses to hold onto positions already won. Those who prove incapable of holding those positions will never be able to lead to an advance. In the words of the Transitional programme:

“The Bolshevik Leninist stands in the front line trenches of all kinds of struggles, even when they involve only the most modest material interests or democratic rights of the working class. He takes active part in the mass trade unions for the purpose of strengthening them and raising their militancy.”

Our struggle for the closed shop during periods of redundancy is at all times “for the purpose of strengthening” the workers’ organisations “and raising their militancy” falls right into place here. It is subordinate to and in no way contradicts our strategical slogans. By emphasising this fact yet again, and adding that we always proceed on the maxim that tactics must be subordinate to and must not conflict with our strategical considerations; that the relationships in this connection are that of part to the whole, we believe that we have outlined the position so that it can be understood by every member in the party. In so doing we hope to close the door against any accidental confusion or misunderstanding that might have arisen as to the meaning of the editorial in the Industrial Bulletin.

In concluding, we would urge our comrades not to lose their heads or be impatient. We have recently gone through a period when there have been more jobs than workers. Trade union work has been easy and the party has made great strides. But we are entering a period when the number of workers will be far greater than the number of jobs and trade union work will have to be conducted in a very different milieu.

Comrade Trotsky gave good advice to impatient comrades who suffer from radicalism, when he wrote the following lines in Their morals and ours:

“The ‘Trotskyists’ learned the rhythm of history, that is, the dialectics of the class struggle. They also learned, it seems and to a certain degree successfully, how to subordinate their subjective plans and programmes to this objective situation. They learned not to fall into despair over the fact that the laws of history do not depend upon their individual tastes... They learned to subordinate their individual tastes to the laws of history.


[1] Leon Trotsky, For a workers’ united front against fascism, December 1931.

[2] In order to avoid the substitution of skilled labour (with higher wages) with apprentices or unskilled labour, it was a common practice in the trade union movement to force the employers to accept Dilution Agreements which established the priority of craftsmen on “dilutees” when trade was slack.