A reprint – within Solidarity for Workers’ Power, vol. 2, no. 1 (1962) – of a passage from the first issue of Solidarity: A Monthly Journal of Militant Trade Unionism produced by the Industrial Democracy League in September, 1913.
Introduction by Solidarity (1962)
Comrade C. Lahr, of the ILP, has very kindly given us a number of back issues of ‘SOLIDARITY’, some of them nearly fifty years old. The paper first appeared in September 1913. Subtitled ‘A Monthly Journal of Militant Trade Unionism’ ‘SOLIDARITY’ was first produced by the Industrial Democracy League (more information about the League at the end of this article).
This first version of ‘SOLIDARITY’ should not be confused with another paper of the same name which appeared during the second half of the First World War, was at one time edited by Jack Tanner1 and became the organ of the Shop Stewards and Workers’ Committees movement.
We are pleased to reprint the following passage from the very first issue (September 1913) of ‘SOLIDARITY’ No.1
FELLOW TRADE UNIONISTS, – The widespread strikes occurring in recent years have had very mean results. We have failed to make any inroad upon the capitalist preserves owing to our foolish and criminal sectionalism. This state of things should claim our serious attention and careful consideration, and should create a desire in the militant members of the unions to get to work in order to make our organisations a fighting force and a power to be feared.
Trade is booming. In spite of such favourable circumstances we find sections of the workers being defeated in their struggles with the capitalist. One has only to recall to mind the Transport Workers’ Strike of last year, the London Plasterers’ Strike, and, more recently still, the Leith Dock Strike. It is true that some sections of our class have received a meagre rise in prices of the necessities of life and the relative fall in the purchasing power of wages. Our share of the increase in wealth production is a lower standard of living. The increasing centralisation of power by the capitalists enables them to fight the class war with ruthless ferocity. Speeding up, the introduction of the bonus system, the displacement of labour-power by machinery, and victimisation have caused fiercer competition among the workers and the sapping of the spirit if their manhood. The extension of the tentacles of the State into the vitals of organised labour by the establishment of Labour Exchanges and the National Insurance Act, the further bondage which that Act imposes, the desire of politicians to make our burden still more grievous by means of Compulsory Arbitration, the vicious use of the coercive forces of the State – all these factors create a demand for a more efficient form of industrial organisation than our present-day Trade Unions provide. It is just as feasible to oppose a maxim gun with bow and arrow, as to fight the modern capitalist combinations with our Craft Unions. Our weakness lies in our sectionalism, our methods of fighting, the bureaucratic control of our unions, and our objective.
We have 1,700 separate Trade Unions; this results in competition for membership, overlapping, and demarcation quarrels between Union and Union, making us an easy prey to our enemy. There is a desire for Solidarity in the rank and file, but these defects will remain so long as they are split up into so many different unions, each having a separate agreement with the masters, who make use of this fact to prevent unity of action. To remedy these defects we advocate Industrial Organisation along the line of class, instead of craft; the amalgamation of all existing Trade Unions into Industrial Unions; the formation of a National Council of Industrial Unions. Thus we should have a fighting force to secure that much-needed improvement in our conditions.
A change in spirit is just as necessary as a change in form. Conciliation has failed; arbitration has failed; their only use has been to damp our fighting ardour, to make us pawns in the class struggle – pawns sacrificed to protect rooks, queens and bishops. The capitalist hits hard; we turn the other cheek. He acts at once; we tell him when and where we are going to try and hit him. He moves quickly and intelligently; we move slowly and timorously. We must fight boldly and spontaneously, unhampered by separate agreements, unfettered by long notices; organised on a class basis, permeated by a class spirit we should become a force to be feared by the strongest.
The most amazing spectacle in the recent industrial upheavals has been that of the leaders brining up the rear. They have utterly failed to lead. They have often been in harmony with our masters in settling the strike at any price, in getting the workers back to work, even without consulting those who risked their jobs. The attitude of a large number of prominent officials more resembles that of a manager of a limited liability company than an elected official of a working class organisation. It happens far too often that the unionist has to fight not only the tyranny of the boss, but also the bureaucracy of his own officials. This must cease, the control of the unions must be transferred to the rank and file. That is where their destiny should lie. Bureaucracy is inimical to initiative; the workers must be allowed to develop collective initiative if they are ever to better their conditions and finally win their freedom. Labour produces all wealth, and to labour all wealth rightly belongs. The strife in society is over the division of wealth between owners and workers. It is the historic mission of the Working Class to end this struggle by obtaining control of the means of production and distribution.
With that end in view we have not to look to Parliament, but to the building up of an Industrial Organisation that will be capable of securing and controlling industry by the workers and for the workers. Labour must accomplish its own emancipation, and in order to march forward to our final conquest we must perfect our Industrial Solidarity.
Let our battle-cry be ‘One Industry! One Union! One Card! An injury to one is the concern of all’. Let us change our demand from ‘A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ to the abolition of the wages system.
Afterword by Solidarity (1962)
The objects of the Industrial Democracy League were ‘to carry on an educational campaign among Trade Unions, Trade Councils and other working class organisations in favour of Solidarity and Direct Action’.
The League advocated a) ‘industrial organisation upon the basis of class, instead of craft; b) the amalgamation of all existing trade unions into industrial unions; c) the formation of a National Federal Council of Industrial Unions.’
The I.D.L. sought ‘to stimulate the formation of Amalgamation Committees in every industry and every industrial centre throughout Great Britain; to inspire the existing organisations with a fighting spirit so as to improve the material conditions of the wage workers; to facilitate joint action of the workers in the furtherance of their interests, nationally and internationally; and ‘to prepare the workers for their economic emancipation by taking possession of the means of production and distribution through an economic organisation outside the control of any Parliamentary Party’.
Many rank-and-file militants supported these objectives of the ‘industrial unionists’. Contributors to our witty and hard-hitting predecessor included Tom Mann, George Hicks, Norman Young (of the NUT), Jack Wills (of the Builders), T.E. Naylor (of the Compositors), W.F. Watson and Jack Tanner (of the Engineers), Fred Bower (of the Stone Masons) and George Barker (of the Miners).
The League lacked however a clear understanding of why the traditional organisations of the working class were becoming both increasingly reformist and increasingly bureaucratic. It sought to get round this process by purely organisational means. Union amalgamation proceeded apace… but so did the growth of giant bureaucracies. We shall return to this whole subject in a future issue.
- 1Present address: c/o I.R.I.S. News (Witch-hunters Incorporated), 404, Maritime House, Clapham, SW4.