When the War ended the Economic League faced a major reorganisation. John Baker White did not return to his post of Director of the League, but entered Parliament as Conservative MP for Canterbury. His post was taken over by Robert Rawdon Hoare. According to "Fifty Fighting Years" there were "major changes of administrative staff" and "the retirement of those who had borne the burden in the war years". Its regional organisation was centralised to such a degree that by 1947 the "London and Southern Counties" organisation covered East Anglia, South Wales and the West Country. But it was certainly not a period of retrenchment for the League: "additional speakers and lecturers" were recruited and "cadres of leaflet distributors" were formed and the League also absorbed the Anti-Socialist Anti-Communist Union. At the heart of what it described later as the "complete realignment of many aspects of the League's work and the application of lessons learned in war" was the creation of a "training organisation".
The war had at last got the League past the factory gates and into the works canteens since in good faith, and in the wartime spirit of cooperation, the Unions had not barred their way. The League was quick to capitalise on this and as early as 1946 it started to run classes for apprentices.
THE ECONOMIC LEAGUE'S "YOUTH MOVEMENT"
By 1947 its annual report could record that:
"through the goodwill of various national youth organisations, our staff has conducted a large number of courses for training youth movement leaders in the technique of conducting group discussions in youth clubs. These courses have been followed up by the provision of factual data upon which the leaders could base current affairs discussions in their respective clubs. We have also provided staff lecturers to address a great many national and regional youth conferences and the members of individual youth clubs."
In Lancashire the Economic League established a "Youth Movement" to coordinate its youth training there. By 1949, 295 youth club leaders, 580 senior club members had attended courses. In that year, and in addition to 874 other meetings in youth clubs, the League's own Youth Movement held 310 meetings.
While the League was battling for the minds of the youth at play it expanded its apprentice training to include a class in "elementary economics and civics". This new, official, access to the shop floor provided the League with the opportunity to launch "Facts", a monthly news sheet for foremen and works supervisors. According to the League it eventually had a circulation of 20,000 per issue. But outside the factories the League could rely less and less on the large scale open air meeting to put its message across. These became "group discussions at works gates" and its propaganda machine depended increasingly on its leafleting. Instead of recruiting and training public speakers, it employed "a special corps of leaflet distributors" who did not need to be orators but only needed "to be able to answer questions and discuss intelligently the leaflets they were distributing, as well as having a pleasant and friendly manner".
The Economic League also tried to build on its wartime success in targeting women for its propaganda. They began "house-to-house leaflet distribution" and "door-step talks" to get their message through to "housewives".
This reorganisation happened against the backdrop of the first Labour Government to have a working majority but the League seems to have avoided being drawn into a central role in the campaign against its policies. Within the Radical Right, this up-front campaign seems to have fallen upon the fledgling "Aims of Industry" which had been founded in 1942 to campaign against wartime restrictions on capital, but in post-war years emerged as a right wing anti-nationalisation PR company.
A letter to members issued by the Federation of British Industries, in January 1948 , indicates the close relationship between the League, Aims and the Federation:
"The Federation has for some months had under consideration the steps that it should take to inform the public of the achievements and advantages to the country of Private Enterprise. At one stage we pursued the idea that we ourselves undertake this work by adding suitable experts to our own staff. Finally however, it was felt preferable to encourage such work through existing independent organisations. I am now writing to inform you that the Federation has examined the work carried out in the past by the Economic League and Aims of Industry Ltd. , and is satisfied that these non-party, educational organisations are doing good work and have effective plans for the future. It is also satisfied that each covers separate specialist fields and that their fields do not overlap. If private enterprise wishes to see these organisations conduct a thorough, nationwide campaign, they will have to be very liberally financed. The Federation invites its members to make their own approach with a view to giving them the strongest support".1
The letter's authors are quite obviously working hard to perpetuate the idea that League and Aims were "politically" independent. What is especially interesting however is the fact that there was a clear division of responsibilities between Aims of Industry and The Economic League. This division must have left the League to do the propaganda and spoiling work on the shop floor and in the executive dining rooms while Aims, which later that year described itself as "an industrial public relations organisation".2
COVERT OPERATIONS IN THE FORTIES
This period of reorganisation and "realignment" marked a new phase in the League's intelligence gathering and blacklisting activities. The workplace discussions with apprentices and supervisors delivered a vast amount of low level and high level intelligence. Although the shop floor meetings introduced the League to potential informants, much of this information would more often than not be the result of indiscretion, rather than deliberate tale telling.
The Cold War, a central feature of the Labour government's foreign policy, gave the League the opportunity to pursue alleged Communists with a vengeance:
"With the opening of the Cold War the (Communist) Party resumed its familiar role as an instigator of industrial disruption, and the League found itself engaged in countering one of the most intensive campaigns ever launched by subversive elements in this country. One of its tasks was to expose the true nature of the insidious and now almost forgotten "Peace" campaign, which developed into the notorious "Germ Warfare" exercise, and to counter the Communist plot to sabotage Marshall Aid. The League can claim credit for turning the spotlight of truth onto the international wrecking operation of which the "Beaverbrae" strike in the Port of London was a part. "
The extent to which the League and Intelligence Services were working together can only be guessed at. In 1947 Christopher Mayhew, a Home Office minister, and Clement Attlee authorised the establishment of a new branch of the Secret Services. It was called the Information Research Department and was intended to act as a propaganda/disinformation channel for anti-communist intelligence, that is a peace time equivalent of SO2 and the PWE. Indeed SO2 had provided a model for, the practical experience, and some of the organisation that was needed by IRD. Its existence, and its Intelligence connections, remained secret for years. While there is little in the way of proof that the League and the IRD collaborated to any degree it is inconceivable that IRD did not communicate with an organisation that had been receiving and passing information to the Intelligence Services (on a formal and informal level) for thirty years. An organisation, moreover, that not only shared a common concern but also of which at least two of its officers had become members of the Intelligence community during the War, for after the War Tom Gribble was its secretary, and White though no longer its Director was its publicity advisor from 1945 -1976).
Attlee, for all his government's apparent radicalism, had ushered in the Cold War, and at home he initiated what has been called a "loyalty programme". While this avoided the sort of "loyalty oath" which was used in the USA, the programme's objectives were identical to those of the "Un-American Activities Committee". Attlee told parliament that the Labour Government intended a purge against communists in jobs vital to State Security, and over the next seven years 17,000 civil servants were vetted and 150 were suspended. However this "loyalty programme" was soon also extended to shop floor armaments workers and, by 1950, some local authorities were trying to apply it to teachers.
The government's own blacklisting programme naturally influenced the attitudes of private employers who were not already subscribers to the Economic League. In 1949 the John Lewis Partnership tried to bring in a Political Test as a condition of employment, although this particular, overt, attempt at blacklisting failed in the face of trade union and political pressure.
THE ECONOMIC CO. Ltd.
In 1951 the League became a Limited Company. It was an indication of the success that the League was experiencing in its "realigned" form. The list of individuals who formed the first board of directors of the Economic League Company reveals the presence of some very powerful people:
Sir WALTER BENYON JONES: Chairman and managing director of United Steel Companies, and Appleby-Frodingham Steel Co., a director of Westminster Bank, Stanton Iron Works, and the Mining Association of Great Britain.
The Rt Hon LORD ILIFFE: Edward Mauger Iliffe until 1933, Unionist M. P. for Tamworth 1923-29. Deputy chairman of Allied Newspapers and part-proprietor of the Daily Telegraph. A member of Lloyds and a director of London Assurance. Member of the Carlton Club.
The Rt Hon LORD MCGOWAN: Henry Duncan McGowan until 1937 Chairman of ICI, director of the Midland Bank and General Motors. Member of the Carlton Club.
The Rt Hon LORD RIVERDALE: Arthur Balfour until 1929, Sheffield industrialist in the steel industry and prominent South Yorkshire Tory and Freemason. One of the League's founders.
CLIVE COOKSON: League Treasurer during the 1937 court cases. Chairman of the Consett Iron Company, Vice President of the Federation of British Industry (FBI) which in 1965 became the CBI.
WILLIAM ALEXANDER LEE: Barrister and Director of the Mining Association of Great Britain. A member of the Carlton Club.
Sir HARRY BRITTAIN: Barrister, newspaperman and politician. Founding member of the Tariff Reform League and later the Economic League. During 1917-1919 he was Director of Intelligence at the National Service Department. Unionist M. P. for Acton 1918-1929. A member of the Carlton Club.
The Hon ANGUS DUDLEY CAMPBELL: President of Manchester Chamber of Commerce, director of Waring and Gillows and the Manchester Ship Canal.
Sir JOHN RICHARD HOBHOUSE: Partner in Alfred Holt & Co, Shipowners and director of the Royal Insurance Co.
HALFORD WALTER LUPTON REDDISH: Chairman and chief executive of The Rugby Portland Cement Co Ltd and subsidiaries from 1933 to 1976. Later a director of the Granada Group. A member of the Carlton Club.
The Rt Hon LORD ROCHDALE: George Kemp until 1913 and chairman of Kelsall and Kemp. Liberal Unionist MP for Heywood Lancs. 1895-1906. A member of the Carlton Club.
The Rt Hon The VISCOUNT RUNCIMAN: Walter Runciman until 1937, Shipowner and Liberal peer; at times MP for Oldham, Dewsbury, Swansea West and St Ives. Also Director of Westminster Bank.
Sir WALDRON SMITHERS: Unreconstructed Diehard Tory MP, sponsored by the British Commonwealth Union in 1919. In the words of a Labour Research Department pamphlet on the FBI published in 1950 he "annoys the Tories by saying what they think". Member of the London Stock Exchange and the Carlton Club
Colonel HUGH BAIRD SPENS: Solicitor (Maclay, Murray & Spens, Glasgow). Director of Union Bank of Scotland and Scottish Amicable Life Assurance.
JOSEPH LINCOLN S. STEEL: Director of I. C. I. 1945-1960, then at Triplex Holdings Ltd and Charterhouse Investment Trust. Chairman of the Overseas Committee of the FBI from 1950-1965 when it became the CBI and he joined the CBI Council. A member of the Carlton Club.
EDWARD REED: Managing Director of The Newcastle Breweries Ltd. and director of the Northern & London Investment trust.
Colonel JAMES R H HUTCHISON: Unionist M. P. for Glasgow Central 1945-50 then Gordonstoun, Glasgow 1950-1959. Director of the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co and others. Member of the Carlton Club
GEOFFREY A N HIRST: Director of brewers Samuel Webster and of J Hey & Co. A member of the FBI Grand Council from 1932 to 1965 and of the Central Council of the Economic League from 1934 to 1967. Hirst is the only company founder to list his connections with the League in Who's Who. Conservative M. P. for Shipley from 1950 to 1970 he retired to Switzerland. Member of the Carlton Club.
The Company secretary was Major THOMAS GORDON GRIBBLE who had run the League from the Political warfare Executive during the War, but Baker White's successor as Director of the League was Colonel Robert Rawdon Hoare, who had been the League's representative in Manchester before the War and was, along with White, the author or recipient of the letters that had lead to the court case with the "Daily Worker".3
"THE TRAINING ERA"
In 1951 Attlee's Labour Government was defeated in the general election. There followed thirteen unbroken years of Conservative Government, at first under Churchill, then Anthony Eden, then Harold Macmillan and finally under Sir Alec Douglas-Home. During this time the austerity of post-war rationing gave way to a boom economy, fuelled by reconstruction and the arms race. Wages rose rapidly and there was comparatively little unemployment. When Macmillan told people that they had never had it so good, few thought he was exaggerating.
By the mid-fifties it was evident to everyone that there had been a significant turn around in the thinking of the Conservative Party. The Tories had embraced the "welfare state", "the mixed economy" and government intervention in industry; there was not going to be wholesale denationalisation and the National Health Service was not going to be dismantled. It was this centrewards shift in Tory thinking that paved they way for "Consensus Politics". The Labour Party consolidated the political implosion by strengthening its social democratic tradition and trying to isolate its radical socialist tradition; enshrined in "Clause Four" of its constitution which called for the transfer of the ownership of the means of production and distribution to working people.
The Radical Right welcomed the Labour Party's retreat from class struggle and state control. But this was little consolation for them since The Conservative Party's acceptance of government intervention in industry was a tremendous body blow. Under Macmillan, Tory MPs from the diehard tradition were not allowed to exert influence on policy, and it was not long before their rigid anti-interventionist line was being widely, and prematurely, dismissed as a historical curiosity. Throughout this period, however, the Economic League remained faithful to the apparently archaic aims of its founders. It continued its "crusade for capitalism" on the shopfloor and outside the factory gates. It also continued to operate its blacklist.
But increasingly the League found itself arguing the case for unregulated free enterprise not merely with shopfloor workers, but also with managers and employers. The two chief architects of the consensus were Hugh Gaitskell (who became Labour leader in 1955) and Harold Macmillan (who became Tory leader and Prime Minister in 1956). These two men did not of course invent consensus politics, but they did much to consolidate it. Writing in 1966, in his autobiography "Winds of Change", Macmillan describes the change in Tory ideology:
"It is very difficult for those whose memories do not go back to the twenties and thirties to have any conception of the virulence with which the role of the State in a modern economy was contested . . . Any form of State intervention was believed to be necessarily incompetent, and the prelude to some form of dictatorship. Some of the most intelligent and responsible leaders in many fields of national life had supported laissez- faire on these grounds . . . . Nevertheless, much of what I was advocating in those years has come about; a National Economic Development Council; a government which controls the Central Bank, and assumes responsibility for the general level of economic activity through the Bank rate and the Budget; extensions of the public utility principle in transport and fuel; even some welfare distribution of essential foods, such as the expanded school meals service and the orange juice and cod-liver oil and milk for mothers and babies. The era of strict laissez- faire has passed into history, together with the derelict towns, the boarded up shops, and the barefooted children and - above all - the long rows of men and women outside the Labour Exchanges. "
- From "Winds of Change" Macmillan's memoirs, published in 1966.
THE VOICE OF DISSENT
Neither Labour nor Tories could claim to have carried all their supporters with them. But both tried to keep their dissidents on a tight leash. On the left the Labour Party's commitment to consensus led to a significant growth, throughout the sixties, in the membership of Trotskyist and other radical groups which argued that socialism could not be brought about by Parliamentary politics. It also helped to establish a massive "unaligned" socialist and libertarian movement, opposed to the Labour Party's support for Nuclear Weapons, military expansion and later their apparent support for American involvement in Vietnam.
Conservative dissent was also concentrated in extra-parliamentary activity - particularly in industry and in the City, where the social democratic version of Conservatism and departure from unreconstructed market economics was seen as running counter to commercial interests. But the Economic League was more than just a mouthpiece for right wing dissent and a means for lobbying against further extension of state intervention and attempts to involve Trade Unions into government policy-making. With the political centre apparently moving leftwards the Diehards in industry realised that it was vitally important to prevent, or slow down, any similar leftwards shift amongst middle managers and supervisory staff. Thus the League's role in providing training, or more accurately political education, for these groups of workers became extremely important.
Company sponsorship of League training sessions was a simple way of sending a clear political line to its managerial staff and creating a tension between parliamentary "consensus" and blue and white collar attitudes on the factory floor. The League was an important means of nurturing the image of a beleaguered manufacturing sector - struggling against government "interference" on the one hand and militant and revolutionary trades unionism on the other. This became such a widespread and common managerial attitude during the years of political "consensus" it was then, and is now, hard to think of it as other than spontaneous. But that it was not entirely spontaneous, and needed to be massaged and maintained is indicated by the sheer scale of the League's "training" operations.
This new role in targeting the white collar, as well as shopfloor, workers enabled it to survive consensus politics relatively successfully. It also survived because it was not regarded as significant by the Labour Movement, but was regarded as cost effective by Industry. Although its operations were, for example, both widespread and overt within the engineering industry it was rarely confronted by unions representing engineering workers. Many trades unionists and Labour politicians dismissed it as the last refuge of "Colonel Blimp" or a lobby for an outmoded economic idea. Others saw it as a useful, if unsavoury, ally in their own battle against the Communist Party, and the radical left in general, in the Labour movement.
Ironically the attitude of the revolutionary left themselves to the League was ambivalent since it did at least seem to take them as seriously as they took themselves.
The Economic League has repeatedly suggested that it had friends in the Trades Unions. There is no reason to doubt them, although none of these friends have ever felt that they could openly endorse or support the League and (with the exceptions of Walter Citrine in the past and Sid Weighell and Eric Hammond more recently) they have not been named.
For employers the Economic League had the distinct advantage of being inexpensive. For a modest sum a company would have access to politically useful propaganda, regular leaflets and magazines, social studies training for apprentices which would undermine the dangerously liberal ideas that they might pick up in technical colleges, and a secret employment blacklist. Although the blacklist might not prevent the trade union movement yielding a new generation of activists, it could at least restrict the activities of some experienced activists and discourage others.
On the other hand while the League's leaflets and courses were not going to subdue all the workforce, they would encourage the dissenting voices to speak up. Thus for only a few shillings, at most, per worker per year it was regarded by rightwing employers as a useful service. In 1940, for instance, its subscription rate was "not less than 5 guineas, the basis being 6d per cent on the annual pay roll".4
"Fifty Fighting Years" called the two decades after the war as "The Training Era". Although, as we shall see, the League was not completely preoccupied with its educational programme it was central to all its activities - overt and covert.
APPRENTICE TRAINING: began in 1946. The following year these training sessions were transformed into "elementary economics and civics" classes. By 1949 it was holding 493 of these classes. By 1951 this had risen to 611, and in 1952 - following its transformation into a limited company - this doubled to 1,234. By 1959 this had risen to 5,750 apprentice classes.
SUPERVISOR TRAINING: began in 1953. In 1954 the League conducted 331 training sessions for some 6,000 supervisors and junior managers. These training classes took various forms according to the importance placed upon them by the sponsoring management: "training was given on a daily or weekly basis on the company's premises, or at one day conferences, or at a weekend residential courses". The aims of these courses were summed up in the League's 1959 annual report:
"Among the apprentices of today are shop stewards, trades union officials, supervisors and managers of tomorrow. Now, they are rapidly forming heir own views for better or for worse. While some companies employ staff to guide apprentices, listen to their questions, and tell them the facts and reasons of the world of industry, many do not. The young men often make their own guesses to account for the ways of management, or acquire the attitudes of the more talkative cynics on the shop-floor. Objective thought and constructive attitudes are best learned early. For two reasons economic education for the shop-floor requires that special attention be given to supervisors. First the supervisor is often in a position to correct economic errors if he knows the relevant facts, and normally he does not know the facts unless steps have been taken to inform him. Secondly, the effectiveness of economic education at works gates is highly dependent on the mood in which men come out of the gates. The League, therefore, is as closely concerned with the management of the supervisors as with his economic knowledge. "
The League's first "residential courses" were started in 1953. After I published a short report about the Economic League, in 1988, I was told by an old acquaintance that he had been on one of these courses in the 1950's. I persuaded him to write an account of what he remembered of the course. Although he worked in the Trades Union movement he asked me to withhold his name. His account is valuable because first hand accounts of the League's activities are rare. But it also illustrates some of the obvious difficulties the League experienced in trying to achieve its objectives.
It would be the winter of 1956/7. I had been accepted as a drawing office apprentice in the London office of Babcock & Wilcox Ltd (boilermakers), during the summer of 1956. Babcock & Wilcox were then the world market leaders in heavy duty industrial and marine boiler making. Becoming one of their apprentices was quite a "rite of passage". It involved three interviews. For the first two I found myself on my own at the end of the glowing mahogany table in the London boardroom, with some dozen dark suited, grey haired guys at the other end. The last interview was with the Company Secretary in his office, which my father had to attend. Reflecting now, the interview was actually with my father and I was merely the object under discussion. The Company Secretary, wearing the equivalent of my wage for the whole of the apprenticeship by way of a suit, made much of what a privilege it was to be a London Drawing Office Apprentice. He reminded my father how recently it had been the case that parents had to pay the company for the opportunity to put their sons through the apprenticeship. This was Paternalism, literally and metaphorically, with a capital "P". Some time later in the summer, a thick document was delivered to the house. This was the indenture document - the first legal document I had ever seen and the nearest thing to an illuminated manuscript I had ever touched. I still have my copy. Both my father and I signed me up for five years sound mechanical engineering training at a starting wage of £2 7s 6d a week. Twelve confused and rowdy adolescent boys from all round the London suburban ring into the Drawing School for the first six months of "induction training". Under the tutelage of an embittered chain-smoking trainer we learned to detail the intricacies of boilers and pipework, drums and vessels in three projections, cross section and isometric views. Much unsupervised we also continued to develop our social skills: smoking, group bets on horses, trading luncheon vouchers and such. Through the social apprenticeship of myth, lies and masculine masks, we crudely explored the one obsessive common denominator - the nature of the opposite sex and our real, fantasised or putative relations with them. Sometime during that winter, the tutor (whose name has long gone) informed us we were going on a weekend school at Tring, Berkhamstead. We would be picked up by a coach on Friday afternoon. It was a mystery trip in every sense. For this "south-of-the-river" boy, Tring was unheard of. I have some vague notion of being told it was about "the Company". The coach must have been collecting apprentices from all over London. It went out and came back full. Disorientated, we rolled up a sweeping drive to a horror movie mansion deep in the home counties. We were soon augmented by other boys. Fewer than us, they were either delivered in cars (!) or unbelievably, arrived in cars they were driving (!!). There were up to 35-40 of us there in all. The content of the sessions - five over the weekend - is long forgotten. I have some memory of illuminated maps and charts (OHPs I would now say) and of being lectured to. As ideological work it was either sublimely inefficient or subliminal. The real memory is that predictable schoolboy dive for the seats at the back and a particular memory of capturing a deep leather armchair one time and luxuriating in the voluptuousness of it. What did stick were amazing practical lessons in social class. First the sheer size of the mansion, with its maze of passages, stairs and rooms and wood panelled everywhere. I soon after discovered it was owned by Dorian Williams and date my antipathy to all things "horsey" from this period. Second we ate in a large dining room at long, solid tables with what must have been a parody of an Oxbridge "High Table" at the end. Third it was bloody cold. In the dining hall we had to stand for "grace". We were waited on by not-much-older-than-us Scandinavian girls! For us lads, obsession and fantasy collided. Most of our energies were divided between planning elaborate possibilities of potent sexual encounter on the one hand and scavenging for heat sources on the other. There were no utopian sexual encounters but we did find electric fires. With the aid of matchsticks we succeeded in stuffing the plugless wires into Dorian Williams' wall sockets and loading his electricity bill: practical market economics for power station boilermakers. Among the assembled youth, the class divide rapidly turned into fairly open class war. "They" affected, or possessed, an ease in the surroundings, a confidence in handling cutlery, alcohol and discourse that filled us with inchoate rage. And, yes, they did throw bread buns around at the table! Minor frictions spilled into skirmishes. The clearest memory of all is leaving on the Sunday. Our parting gift was to thoroughly immobilise the Land Rover of a particularly patronising youth. This rudimentary lesson in auto-engineering taught me what - and where - the distributor is and how easily it came off; the effects of sugar on petroleum and the ease with which a suitable sized potato can be inserted far up an exhaust pipe. we crowded to the back of the coach as it turned down the drive, the better to enjoy our last glimpse of the upper classes trying to start up the motor. Perhaps they are there still. We must have been an effective rabble for we were not invited again. In retrospect I owe the Economic League a small debt for that lesson on class politics. Their class arrogance and ignorant presumption as to what was "normal" in the way of comfort, manners and service and provisioning was most educational. Intended propaganda was quite lost under the impact of more powerful lessons."
First hand accounts of the League's activities are rare, and this one nicely illustrates the insuperable problems the League faced in attempting to abolish class conflict by turning coach-loads of impressionable apprentices into enthusiastic capitalists.
But of course this was not the yardstick by which the League's training was to be measured. There was an immediate return from courses such as this one both in terms of "low level intelligence" gleaned from the talkative apprentices and the disruptive potential of the rudimentary, anti-socialist, ideas put across to the trainees. If the quality of the League's training was less than impressive, its scale was not. When the League published "Fifty Fighting Years" in 1969 it employed a staff of 22 trainers and were providing training for apprentices and supervisors in "something like 700 firms" and - perhaps the most impressive statistic -
"Over 500 apprentices and supervisors are attending Economic League training courses every working day throughout the year".
Although it is still difficult to gauge the impact that the League's training had on skilled and supervisory workers, it is harder to still to dismiss such a concerted, deliberate, calculated and unrelenting propaganda exercise as completely ineffective. Whether the trainees were convinced by the League's arguments was less important than the clear signal that they represented the sort of attitudes that would enable an employee to get on in the firm sponsoring the training. In this sense it was another element in the complicated interpersonal dynamics of the shopfloor. Anyone who has worked there can bear witness to the familiar tableaux in which, when cornered, a shopfloor worker tells a manager what he wants or expects to hear. In which, when confronted by managers or for that matter their families, employees dump the blame for industrial action on the trades union or "politically motivated" shop stewards, portraying themselves to the management as innocent flotsam swept along on a tide of politically motivated industrial action, while at the same time in reality encouraging and welcoming it. This is not of course to deny the existence of any intimidation within trades unions but merely to question its extent or its real impact. The sort of management-led political propaganda put out by the Economic League reinforced management and conservative claims about the extent of intimidation, and encouraged rank and file trade unionists to disclaim responsibility for their own unforced actions.
Supervisors and apprentices were a soft target for the League. Both groups were hostages to the whims of their employers, and the principle of providing them with some sort of political, economic and social training was already well established. It was a very different matter when it came to the ordinary shopfloor workers. Much as they might have welcomed it, they were not offered expenses-paid weekend visits to Dorian Williams' country mansion. Nor did the League provide much in the way of on site training for the ordinary shop floor employees of its subscribing companies. The League had to rely on leaflets and magazines to put their message across to most workers.
Leafleting was, of course, not a new technique for them, but in the years immediately after the War, under the guidance of John Baker White who was now acting as their "publicity advisor", they applied some of the techniques developed by the PWE and SOE. This new scientific approach was recalled in "Fifty Fighting Years":
"The leaflet was becoming of ever greater importance, but it had to be not only interesting and informative in content, but also short and attractive in appearance. The League became one of the largest consumers of coloured papers, using them in rotation, and a great deal of thought had to be put into titles and tailpieces."
While the League's "special corps of leafleters" set about distributing its propaganda outside the factory gates the League began to produce broadsheets and magazines for distribution inside factories.
In 1947 "FACTS" was launched. It was a monthly broadsheet "designed particularly for foremen and works supervisors". Its circulation was in the order of 20,000 per month.
In 1954 a similar broadsheet called "New Future" was introduced,aimed at "young workers". It had a circulation of over 20,000. "New Future" continued to be produced into the 1970's.
"POINTS OF VIEW" was a management orientated monthly magazine while "Two Minute News Review" was a monthly management bulletin which was first published in 1945. According to the League's 26th Annual Report, it was launched when "subversive activity - mainly emanating from Trotskyites increased". It aimed to give a quick account of current "subversive activities" achieving by 1977 a circulation of 113,750. It was produced until the very end.
"NOTES AND COMMENTS" was a general monthly which, in 1969, absorbed "Facts". By 1977 it was however described as being aimed at "members, management, speakers, writers and students of public affairs".
"NEWS AND VIEWS" was a quarterly magazine designed, like "New Future" for "young Workers". In 1977 it had a circulation of 38,710.
"SUPER NEWS" was like "Facts" targeted at supervisors. In 1977 its circulation was 60,305 copies.
In assessing the influence and effectiveness of League's propaganda efforts throughout its existence, but particularly during the "Training Era", it is important not to be confused by their superficial similarity to the propaganda efforts of the radical and revolutionary left. The left's aims and objectives were not at all the same; they were in the business of creating popular mass movements and greater participation in political activities. The League's was a spoiling operation aimed at creating and encouraging dissent amongst the enemy - whether it be the trade unions or a liberal Conservative Party leadership which was "letting socialism in through the back door".
It therefore hardly mattered to the League, or its paymasters, whether all or even most of those who were on the receiving end of its propaganda were actually convinced or converted. The League only needed a sufficiently positive response to fracture the organised resolve of employees - thus in the short term improving employers bargaining power, and in the long term to helping to support the case for legislation aimed at permanently undermining trade unions' influence in the labour market place.
Viewed in these terms the League's "training era" was effective. It was certainly perhaps the largest and most durable programme of rightwing political education ever directed by employers at their employees.
- 1Reproduced in the LRD Pamphlet "The Federation of British Industries", 1950
- 2Aims of Industry, Annual Report 1948
- 3Other less prominent members of the Central Council included: Harry Douglas Leather ("retired", Ilkley), Ernest Edward R. Kilner (listed on the company records as a manufacturer from Mirfield, West Yorkshire), Alderman Edmund G Underwood ("retired", Nottingham), Colonel Maurice B Buchanan, Lt Colonel T Harry G Stevens, Alderman Charles Terry (Redditch, manufacturer), Sir Harold West (Sheffield Manufacturer), John Horsley Gresham (Co. Director from Timperley), William Joseph Clarke (Company Chairman), Adolph Vines, H Russell Allday, Bertram James Firkins,Capt. William Appleby, Alfred J Stanyard (Co. secretary of Yarrow & Co., Glasgow).
- 4The anti-trade union blacklist was probably seen by manufacturing subscribers as particularly valuable because the ideological implosion of party politics was accompanied by a very noticeable increase in industrial action. In 1952 1,792,000 hours of production were lost through industrial action. This rose to 2,083,000 hours in 1956, and 3,024,000 in 1960. In 1965, after a year of Labour government, the figure had risen to 2,925,000.