J. T. (John Thomas) Murphy.

The workers' committee : an outline of its principles and structure online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryJ. T. (John Thomas) MurphyThe workers' committee : an outline of its principles and structure → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook







- ■ c=









-^ -c.





Workers' Committee






Che Workers'
Commitlee :



principles and Structure.



The Sheffield Workers' Committee.




The Workers'
Committee :


An Outline of Its
Principles and Structure,


J. T. MUkl^HY.

Published by the Sheffield Workers' Committee.

Sheffield :
printed by Jas. Neville, 134, Carver Street, Muurhead,


'• where the men and women think lightly of the Itwi ;
.... where the populace rise at once against the never-
ending audacity of elected persons ; . . . where outside
authority enters after the precedence of inside authority ;
where the citizen is always the head and ideal ; where child-
ren are taught to be laws to themselvea ; . . . there the
great city stands." — Walt Whjimax.

*' It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that
is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and call-
ing it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and
interests of others, that a human being becomes a noble
and beautiful object of contemplation, and as the works par-
take of the character of those who do them, by the same process
human life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating,
furnishing more abundant aliment to high thoughts, and
elevating feeling, and strengthening the tie which binds every
individual to the race, by making the race infinitely better
worth belonging to. In proportion to the development of hii
individuality, each person becomes more and more valuable to
himself, and he is therefore capable of being more valuable to
others." — J. S. Mill. _

" Man was born to be a creator. In so far as he fulfils
that mission, he earns the crewn of manhood ; in so far as he
shirks it, he becotties a drone in the human hive, a tramp, a
useless burden on the earth. — Grav anp TurKer.

•' The coming time — how all our notions will fall into
dust then ! And truly it is high time. All that we have lived
on up till now has been the remnants of the revolutionary
dishes of the last century, and we have been long enough
chewing these over and over again, ©ur ideas demand a new
substance and a new interpretation. Liberty, equality, and
fraternity are no longer the ?ame things that they were in the
days of the blessed guillotine j hut it is just this that the politic-
ians will not understand, and that is why I hate them. These
people only desire partial revolutions, revolutions in externals,
in politics. But these are mere trifles. There is only one
thing avails — to revolutionise people's minds. — Ibsen,

The Workers' Committee :

An Outline of Its Principles and 5tructurei

ONE of the most noticeable foatures in recent trade union
history is the conflict between the rank and file of the
trade unions and their officials, and it is a feature which,
if not remedied, will lead us all into muddle and ultimately
disaster. We have not time to spend in abuse, our whole attention
must be given to an attempt to understand why our organisations
produce men who think in the terms they do, and why the rank
and file in the workshops think differently.

A perusal of the history of the labour movement, both indus-
trial and political, will reveal to the critical eye certain tendencies
and certain features which, when acted upon by external conditions,
will produce the type of persons familiar to us as trade union
officials and labour leaders. '

Everyone is aware that usually a man gets into office on the
strength of revolutionary speeches, which strangely contrast witli
those of a later date after a period in office. This contrast is
usually explained away by a dissertation on the difference between
propaganda and administration. That there is a difference between
these two functions we rt-adily admit, but that the difference
sufficiently explains the change we deny. The social atmosphere
in which we move, the common events of every-day life, the people
with whom we converse, the struggle to njake ends meet, the
conditions of labour, all these determme our outlook on life.

Do I feel that the man on the next machine is competing for
nny job? Do I feel that the vast army who have entered into
industry will soon be scrambling with me at the works gates for a
job in order to obtain the means of a livelihood ? My attitude
towards the dilution of labour will obviously be different to the
man who is not likely to be subject to such an experience. That
is why the Engineers have clashed with the Government officials.
Thty are not likely to be subject to the schemes they have intro-
duced, hence they can talk glibly about safeguards.

Now compare the outlook of the man in the workshop and the
man as a full time official. As a man in the workshop he feels
every change ; tlie workshop atmosphere is his atmosphere ; the
conditions under which he labours are primary ; his trade union
constitution ig secondary, and sometimes even more remote. But
let the same man get into office. He is removed out of the work-
shop, he meets a fresh cIrbs of people, and breathes a different
atmosphere. Those things whicli were once primarj are now


( 4 )

secondary. He becomes buried in the constitution, and of necessity
looks from a new point of view on those things whici he has ceased
to feel acutely. Not that he has ceased to feel interested, not that
he has become dishonest, not that he has not the interests of
labour at heart, but because human nature is wh;it it is, he feels
the influence of new factors, and the result is a chi^nge of outlook.

Thus we obtain a contrast between thosi who reflect
the working class conditions and those who are remote from
them Consider, now, the effect of this constitntional development.
The constitutions invest elected officials with certain powers of
decision which involve the members of the organisations in obedi-
ence to their rulings. It is true to say that certain questions have
been refeired to the ballot box ere decisions have been arrived at ;
but it is unquestionably true, also, that important matters have
not been so referred, and increasingly insistent has been the
progress towards goveynmcnt by officials. They have the power to
rule whether a strike is constitutional or unconstitutional, and
accordingly to pay or withhold strike pay. Local business must
be referred for executive approval, and, where rules are silent,
power to decide according to their judgment is theirs. The latter is
probably the moiit important of all. It allows small groups who are,
as we have already shown, remote from actual workshop experience
lo govern tlie mass and involve the mass mto working under con-
ditions which they have had no opportunity of considering prior to
their inception. The need of the hour is a drastic revision of this
constitutional procedure which demands that the function of the
rank and file sliali be simply that of obedience.

This is reflected m all our activities. We expect -officials to
lead, to shoulder responsibility, to think for us. Hence we get
Labour Leaders, official and unofficial, the one in office, the
other out of office, speaking and acting as if the workers were
pliable goods, to be moulded and formed according to their desires
and judgment. However sincere they may be, and we do not
doubt the sincerity of the majority, these methods will not do.

Real democratic practice demands that every member of an
organisation shall participate actively in the conduct of the business
of the society. We need, therefore, to reverse the present situation,
and instead of leaders and officials being in the "forefront of our
thouglits the questions of the day which have to be answered
should occupy that position. It matters little to us whether leaders
be official or unofficial so long as they sway the mass, little think-
ing is done by the mass.

If one man can sway the crowd in one direction, another man
can move them in the opposite direction. We desirethe mass of
n>en and women to think for themselves, and until they do this no
real progress is made, democracy becomes a farce, and the future
of the race becomes a story of race deterioration.

Thought is revolutionary : it breaks down barriers, transforms
institutions, and leads onward to a larger life. To be afraid of
thought is to be afraid of life, and to become an instrument of dark-
res and oppression.

(5 )

The fuhctions of an Elected Committee, therefore, sliould be
such that instead of arriving at decisions for the rank and fie
they would provide the means whereby full information relative
to any question of policy should receive the attention and con-
sideration OF the rank and file, the results to be expressed by ballot.
Th« more responsibility rests upon every member of an otgan-
isation the greater is the tendency for thought to be more general,
and the more truly will elected officials be able to reflect the
thoughts and feelings of the members of the various organisations.

Now we have shown some of the principal defects in the cou-
s^-itutional procedure, we will show how these defects have been
and are encouraged by defects in the structure.

The ballot box is no new thing, every trade unionist under-
stands the use of it, yet we find that when there is an election of
officers, for example, or a ballot on some particular question, rarely
more than forty per cent, vote ; that means there are sixty per
cent, who do not trouble. Being vexed with the sixty per cent,
will not help us. An organisation which only stimulates forty per
cent, to activity must be somewhat defective, and it is our duty to
find those defects and remedy them.

A ballot is usually taken in the branches, and the meetings
are always summoned meetings, so we will consider now the
branch as a unit of the organisation. It is usually composed of
members who live in certain areas, irrespective of where they work,
and irrespective of the turn on which they work.

These are important factors, and account for a great deal of
neglect. Men working- together every day become familiar to
each other and easily associate, because their interests are com-
mon. This makes common expression possible. They may live,
however, in various districts, and belong to various branches.
Fresh associations have therefore to be formed, which at the best
are but temporary, because only revived once a fortnight at the
most, and there is thus no direct relationship between the branch
group and the workshop group. The particular grievances of any
workshop are thus fresh to a majority of the members of a branch.
The persons concerned are unfamiliar persons, the jobs unfamiliar
jobs, and the workshop remote ; hence the members do not feel a
personal interest in the branch meetings as they would if that
business was directly connected with their every day exper-
ience. The consequence is bad attendance at branch meetings
and little interest. We are driven, then, to the conclusion that
there must be direct connection between the workshop and the
branch in order to obtain the maximum concentration on business.
Tlie workers in one workshop should therefore be members of one

Immediately we contemplate this phase of our ditficulties we
are brought against a further condition of affairs which shows a
dissipation of energy that can only be described as appalling. We
organise for power and yet we find the workers in the work-
shops divided not only amongst a score of branches but a score of
unions, and in a single district scores of unions, and in the whole
of the country eleven hundred unions.

( fe )

Modern methods of production are social in character. We
mean by this statement that workmen of all kinds associate
together, and are necc-sary to each other to produce goods. The
interests of one, therefore, are the interests of another. Mechanics
cannot get alonf^' witliout labourers or without crane drivers ; none
of these can dispense with the blacksmith, the grinder, the forge-
men, etc., yet in spite of this interdependence, which extends
throughout all industry, the organisations of the workers are
almost anti-social in character.

They keep the workers divided by organising them on the
basis of their diflerences instead of their common interests. Born
at a period when large scale machine production had not arrived,
when skill was at a greater premium than it is to-day, many have
maintained the prejudices which organisations naturally cultivate,
while during the same period of growth the changes in methods of
production were changing their position in relation to other workers,
unperceived by them. With the advent of the general labour
unions catering for men and women workers the differences became
organised differences, and the adjustment of labour organisations
to the changes increasingly complex. The skilled men resent the
encroachments of the un'skilled, the unskilled often resent what
appears to them the domineering tactics of the skilled, and both
resent the encroachments of the women workers. An examination
of their respective positions will reveal the futility of maintaining
these sectional prejudices.

Consider the position of the skilled workers. They have years
of tradition behind them, also five years apprenticeship to their
particular trade. 1 he serving of an apprenticeship is in itself
sufficient to form a strong prejudice for their position in industry.
But whilst the skilled unions have maintained the serving of an
apprenticeship as a primary condition of membership, industrial
methods have been changing until the all-round mechanic, for
example, is the exception and not the rule. Specialisation has
progressed by leaps and bounds. Automatic machine production
has vastly increased. Apprenticeship in thousands of cases is a
farce, for even they are kept on repetition work and have become
a species of cheap labour. Increasingly are they set to mate men
on piece work jobs, and although producing the same amount of
work receive only 50 per cent, of the wages received by the men.
It will be thus clearly perceived that every simplification, in the
methods of production, every improvement in automatic machine
production, every application of machinery in place of hand pro-
duction, means that the way becomes easier for others to enter the
trades. So we can safely say that as historical development takes
away the monopoly position of skilled work6?s it paves the way
for the advancement of the unskilled.

Working in the same workshops as the skilled men, having to
assist them in their work, s eing how the work is becoming simpli-
fied, knowing no reason satisf-ictory to himself why, having had to
start life as a labourer, he should decline advancement and remain
Si labourer, takes time by the forelock, and ere long can compete

• ( 7 )

with the rest on specialised work. So also enter the women
workers, and ilius ensues a struggle between craft, trade, and sex
prejudices. _

There are in industry sevfu millions of women workers, more
than a million of whom have entered the engineering industry since
the beginning of the war. How far they have been successful is
no doubt a surprise to the majority of people. In addition to shell
production, which has nearly passed into the hands of women, at
least so far as the smaller kinds of them are concerned, we read
in the "Times Engineering bupplement " of June agth.igiy, an
account of women's work, from which the following is taken : —

" In particular the Bristol exhibition was remarkable for the
many hundreds of specimens of work wholly or mainly done by
women. Apart from the still larger range covered by the photo
graphs, fourteen separa:e groups of samples were shown, dealing
respecti\ely with airciatt engines, motor car engines, magnetos and
other accessories of internal combustion engines, locomotive an 1
stationary engines, guns and gun components, small- arms, gauges,
cutters and allied work, drawing dies and punches, welded and
other aircraft fittings, aircraft framing and structural partb, project-
iles, miscellaneous engineering, and optical and glass work, i he
list is long, but its very length summarises no more than fairly the
variety of applications that are being made of women's services in
one work or another. A similar variety was seen in the compos-
ition of most of the individual groups. Details, for instance, were
exhibited of several different aircraft engines, of motor car and
motor lorry engines of a variety of makes, of "tank" (land ship)
and Diesel engines ; of the breech mechanism and other parts of a
variety of guns, from the 3-pdr. Hotchkiss to the 8-in. howitzer,
and, among small arms, of the Lewis and Vickers machine guns
and the Lee- Enfield rifle. Over seventy punches and dies were
shown for cartridge-drawing alone, and over a hundred varieties of
shell-boring and milling cutters, twist-drills, and allied tools, and
nearly as many separate parts of aeroplanes."

That such production on the part of women is general it would
be untrue to say, but it at least shows the tremendous possibilities
before the women workers, how far the simplifying process has:
gone, and how the monopoly position of the skilled worker in all
but heavy work has nearly gone. In many workshops, however,
it can safely be said that women are not a success. As a matter
of fact in some places there has been no attempt to make them a
success. They are consequently tolerated with amused contempt
as passengers for the war.

This position makes^ grievous state of affairs for any post war
schemes. It makes possible sham restoration schemes in which
we all stand to lose by the magnitude of the unemployed market.
Thousands of women may be turned into the streets, or become
encumbrances on the men who ma.y be at work or who also may
be unempluyed. Domestic service cannot absorb all women, as
some suggest, nor is it possible, as otheis remark, for them to go
back to what they were doing before the war. To put back the
clock of history »' ic^nossible. and other solutions will have to hi

( s )

It is true that woman labour is usually cheap labour ; it is true
that women generally are more servile than men (and they are bad
enough) ; it is true also that they are most difficult to organise
because of these defects, thinking less about such matters than
men. For these reasons they are more the victims of the employ-
ing class. The blame is not altogether -theirs. We men and
women of to-day have now to pay the price of man's economic
dominance over women which has existed for centuries. Content
to treat women as subjects instead of equals, men are now faced
with problems not to their liking.

Yet everyone of the wage earning class, whether man or woman,
is in the same fix. Each has to work for wages or starve. Each
fears unemployment. The skilled men detest dilution because they
fear the lowering of their standard of life by keener competition.
The semi-skilled, and the unskilled, and the women each desire to
improve their lot. All are in the hands of those who own the
means of providing them with work and wages. Skilled men are
justified in their desires, and so are the others. The only way the
mutual interests of the wage earners can be secured, therefore, is
by united effort on the part of all interdependent workers, whether
men or women. Many have been the attempts in the past to bring
about this result. Federal schemes have been tried, and amalgam-
ation schemes advocated. Characteristic of them all, liow-
ever, is the fact that always have they sought for a fusion of
officialdom as a means to the fusion of the rank and file.

We propose to reverse this procedure. Already we have
shown how we are driven back to the workshops. With the work-
shops, then, as the new units of organisation, we will now show
how, starting with these, we can erect the structure of the Great
Industrial Union, invigorate the labour movement with the real
democratic spirit, and in the process lose none of the real values
won in the historic struggle of the Trade Union movement.


The procedure to adopt is to form in every v.orkshop a \\'ork-
shop Committee, composed of Shop Stewards, elected by the
workers in the workshops. Skilled, semi- skilled, and unskilled
workers should have their Shop Stewards, and due regard be given
also to the particular union to which each worker belongs.

For example : — Suppose a workshop is composed of menjbers
of the General Labourers' Union, Workers' Union, A.S.E., Steam
Engine Makers, Women Workers, etc , each of these unions should
have their Shop Stewards, and the whole co-operate together, and
form the Workshop Committee.

Immediately this will stimulate the campaign for the elimina-
tion of the non-unionist. We knew of one shop where, as soon as
the Workshop Committee was formed, every union benefited in
membership, and one Society enrolled sixty members.

\\ here possible, it is advisable for shop stewards to be officially
recognised, and to be supplied with rules which lend support and
encourage the close co-operation wliich a Workshop Conuuittee

( 9 )

We suf^'gest the following as a Shop Steward's instruction card,
lor any of the Societies : —

Members' pence cards should be inspected every six weeks.

New arrivals into workshops shall be approached by the shop
steward nearest to such and questioned as to member-
ship of a trade union.

Steward shall demand the production of pence card of alleged

Steward shall take note of shop conditions, wages, etc., in the
area in which he is acting as shop steward, and report any
violations of district cpnditions as approved by the trade
unions which are not immediately remedied to the trade
union officials.

Any dispute arising between employer and employee, which
results in a challenge of district conditions as approved,
shall be reported to the shop steward.

Steward shall then consult with other shop stewards as to
the course of procedure to be adopted, the results of such
consultation to be submitted to the members in the shop
for approval.

Matters which affect more than one department shall be dealt
with in a similar manner by the stewards in the affected

The workers in the workshop should attempt to remedy their
grievences in the workshop before calling in official aid.

Where members of other unions are affected, their co-operation
should be sought.

We would also adxi.'-e that there be one shop steward to not
more than fifteen workers. The more active workers there are the
belter, and easier is the organising work carried on. Also elect a
Convener in each shop for each class of worker. Their duties will
be to call shop stewards' meetings in the shop, and be delegates to
the district meetings. Other duties we shall mention later.

The initiative should be taken by the workers in the various
districts. It is immaterial whether the first move is made through
the local trade union committees, or in the workshops and then
through the committees, so long as the stewards are elected in the
workshops and not in the branches. The means are then assured
i an alliance between official and unofficial activities by an official
recognition of rank and file control.

Having now described how the workshop committees can be
formed, and how the committees can be at the same time part of
the official trade union movement, we must now proceed to show
how the movement can grow, and how it must grow to meet the
demands of the day.

( 10 )


should b« formed in each district. It will be readily perceived
that no one firm will be completely organised before the workers
in other firms begin to move in the the same direction. Therefore
in the early staj'^es of development, full shop stewards' meetings
should be held in every district, and an Industrial Administrative
Committee be foimed from these meetings. The size of the Com-
mittee will vary according to the size of the district, so we will
leave that to the discretion of those who form the committee. The
functions of these committees are mainly those of educating and
co-ordinating the efforts of the rank and file through the shop
stewards. For example, — one committee provides information
relative to agreed upon district conditions, Munitions Act, Military


Online LibraryJ. T. (John Thomas) MurphyThe workers' committee : an outline of its principles and structure → online text (page 1 of 2)