J. T Murphy.

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Che Workers'
Committee :



principles and Structure.



The Sheffield Workers' Committee,



99ff ifftmcO





The Workers'
Committee :

An Outline of Its
Principles and Structure



Published by the Sheffield ^W^k Committee


Printed by Jas, Neville, 134, Carver Street, Moorhead.



" Where the men and women think lightly of the laws;
.... 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 children are taught to be laws to themselves.; . . .
there the great city stands." WALT WHITMAN.

" 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
partake 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 his 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 crown of manhood; in so far as
he shirks it, he becomes a drone in the human hive, a tramp,
a useless burden on the earth." GRAY AND TURNER.

" The corning time liow all our notions will fall into
dust then*! ^.ncl truly it is /high time. All that we have lived
on up tfll< 4i/y^jatf *bei$r* the remnants of the revolutionary
dishes of the last century^.'a'tajl ,we have been long enough
chewing these over and over again. Our ideas demand a new
substance and a new interpretation. Liberty,, equality, and
fraternity are no longer the same things that they were in the
days of the blessed guillotine; but it is just this that the
politicians 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."


The Workers 1 Committee :

An Outline of Its Principles and Structure,

ONE of the most noticeable features 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 with
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 r adily admit, but that the difference
sufficiently explains the change we deny. The social atmosphere
in which we move, the connmon events of every-day life, the people
with whom we converse, the struggle to make ends meet, the
conditions of labour, all these determine our outlook on life.

Do I feel that the man on the next machine is competing for
my job ? Do I feel that the vasi army who have entered into
industry will soon be scrambling with rne 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.
They 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 ; the workshop atmosphere is his atmosphere ; the
conditions under which he labours are primary ; his trade union
constitution is 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 class of people, and breathes a different
atmosphere. Those things which were once prirrary are now


( 4 )

secondary, He becomes buried in the constitution., and of necessity
looks from a new point of view on those things which 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 pf
labour at heart, but because human nature is what it is, he feels
the influence of new factors, and the result is a change pf outlook.
Thus we obtain a contrast between those who reflect the
working class conditions and those who are remote from them.
Consider, now, the effect of this constitutional development. The
constitutions invest elected officials with certain powers of decision
which involve the members of the organisations in obedience to
their 'rulings. It is true to say that certain questions have been
referred 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 ^government by officials. They have the power to rule
whether a strike is constitutional or unconstitutional, and accord-
ingly 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 isjDro-
bably the most important of all. It allows small groups who arc,
as we have already shown, remote from actual workshop experi-
ence to govern the mass and involve the mass into working under
conditions 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 shall be simply that of obedience.

This is reflected in 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 1
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
thoughts 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
thinking 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 desire the mass of
men 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
darkness and oppression,

( 5 )

The functions of an Elected Committee, therefore, should L>
such that instead of arriving at decisions FOR the rank and fill
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 balbt
The more responsibility rests upon every member of an organisa-
tion 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 con-
stitutional 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, o>r 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 brandies, 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 w<here 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 uiifarnliar
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 experience.
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. The
workers in one 'workshop should therefore be members of one

Immediately we contemplate this phase of our difficulties 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 workshops
divided not only amongst a score of branches but a score of
unions, and in a single district scores of unions, and in the whok;
of the country eleven \hundred unions.

( )

Modern methods of production are social in character. We
.nean by this statement that workmen of all kinds associate
together, and are nece-sary to each other to produce goods. The
interests of one, therefore, are the interests of another. Mechanics
cannot get along without 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 tht workers are
almost anti-social in character.

They keep the workers divided by organising them on the
basis of their differences 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 woman workers the differences became
organised differences, and the adjustment of labour organisations
to the changes increasingly complex. The skilled men resent tht.
encroachments of the unskilled, 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 yean
of tradition behind them, also five years apprenticeship to then
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, foi
example, is the exception and not the rule. Specialisation hay
progressed by leaps and hounds. Automatic machine production 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 o!
work receive only 50 per cent, of the wages received by the men
It will be thus clearly perceived that every simplification in tht
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
;r dt-s. So we can safely say that as historical development takes
a\- .-v the monopoly position of skilled workers it paves the way
f>i the advancement of the unskilled.

U 01 king in ihe saaie workshops a? the skilled men, having to
assist them in their work, seeing how the work is becoming simpli-
fied, knowing no reason satisfactory to himself why, having had to
start life as a labourer, he should decline advancement and remain
i labourer, takes time by th forelock, and era long can compete

( 7 )

with the rest on specialised work. So also enter the womer
workers, and thus ensues a struggle between crau, trade, and sex

There are in industry seven 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 'ot women, at
least so far as the smaller kinds of them are concerned, we read
in the "Times Engineering Supplement" of June 29^,1917,80
account of women's work, from which the following is taken :

" In particular the Bristol exhibition was remarkable for tht
many hundreds of specimens of work wholly or mainly done by
women. Apart from the still larger range covered by the photo-
graphs, fourteen separate groups of samples were shown, dealing
respectively with aircraft engines, motor car engines, magnetos and
other accessories of internal combustion engines, locomotive and
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 parts, project-
iles, miscellaneous engineering, and optical and glass work. The
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 tf 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 pt*rts 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 hag
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
49 passengers for the war.

This position makes a grievous state of affairs for any post war
schemes. It makes possible sham restoration schemes in which
we all stand to lose b)' the magnitude of the unemployed market.
Thousands of women may be turned into the streets, or become
encumbrances on the men who may be at work or who also may
be unemployed. Domestic service cannot absprb all women, as
some suggest, nor is it possible, as others remark, for them to go
back to what they were doing before the war. To put back the
clock of uiftuuy * upnoss&Jk and etW Mlutiea* wiil have to U

( 8 )

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 also true that they are most difficult to organise
because of these 'defects, thinking less about such matters than
men. For these reasotijS they are more the victims of die 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 Living.

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 true
means of providing them with work and wages. Skilled men are
justified in their desires, an,d 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 independent 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, however,
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 workshop a
Wuikshop 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 members
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 to-
gether, and form the Workshop Committee.

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

Where possible, is is advisable for shop stewards to be
officially recognised, and to be supplied with rules which lend sup-
port and encourage the close co-operation which a Workshop
Committee requires.

( 9 )

We suggest the following as a Shop Steward's instruction
card, for 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 conditions 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, tihe results of such
consultation to be submitted to the members in tihe shop
for for approval.

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

The workers ia the workshop should attempt to remedy their
grievances in the workshop l>efore calling in official aid.

Where members of other unions are affected, their co-opera-
tion should be sougttit.

We would also advise that there be one shop steward to not
more thian fifteen workers. The more active workers there are the
better, and easier is the organising work carried on. Also elect a
Convener in each shop for each class of worker. Their duties twill
be to call shop stewards' meetings in the shop, and be delegates to
ihie 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 committee, so long as the stewards are elected in the
workshops and not in the branches. The means are then assured
of 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.


should b formed in each district. It will be readily perceiveJ
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 stages of development, full shop stewards' meetings
should be held in every district, and an Industrial Administrative
Committee be formed 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. Th
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
Service agreement, Labour Advisory Board, Procedure in the
workshops, etc. Then this committee should be the means of
extending and developing the organisations, so that the workers


Online LibraryJ. T MurphyThe Workers' Committee: an outline of its principles and structure → online text (page 1 of 2)