Unions Must Arrest Disunity
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THERE is much disquiet in Government and other circles concerning the loosening of the bonds between many trade unions and their members. At one time strikes unauthorized by higher officials were rare, and then usually concerned only small numbers of workers, but in recent years such movements have been growing .until they may include many thousands in an industry and, through them, adversely affect millions in the Nation as a whole.
The most recent example of this, and one of the most serious that has yet occurred, was the unofficial strike of thousands of dockers, a number of important ports being involved and hundreds of ships forced to remain idle, in some cases for weeks. It is . estimated that the total damage done to the trade and industry of this country and, in particular, to our exports, reached something like £60,000,000, and the effects will be felt for many months, because much shipping was delayed and, consequently, return voyages must have been put back. Very soon there was a piling up of enormous quantities of goods, both incoming and outgoing, and manufacturers throughout the country were affected by shortages of imported raw materials, and a further congestion of exports which was already quite serious enough.
Agitators Seeking Opportunities There was even a grave danger of the trouble spreading not only amongst dockers who were still employed, but to other classes-of worker, for agitators were preparing to endeavour to cause further disruption in many other directions. Yet the cause was only a minor affair of discipline applying to a few men, and if the wiser counsels of the union chiefs had prevailed the matter could have been settled rapidly in a reasonable way by negotiation. The Government was naturally loath to take drastic action against its own backers, but was forced into doing so by the further threat.
Our industry, with its great activity in connection with transport to and from the docks, was seriously disturbed, quite apart from the important factor that vehicle and equipment makers are in the front rank in producing valuable articles for which there is a great demand overseas. One of the great difficulties and a vital problem for the unions, is that these sporadic outbreaks are usually the result of the clamour of a comparatively few people, some probably with Communist leanings, others filled with ideas of making themselves appear important in the public eye, heedless of the misery and destruction that they may bring in their train. They are always on the look-out for opportunities to stir up strife and to lower the prestige of the unions and their officials.
It may be that some of the unions have grown over-large, and consequently cumbersome in their methods, being too distant from those whom they are supposed to guide and help. If so, this is mainly a private matter which should be settled between them and their members, but not at the cost of the interests of the public and the Nation.
Danger of Despotic Control If the workers and their officially appointed representatives are to continue to be disunited by minority factions, the situation is liable to become completely out of hand, and the position might arise of the country being despotically controlled, as has, unfortunately, taken place amongst some other nations, in which all freedom has been lost, and all classes, with the exception of those belonging to the minorities in power, have been ruthlessly regimented.
We cannot believe that the sturdy, free-thinking and generally independent British worker would be happy or contented in such circumstances. Probably the average employee does not, at an early stage, look upon the matter in that light, but is terrified of being classed as a " blackleg" if he continues to work despite cajolement or even intimidation. His mind should be disabused of any such idea by the unions.
It must be a shock for the Socialist Government to find that so many people who put it into office can so easily be induced to work against its interests. Many workers must have been imbued with the idea that because the Socialists had gained such political power by their large majority in the Commons, in future they would be able to exercise untrammelled personal action and do virtually what they pleased.