Ring in the New
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
Political Commentary By JAN US ON New Year's Eve it is not an uncommon experience to walk along a normally quiet street and hear a succession of parties, each one singing its favourite song, sometimes very much out of tune with what is being sung across the road. Even where nothing is audible one may suppose that the people within are alert, waiting to give their greeting to the coming year. As the beginning of 1952 is likely to mark the dividing point between the old transport policy and the new, it is not surprising that the various sections of the transport industry have been throwing parties and in some cases making a loud. din.
Most vociferous are the hauliers and the unions, although their contributions to the racket are neither in the same tempo nor the same key. Passenger operators have recently put forward a statement of policy for the Government's consideration, but have, so far, not laboured their points and have attracted little notice from the unions. The uncharacteristic silence so far preserved by the British Transport Commission need not mean that it is not watching the situation closely.
The situation is in some ways the antithesis to what it was in 1947. Then the unions supported the policy of the Government and the hauliers bitterly opposed it. The contrast should not be pressed too far. There are differences that offer at least some hope that a reasonable measure of concord will be reached, even if the unions remain of the opinion that competition is bad.
The Socialists expected that the majority of hauliers would fight nationalization to the last ditch. They were threatened with the fate of the dodo and the dinosaur, and for many of them that threat has materialized. Some may have hoped for one of the relatively few important jobs in the Road Haulage Executive, others would have been reasonably satisfied with a minor position. The rest feared, with every justification, that they would be bundled out of road haulage for reasons that even now have not been satisfactorily explained.
Personal Approach The unions have no need to take this desperate view of the present situation. They were playing an important and useful role before nationalization and would continue to do so even if the Ivory Tower were razed to its foundations. The workers represented by the unions are no better off as a result of the Transport Act and in some Cases are not earning such good rates of pay as before. The machinery for joint consultation established by the B.T.C. may look well on paper, but it replaced something often valued more—the personal approach to the employer.
The illusion that. nationalization was intended to benefit the workers lasted only a short time and the unions were among the first to awake from it. Earlier this year the editor of "Railway Review," the journal of the National Union of Railwaymen, frankly stated the truth: "It is true to say, whether we like it or not, that a number of private-enterprise firms provide better wages and conditions, than those obtaining generally in nationalized transport." He was of the opinion that the situation could be improved within the framework of nationalization, but many of his points could equally well be met under free enterprise.
The Transport and General Workers' Union, which e32
is leading the latest opposition to denationalization, wisely makes little reference to the benefits or otherwise that the changes of the past few years have brought about. A statement issued by the Union's executive merely expresses apprehension at what will happen when road transport is returned to free enterprise and the 25-mile limit abolished. An -article by the union's general secretary, Mr. Arthur Deakin, enlarges on this theme without making it much clearer. He is writing mainly for his members, and may sound convincing to them. To the outsider, the article seems strangely perfunctory, as if Mr. Deakin could not make up his mind what line to take.
"It is a Pleasure"
He makes a great point of the "splendid vehicles" which " it is a pleasure" for the drivers of the B.T.C. to take out. To stress this aspect seems odd when it is not argued that equally good vehicles are not operated under free enterprise, and the suggestion of pleasure is at once neutralized by the statement that "the job of the lorry driver is at all times an exacting one." Mr. Deakin scarcely bothers to get his facts right. "Extransport operators," he says, "suggest that they be given an opportunity of re-starting operations in competition with the existing services, completely disregarding the payments which were made by the Commission to them previously."
If this be a reference to the plan put forward by the Road Haulage Association, the document has certainty not been very carefully read. Mr. Deakin continues by castigating the Tories for thinking that they can regulate road transport by the issue of licences, except where it can be shown that there is guaranteed employment to new operators. "Any operator," comments Mr. Deakin," could get a guarantee if he was prepared to offer a price lower than that asked for by his competitor." The statement shows no very close acquaintance with the licensing system and the work of 'the Licensing Authorities.
The unions were expected to make a gesture of defiance to the new Government. It is to be hoped they will now get down to the more serious business of ensuring an adequate status for the worker in whatever new system is set up. The Trades Union Congress has evidently taken the view that whilst reserving the right to its own opinions, it will work with the new Government so far as possible. When Lord Lucas, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport in the Socialist administration, admits that something is rotten in the Ivory Tower, there seems no good reason for the unions to cherish overlong an unwonted tenderness for things as they are. They need not be forced to acknowledge publicly that the nationalization of road transport has failed. All they have to do is to act henceforth on that assumption.
If they have a positive proposal of their own, they will no doubt put it forward. It is more important from the point of view of their members to watch what the Government does and to press the claims of the workers at every stage. Decentralization may give the ordinary worker more scope than he has at present for making his views felt. Denationalization can be used as the means for bringing the workers into partnership schemes and giving them a share in the management.