Production in this factory decreased with each reverse
After reading the memorandum and listening to them speak for a few minutes in a language less restrained than the letter in which sabotage, graft, bosses, workers' exploitation, seemed to me to recur in phrases almost too well turned, I asked my visitors bluntly what was the political move behind this, and what political solution were they pushing.
Almost together they protested.
" We have no political end, we are not looking for a political solution: this is a question of a job of work. We simply want to get on with building aircraft as quickly as we know how and our tools permit."
" Have you no politics, then? Aren't you Socialists or Communists in sympathy?" I asked.
" No, we are Trade Unionists," they said together.
" I am a Catholic," said one. " I have itudied the Encyclicals and I am convinced we want a new social order."
"Have you any religion?" I asked his companion.
"No, I haven't felt the need of it myself," he answered, " and what I have seen of it in others for the main part doesn't iinpress me."
" Don't you belong to the Labour Party?" I insisted.
" No, I don't even pay my union's political levy."
"Neither do I," were the answers.
" How many members of your deputation are members of a political party?"
" One, and he is a Communist," was the answer. " But we are all here simply because 10,000 workers want to produce more airplanes in a plant erected and tooled out of public money."
NOTHING DONE They then continued the story.
Copies of the memorandum were sent to Mr. Herbert Morrison, Mr. Ernest Bevin and Lord Beaverbrook. From Mr. " Go To It " Morrison they received a formal acknowledgment. From Mr. Bevin they received the very civil Civil Services' printed memo for passing the buck, amended in typescript to suit blunt Ernie's legend, by the correction of " passed to . . . for attention " to " passed for action to."
Lord Beaverbrook did send a personally signed letter 'which, while it opened with a seeming appreciation of the points raised, rapidly degenerated into a pie-jaw along the lines of lets-all-pull-together-in-our-hour-ofneed-boys !
From none of the recipients was there any promise of action, enquiry or conference.
The notes of acknowledgment were followed up by further letters. Nothing happened. Thc men then decided to appeal to Trade Union leaders, and, the nonpolitical war leader having failed, to approach the matter politically. The memorandum was sent to four Members of Parliament-Mr. G. L. Mandcr, Sir Richard Acland, Mr. David Kirkwood and Mr. W. Gallacher, Mr. Gallacher asked a question in the House of Commons, He chose the easiest of the six complaints, sub-contracting, and was told that the matter had been settled. It had not.
DEPUTATION GOES TO LONDON These repeated failures caused rising discontent among the 10,000 men, who were beginning to feel the whole system against them. A mass meeting of protest was arranged. The management tried to stop it, by persuasion, by threats and finally by interfering with the transport arrangements. Over two thousand men attended, however, and a deputation was chosen to go to London.
On Thursday the deputation tried to see Mr. Bevin: he was too busy. " He was lunching with the King." A little note of
bitterness crept in. On Friday they succeeded in at least seeing Lord Beaverbrook while he.telephoned, dictated, read memos, and talked all the while himself. " It was like trying to get a hearing from a symphony orchestra in full swing," said J. J. Dodgson, giving a mbst amusing cameo of the interview.
On Friday afternoon they were to meet Sir Richard Acland, and I left them seeking to make contact with Mr. R. R. Stokes. " Why didn't we think of him before," they said. " He's the chap who was told that it was notin the public interest for him to produce guns for the country at cost price."
(I was impressed by the sincerity of these
men. They had nothing of the canny
political diplomatic appioach to things. They just spoke.)
" After the Dunkirk affair," said one of the representatives, " a factory manager appealed to me to do something. ' May I talk to the men,' I asked, and was given permission. I got on a bench and addressed the men, and in 50 hours the shop floor was cleared of work-we stood pretty well idle then for three weeks. He was a good fellow that manager, skilled in his trade panrodteestxp,ert in managemel. He resigned in
My visitor grew heated and passionate. Walking up and down the room with growing anger, he spate out: " When they were working with uncontrolled profit for export we worked on an average of 68 hours a week.
" Each reverse has seemed to mark a decrease in effort. When war broke out we dropped to 56; when Belgium gave in we were down to 52, when France packed up we were down to 50.
" Now that the Government has accepted a price and anything saved on costs is profit, they are cutting costs, sacking skilled men, re-engaging them at lower rates. All this in a factory built with our money-yours and mine."
HONESTY OF PURPOSE Two things impressed me during the interview-the honesty of purpose " to get on with the job of supplying airmen with their weapons " and the fear of the " lesson of France." For many things this not unusual story is significant.
Honest English trade unionists are being forced in their desire to get something done to turn towards the revolutionary rather than the evolutionary method; to a change of " the whole rotten system " ; to some new scheme of things altogether-and the only cut-and-dried scheme of that nature pedalled among the workers of England at present is Communism. It is a new plan which the many can appreciate and only the few know for certain leads to abuses far worse, of the very same kind as those these men now so hotly denounce. Patronage, graft, and self-aggrandizement now, not of the bosses but either the party members or the bureaucrats who do their bidding, are the bestial marks of totalitarianisms, Red, Black or Brown shined.