`Black Juice' Not Red
THE London ship repair wor kers' strike, which rendered thousands of men idle and brought the whole of the yards on the Thames waterfront to a standstill, is, it seems clear, not "just another Communist plot."
All the evidence goes to show that if there had been no Communists at all among the officials of the unions most immediately concerned, a strike would still have occurred. And even though there had been none among the rank and file either. it would still have spread in much the same way that it has done.
It began, however, with the Cornmunist-dominated Electrical Trades Union. Then it spread and so passed into the hands of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. And among the Confederation's London officials were, again, prominent Communists. This led, almost inevitably to its being viewed with suspicion from the start by the Press and public.
In such a situation, no matter whether the workers' cause is just or unjust, it will today be branded as Communist, the real issues will be obscured and the public support and sympathy which the strikers require will be forfeited before it begins.
It is just another example of what a liability a Communist leadership must always be to any trade union organisation. It provides a strong argument against electing Communists to positions of responsibilty.
To put it into modern slang, once you let a few Communists get into prominent positions in your union you have "had it" so far as the public is concerned. Yet public sympathy is the most valuable asset any body of workers who are fighting on a matter of principle can have. The whole history of the British trade union movement goes to show that this is so.
ANOTHER lesson of this same strike, it seems to me, is that Catholic trade unionists, and Catholics generally, cannot just dismiss a strike as unjustified because there are Communists associated with its leadership. It must still he examined on its merits. even though we approach it with added caution, suspecting the worst, because they are there.
A Catholic on the spot, who is himself a ship-yard worker and whose judgment I have come to respect as responsible, just and backed by years of experience, is convinced that the present strike would have taken place and then spread to other unions even though the leaders had been the most moderate imaginable. He believes that the workers are justifiedin their action, although he has no illusions about the Communists.
Let me just recall the story of the strike.
It began when five members of the Electrical Trades Union were dismissed as redundant. Since 1942 there has been a gentleman's agreement in the industry that when redundancy occurs the principle of "last come first go" should he observed. These men were "sacked out of turn," and, the unions allege. the employers refused to negotiate. There have for come time been signs that they have wanted to see an end to the present practice.
Electric current handled by men who were put in to do their work was declared "black." Men who refused to work with it were dismissed.
Members of other trades then also refused to work with the "black juice," as they call it, and so the dispute spread from one union to another until thousands of men were on strike or were unable to work. To the overwhelming majority of the workers on the waterfront, an important principle is involved.
It -is fairly clear that in a big
modern industry some such agreement as that which has operated since 1942 is required to prevent any suspicion of favouritism and nepotism. The men have the right to want to retain it. The employers equally have the right to wish to end it—even though we may feel that it would he unwise for them to do so.
But if the employers use "direct action" instead of negotiation, to achieve that aim, it is almost inevitable that the workers should feel that there is no alternative to their using the same weapon.
The consequence on this occasion is a costly dispute which in the end will achieve nothing that could not have been got from patient negotiation.
Does it fit you?
WHAT qualities do we expect to find in a good leader? At the Northampton Diocesan Association of Catholic Trade Unionists' annual general meeting, held in the K.S.C. Club. London, last Saturday, I made a reference to the need for more Christian leaders. Then Bob Walsh, ACTU's national secretary, followed up by initiating a group discussion, in which everyone present took part, on "What is a leader?"
The following picture which emerged is, I think, of some interest to all who aspire to give Christian leadership in one organisation or another.
The good leader must combine service, understanding and reliability. He must show initiative and he prepared to develop it in others; be ready to sacrifice his time and energy; he must have generosity—he must not be "out for himself"; he must he well-informed and must know how to use the knowledge he has acquired; he must be all things to all men; he must be good at speech and procedure.
Well, Mr. Leader, how do you measure up to it?
THOSE contributing ideas to the 1 discussion were asked to base them upon people whom they knew and who were generally considered to be leaders.
At one point an entirely different picture seemed suddenly to start to emerge. "He must like swaying men," said one. "He must he essentially selfish," said another.
Then it was realised it was successful politicians who were being described, not good leaders at all. The two must not be confused.
One man's tragedy
ill HAT does the conquest of a 7 V country by the Communists mean in terms of immediate human suffering for the individual? We read that with the partitioning of Vietnam, which was agreed upon at Geneva, a huge Catholic population passed behind the Iron Curtain. But the size of the tragedy fails to really register in our minds.
I talked this week to a Vietnamese priest who comes from an area which the Communists have for some time controlled, just on the new "border." Here is what has happened to his family: The priest himself was arrested three times. His old mother was jailed when the Communists first moved into the area; she died just two months after being released. One of his brothers is now in South Vietnam. the other is in the Communist North. His sister is in the North, her husband in the South; one child is with the father, the rest of the family with the mother.
Multiply that a million and a half times and you have some small indication of the size of just one aspect of the tragedy of Vietnam which the carefully and coldly worded agreements born of political expediency tend to conceal.