By DOUGLAS HYDE DETERMINED efforts are now being made by members of the ''Communist Party, following a recent private meeting In London, to capture the leadership of the strikes in the docks and ship repairing
Those strikes. unlike that of the bus workers, began with little help from the Communists. They would almost certainly have taken place had there been no Communists at all on the Thames waterfront. Their causes
go deep and the workers, whatever the rights and wrongs of their case, had a genuine sense of grievance.
The Communists for once were caught unawares. The strikes already involved scores of thousands of workers when the party's industrial department decided to call a meeting of all its leading members in industry throughout the London area.
The meeting was held in Holborn Hall on Sunday. October 10. Those admitted had first to show their party membership cards as evidence that ihey were fully paid-up members of the party.
Representatives of the various committees created during unofficial strikes which had taken place in recent years—on the docks, among busmen, oil workers, fruit and meat market men, lorry drivers, catering workers and others—were present. So, too, were leading Communists in the engineering industry.
Their reports revealed that the party's leaders had underestimated the militant mood which prevails at this moment among workers in a wide variety of industries.
They had at first deliberately left the dispute between the stevedores' union and the general workers' union to take its course.
Although they welcomed any form of industrial trouble, they were opposed to members of the Transport and General Workers' Union transferring into the. smaller union. This was because their aim for years has been to capture the mammoth union, with all that that would mean tp them, through gaining control of ifs various trade groups—of which the dockers' is an important one.
The transferring of several thousands of the most militant dockers into a smaller "splinter" body was seen as a threat to that aim.
In the case of the ship repair waiters' dispute, the party leaders had sat back and let events take their course, content that there were experienced party members in key positions in the unions principally concerned.
They were, in fact, guilty of what Lenin, in 1904, sneeringly dubbed khvostistn (literally, "tailism"—following on the tail of the workers instead of leading them).
The bus strike
The party learns from its mistakes. After a session of vigorous criticism and self criticism the men and women attending the conference went home that day, and to their jobs next morning, determined to spread the strikes by every means in their power, to fan unrest wherever it exists and to get the leadership of all those with grievances.
Similar private members meetings have since been held in the main provincial centres.
"Solidarity" meetings have been organised, the party Press has been mobilised to incite other workers to take strike action, differences with militant non-Communists and exCommunists in the stevedores' union have been dropped for the time being, and party members in a variety of unions and industries are urging that the workers should follow the example of those on the waterfront.
The Communist influence in the bus strike, which followed the private meeting, was considerable from the start. The first calls for strike action came from garages where the party is strong or where influential Communists are employed. That does not mean that there were not already grounds for discontent among the bus workers, but it does mean that the Communists exploited them from the start.
Having now crashed into the strikes with all the force at its command, the party is using every means to extend them.
In particular, the party knows that it is the strikers' wives who suffer most by such disputes and, therefore, in the last resort who determine how long strikes shall continue. So it has been busy organising women to attend strikers' meetings in order to give the men the impression that their womenfolk are more than usually solidly behind them.
In one case a woman appeared in the role of a docker's wife last week and then as a bus worker this week. In fact, she is a lapsed Catholic Communist Party member of many years' standing who went to Spain during the civil war, worked in the Communist underground during the second World War and has been active in a succession of strikes involving women workers in recent years.
Not one of the current strikes can, even now, in my view be accurately described as Communist-dominated. There are many Catholics among the dockers and, more particularly, among the stevedores (one reader has challenged my earlier and inevitably conjectural figure of 85 per cent. for the stevedores, although others support it).
Its own purposes Provided that they and other nonCommunists know the Communists' aims, and recognise that the party is now out to use the strikes for its own purposes if it can, there is no reason why the Communists should succeed.
But it is a fact that once again the Communist Party. by its intervention has bedevilled the workers' case by providing opportunity for genuine grievances to be obscured by the charge that the present unrest is all due to a "Communist plot."