A FIRESIDE CHAT WITH A.E.U. LEADER SIR WILLIAM CARRON
The working man in a world of change
DRESIDENT of the Amal. A gamated Engineerbig Union and a member of the Trades Union Congress, Sir William Carron has been in the trade union movement for 39 years, and has held one kind of office or another since 1932.
Last week, just after his triumph in the negotiations leading up to a five per cent wage increase for the engineering industry, Sir William talked to HUGH KAY about the working man in the so-called affluent society—who still feels a good deal less than affluent, especially at Christmas time.
Sir William said:
WilEN I was a novice in the movement. Christmas could he a pretty grim time for the British working man, and for many of them it still is. Yet his reasonable wage claims are often criticised by people in other walks of life. mainly because they think primarily of sheer economics without reference to human and social values. For instance, in the engineering industry before this latest increase, a labourer only got £8 9s. 10d. a week. and a skilled man £10 Is. 2d. To improve his wage packet by 50 per cent. he'd have to do a lot of extra hours overtime, and he'd be very lucky if he got that much. And it's a bad thing that he should have to he away from home so much. The effects on the children are well known, quite apart from the fact that he needs his leisure if he is to live as a well balanced human person.
From a Christian and Catholic point of view, I don't need
to stress the deplorable results of wives having to go out to work to supplement their husband's earnings. I've no objection to women working as such, but I do object if it means that their families must suffer. Society is not so affluent after all. The working man, too, is often criticised for his attitude towards employers. In my time, of course, relations have become much better over the years in a direct sense, but the worker is very conscious that, while the national cake has expanded universally, the division of national wealth has remained constant. The working class continues to derive a third of it. while twothirds goes to the rest. The average element in management does have a measure of concern for the workers' welfare. but ignorance continues to promote a certain indifference.
Human issues You see, the technical aspects of education are sound enough, but we are not properly educated in the human issues — and we ought to develop a growing awareness of these from infancy. Today there are a certain number of courses in the human and psychological aspects of labour relations in the motor car industry, for instance, both for the supervisory staffs and for shop stewards. And it's growing apace. but it's all wrong that it should have taken us until this day and age to get off the ground. I think the workers' status has definitely improved, and privileges formerly reserved to executive staffs and skilled men are now extended to many of the unskilled. I mean such things as social security and holiday benefits. Even today a 16 year old girl may find herself automatically enjoying a three week holiday, while her father still gets only two.
Rut the worker, called to apply his intellect to national needs, is still frustrated by a sense of injustice against which he rebels. Grinding study on the working class level is probably less than it was in tougher times. and while the workers' loyalty to one another endures, this too is somewhat less intense. I think both things are due to the fact that there is less disparity today between sacrifices and normality than there once was. In the days of Rerun Novarum, the worker has to fight an active crusade against very grievous social injustice. He is not affluent now, but the weight of injustice is less apparent. Today he crusades for justice, rather than against oppression. There is, of course, a problem of communication between the two sides of industry. We are groping for a solution in these exciting days with a challenging future. Most certainly the worker is determined not to be pushed around in the second industrial revolution. He is sympathetic to it. but he wants to benefit from it, but he fears change because it can bring hardship. Past experience justifies his fears. It is no consolation to tell a redundant man that society will benefit, or an £8-a-week man that the average rate is £16.
The point is that social advance must match technical advance, and this is where the encyclicals come in. The first consideration must be people, and they cannot be measured by a slide rule.
The expensive piece of equipment can be calculated to run for 24 hours a day with an evenly distributed effort. While, however, some public services must run a three-shift day, there are men whose bodies simply won't adjust to it. The body rebels, in fact, because man is not a machine .
Human factor •
Our working people are not lazy. It's as foreign to them to, work below as to above certain speeds, just as any normal man finds it a punishment to adjust his walking pace to that of an enfeebled person. But artificial speeds simply won't work out. And there's no point in a man working double speed for an hour if he then has to slow down to quarter speed for the next hour. If you say we've got to keep pace with other countries, my answer is that they too have the same human equation to cope with, and must also adjust themselves accordingly. If they ignore the human factor, they'll pay for it in the long run. The quality of our skilled men and of our training in new techniques is as good as anywhere in the world, and, if it is expanded, our people will respond to whatever is given. But this must not he haphazard.
Industry itself ought to be dealing with this, but in fact it has fallen down. This is proved by the fact that a government not over prone to interfering with industry. has been forced to enact the Industrial Training Bill to force industry to take a larger hand in the training process. In France, most of the training is done by the state in liaison with industry, but the ideal is a partnership between the two, on the basis of the principles in Mater et Magistra. There is a universal shortage of skilled men. Germany tries to get them from Holland, Holland from the U.K.. Switzerland from Italy. and Italy tries to get them back again. The trade unions here are more than willing to participate in any efforts we may make to step up training techniques and facilities.
Sweden is often held up, deservedly, as an exemplar in labour relations. But Sweden's population is no more than Greater London's and our industrial complexities make it un likely that industrial trade unionism will come about here in the foreseeable future. short of some dramatic occurrence which will force us to think de novo.
But a lot can he done to improve ad hoc situations. as we did in the omnibus agreement between the Esso refinery at Fawley and several trades unions. In addition to more technical training. I earnestly advocate an intensive study of the human sciences. A versatile craftsman, for instance, finds it hard to adjust himself to mass production, where he only, does one part of the job. and the quality of the product depends largely on inspection. He is a craft conscious person and a proud one.
It is with this sort of thing in view that I have become the chairman-elect of the Human Sciences Committee of the Department for Social and Industrial Research, in which both sides of industry will cooperate with the scientists. The papal social encyclicals have never been more to the point, and it is very consoling for me to find that some of those who are even hostile to Catholicism have been deeply impressed by Mater et Magistra, and made favourable comment on it. It would be sad if Catholics were the last to take it seriously.