Posts Tagged ‘‘A Letter to a Shop Steward’’

Fabian Pamphlet for Worker’s Management in Industry: Part Two

April 27, 2016

Guild Socialist Letter

Management hostility to trade unions and shop stewards’ committees.

The writer of the pamphlet also notes the capitalist resentment of the shop’s stewards’ committees and trade unionists, but have been forced to grudgingly recognise the powerful assistance they are giving the war effort.

Take for example your position as a shop steward. Your employers very much resent the kind of organisation you have been able to introduce into their works since the outbreak of war. They dislike it, because their idea of the right way of running industry is that they give the orders and you obey them without asking why. They dislike even the fact of your belonging to a Trade Union; but that they have come to accept, provided that your Union confines itself to ordinary collective bargaining outside the factory and makes no attempt to interfere inside the factory as long as they observe standard rates and conditions. They dislike your shop stewards’ committee very much more, because its very reason for existing is to interfere inside the factory, and to take charge of grievances of your which the Trade Union, as long as it stays outside the factory, can hardly touch. They dislike shop stewards, because shop stewards stand essentially for the claim of the workers to an effective voice in the CONTROL OF INDUSTRY – a control exerted when the shoe pinches, a control which involves the worker’s demand to be treated as a partner in industry, and not merely as a hired hand. (pp. 6-7).

Shop Stewards to Show They are Sensible and Competent

The only way of overcoming these fears, which are formidable obstacles in the way of workers’ control, is for the shop stewards to give plain proof of their competence and sense of responsibility. To the extent to which they can show themselves able to help in raising production, and therewith in securing redress for grievances which are holding it up, they will be in a position to command the respect of both employers and Trade Union officials: whereas, if they rest content with mere slogans and political agitation, without making themselves masters of practical workshop affairs, they will fail to command general backing among the workers, and will consequently forfeit their title to the employers’ full recognition and respect. If Trade Unionists wish to take a vital share in the running of industry, they will have to choose shop stewards who are competent, not only as agitators, but also as practical contributors to workshop efficiency. These stewards will have to be men who recognise the difficulties and problems of the industrial managers, and are prepared to cooperate in solving them. The reluctance of most managements to give a cordial welcome to delegations chosen by the rank and file as co-partners in the work of organising production will need to be met by a determination on the workers’ part to choose only those best fitted for such offices, and by a readiness on the part of the Trade Unions to give the delegates so chosen a position of unequivocal recognition as agents of Trade Unionism in the particular factory.

Assertions are often heard at present that the shop stewards, far from having a mandate either from the Trade Unions or from the main body of the workers, are in truth self-appointed stirrers-up of trouble, however desirous they may seem to be of seconding the demand for ‘bigger and better production’. This reproach needs to be met by deeds rather than words, for in proportion as the shop stewards prove their mettle as effective participants in workshop control the Trade Unions’ case for a share in the settlement of industrial policy will be reinforced and it will be much more difficult for the managers and directors of industry to reject the help of the shop stewards in matters of immediate workshop concern. Workers’ control cannot be won merely by talking about it, but only by plain demonstrations of practical competence; and this demands the service of the ablest men in the Trade Union ranks- the ablest in workshop technique, as well as in the art of commanding the respect and countenances of their fellow-workers.

To an ever-increasing extent, shop stewards chosen in this spirit should be able to take over from the factory managements many of the tasks of workshop discipline and ordering of the process of production, and to contribute therewith many suggestions for speeding up the pace of production without imposing unbearable strains upon the workers. The worker knows best where the shoe pinches, and is often times well equipped for proposing salutary changes in the arrangement of work. The printer’s chapel, a time-honoured institution among compositors, is an excellent example of what can be done by a closely organised body6 of craftsmen to take the discipline of workshops into their own hands, and there is no reason why the engineers or shipbuilders should be behindhand in their exercise of collective power. (A Letter To A Shop Steward, by ‘Guild Socialist’ (Fabian Society, No Date, pp.9-11).

A Workers’ Council in Every Factory

There ought to be, in every war factory of any considerable size, a fully recognised works committee consisting of workshop delegates chosen directly by the workers. These works committees ought to be linked up with the regular Trade Union machinery by adequate representation on Trade Union District Committees, which should hold regular policy-making conferences with the shop stewards from the various works. The works meeting convened by the shop stewards should largely replace the Trade Union branch as the place where matters of Union policy are regularly discussed, and resolutions to be sent forward for consideration by District Committees and, through them, by the national Trade Union authorities. The centre of Trade Union gravity ought to be shifted, as far and as fast as possible, from the branch, which has usually no direct contact with any particular factory, to the factory itself; for if workers’ control is to be won in any real sense it must be won in the factories, where the workers have to endure the hard discipline of capitalist industry. It is in the factory that workers of different crafts and callings come together to serve the common purpose of production; and the factory is clearly the unit on which must be based a workers’ movement capable of a real assumption of power.

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