Posts Tagged ‘Trade Union Congress’

The History Book on the TUC from Its Beginnings to 1968

December 26, 2019

The History of the T.U.C. 1868-1968: A Pictorial Survey of a Social Revolution – Illustrated with Contemporary Prints and Documents (London: General Council of the Trades Union Congress 1968).

This is another book on working class history. It’s a profusely illustrated history of the Trades Union Congress from its origins in 1868 to 1968, and was undoubtedly published to celebrate its centenary.

Among the book’s first pages is┬áthis photograph show the TUC’s medal, below, which reads: Workingmen of Every Country Unite to Defend Your Rights.

There’s also these two illustrations on facing pages intended to show the TUC as it was then and now.

After the foreword by the-then head of the TUC, George Woodcock, and the list of General Council in 1967-8, the book is divided into four sections on the following periods

1868-1900, on the first Trades Union Congress and the men who brought it to birth.

1900-1928, in which the TUC was consulted by Ministers and began to take part in public administration.

1928-1940, which are described as the TUC’s formative years and the fight for the right to be heard.

and 1928-1940, in which wartime consultation set the pattern for peacetime planning.

These are followed by lists of trade unions affiliated to the TUC circa 1968 and the members of the parliamentary committee from 1868 and the General Council from 1921.

The text includes articles and illustrations on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into trade unions, including a photograph of Queen Victoria’s letter; from the beehive of 1867 to the TUC of 1967; the early leaders of the TUC and the political causes at home and abroad, for which they rallied trade union support; some of the events that led to the TUC’s foundation and the Royal Commission on Trade Unions; the TUC and the Criminal Law Amendment Act; working men voting during the dinner hour; working hours and conditions which the TUC wanted to reform, particularly of women and children; Punch cartoon of the sweated workers exploited for the products displayed at the Great Exhibition; Alexander McDonald, the man behind the miners’ unions; campaigns for compensation for industrial injury and safeguards for sailors; farm labourers’ unions, the public and the church; the advent of state education and the birth of white collar unions; mass unemployment and demonstrations in the Great Depression of the 1880; the trade union leaders of the unemployed and their political allies; squalor and misery in London; forging the first link with American unions; the TUC on the brink of the 20th century; the ‘new unionism’ and the matchgirls’ strike; the dockers’ strike of 1889; the birth of the Labour Party in 1906; passage into law of the TUC’s own trade union charter; the trade unions and the beginnings of the foundation of the welfare state by the Liberals; Women trade unionists, the Osborne Judgement; the introduction into Britain of French and American syndicalism; the great dock strike of 1911, and the great transport strike of 1912; the Daily Herald; Will Dyson’s cartoons; the TUC on the eve of World War I; the War; the wartime revolution in trade unions; the TUC’s contribution to the war effort; rise of shop stewards; the impact of the Russian Revolution on the British Labour movement; peace time defeat; the appearance of Ernest Bevin; the replacement of the Parliamentary Committee by the General Council in the TUC in 1921; the first proposal for the nationalisation of the coal mines; 1924, when Labour was in office but the trade unions were left out in the cold; the gold standard and the General Strike; the Strike’s defeat and punitive Tory legislation; the TUC’s examination of union structure after the Strike; TUC ballots the miners to defeat company unionism; Transport House in 1928; the Mond-Turner talks and consultations between workers’ and employers’ organisations; Walter Citrine and the IFTU; the 1929 Labour government; opposition to McDonald-Snowden economies; McDonald’s 1931 election victory; propaganda posters for the National Government; the 1930s; the state of industry and TUC plans for its control; union growth in the young industries; young workers fighting for a fair chance; the TUC and the British Commonwealth; the Nazi attack on the German unions; the TUC and the international general strike against the outbreak of war; the waning of pacifism inside the TUC; the Labour Movement and the Spanish Civil War; Neville Chamberlain and ‘Peace in our Time’; summer, 1939, and the outbreak of World War II; Churchill’s enlistment of the TUC and Labour Party in government; the coalition government and the unions; TUC organises aid to Russia after the Nazi invasion; plans for post-War reconstruction; the TUC, godfather to the Welfare State; the Cold War; the bleak beginning of public industries in 1947; David Low’s cartoons of the TUC; the drive for productivity; the Tories and the Korean War; TUC aid to Hungary and condemnation of Suez; the official opening of Congress House; TUC intervention in industrial disputes; trade union structure; from pay pause to planning; trade unionists given a role in industry; government pressure for a prices and incomes policy; TUC overseas contacts; and recent changes to the TUC.

The book’s an important popular document of the rise of the TUC from a time when unions were much more powerful than they were. They were given a role in government and industrial movement. Unfortunately, the continuing industrial discontent of the post-War years have been played on by nearly every government since Thatcher’s victory in 1979. The result is stagnant and falling wages, increasingly poor and exploitative conditions and mass poverty and misery. All justified through Zombie laissez-faire economics. Corbyn offered to reverse this completely, and give working people back prosperity and dignity. But 14 million people were gulled and frightened by the Tories and the mass media into rejecting this.

Strong trade unions are working people’s best method for expressing their economic and political demands along with a strong Labour party, one that works for working people, rather than solely in the interest of the employers and the financial sector. Which is why the Tories want to destroy them and are keen that books like these should be forgotten.

Let’s fight against them, and make sure that books like this continue to inspire and inform working class people in the future.


G.D.H. Cole and the Guild Socialist Criticism of British Schools

March 23, 2014


G.D.H. Cole: Socialist intellectual and founder of Guild Socialism

The barring of 14 academy chains from running any more schools this week reminded me of G.D.H. Cole’s criticism of the schools’ system of his time. Cole was a former member of the Fabian Society and one of the founders of Guild Socialism. This was similar to Syndicalism, in that it advocated that industries should be taken over and managed by the trade unions through a system of industrial democracy, in which the workers in the factories and other places of work would elect their managers. Unlike Syndicalism, there would be some kind of residual state institution to represent the interests of the consumers, and the economy and society as a whole would be governed by an Industrial Guilds Congress, which would take over the role of the TUC, and a National Commune. Guild Socialism effectively ended in Britain with the collapse of the 1926 General Strike, when it appeared that the trade unions and direct action could not take on the full force of the state.

In his 1920 book, Guild Socialism Restated, Cole commented on the poor quality of the British educational system. He considered it servile, staffed by poorly trained teachers and classes that were far too large. He believed that the major factor in the poor quality of British education was also the low status of the teachers themselves. This could only be improved by giving them more freedom to manage their service within the structure of Guild Socialism. Cole wrote

This servility of present educational arrangements is traced by its critics to various causes. Some dwell, quite rightly, on the inordinate size of the classes which the unfortunate teacher is called upon to teach, and point out, with perfect truth, that it is impossible to communicated education to a mob. But the size of classes, while it is a serious aggravation of the servility of the system, is not the root cause of its servility. Other critics are content to say that the system is servile because it is capitalist, and it is to the interest of capitalists to train contented wage-slaves. This is certainly true; but it only drives us back to the further problem of the means by which capitalism succeeds in imparting this servile character to what should be a great agent of spiritual enfranchisement. The fundamental answer, I think, is to be found in the present status and equipment of the teacher, who is, under existing conditions, as much a wage-slave as any hireling of the industrial system, and worse exploited than most. The teacher is afforded only a quite inadequate and often inferior training, sometimes in a University, but more often in an institution that is not quite as good as a University. He or she, with this shoddy equipment, is then pitchforked into a school, and told to teach, under the supervision of a horde of inspectors, according to Board of Education instructions, under the control of an Education Authority whose members usually know nothing about education, and in an atmosphere of jealousy created directly by the dire economic distress of the teacher, and the scarcity of promotions carrying a reasonable salary or reasonable opportunities,. It is no wonder at all that, under these conditions, very many teachers can be accused of being “narrow-minded” and not too efficient. They would be miracles if they were otherwise, and, in the circumstances, the work which many of them do is little short of miraculous. But there is a limit to miracles; and the majority of teachers are human beings, and many have come to be teachers, not because they have a vocation for teaching, but because, in the present scramble, even the worst-paid professions have some economic attractions superior to those of starvation or mercenary marriage.

The only way of changing the character of the educational system is by changing the status of the teacher; for the teachers alone can purify education, and they can do so only if the conditions enable them to make a beginning. We shall set our feet on the right road in respect of education only when we make teaching a fully self-governing profession; and we shall get a good and liberating educational system only when we have helped the teachers to use their freedom to purge education of its present capitalistic and economic taint.

G.D.H. Cole, Guild Socialism Restated (New Brunswick: Transaction Inc. 1980) 99-101.

Few would want to give teachers total freedom to manage schools, after the horrors and excesses of some of the progressive educational policies implemented in the 1960s and 1970s. Other parts of Cole’s critique of the education system still remain extremely relevant, after nearly a century: large classes, poor pay and low status have forced many people to leave the profession, who were initially drawn to it. The actual standard of professional education given to teacher is often extremely high, but even here Gove and the Tories wish to turn the clock back with the plans to remove the requirement for teaching qualifications for the privatised academies. I can remember when the teachers struck in the 1980s against Margaret Thatcher’s proposed educational reforms. They were afraid that these would not only lead to them working for lower pay with worse conditions, but also that their pupils education would also be damaged as a result. And they were right.

Unfortunately, education is very much used as a political football. It is not just local councils that know and care little about it that have damaged it, but also the major political parties, like the Tories and Tory Democrats. They seem to regard it merely as an arena in which they can gain votes through ill-thought out tinkering and appealing to popular sentiment against teachers. It’s about time this stopped. If Gove really wants to improve education, he should scrap the privatisation programme and start listening to teachers themselves.