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(en) Red Clydeside and the Shop Stewards' Movement - Resistance #16 Ireland

From Al <klasbatalemo@yahoo.ie>
Date Sat, 5 Oct 2002 04:14:15 -0400 (EDT)


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> Time Bomb
- continuing our series on the history of workers?
councils (a longer version of this article appears on
our website)

In the decade or so before the outbreak of the first
World War, Britain, and specifically the heavily
industrial Clydeside region of Scotland, was in the
grips of severe economic depression, a depression that
only a fully militarised war economy could ever hope
to come to terms with. 
   
Although unemployment decreased slightly in the few
years immediately preceding the beginning of
hostilities, inflation rose dramatically, increasing
the prices of foodstuffs, rents and fuel, but
decreasing workers? wages by 15%. The Clyde Valley, as
a major source of supplies for the war effort, was
soon to become a hive of militancy that would threaten
the cosy, and mutually rewarding, relationship that
had developed between the government and the unions.
    
In February 1915, 10,000 engineering workers in
Glasgow wildcatted demanding higher wages. Gaining no
support from their own union, the Amalgamated Society
of Engineers (ASE) the strikers decided to set up a
Labour Withholding Committee (LWC) to represent
themselves and organise the strike. 
      
The government reacted swiftly to the dangers posed by
the strike. Union ?leaders? were quickly called to a
special conference at which were signed the so-called
?treasury agreements? by which all independent union
rights, including the right to strike, were suspended
for the duration of the war. Labour was ?diluted? (by
permitting unskilled workers to do skilled work) in
order to deal with the labour shortage and the demands
for munitions. The ?Munitions Act? made striking a
criminal offence (!), effectively illustrating the
political-economic nexus that safeguards capitalism
when it senses even the most incipient threat.

The CWC (Clydeside Workers? Committee) was formally
formed with 200-300 delegates elected from workplace
assemblies every week. Shop stewards were now usurping
the power of the local and national ASE. By January
1916, the CWC was directing workers in 29 Clydeside
engineering works. Following the end of the war, there
were fears that unemployment, following demob, would
reach epic proportions. On January 27th, 40 000
workers struck while mass pickets everywhere shut down
factories that were still operating. By the end of the
month over 100,000 were on strike. On January 31st, on
a day that was to become known as ?Bloody Friday?, a
crowd of 35,000 were attacked without provocation in
George?s Square, Glasgow. The next day, 10,000 troops
armed with machine guns were summoned to the city
(Glasgow troops were considered too unreliable) and
were supported by airplanes and tanks. The strike
remained solid throughout, only breaking when the
union leadership suspended the local branch committee
and ordered a return to work.

The decline in the shop floor movement and the CWC saw
power shift yet again into the hands of full-time
officials. One of those activists most critical of the
shop stewards? movement was the anti-parliamentarian
Guy Aldred. He opposed those workers who were churning
out munitions. since these were, after all, munitions
used for the purposes of war and for the slaughtering
of other members of the international  working class. 
     
There was, in fact, a separation of industrial
agitation from the opposition to the war as though 
revolutionary politics were being left behind at the
factory gates. Where the committees failed was in
channelling their strength into an all-out assault on
all aspects of the struggle against capitalism,
including the political struggle. Without moving
beyond merely economic demands, the CWC found
themselves in no position to combat the heavy-handed
response of the boss class supported by government. 
Yet the committees never went beyond the confines of
the existing unions and this was enough to explain
their lack of real revolutionary credential. By
focusing also on the political and social aspects of
struggle the committees could have made a difference,
but the inherent nature of trade unionism itself
militated against this, conditioning workers to lower
aspirations and less confident methods of
self-organisation. 

*******************************************************

>From the pages of Resistance#16, regular monthly
bulletin of the Anarchist Federation of Ireland, now
available in text and PDF format at:

http://www.afireland.cjb.net

To subscribe to Resistance, send an email to:

ResistanceIreland-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

To contact us: contact@afireland.cjb.net

http://www.afed.org.uk
http://www.flag.blackened.net/af/alba


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