HC Deb 27 November 1945 vol 416 cc1083-5
Mr. Eden

In accordance with what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour said yesterday, may I repeat the Question I put then, slightly modified in view of changed circumstances, and ask the Minister of Labour whether he has any statement to make about the strike of gasworkers in the London area, and what steps are being taken to restore supplies of gas for the public?

Mr. Isaacs

This strike arose out of a claim by the men for a special enhanced rate for night shift working, notwithstanding that the existing shift work rates take account of all the circumstances attendant on shift working. The National Joint Industrial Council for the Gas Industry by means of a special committee, have been engaged in a comprehensive review of all the terms and conditions of employment of gasworkers, and I am informed that it is hoped that at a meeting of this committee on Friday next, they will be in a position to present a report to the full 1,iational Council. It is, therefore, particularly unfortunate that this stoppage should have occurred at the present time. I am glad to say that work was resumed on the night shift yesterday at the gasworks affected. In view of the satisfactory result of the efforts of the trade union, I do not wish to say anything on the issues involved, but I feel bound to express my profound regret at the hardship and inconvenience caused to consumers by the action of the strikers. The workers of this industry in all parts of the country must recognise their special Obligations to the rest of the community, and must refrain from precipitate or unconstitutional action likely to create embarrassment and difficulty to the public at large.

Mr. Kirkwood

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is because the machinery for negotiating complaints is out of date that the trouble was caused? It is not that the workers desire to shirk their responsibility. The ruling class of this country have always shirked their responsibility. I want to ask the Minister if this is not what is behind it, that the workers have a case, and that it is time the trade union movement recast the negotiating machinery?

Mr. Isaacs

I am afraid that, in answer to a question, I could not cover all the ground referred to by the hon. Member, but I do not accept the point of view that the trade union machinery is out of date. I have had a great deal of experience of that machinery, and I feel quite satisfied that if people not directly concerned in this industry would keep their fingers out of the pie, we could get this matter settled.

Mr. Maxton

Would the Minister be prepared to recognise that there is some social value in a stoppage which teaches us all how dependent we are on these workers for our day-to-day comfort?

Mr. Kirkwood

I would like to see some Members opposite working in a gasworks.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Would my right hon. Friend care to add a word to the statement he has already made about the most unfortunate letter written by the gas company to the workers, which had the effect of precipitating the stoppage?

Mr. James Hudson

On that point, would the Minister agree that it is not only the trade union machinery that comes under review, but that it is the machinery of the employers which would allow them to write such a letter in so dangerous a situation?

Mr. Isaacs

I think, in view of the fact that this council is making its report on Friday of this week, that the best thing we can do is to avoid saying anything which may stir up further trouble. Men do not go on strike as a kind of flash in the pan, just because they want to go on strike. There are grievances behind every action which the men take, and the only thing I regret in this particular case is that the machinery of their own acceptance was in fact in operation. They might have waited two or three days more.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I think this is a case in which the least said the soonest mended.