§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:but humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the threat to the personal liberty of workers, members and non-members of trade unions by the enforcement of the closed shop in industry nor gives any indication of the policy of His Majesty's Government in this grave constitutional matter.It must be some relief to the Government to find that on at least one day of this Debate, they are not being attacked solely from their own benches. I am grateful to you, Sir, for calling this Amendment which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends, and which refers to the closed shop. I am grateful because I believe that the closed shop raises grave constitutional issues, which are not well understood throughout the length and breadth of this country, and it is the duty of this House to attend to such issues at this time. I do not want to be misunderstood, for the Liberal Party has a very fine and honourable record of supporting the trade union movement. I do not move this Amendment in any spirit of hostility to that movement, and I hope I shall be given credit for that. I recognise the great work which the unions have done in the past and are doing today, and I also recognise the great struggles and sacrifices which have been made by their pioneers and leaders. I 697 genuinely think that we were trying to do a service to the workers and the trade unions in raising this matter today. I think so because no great movement can prosper in a free democracy, unless it has due regard for the personal liberty of the individual, and gives consideration to minorities.
There are two aspects of the closed shop. First, the refusal of union members to work with those who are not members of a union and, secondly, the demands which are now being made by the larger unions to have a monopoly of membership in a given field. As to the first, I admit quite frankly that I am impressed by the argument of the trade union member when he says "Those who benefit from the sacrifices which we make should pay the union dues." Against that argument, we must put the argument that the conscripted body is not as good as the voluntary body. Secondly, can a small majority of non-members do very much harm at the present time? I put those points forward as the two sides of the question. There is room for an honest difference of opinion and I think that we do differ. I stand on one side; many hon. Members take up their position on the other.
That would not be very important, were not it related to the wider aspect of the situation, as we see it today. Things have changed in the last few months. I am worried about the compulsion which is being exercised now, and is forcing men to join the trade union movement. It is the compulsion which exists when union members say, "We will not work with you unless you join. You must be sacked." I believe that 100 per cent. trade union membership is a legitimate aim. What would be the point of having a union if you did not intend to get 100 per cent. membership? But I say that the 100 per cent. membership must be achieved by persuasion, attraction and inducement, and not by compulsion. I am worried by this question of compulsion, and I do not think that I am alone in this matter. There are many trade union members who are worried by it too. In April, 1944, there was a Debate in this House to annul Regulation 1AA. That Regulation set out, in brief, to make arrangements whereby a man who suggested a strike or a stoppage outside the trade union movement could be sent to 698 prison for five years, but if he suggested a strike or a stoppage inside the trade union movement, it was legal.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
May I interrupt the hon. Member? It was a question of being in a properly convened trade union meeting, or outside a properly convened trade union meeting.
§ Mr. Byers
I accept that correction. I was trying to put the matter as briefly as possible and I was not being as specific as I should have been. I should like to quote from a speech which was made in that Debate, because I think it puts the question of compulsion in its proper perspective. This is the quotation:If, on the other hand, you manage to get into a trade union meeting, you can agitate for a strike. We are now in the queer position that a man has to become a member of a trade union. He must have a licence to be free If you can persuade your branch official, or a trade union organiser, to convene a meeting, then, at that meeting, you can advocate a strike. But it you step outside the meeting into the street- and continue the same argument, you are put in gaol… There are over 13,000,000 workers in this country who are not in the trade unions. Not one of them will have any protection whatever under this Regulation. It may be said that they can all go into the unions. Of course they can, but are we now setting out to recruit trade union membership by threats of five years' penal servitude?I would add also, by threats of men having to lose their jobs. The quotation goes on:Is that what the Conservative Party has come to? It is an astonishing situation to see Consetvative Members giving special, legal protection not to trade unions but to trade union officials, because it is trade union officials who are invoking the law against their own members Do not let anybody on this side of the House think that he is defending the trade unions; he is defending the trade union official.—[OFFICIAL REPORT 28th April 1044: Vol. 399, c 1070.]That speech was made by the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Health. I think I am in fairly good company on this occasion in being worried about the compulsion being exercised. As soon as compulsion or the threat of compulsion is exercised and the trade unionists say to a worker, "We will not work with you unless you join," trade union membership becomes a condition of employment.
That is the point. In other words, in order to retain a job a man must be a member of a trade union. The attitude 699 of the Government is that that is a matter which must be left to both sides of industry. I think I am reciting what the Lord President said in the speech which he made in the Debate on the Regulation. I understand that attitude, but is it not a fact that that attitude of neutrality leaves the trade unions free to go ahead and use any compulsion they care to in order to force people to join the trade unions? That is the constitutional issue which is at stake, and that is the reason why this matter has to be raised, in the interests of the union member just as much as in the interests of the non-union member. The non-union member who cannot get into a union loses his job, and the union member who loses his union membership loses his job also, and in some cases his livelihood. This is the battle of the worker against the trade union official in certain circumstances, and we have the right to say that we must stand up for the workers. I hope we shall not be charged with trying to make a ramp out of this matter. We feel genuinely and sincerely about it.
Do not let us forget that the held in which the closed shop is operating is increasing. With the repeal of the Trades Disputes Act and the further nationalisation of industry, the field is increasing. This is only the beginning. Since the repeal of the Trades Disputes Act, more than 30 local councils have taken the decision to operate the closed shop in this sense. I understand that the closed shop, in the sense of the closed union, will probably be applied to the coal mines when they are nationalised and the vesting date is reached. I believe that what is happening requires publicity and consideration. We are disturbed at what is happening. I think that many Members on the other side of the House are disturbed too. What are the repercussions of this situation, in which trade union membership becomes a condition of employment? First, there are 13,000,000 workers in this country who are not in a trade union, and there are 7,000,000 who are.
§ Mr. Byers
But it is true that 7,000,000 are in the unions affiliated to the T.U.C. and that there are roughly 13,000,000, or certainly a very large number, who are not in the trade union movement. This job of joining a union is going to confront every one of those people individually. Therefore we ought to look for the repercussions. That will happen, if 100 per cent. union membership is the aim.
It is generally thought that there is little difficulty in joining a trade union. I thought there was little difficulty in joining a general union. I thought that was all right. I would like to spend a few minutes citing the case—it is not a very strong case—of a man named Mr. Throssel. He was a signals instructor in the Royal Corps of Signals, a sergeant, aged 44, with a wife and four children, and a good war record. He came back and was discharged from the Army, and he went to the Fulham electricity station as a substation attendant. He liked his job, and no complaints were ever made about the way he carried it on. Then the Trades Disputes Act was repealed. The council, which is a Labour council, passed a resolution in which they said that all employees of the council must join a union —not any particular union, but some union. All right. Mr. Throssel made verbal application to the Municipal and General Workers' Union. They said they thought it would be better for him to join the Electrical Trades Union. That was very reasonable. Mr. Throssel therefore made application to the Electrical Trades Union, and his application was refused. I will go into the reasons why it was refused in a minute. Immediately his application was refused, Mr. Throssel rang up the Municipal and General Workers' Secretary and said, "I could not get into the E.T.U. Will you take me?" and the answer was, "Certainly, of course, we will." Two days later Mr. Throssel was informed by the Municipal and General Workers' Union local secretary that he was sorry but he could not take him into the Municipal and General Workers' Union because the E.T.U. had brought pressure to bear on the union and said, "There will be a row if you take him in." Within a week Mr. Throssel had the sack. He had been earning £6 12S. a week and he is now working as a packer at G.E.C. at Kingsway, in London, at £4 10s. a week, the job consisting of 701 breaking down cases and hammering nails in.
We cannot stand idle when this sort of thing is happening. I took great care to substantiate this case, and I hope I shall not weary the House if I quote some letters, because I think they should be quoted. I put the whole of this matter to the Fulham borough council. This is the answer I got from the town clerk:With reference to your letter of 29th ultimo concerning the dismissal of Mr. Throssel, a sub-station attendant in this council's Electricity Department, I have to inform you that the circumstances were reported by the borough electrical engineer to the Electricity Committee as follows: The employee had failed to join a trade union as required by a resolution of the council passed as its meeting on 17th July last, in spite of the fact that he had been warned immediately following the passing of the resolution in July that it would be necessary for him to do so. He bad, therefore, been given a week's notice terminating his employment on 14th September.It is understood from the shop stewards that he had made an application to join the E.T.U., but for reasons which seemed sufficient to the trade union, they were compelled to refuse the application, and a further application to join the National Union of Municipal and General Workers was similarly refused. Employees who do not comply with the conditions of their employment are always liable to dismissal from the Council's service and this step was taken in the present instance.The remarkable thing about that is that there is nothing wrong with it. It can be done. That is the danger. If we try to put a Question down, the Table is quite right in refusing it, and it is very difficult to see what the answer to this is.
I am not saying that Mr. Throssel is entirely in the right. I wrote to the National Secretary of the E.T.U., and he was good enough to send me a copy of a letter sent to somebody else about the same case. Here is a paragraph from that letter:In this particular case it appears that on the candidate being admitted into the branch room for the purpose of answering questions, which is the usual procedure be was not in some cases prepared to reply. …Unwise, I agree:…The branch, however, had certain information regarding him which they were desirous either of confirming or rejecting but were unable to do this owing to his attitude. As a result, the candidate was not admitted.It is interesting to note what took place in this interview. It took five minutes. Mr. Throssel was asked if he had done anything to join the union voluntarily 702 before the council passed their resolution. I think that is irrelevant. The answer was, "No, he had not." Perhaps that was an unwise answer. Perhaps he should have cooked something up in order to get in. It is a terrible thing if one has to do that sort of thing in this country. Mr. Throssel was then asked what part-time employment he was undertaking. He replied, "Do I have to answer that question?", and the answer was "No." He said, "Then I prefer not to." The chairman then turned to the other members and said, "Any questions?" One member said, "Will you definitely confirm that you did nothing whatever to join the union voluntarily before the council passed the resolution?" Mr. Throssel said, "No, I did not."
The important point about this case is that Mr. Throssel is working as a night telephonist as a part-time job. He considers, rightly or wrongly, that he is responding to the call of the President of the Board of Trade and the Lord President of the Council for more output. He is working for the Postmaster-General in the Kensington telephone exchange. He may be right or wrong, but that is what he is doing. The trade union committee on the other hand, dislike his having a part-time job. I could respect that attitude in the years between the wars when there was unemployment, but there is a prima faciecase that they may be wrong now, and that we do want increased output. Therefore, we have the odd situation in which Mr. Throssel is probably right, but the trade union rules are probably out of tune with modern circumstances, and as a result Mr Throssel cannot get into the union and is therefore dismissed from his job. These matters must be inquired into. We cannot just stand idle while these things are happening.
The third point is the pressure that was brought to bear on the Municipal and General Workers' Union by the Electrical Trades Union. That sort of thing is going on, and I can quote the case of Mr. Mott, of the Enfield arms factory. The Amalgamated Engineering Union and another union are trying to get him dismissed. The employers are standing up for Mr. Mott. No approach has ever been made to Mr. Mott to get him to join a union. When he inquired whether he could get in he was told that he could not These two unions have circularised all other trade union 703 branches telling them, "Mott must not be accepted until this case is finished." That is not justice, and if that is the sort of thing that is going on, we must look into it very carefully—
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Manchester, Hulme)
Can the hon. Gentleman give any detail of the reasons adduced for not admitting Mr. Mott to membership? It is quite unfair to imply that a union will not accept a man for membership unless the reasons they put forward for refusing his application are given.
§ Mr. Byers
As the hon. Member knows, it is extremely difficult to get at the actual facts of these cases because, as I hope to show, there is no way in which one can force the unions to divulge the information. However, the hon. Member must agree that it seems wrong that where no approach has been made to a man to join a union, and where it is sought to have him discharged on the ground that he will not join, a union should take steps to see that he cannot join There must be something wrong in that. What the Minister of Labour has, in fact, said in the case of a man who gets into a union, or who is a union member already is, "It is your trade union; we are satisfied that it gives you all the protection you need, and if you do not like it, you must accept the consequences." That is the attitude. Since membership is a condition of employment, the consequence is loss of a job What did the Minister of Health say in the same Debate on this subject? May I make one more quotation:I want to ask my trade union friends this question It Parliament says to the citizen, 'Here is your trade union, we are satisfied that it gives you all the protection you need, and if you try to settle grievances in any other way we will send you to prison for five years,'..He might as well have said, "You will lose your job,' because the principle is the same:…is not Parliament, therefore, under an obligation to see that the facilities of union are made available to every member of a union? In other words, ought not Parliament to consider all the rules of the unions?He went on to say:La busman or anybody else goes to an official with a complaint, and that official takes no notice, and does not attend to his grievances, what is his remedy? He has to try to alter the rules of art organisation of perhaps over 1,000,000 members. What pro- 704 tection has he got? Has not Parliament an obligation to see that the rules are so framed so as to give facilities in the union? Does the Trades Union Congress want all the rules of every union in the country to be submitted to Parliament and be revised? Of course not. We should insist on the reconsideration of all union rules before we dare hand over the citizens to the protection of these unions"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 28th April, 1944; Vol. 399, c. 1073.]That was the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. The important point—I do not want to be misunderstood—is that the trade unions are constitutionally irresponsible in the sense that they are not responsible to Parliament. There is no Minister responsible for the trade unions in this House; there is no charter or Statute which governs the rules of the unions, and they are not responsible, it the closed shop, which makes it a condition of employment that you must be a member of a union, is accepted, you are at the same time forcing people to become members of a voluntary organisation which is not responsible to anyone.
§ Mr. Bowles
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene once again. He is making a very interesting speech, but it all seems biased against trade unions. Has he not heard of the closed shop among employers?
§ Mr. Byers
If the hon. Member would give me credit for realising that, he would realise that we are fighting the closed shop among employers just as much as the closed shop among workers. What is more, we have an Amendment down about it. If I were to state the case for it in this Debate, I should be called to Order by Mr. Speaker, quite rightly, but I hope the hon. Member will note that this shows the interest in the question in this House, and I hope the Government will give us a day to debate the closed shop in the other case also.
The point I want to make is that if the actions and the rules of the trade unions were reasonable and were brought up to date, and if we knew that justice was assured and there was a right of appeal, there might not be any need for Parliament to satisfy itself Mr. Throssel had no right of appeal; he did not know where to go, so he took the matter to his Member of Parliament. I will say this, and here I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me, that the same principle of Parliament satisfying itself should apply to the Bar, and to medicine, and to all those 705 other closed shops, if there is any demand for it on the part of citizens, or any suggestions that the rules which operate in the case of the Bar, medicine and those other closed shops are unjust and are depriving the citizen of some of his rights. Let us inquire into them. When trade union membership becomes a condition of employment, it has a statutory repercussion. You cannot get unemployment benefit, so I am told, because you cannot fulfil the conditions of employment. It may not be possible for you to fulfil the conditions of employment because the union would not have you, and that wants looking into.
I am worried about another aspect of the question. What happens when the unions get scared of unemployment and close their books? That will be a headache for the Government. I am also worried about this point. The unions now are exacting very high entrance fees. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which unions?"] Here is a letter which I have received today. The writer says:I am employed by the L.P.T.B. and am a fully paid up member of a registered union. On Tuesday 12th November, 1946, I was handed a letter by a representative of the Board notifying me that if I did not join the Transport and General Workers' Union by Tuesday 19th November 1946 my services would be dispensed with. This after 18 years' service with the Board, and incidentally I am a junior servant in comparison with other members who have received similar notices. Notwithstanding the viciousness of this whole proceeding, in the interests of my family and my livelihood I applied for membership of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and was informed 1 could join subject to an entrance fee of £5, no consideration being given to the fact that I was already a full union member. The amount was not, as far as I can gather, set by Transport House, but was left to local autonomy. A typical example of how one working class man is played off against another.The Ministry of Labour can have that note.
§ Mr. J. Jones
I want to try to help the hon. Member if I can. The entrance fee is charged when a member first joins a union, and in no case is it £5. I defy contradiction on that point. But where 706 a union is asked to take the transfer of a person who is already a member of a union, and who seeks to transfer his obligations from that union to another in regard to superannuation, death benefits and so on. it may well be £5—and £5 well spent.
§ Mr. Byers
I suggest also that men might be thrown out of their unions for various reasons. The introduction of contracting out, has made a very great difference,to what is happening in the trade union movement. It takes a great deal of moral courage now to contract out, if you know that in doing so you are marking yourself out as a man who does not agree—[HON. MEMBERS: "How many are there?"] If hon. Members do not believe me, perhaps I may quote another letter. No, I think I will send it to the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. Byers
I suggest that if even only one individual is suffering it is worth looking into. Contracting out, when it means that you mark yourself out as being different in your political views, from other members of the union may, I do not say will, cause a man to be discharged from the union—of course it will not—but will be a black mark against him. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Trade union membership has been made a condition of employment: how many Germans in Germany had to join the Nazi Party be- 707 cause it was a condition of employment? That is what is being shown in the deNazincation courts now. That is the story which is being told daily: "I did not want to join, but I had to, to get a job." It has a very similar ring to what we hear in these cases, though I am not suggesting that the trade unions are Fascist—of course I am not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why rake it up?"]If hon. Members cannot see the difference, really we might as well not have this House at all.
I am not going to deal with the second aspect of the closed shop, the monopoly union. I leave that to the hon. Member who is to second this Amendment. But, I do suggest that men are how being told that they must join a trade union, in other words, trade union membership has become a condition of employment. The field of the closed shop is increasing; unions are not responsible to this House or to anyone, and there are 13 million workers of this country, who will have this problem of joining a union to confront at some time in the future—not tomorrow, but at some time, because the unions aim, at 100 per cent. membership, so it must confront them. There is, no right of appeal against a refusal to take a man as a member of a union, at least I have not been able to find one. "Men who cannot join a union Jose their means of livelihood, and in the case of a miner, where there is a closed union, he loses his whole career, because' he would be de barred from working in the mines without a membership card, and therefore he would have to change his whole, mode of life. The unions can withdraw their membership card from members; 'and Parliament cannot intervene.
I believe I have said enough to prove that this is a grave constitutional issue which affects the personal liberty of the individual. If these practices continue and become more widespread, Parliament must satisfy itself that justice can still be done to the individual. The Government cannot be neutral in this matter, because by being neutral they are giving a positive sanction to the injustices which are being, perpetrated at the moment. On the Trades Disputes Act we demanded a new and up to date charter for the trade union movement. I think we were right. The 1913 Act is a great deal out of date.
Since 1913 great things have happened. It is no good saying that be- 708 cause it was right in 1913, it is right now. We in this party are progressive. We have been particularly worried about the closed shop in relation to nationalised industries, and public authorities. If the closed shop is applied in its narrow sense, it makes a monopoly union, and in that sense we advocate the setting up of a Royal Commission to inquire into it. Let us have a Royal Commission to examine the closed shop in relation to our modern economic and industrial life. Let us see what can be done to guarantee prosperity for the unions, while safeguarding the liberty of the individual, and the rights of minorities.
I believe an exposition of those facts would be a good thing. I believe that legislation may not be necessary, but let us have a Report from such a Commission. If legislation is the answer, I trust the unions enough to say to them "Collaborate with the Government in bringing forward a new and up to date charter, which will guarantee the personal liberty of the individual, and the rights of minorities." They can do that, and this House can satisfy itself whether this is right or wrong. I believe that is the spirit in which we ought to approach, this matter. When we come to divide this House tonight, this will not be a vote against the trade unions, but a vote in the interest of—[An HON. MEMBER: "Scabs."] That word does no one any good—worker, trade union official, or Member of Parliament. I would be ashamed to use it. A vote for this Amendment tonight will show that we recognise that the trade union movement has reached a critical moment in its history, and that we want to see that it takes the right turning, so that it will be strengthened and so that it can go on in the future, as in the past, representing the working people of this country.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is not often that I ask for indulgence, but, within the limits of restraint which the House finds it possible to impose upon itself, I would ask for indulgence today. I am feeling extremely unwell and would, if I could, avoid speaking. But I regard it as my duty to speak. What I say is bound to be controversial. Therefore I want at the beginning to limit the area 709 of controversy as much as I can, and above all to eliminate the possibility of unnecessary misunderstanding. If I cam do that, then the subsequent argument can be directed to the issue, rather than to misunderstandings about the issue.
So I begin by saying, as a trade unionist of some 30 years' standing, and as a trade union leader for most of that time, that I have no use whatever for the non-unionist. I think he is a fool to himself. I think he is a liability to his workmates. And I think he can be made a tool of bad employers. Therefore, I have no use for him. Nor is it true, although it has been suggested as true, that I am in favour of breakaway or splinter unions—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about 1937?"]—May I deal with 1937? There is nothing I want to dodge here. Hon. Members will have straightforward talk from me, and I shall welcome straightforward talk back from them. Whenever I have been consulted by workmen, I have invariably given the reply that they should not leave their union unless they have exhausted all possibilities within the union of securing a remedy for the grievances raised. If I am reminded of 1936 and 1937, let me say that when the London busmen first came to me, and told me of their troubles, my reply to them was exactly the same, "Do not leave your union until you have exhausted all possibilities inside it of remedying the grievances of which you complain." If, subsequently, they left the union, it was because they found they could not secure redress within it. That is a point I will come to later on in the ordinary course of developing my remarks. I hope I have made it utterly plain—I can make it no plainer—that I have no use for the non-unionist, and I am not in favour of breakaway unions, although I am in favour—and this is vital—of preserving the right to break away.
While I want to support this Amendment on many grounds, I want first to support it on exclusively trade union grounds. I want to demonstrate that the closed shop is a bad thing, not merely for Britain, but for the trade union movement. I hold that it is bad, first, because it promotes unhealthy trade unionism; secondly, because it promotes slack trade unionism, and, thirdly, because it can conceivably promote corrupt trade unionism. I would like to say a word about each of those contentions. The moral authority of a leader of a trade 710 union rests on the fact that he is voluntarily chosen by free men to represent them. Just as soon as the element of conscription is introduced into membership of a trade union, the moral authority deriving from free selection of leaders by free men disappears. If I, as a representative of my own union, go to a Government Department about some trouble of theirs, and I claim to represent 130,000 men, the Department knows that everyone of those 130,000 is a volunteer, and not one of them a conscript If we change 85 per cent. or 90 per cent. volunteers to 100 per cent. compelled, we may add 10 per cent., or 15 per cent., to our membership, but we would subtract 50 per cent. from the moral authority we represent.
The closed shop makes for slack trade unionism. I do not need to argue at great length with my trade union friends, that one union can differ from another as one star differs from another in magnitude—[An HON. MEMBER: "In glory"]."In glory"—the word is appropriate. If the closed shop becomes established in Britain, "the glory will have departed." We know, in the trade union movement, that a union may be a combination of free men, a powerful, vigorous, combination of free men, to establish collectively the rights that workmen are individually impotent to assert. That is what a trade union ought to be. But we know that a trade union may be more than a "goose-club," for the collection of contributions, and the distribution of benefits. At its worst, it may be an instrument for handing workmen, body and soul, defencelessly, over to the employer. If anyone questions that, I would remind them of the debates we had in the Trades Union Congress years ago on the subject of Havelock Wilson's Seamen's Union. That was denounced as industrial conscription of the worst possible order. A trade union might be either of these things, and, what is more, a trade union might be each at different times. The unions, like every other form of human organisation, progress and retrogress, and there is no law which exempts them from the operation of the influences which affect human society in general. I say that the one way to ensure getting slack trade unionism, is to remove, not merely competition, but every possibility of competition. And it is that which the closed shop does For the whole essence 711 of the closed shop is that in order to follow his employment a man must join and remain a member of either a union, or a particular union, or a union of a given type or character, such as a union affiliated to the T.U.C.
I shall be told that where there is slackness in a trade union, and there is slackness in trade unions in Britain, as in every other form of organisation, it can be remedied from within, and that the leadership can be changed from within. That is a fair argument, to which I should like to address myself for a moment. Where one is dealing with a comparatively small union, I think that is largely true. The membership can, if it wants, compel from within changes, either in tempo, tactics or in leadership. But it is also true that the larger a union becomes, the more difficult that is, because when one comes to face industrial octopuses such as the Transport and General Workers' Union, and the Municipal and General Workers, Union, with memberships of a million or so, the only appeal for members is to the biennial conference. That is a conference held every two years, in the case of the Transport and General Workers' Union—I am not sure about the Municipal and General Workers' Union. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the same."] I was not sure.
When the opportunity does come, the proceedings of the conference are governed by what is known as the card vote. The card vote is ostensibly a democratic thing. But actually the card vote can be the most undemocratic thing under heaven. I have seen it so worked I remember the days when I used to go to the Labour Party Conference. It used to be axiomatic then—I do not know if it still is—that if one found coal, cotton and transport with the platform, the rest of the conference did not matter. It might be one or two others as well as coal, cotton and transport, but that was the idea. How often have I seen the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald standing on one side at the conference, beckoning to Bob Smillie, Jim Thomas or the cotton leaders, and after a few minutes' whispered exchanges the conference knew how the card vote was going. That may not be admitted publicly, but there is no man who speaks of his own knowledge, who would deny it privately.
§ Mr. Proctor (Eccles)
Does the hon. Member assert that the vote of the N.U.R. is decided by the General Secretary, whether past or present, in collusion with the platform, and not by the delegates representing the union at the conference?
§ Mr. Brown
I have spoken of a particular leader of the railwaymen, an extremely able and astute leader. If one told Mr. Jim Thomas that he needed the sanction of his Executive his reply, as I remember it, would probably have been an extremely hearty guffaw. However that may be, what I am asserting is that the larger the union, the more difficult it is to secure redress at an annual conference, with the block vote of many other sections being swung against the section immediately affected, and in the last resort, if not only competition, but the very possibility of it is destroyed, a premium is put upon slackness rather than upon efficiency. I want to see a strong and efficient trade union movement in Britain.
I will now deal with the third point that it may lead to corrupt trade unionism. I yield to no one in my admiration for the trade union movement in Britain as a whole, and the quality of its leadership. I regard its leadership as the best of any trade union movement in the world, and that by a very long way I have seen something of the trade union movement in Australia, in parts of Europe and in America. I say without hesitation that that is true of the trade union leadership in Britain taken as a whole But we know, do we not?—with Shakespeare:How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes ill deeds done!And if one goes to the place where the closed shop is most freely operated, the United States of America, one will find instance after instance there, of corruption which I am perfectly certain the English trade union movement, while it is free, would never dream of tolerating for a moment. If hon. Members doubt me, let them consult the representatives of the T.U.C, who occasionally drift over there in the capacity of fraternal delegates, and talk off the record" when they come back. Therefore, I say that for these three reasons I think the closed shop is bad for the trade unions.
Now may I deal for a moment with the arguments advanced by the T.U.C. At the recent Brighton Conference the 713 General Council took a somewhat unusual course—I think it was a good one—of circulating what was in effect a White Paper on this subject. I read it with great interest. I could not conceive how the General Council could fail to think clearly and fundamentally upon this issue, and if they did, it seemed to me that they must dissociate themselves from the closed shop. Indeed, in the opening sentences of this document they begin by saying that they do not like the closed shop "in the American sense." But the closed shop is a closed shop, whether in the German, American, British or any other sort of sense. It has a connotation. It means making a man's right to follow his job dependent upon his being a member of a particular organisation or type of organisation. They go on, having repudiated the closed shop in the American sense, whatever that may be, to express approval of it in relation to three categories of people; first, non-unionists, men not members of any union; second, members of "splinter" or breakaway unions; and third, members of unions which are not affiliated to the T.U.C. I do not like the non-unionist, but I would not operate the closed shop against him. I do not like breakaway unions, unless there is no alternative. And my own organisation is affiliated to the T.U.C. I would say that if the closed shop is to be approved in relation to these three areas of people something like 12 or 13 million work people in the country are covered. I never hesitate to take on battles which are a little too big for me, but it would never occur to me to lead an army of 6,700,000 people to declare war on 13,000,000. I regard that declaration of war as excessively comprehensive.
I now invite the House to notice that the Trades Union Congress is not only an industrial body. It is, to a very large degree, a political body as well. Its agenda—I am not criticising this, but we have to recognise the fact—will cover everything from China to Peru, from Poles to the Control Commission in Germany, and so forth. It claims the right to speak politically as well as industrially. When we are dealing with political affiliations we provide a contracting-out clause, so that if I happen to be a Tory, and I do not want to be affiliated to the Labour Party, I fill up a contracting-out form. I rather agree with 714 hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is not much bones made about that. A man can get a form and fill it up. A little moral persuasion against this may be exercised, but normally it does not go beyond that. However, when we come to affiliation to the T.U.C, there is no contracting-out at all. Affiliation is made to a body which is political, but there is no "contracting-out" provision. If the closed shop was carried to its fullest extent, what should we find? We should find 21,000,000 people in Britain, compulsorily members of trade unions, compulsorily affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, which is political, and which, in turn, is a partner of the Labour Part. In other words, if this thing is carried 1o its logical conclusion, we will get all the wage earners of Britain—
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
May I put this point? Would not the hon. Member agree that trade unions affiliating to the Trades Union Congress and to the Labour Party, pay only on the degree of affiliation of their membership?
§ Mr. Brown
No. That does not apply in the case of affiliation to the Trades Union Congress. I think probably everybody on the opposite side of the House is as familiar with these rules as I am. In the case of the Labour Party, payment is made upon the membership not "signed out." In the case of the Trades Union Congress payment is made upon the total paying membership. That is a standing rule, and I am not arguing with it. I am attempting to point out that if the closed shop is carried through to its full extent in the areas where the T.U.C. favour the closed shop, then 21,000,000 wage earners in Britain will be compulsory members of trade unions affiliated to the T.U.C. which, in turn, forms part of the political Labour movement. If that is not in principle—not in intention, I do not wish to be misunderstood—a close imitation of the Nazi Labour Front or the Fascist corporations, then I do not know what is.
And now may I remind my comrades opposite that there is nothing immutable in human affairs. They have seen, as I have in my lifetime, a very considerable penetration of the trade union machine by the Communist Party.
§ Mr. Brown
If I had mentioned that that penetration had been trivial, the hon. Gentleman would have regarded that as a criticism of the efficiency of his party. Hon. Members opposite know it is true that, in varying degrees, in different parts of the movement, the penetration has been very considerable.
§ Mr. Gallacher
It is about time it went into honourable retirement. Why does the hon. Member want to bring in that kind of nonsense?
§ Mr. Brown
I am trying to argue a serious issue. If the hon. Gentleman had been here from the beginning of the Debate, I do not think he would be interrupting me now. I have tried to make this a hard objective argument. Whether or not I have succeeded is another matter. Hon. Members have the right to reply to me but, at least, I ought to be able to state my views. There is a possibility of a political clash between the Communist Party and the Labour Party. If that ever comes, we may see in Britain the Communist-dominated trade unions getting together into one group, and the Labour Party-dominated trade unions in another group. The closed shop may be all right when it adds to one's political supporters: But one may find it very far from being all right if its effect is to strengthen the political opponents who have already passed the death sentence upon one. I think hon. Members opposite would be wiser if they eliminated the closed shop now and did not wait until that situation arose.
716 There is one field where the T.U.C. do not favour the closed shop. They do not favour it as directed by one affiliated organisation against another. That was made quite clear in the "White Paper" at Brighton. But it is a general experience that while a union or a movement may wish to limit itself in the degree to which it carries through a principle, events sometimes carry the principle further Here is an extract from an evening paper published a day or two ago:Because ten electricians of the British Plaster Board Factory at Erith, Kent, do not belong to the Transport and General Workers Union, all work at the factory, which is producing urgently needed building materials, has stopped since Thursday night. The manager said today he had no idea when work would be resumed. The ten electricians are members of the Electrical Trades Union.Trade union members on the opposite side of the House will know that the Electrical Trades Union is a very old established craft union. It is an example of the oldest type of union in Britain, the craft union, which organises men by reference to what they do, in whatever industry they do it. They get the woodworkers together in one crowd, the electricians in another, the engineers in the third, and so forth. Here is a case of the closed shop being operated by a general union against a craft union. Hon. Members opposite will agree with me when I say that, of all the unions in Britain, the general unions are about the most predatory of the lot. In my recollection, there have been more rows at the Trades Union Congress about "poaching" by the general unions than there have been about anything else. I ask hon. Members to consider the situation—
§ Mr. Robens (Wansbeck)
In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman is making a great point of this newspaper cutting, will he say whether he has proved the facts, and whether or not that newspaper cutting is a true reflection of the actual position, because our experience is that we never get the full picture of a trade union dispute in the newspapers?
§ Mr. Brown
If the question is put to me specifically, "Have you, in the interval between Saturday and now, gone down to Erith and checked up on these facts?", the answer is, "No, I have not." I quoted from a newspaper, as we all do. But hon. Members opposite cannot get away from the essential fact. For 717 example, this issue rose some weeks ago at a colliery in a Durham village. There was a speech by the secretary of the Durham Miners Association, a very fine organisation, and the secretary announced that, when nationalisation came about, if four men who were operating the shafts— the winding engineers, I think they are called—did not join the Miners Federation, then the whole of the coalmining industry in that area would come to a standstill.
§ Mr. Brown
No. They were in another organisation. [HON. MEMBERS: "A breakaway."] It is so easy to classify a union which one does not like as a "breakaway." Is not the party opposite historically a breakaway union? It is a breakaway from the Liberal Party. If I may say so, with all the good will in the world and with very great respect, there are occasions when hon. Members on those benches ought to be grateful to the "splinters." The "splinters" last night—another breakaway union. Hon. Members ought to be grateful to them. I say, therefore, that anybody who seriously thinks about the future of the trade union movement, with its combination of the craft unions, the industrial unions, and the general unions, ought to be extremely chary of having anything to do with the closed shop. In America, a very large proportion indeed of the total number of industrial disputes are not about industrial conditions, but are inter-union jurisdictional disputes between one organisation and another. I can foresee just as fatal results coming to the trade union movement in England as have already come to the trade union movement in America.
We are told that we can trust the unions not to exercise their powers unworthily. I want to quote one case which comes to me today:Up to the moment, about 40 men and women have been discharged rather than join the Transport and General Workers' Union in the organisation of London Transport. The Transport and General Workers' Union have now become extremely vicious, notably with the imposition of a £5 fine, knowing full well that, in a good many cases, the men have not got £5 with which to pay. The latest case is that of a man at the Hanwell Central Bus Garage who is a member of the Passenger Workers' Union He decided to join the Transport and General Workers' Union rather 718 than be dismissed. He was told that he would have to pay £1 of the £5 fine immediately and a contribution of 8d. Evidently, the 8d. is the real entrance fee. He was then told that he would have to pay 9s. 8d. every week until the rest of the fine was paid. He has 33 years' service with the Board and its associated companies, and an absolutely clean record. He informed them that he was unable to pay this amount, and offered a lesser sum, say 5s. On the following day, the chairman, secretary and a delegate called at the man's private house and asked the man if he would let them look at his card. He handed them the card, they looked at it, and then said, 'You are not a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union and you will be sacked.' On the following day, he was sent for by the employer and discharged with a week's money in lieu of notice after 33 years in the service.[HON MEMBERS: "Shame."] I do not care what anybody else says about this; I say it is damnable and outrageous tyranny! I would like, if I may, and I hope I am not keeping the House too long—
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has confirmed the statements he has made?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
We cannot have two hon. Members on their feet at the same time.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
Would the hon. Gentleman describe that gentleman as an uninterested person?
§ Mr. Brown
I have dealt with this matter from the trade union point of view. Now I would like to deal with it in. a wider connotation. I agree with the hon. Member who moved this Amendment that there is a deep constitutional issue involved in this problem. It is of the essence of the British Constitution that, under it, a man is "free to live by no man's leave, underneath the law." Provided that he observes the law, a man may go hither and thither on his lawful occasions, do his work, establish a home, bring up a family and so forth: But here we have another body under the State which says: "Though you observe all the laws, you shall not be free to work save by our permission, and that permission will be conditional upon your being either 719 a member of a union, or a particular union, or a, union of a given character." It is true that there are other examples of the closed shop. There are the cases of the medical profession and the Jaw, but, at least, there is some sort of argument there. [Laughter.]Well, I was going to say that there are two points about those closed shops. The first is that they are established by Acts of Parliament; the second is that they are directed primarily to safeguarding the standards of proficiency in medicine and law and so on. Here is a case where no question of proficiency comes into the question at all, where Parliament has not approved the procedure, and where, I venture to say. Parliament would not approve it if it was brought before the House. That seems to me to be a very grave constitutional issue.
It may be that the time will come when the State will lay down, by law, that a man should be a member of a trade union. But I warn hon. Members opposite of the results which would follow as the corollary of such action. One will be that the State must define the boundaries of the unions. Another will be that it must safeguard the terms of membership of unions. Another will be that it must safeguard the rights of persons within the unions. I cannot imagine Parliament doing this without satisfying itself on these matters. And I would remind the House of the advice given by Samuel Gompers, of the American Federation of Labour, whose view was that the unions should keep away from the embrace of the State at all costs. I used to think that he was wrong, but, the longer I live, the more I am inclined to think that he was right.
§ Mr. O'Brien (Nottingham, West)
As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned Mr. Gompers, he will remind the House that the closed shop originated in America was a closed shop against the unions, and that a closed shop in this country is an open shop for the unions.
§ Mr. Brown
I am much obliged for that gratifying but slightly elementary piece of tuition. At any rate, it has nothing to do with my argument. Lastly, I come to the position of the Government. Although I have had some clashes with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour in this House, I beg to assure him that I have nothing but affection for him. "Whom the Lord loveth, He also 720 chasteneth." I am not out gunning for the Minister of Labour. I am out to fight what I regard as a vicious principle. And it so happens that the right hon. Gentleman is the head of the Ministry which is concerned with it. I tried to get from the right hon. Gentleman many months ago a statement of Government policy. The first reply I got, given with a bland air of seraphic innocence which would have done credit to a heathen Chinee, was that he did not know what the closed shop was, but that, if I would define it, he would give me a proper answer.
§ Mr. Isaacs
If the hon. Member will allow me, I did not say that I did not know what it was. I wanted to know what the hon. Member meant by it.
§ Mr. Brown
At any rate, I was asked to define it more closely, and I did so in fine, nervous, Civil Service English. Again, the right hon. Gentleman failed to tell us what the Government policy was, and, by an astonishing accident, which was not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman, this Question was not reached. When I rose and asked Mr. Speaker if the House could enable the Minister to give me a reply, the right hon. Gentleman showed a coyness which was only equalled by his earlier innocence. But when, under the joint pressure of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and myself, he was about to communicate with us, he was practically forcibly restrained by the Lord President of the Council. As far as I can gather, we have reached the stage when a division of functions has been arranged between Ministers. It is the function of the Minister of Labour to say "No" to inquiries. It is the function of the Lord President to say, "We want an inquiry," when it suits him. And it is the function of the Home Secretary to refute the results of an inquiry when they appear to him to be the wrong ones. We got the answer later. The answer was that this, in the Government's view, was a matter to be settled by industry and not by the Government. All I want to say about that is that there are circumstances in which a failure to act is itself an act. There are circumstances in which failure to protect defenceless men is to become an accomplice of the men oppressing them. I assert that, when facts of the kind that have been evinced in this Debate are brought to this House, for a 721 Government to say that they have nothing to say, is an act of unprecedented abdication. While we may have to tolerate abdications in certain circumstances, we do not want abdications by Governments when issues of this kind are concerned.
Therefore, all this leads us to press, not for legislation, but for an inquiry. As the Lord President said the other day, we have had inquiries into nurses' pay, inquiries into this, that and the other, and there is no harm in our having one more inquiry in that case into the Press. I say that there is no harm in having an inquiry into the closed shop. Believe me, I have not told one-tenth of the facts that could have been stated this afternoon. Therefore, this Amendment calls upon the House—for when Governments abdicate, Parliaments must act—in face of the abdication of the Government, to demand the appointment of a Royal Commission on this matter, so that we can get at the facts, the principles, the implications and the probable outcome of the closed shop. And then, in the light of that material, we can make up our minds on what it is best for this Parliament to do in relation to that grave issue.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
A great deal of heat has been engendered in this Debate on the closed shop. So far, we have heard very little from the trade unionists' point of view of the closed shop. I am glad that the question has been raised today because it gives us an opportunity to clear up a certain amount of misunderstanding and general misconception which has arisen in this House and in the country. It has also given some hon. Members an opportunity of proving, by the convincing power of their oratory, what the closed shop means. They have attempted, as the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has just said, to raise the question on a number of occasions. At least half a dozen Questions on the subject have been put down on the Order Paper; the matter was to be raised on the Adjournment, and now we are dealing with it as an Amendment to the Gracious Speech.
We, as trade unionists, welcome this discussion. There is nothing that we desire to hide; we want to be perfectly straightforward and absolutely frank as to where we stand on the question of the closed shop. With all due respect to hon. 722 Members of the Liberal Party, in our opinion, this is an attempt to kindle the torch of disunity among the ranks of the trade unions of this country. I regret that the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) has seen fit to join the "Rugby team"; there is one consolation that his doing so has brought it up to the required number. They believe that they have made a bewildering and disturbing discovery—that the closed shop, as they understand it, is a threat to the personal liberty of the individual. This discovery appears to upset their sense of proportion and to make things appear to them what they are not.
The Liberal Party have developed a fear complex unworthy of their great tradition and unworthy of this great nation. They have recently been trying to disturb the nerves and the judgment of the people by crying out against the iniquity of the closed shop. By doing so, they are insulting the intelligence of the people and the intelligence of the trade unions. During the past two months, they have tried to make the issue of the closed shop a frightening bogy. We have heard something of it before in the Red Letter and the financial crisis. It has been a determined attempt to manipulate public opinion against the trade unions. Some hon. Members who have spoken have shown an extraordinary energy on the question of the closed shop during the past few months. I do not think it is necessary, and neither do I think it is desirable, that this House should examine the reason for this extraordinary interest and energy. At the same time, I think that they have, to a great extent, shown a disregard of the facts of the case, and have approached the matter with a surge of passion. It is necessary that we should judge a subject of this character with full and clear knowledge, free from passion and self-interest, because passion is invariably a bad reasoner.
Unlike the hon. Member for North Dorset, I do not believe that this is a plea for the extension of individual freedom; I think it is an attempt to destroy the liberty of the majority and to give licence to the few in order to destroy what the great majority have built up by year; of strenuous effort. The Amendment would give power to a few men in breakaway unions to perform any action they determined to take, without external restraint by law or by the majority. Such freedom to destroy what has been built up is an 723 abuse of freedom. It is hardly necessary for me to give analogies of where freedom is being restricted in the interests of the wider freedom of the people. We have freedom of the Press, and the Press is free to publish what it likes, subject to a penalty for publishing anything mischievous, hurtful or libellous to the public or the individual. That is a restricted liberty, and it has been accepted. The hon. Member for Rugby said that the individual can do what he likes. But a man cannot build a house where and how he likes. He has to conform to the regulations and bylaws of the local authority in the interests of the greater number of people, and to see that their liberty is neither destroyed nor prejudiced. Therefore, that liberty is restricted in the interests of the greater number of people. We have inspectors to prevent the manufacturers of food from, manufacturing bad food that would injure the health of the people. Their liberty is restricted.
§ Mr. Awbery
In law the restriction on the liberty of the subject is introduced in order to give an extended and: wider liberty to the greater number. I am trying to indicate that the freedom which some hon. Members wish to give to a small number would destroy the liberty of the great majority. What do we in the trade union movement believe? If a union, by its industrial power, has become the recognised negotiating machinery in a factory or a workshop, and that union enters into contractual obligations on behalf of the workers, we say that every employee in that factory or workshop should belong to the union, which is a part of the negotiating machinery. The principle has been recognised for years that a man should belong to that particular union. Let me tell hon. Members opposite that that union is the union which is chosen by the men themselves. The union is not thrust upon a factory. It is the choice of the workpeople, and when they have chosen their union and established it as the negotiating machinery, we say that that is the one to which they should belong. If by chance two, three or four 724 unions organise a large proportion of the workpeople and jointly set up negotiating machinery to meet the employers and to bargain in regard to wages, hours and conditions, then we say that every employee in that factory or industry should be a member of one of the recognised unions that carry the responsibility of negotiating. No union is thrust upon a body of men. It is there by their choice. This has been described, I understand, as the closed shop.
§ Mr. Awbery
I will come to the question of the London Passenger Transport Board, which is the cause of the trouble. This is a principle which we have accepted and which has been recognised by both sides in most industries. Why, now, is there this attempt to smash the machinery which has worked so smoothly and efficiently for many years during the very trying period of the war, and which is still operating satisfactorily? Why there should be an attempt to destroy it now is beyond my comprehension. I can only suggest that, because our opponents have failed to prevent the growth of the trade union movement, they are now encouraging this group of men to break away from the recognised methods of negotiation, without which it would be impossible for us to carry on our ever-increasingly complex industrial system. The Amendment would encourage the establishment of splinter and fragmentary unions which would break up unity and destroy this joint machinery. That is not trade unionism. That is a policy of antitrade unionism such as has been adopted from time immemorial by hon. Members opposite on the benches above the Gangway. The loyal trade unionist who has entered into contractual obligations is anxious to carry them out to the fullest degree, but in carrying out those obligations he does not wish to be under the necessity of looking back over his shoulder all the time to see whether there are disloyal colleagues ready to stab him in the back by forming splinter unions. If we agree to the policy which has been suggested, it would destroy the power and the effect of collective bargaining, and would throw us back to where we were decades ago.
725 The question of the closed shop arose recently out of the action of the London Passenger Transport Board, which agreed to recognise one union for certain classes of its employees. I think it is necessary that the House should see the whole picture and know the reason for this action of the London Passenger Transport Board before arriving at a definite decision. Partial knowledge on these subjects is dangerous. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that hon. Members opposite agree; I am afraid that many of them are not possessed of full knowledge on this matter, even though they think they knew all about it. What has happened in regard to the London Passenger Transport Board? In the early days of its existence, the Board engaged men who were non-unionists, who were in any union, or who were in the particular union concerned. Subsequently, these men were organised in one union. They established a union, and a joint machinery of their own choice, the principle of collective bargaining, between the London Passenger Transport Board and their own particular union. The machine was set up of representatives of the Board and of the union, which worked very satisfactorily till 1937. In 1937 a strike took place.
When that strike terminated, a small minority of disgruntled and dissatisfied men, encouraged by outsiders not associated with the road transport industry in any form, formed a splinter union, and broke the unity which existed. Those people who provoked these few men did a great disservice, not only to the trade union movement, but to this country as well. When they started the dangerous stone rolling they should have taken care to see the direction in which it was rolling, and the inevitable danger entailed as a result. They are now staggered and surprised at the result of their efforts. They have, undoubtedly, consistently and persistently, provoked these men to be disloyal, to break away from the fidelity of their own union. Their knowledge of the loyalty of trade unionists is as small as their vanity and conceit are great.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
Will the hon. Member please tell the House who "they" are? Who are these people outside the transport organisations who are discouraging trade unions?
§ Mr. Awbery
It the cap fits, the hon. and gallant Member can put it on. If it does not, he can leave it alone. I know the men whom it fits.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
The hon. Member is following his.manuscript. Do not interrupt him.
§ Mr. Awbery
I was going on to say, that the trade unionists can give lessons in loyalty to a large section, or most of the section—
§ Mr. Awbery
It is by the loyalty, unity, and the cooperation of trade unionists that they have become a force in the national life of this country. The people who have discouraged this loyalty have been throwing sand into the negotiating machine all the time. They have tried to prevent it from working. When the breakaway took place in 1937, the loyal trade unionists were prevented, under the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, that notorious Act of 1927, from taking any action, because theirs was a public utility service; and they were compelled to suffer treachery and disloyalty in their own ranks. It may have been comparatively easy in 1937, in the prevailing circumstances, to form a fragmentary union, to cut a chip from the old block; but, happily, those days are ended. The trade unionists, largely through the service that they rendered during the period, the trying period, of the war, are now strong enough, not only to resist attacks upon themselves, but to heal the breaches that were made when we were not in power.
Now that the notorious Act of 1927, born out of malice, and hatred of the combination of organised workers, has been removed, the men of the London Passenger Transport Board have decided that the time has come to compel loyalty and membership for all who enjoy the benefits of their negotiations. They ask why, if others receive the benefits of their nego- 727 tiations, they should not undertake to carry out their obligations? If there is no legal obligation, there is a moral obligation. It is because they are not prepared to carry out their moral obligation that hon. Members opposite are supporting them. Let them carry out their moral obligation even if it is not legal. The London Passenger Transport Board men have now asked that we should revert to the 1937 position, when there was one union, and before the splinter union was established. They feel that the obstruction, if permitted to continue, will mean that everything of value to them will be in danger of being destroyed. They say that if we are going to give liberty to a few, as suggested by hon. Members opposite, then they must regain the liberty that they previously enjoyed of being able to say that they will not work with those men who will not carry out their moral obligations.
Why this concern for the disloyal men who desire to establish a splinter union? If a small percentage of men in a factory are encouraged to break away from the negotiating machine, then, I say, quite frankly, to the Tory Members, we will not have peace and harmony in industry. There will be chaos, confusion and anarchy. If that is what hon. Members want, then they will support the splinter union. The trade unions on the conciliating bodies carry great responsibilities. It would be a crime to destroy these bodies for settling industrial problems. But some people are prepared to go to that extent, to commit the crime and break the machine, because it would suit their own selfish purposes. The Government, the employers and the trade union movement have recognised the full value of these instruments. If they did not exist in our industry today, it would be absolutely necessary, in the circumstances, to establish them, because industry could not work without them. As to the effectiveness of the machine, I should like to point out that, in 1919, a year after the last war, when these instruments were in their infancy, we suffered 10 days' loss by strike. Only one has been lost in the year following the recent war, when these machines were in existence.
I should, finally, like to say something about the opinion of the Transport Board on this matter. They have been left en- 728 tirely out of the picture, and the impression conveyed by hon. Members opposite is, that this is entirely the request of the trade union. But what have the employers to say? They should know their own business. They employ from 100,000 to 120,000 men. What have they to say about this so-called closed shop in the London Passenger Transport Board? Are they to be considered? Are we to ask them for their opinion? This is what they say: "We recognise that we have statutory obligations to the travelling public. In order to carry out those obligations it is necessary that we should have good relations with our employees. By this good relationship we can get a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of friction." They say that they have agreements with the same trade union with which they have negotiated for years on hours, wages and conditions. They tell us that, when new entrants join the service, they are told that all agreements are made through a particular union and all matters must be settled through that machinery. The Board have not entered into any agreement with any other union for their operating and maintenance staff. They also state that the breakaway union has never been recognised and no agreement has ever been entered into with that organisation. The breakaway union created difficulties in securing the observance of agreements by the recognised union, to which the Board look for their observance.
The Board considered the existing unsatisfactory position and desired to terminate it. They then agreed to recognise the Transport and General Workers' Union on the understanding that non-members could join, and decided to discontinue the service of any unwilling to do so. They say that, now that there is one union representing the whole of their employees, it can speak for all the men and conduct negotiations on wages, hours and conditions and, at the same time, carry the responsibilities involved as a negotiating body. They wind up by saying this:The London Passenger Transport Board recognises the supreme importance of this negotiating machine, and decided that it should not be destroyed.The inference is that the splinter union wanted this wonderful machine which exists to settle their disputes destroyed, because it insists on a maximum of effi- 729 ciency and a minimum of friction. Surely, the London Passenger Transport Board understand their own position and their own negotiating machinery? Are we to cut across the considered opinion of the London Passenger Transport Board and their employees? If the Government, as employers, employ workpeople, they will want to know what responsible organisation they have to deal with before they will enter into any agreement. I suggest that the principle operates, too, in other industries, and I shall ask the House, therefore to vote against the Amendment.
§ 5.34 P.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
Among the matters which the last speaker has put before us there is one at any rate which will not be a matter of controversy. I agree with him that it is necessary to clarify the facts, and delimit the practical issues which are involved in this question. I am not at all sorry that he took the example—and spent some time on it—of the London Passenger Transport Board, because I think every one will agree that that was the case which aroused public interest in this matter. That interest was aroused because the claim was not that non-union labour should not be employed; all the persons concerned were trade unionists. It was not a claim that the Transport and General Workers' Union should have negotiating powers. They had them already, and they had had them since 1933. It was a claim that their members should have an exclusive right to employment in the grades concerned; it is a claim, to put it in other words, that no one should earn a living in London Transport, unless by the consent of the Transport and General Workers' Union.
It is that matter which has deeply worried a large section of opinion in this country, not confined to this party or the party below the Gangway, but spreading deeply into many respected and honoured members of the party opposite. We realise that although the hon. Gentleman has dealt with that example, it does not stand alone We have seen the case of the Smithfield Guild of Clerks, actually a negotiating body. We have seen a different line of attack but with the same objects in the case of the Aeronautical Engineers Association, and our memories are not so short that we cannot remember 730 the position of the dockers and the Amalgamated Stevedores Association in 1923. But we do notice that whereas the Amalgamated Stevedores had 25 per cent. of the London dockers when they took over from the Transport and General Workers Union in 1923, what happened to them was expulsion from the Trades Union Congress, and they only got back a comparatively short time ago. That, after all, was a matter for the Trades Union Congress and its constituent unions. We are not immensely interested in what the Trades Union Congress may do with its constituents, but we are immensely interested in this question: On what conditions and on what deprivations people are or are not going to get work in London. And that is why we have come forward today to support this Amendment. It is no longer a matter of a union not being received into the bosom of the T.U.C.; it is a matter of men not being allowed to work unless they get the consent of certain union officials, and we have seen today from the examples what that may mean.
That is an urgent problem. I thought, until the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) made his speech—which is obviously the unofficial official defence, if I may put it that way—that the Council of the Trades Union Congress had put forward two aspects of the matter. They deprecated of course being criticised on the question of the closed shop at all. Of course it is very pleasant if you can choose not only your own arguments, but the arguments of your opponents. I thought, until the hon. Member made his speech, that there was general consent for these two broad propositions: that an establishment in which only members of a particular union can be employed to the exclusion of other unions is alien to British trade union practice and theory, and that one must never consent to the recognition of an exclusive right to organise by one union where other unions have built up their organisation side by side with it. I thought that that was generally accepted.
§ Mr. O'Brien
That is not quite fair play. The T.U.C. standing orders regulate the relationship between unions affiliated to the T.U.C, and my hon. Friend was dealing with break-away unions which desire to encroach in organised industry.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I was waiting for that. I quoted that without altering a word, from a statement issued by the T.U.C., and I was waiting for some hon. Member on the other side of the House to come forward and qualify it, just as the hon. Member qualified it a few minutes ago. We know that it is lip service to freedom, and that there are qualifications when it is put up to hon. Members in the House. How did the hon. Member for Central Bristol conform to these pious platitudes which other hon. Members will not accept in their entirety? The way he put it was that employees should belong to the union which was part of the negotiating machinery, and that they must compel the loyalties which are necessary That is the statement which is made to us today when we bring the matter up, and that shows the reliance which can be put on these platitudes when it comes to actual operation.
Nothing I have said, even in answer to the hon. Member, was one-tenth as strong as the way in which this matter was put by the representative of the Chemical Workers Union, Mr. Edwards, at the Brighton meeting of the T.U.C. Here is a trade union leader who is speaking for a small union. He cannot of course swing the votes, or attract the same audience as hon. Members who come from greater unions with enormous card votes. And so, Mr. Edwards can talk sense. He warned the conference that the big issues involved might lead to a welter of disputes in important industries. Is that right, or is it wrong merely because it comes from someone whose union has not a big membership? He said that the United States had shown the danger of "strong-arm squads" being attached to unions to maintain their membership against the industrial worker. He referred to theabuse of the closed shop principle forced on industrial workers with the blessing of monopoly employers.Mr. Edwards then went on to say:So let us not sweep this matter away with a smile and decide there are no issues involved. The Chemical Workers Union will allow no big power in the country, either employers or unions, to drive us out without a fight.Whether the chemical workers would like it or not, they may rest assured that they do not stand alone in that forthright pronouncement of their views. We must consider what are the facts. We find, again 732 and again, that the great trade unions have become infected recently with a passion for mere bigness. They have a sort of numbers complex, and seem to think that the efficiency of a union depends on the number of members they can show on their books. There are two results which have become clear, and they are facts which are far beyond any peradventure. There has been a growing and noticeable separation between the interests, views and ideas of those who are at the centre of the unions and those who are members of the branches. We find that unofficial strikes are among just those unions which have been going out for huge membership, and whose discipline and control of, and support by, their outlying members have suffered for that reason.
It is idle therefore for the right hon. Gentleman, or for the hon. Member who interrupted a short time ago, to talk about "scab unions," when one finds that smaller unions are growing up—the hon. Member inferentially proved it in regard to one union when he referred to the history of the persons behind it. These are not unions formed to help employers. The whole background about which the hon. Member spoke shows that they are not "scab" unions in any sense in which that word can properly be used. They are unions formed by people who were not satisfied with the treatment they were receiving in the bigger unions at the time. They may or may not have had grounds for that dissatisfaction, but that is not the point which interests us on this side of the House. We say that freedom of association is one of the essential principles of democracy. It is a principle which the trade unions fought for throughout the 19th century, and whatever the hon. Member may say, he is bound to admit that during that, time, as shown by the Statute Book, the Conservative Party assisted in the fight for freedom. Whether he accepts that or not, he ought, if he is a democrat, to accept the importance of freedom of combination, both in the industrial foreground and the moral background of this country. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. J. Edwards) on the last occasion when it was considered by this House, said:We have never suggested for one minute that compulsion—be it in the individual workshop or as between various unions—should ever rest on any other principle than the principle which we shall be accepting when we 733 go into the Lobbies to vote on this Motion tonight, an inherent principle in our political democracy, and a principle which is quite essential to any proper functioning of an industrial democracy."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 666.]That reliance, that inclusion of compulsion in that way as a principle of government, and a principle of industrial democracy, shows the chasm that yawns between Members opposite and ourselves. To argue that because you need to keep certain standards of behaviour, certain excellent minimum standards of conditions, you are to go on denying the right of people to associate as they desire, is not only a logical fallacy, but is political retrogression and reaction of the worst kind.
The question of nationalised industry has not become the question of tomorrow; it is the question of today. Members opposite cannot get away from that. We have had Mr. Will Lawther of the Mine-workers' Association already asking that' in the nationalised coal trade there should be a closed shop for his union, that everyone in that industry ought to be in that union. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am glad that Members opposite have not run away from that statement, because it is the kernel of my argument. I want them to face my next point, which is this. On the one side you are to have a State monopoly, coal organised in the form of a State monopoly, with, I agree, responsibilities to the consumer, however bad the machinery may be for doing the consumer any good. Parallel to that, you are to have a union which is a private monopoly, which has no public responsibilities, which is not in any way controlled by Governmental powers. In it the man who has worked in the coal trade all his life, be it at the coal face or anywhere else, will now depend entirely on the officials of that private monopoly as to whether he is to be able to work, or whether he is to be an industrial untouchable, whose back years are to count for nothing, so leaving him in misery. I say that, bad as the position is today, under nationalised industries it is a form of tyranny which no free State should contemplate. Because of that, I support the Amendment.
I now come to a point on which I hope to get the support of hon. Members opposite Although I do not suppose that they would follow any words of mine, I hope 734 they will follow the weighty words of the Prime Minister. When the Trades Disputes Bill was before the House in 1927 the Prime Minister said this:We believe in collective bargaining and we believe that people should belong to their proper organisations; and I am bound to say that I have never found any complaint about it,Then the-right hon. Gentleman went on:I quite agree that it has been done wisely. We ought not to say, 'Here is a particular union, you must join that and leave your own.' I have resisted that when it was tried on. That is not fair."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st May, 1927; Vol. 207; c. 260–61.]It is because of that, that we say today that it is not fair, and that is why we are supporting this Amendment.
§ Mr. Williamson (Brigg)
I rise to refer to some of the considerations which have been raised by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D Maxwell Fyfe), It is peculiar that just at this stage there should be Members on the other side of the House getting hot and bothered about what are called the trade union bosses; It is not so long ago since some of them Were praising trade union leaders for the work which had been done in industry by organised workers, and had resulted in a great contribution to the war effort. There are, in this country, something like 17 million workpeople. There are about 7 million organised work people, and 10 million unorganized workers. The big unions, with their tremendous, power, have not taken, action to force into unions the 10 million un organised workers. The right hon. And learned Gentleman opposite said that he and his friends were interested in the conditions in which men will get work. May I suggest that the organised workpeople of this country are interested in safe guarding the wages and conditions which they have built up during the last 50 years?
In my opinion, we have, in this country] the best negotiating system in the world. There is good feeling on both sides of industry, between employers and employees. They meet and, in harmony, make agreements which are binding on both sides. Just as it is expected that employers will keep agreements, so do we expect the workpeople to keep them. But what do we find? We find the breakaway unions in which Members opposite are so interested. These unions are being 735 formed in various industries, and their purpose and intention is to undermine the machinery of which the organised workers are exceedingly jealous. Not only that, but they seek to undermine agreements. It is on record that when agreements have been made trade unions have been attacked by the small breakaway unions, who have said that the pass has been sold to the employer. They have created distrust and lack of confidence on the part of the organised workers.
It is not the trade union leaders who are taking action on the "closed shop" which, by the way, is a misnomer. In certain industries the organised workers have said, "We have had enough of it; we are not going to allow our machinery and agreements to be undermined." There are many industries in which there are non-unionists, including the chemical industry, referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, where today, a man has a right to join three or four unions. There is no restrictive right in any union, nor any intention that there should be. Therefore, it is misleading the country to say that there is any intention on the part of the trade union movement, or the trade union leaders, to force the workpeople into one union; I warn this House, and I warn the country, that the last has not been heard of this. There are today important industrial establishments where the employers, whose intention is to undermine the workers, are giving outside support to break away unions, and if that is continued, I assure this House that more than one industry in this country will be involved in a serious stoppage.
I wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues opposite, before they come, to this House and make statements about the freedom of the individual and a man being prevented from getting work unless he is in a particular trade union, would get their facts right. It is perfectly true that there are people in industry, who have become a menace, and who have acted against the interests of the rest of the workpeople, until, at some stage, those workpeople have taken action, and, in my opinion, rightly so. I am certain that if they were aware of the facts, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues would agree with me. The right hon. and learned: Gentle- 736 man mentioned the freedom of the individual. May I remind the House that during the building up of these unions there was victimisation, and not on a small scale? Members on this side of the House have suffered from victimisation, but hon. Gentlemen opposite did not come to this House to move any Amendment to the Address to prevent it. Employers today know that they cannot get away with victimisation, but they want to separate the organised workers. Is there any Member of this House who believes that 2,000 men would strike because one or two men were not in a union, unless there was a reason for it? Do hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that men strike, go without wages and involve them selves in financial difficulty without a reason? Therefore, I say to this House that if it is a question of maintaining the stability of negotiating machinery and agreements, and if it is a question of two men or 2,000 the two men have to go. There is no reason why in any industrial establishment, where a man plays the game, he should join a union. He can be a non-unionist. The fact of the matter is that some of the unionists do not want these men in the unions. If, besides being non-unionist, a man continually creates disputes, and uses his endeavours to persuade men to leave the union, there comes a time when the rest of the men say, "We have had enough of it, and we will take action." Will the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues say it is right that a non-unionist, who has made no contribution, financial or otherwise, should receive the benefits which have been gained by the trade unions?
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman since he has asked a question? I want in turn to ask him a question. Does he agree that a man who pays no taxes should be deprived of the use of water, police and other public services?
§ Mr. Williamson
I was asking a question of hon. Gentlemen opposite There is great expenditure put into the important negotiating machinery of this country. There are workmen who contribute towards that machinery. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite say openly that the non-unionist should receive those benefits without making any contribution at all. I would have every respect for the non-unionist if, after benefits had been gained, 737 he went to the employer and said, "I have had no part in these negotiations, and, therefore, I do not want to benefit." But he always takes them, and not only takes them, but says to the man working next to him: "You are a fool to pay your trade union contribution, because I get the same as you do, and I do not pay." Those are the men who are being encouraged by this Amendment, and we may as well face it. I say to this House that the organised trade unionists in this country will have none of it; nor will they allow any encouragement of the non-trade unionist. I put this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite: A case has been decided in the courts where a non-unionist sued for certain wages and conditions, and the judge declared that there was no contract between his trade union and his employer, and, therefore, he had no right in that court. I say that the time has come when the trade unionists of this country, if there are benefits to be gained by negotiations and not by strikes, ought to receive them by contract with the employer, and let non-unionists go into the industrial courts and other arbitration courts to negotiate for themselves.
There is no substance in this Amendment. If it passed through this House it would be serious, and it would not be only the T.U.C. or trade union "bosses" who would take note, but the men outside who, for the past 30 years, have brought wages up, brought hours down, and gained conditions like overtime and holidays. They intend to protect those conditions, and I hope that the House will not vote for this Amendment.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
There are three Amendments on this subject, all in substantial agreement with one another—the Amendment so ably moved by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers), the Amendment which stands in my name, and the Amendment that stood in the name of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) who made such a persuasive speech in seconding this Amendment today.
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Williamson) is quite right when he says that the last has not been heard of this subject. It was significant, I thought, when he said how serious the consequences 738 would be if this Amendment were adopted. The serious consequences would be, as explained by the mover and seconder, that there would be an inquiry. That is regarded by hon. Gentlemen opposite as serious. They may be right, because it would have serious consequences in showing up the nature of this tyranny against which, in three separate Amendments, we, on this side of the House, protest.
The hon. Member for Brigg tried to drag in the case of the non-unionist. Every speech that has been made in sap-port of this Amendment has pointed out that that is not the question which is now raised. I do not think that he could have seriously thought that so eminent a lawyer as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) was ignorant of the case of Allen v. Flood decided by the House of Lords in 1898. We all know that it is quite lawful to strike against the employment of non-union men, but that is not the question which is now raised. Let us take the example of the London Passenger Transport Board. First of all, the action which they took was admittedly rendered possible—and here, at least, every hon. Member is in agreement—by the repeal of the 1027 Act and in particular of Section 6 of that Act, against which my party fought as hard as it could. It moved, in an all-night Sitting, the exception from repeal of that Section of the 1927 Act, and I wish that on that occasion we had had the support of the Liberal Party, which we have today. Unfortunately, in that all-night Sitting, the Conservatives provided the only speakers on the relevant Amendment, although the hon. Member for North Dorset did vote with us on that occasion. The ex-chief Whip of his party voted on the other side, and only one other Member of his party appears to have been present. The action of the London Passenger Transport Board was the result of the repeal of the 1927 Act, and, as we know from Ministerial statements, it was the desired result of that repeal. The issue is not any question of the employment of non-union men: Admittedly the men to whom the members of the bigger union objected were trade unionists, like themselves. Secondly, the issue has nothing to do with who should negotiate with the em- 739 ployers. The bigger union had enjoyed that exclusive right from 1933.
It was the quite simple question whether one particular union should have the absolute monopoly of employment in the grades concerned. Whether that would be tolerable or not, if any man who wished to join it could do so, may be a matter for argument, but, as has been pointed out, and as is indeed claimed by hon. Members opposite, the union has an absolute right to refuse any application to join without giving any reason of any kind. There is no appeal whatsoever against such a refusal, a refusal that makes the man, if the industry concerned is a monopoly, into an industrial outlaw. I wonder whether there is any hon. Member opposite who, if he really grasps that, will believe that this country, where the traditions of freedom are fairly old, is going to tolerate a state of affairs in which a union, without being able to be called to account by anybody, can say to a man, "Either you join this union, if we will let you—but we may just not choose to let you—or you have to give up any right to earn your living in the industry."
§ Major Cecil Poole (Lichfield)
Is not that quite on a par with what obtains in many large industries, where a small trader, if he will not come into an industrial combine, finds that he is depriving himself of a livelihood because he is deprived of raw materials?
§ Mr. Strauss
How far that is the case may be a matter for debate. I am very anxious to be brief, but in so far as the hon. and gallant Member has a point to make, it could certainly be raised before the inquiry for which the hon. Member for North Dorset is asking. The Prime Minister, in the passage quoted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), declared himself against this principle of a single monopoly union in 1927. This matter has nothing to do with splinter unions. I believe that hon. Members are being quite sincere when they say that, in their opinion, this particular union in London Transport could be described as a splinter union. I do not agree with them, although they may be sincere in that contention; but it is obvious that that term "splinter union" 740 cannot be applied to many other unions to which the same objection is being raised. Sometimes the objection is that the smaller union is not affiliated to the T.U.C. Is that the case? If so, not only is the T.U.C. a political body, as has been pointed out—
§ Mr. Isaacs
Will the hon. and learned Member give one example of a worker being refused employment because his union was not affiliated to the T.U.C?
§ Mr. Strauss
I did not say he was refused employment. The attempt was made at Smithfield. In the case of the Smithfield Guild of Clerks and Salesmen, the strike against them was because, specifically, they were not a union affiliated to the T.U.C. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If that was not the reason, there was no reason. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was a splinter union."] An hon. Member opposite calls it a splinter union, but it is a union that has been recognised for years as a negotiating body in the grades concerned. Suppose that one makes the test T.U.C. affiliation, then N.A.L.G.O. is not affiliated and the N.U.T. is not affiliated. Do hon. Members opposite say that a trade union cannot be respectable unless it is affiliated to the T.U.C?
The case against the closed shop is, first of all, on the grounds of individual freedom. The hon. Member for North Dorset and the hon. Member for Rugby are perfectly right. That matter is raised quite clearly and acutely by the practice which we condemn. The Minister of.Labour, in his speech on the Third Reading of the Bill to repeal the 1927 Act, used these words:I am confident that I can give a pledge that the fears of victimisation, intimidation and prevention of the operation of conscience will not be realised as a result of any action by the trade unions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd April, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 1112.]I have no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly sincere in making that statement, but the action that is now being taken under this attempted enforcement of the closed shop is in many cases an absolute outrage on conscience.
§ Mr. Strauss
I should be wildly out of Order if I were to discuss conscription 741 on this Amendment. An example of a case where conscience is involved, quite clearly, is the case where, in the present state of affairs, a man objects to joining a trade union on the ground that it is definitely in favour of a limitation of output when he regards the increase of output as being in the public interest. Let me give another case: there is a strike at the present moment to enforce the right to drive dangerously. I say that, if any hon. Member does not think that the question of freedom is involved in this matter, he should read the obviously sincere words—the hon. Member did not realise how outrageous what he was saying sounded in the ears of all those who have some traditional regard for British liberty—of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. J. Edwards) in the last Debate on this subject. I hope the House will take notice of those words, because they put in a nutshell our different conceptions of freedom. This is what he said, in rebuking the hon. Member for North Dorset:He talked about the rights of individual human liberty. I want to put quite a contrary point of view. In my view, civilisation is beginning to reach maturity when the members of any community are intelligent enough to order their affairs and to compel the recalcitrant man, the ignorant man or the wicked man, to submit to compulsory rules for the common good of all men. I put it quite like that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, T946; Vol. 427, c. 664.]So did Hitler. I say that not only is individual freedom affected in this way, but so is the reputation of trade unionism, and I would commend to hon. Members opposite the comment made in a paper by no means unfriendly to them and not in the least favourable generally to my party—"The Economist," of 26th October. It pointed out that, if there was to be a limitation of human freedom, it ought to be by compulsion exercised on the authority of the State, and not by an irresponsible body outside.
On the political side a second point is made. The article pointed out the danger, if this thing is continued, of something like the labour front which we know in totalitarian countries. To show that that fear is not limited to Tories let me quote the words of Mr. Arthur Deakin in an interview which he gave to the "Daily Express." He said that his members "were against the closed shop, because it would lead to the danger of the British variation of the Nazi labour front idea."
742 Finally, on the economic side, I want to say that never has this country had greater need of an incentive to skill and sanctions against indolence than at the present time. Trade unionists in many cases are opposed to both these things. Let me quote this from "The Economist" as the final part of my argument.The closed shop doctrine would make matters worse, for it would still further banish both the carrot of reward and the stick of adversity. It is a doctrine for valetudinarians, for those who cherish repose and fear competition. It is emphatically not a doctrine for a country that has to make its way in the world all over again.I commend this Amendment to the House.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Manchester, Hulme)
I was really touched by the deep sincerity which rang in the voice of the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he spoke of the great fight which the trade unions had waged during the nineteenth century in order to come to their present position. He pointed out that his party had always been most sympathetic towards the unions in the fight. It may be pertinent for me to ask against whom the fight was waged. If we were all on one side and if, in fact, the unions were led by the leaders of the Tory Party, against whom was the fight waged? In these days when we see this solicitude from the other side we should remember the time when the Welsh valleys were filled by unemployed miners and the industrial North by unemployed engineers. We did not hear much about Amendments of this kind being put down to the Address or introduced under other kinds of Parliamentary procedure from hon. Members opposite.
The great struggle which has taken place since the birth of the trade union movement has, of course, been one which has been waged by people with an ordered mind. They realised that it was not sufficient merely to try to get better conditions for themselves, but that it was essential that they should organise themselves in a proper manner in order that the full weight of their arguments would be felt in those quarters which would not listen to any other type of argument. When listening to the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) I was struck by his emphasis on liberty and it is on this that I would like to speak for a few moments. 743 Does he really believe that liberty of itself is something akin to anarchy under certain conditions? Is it not true to say that when the hon. Gentleman comes to this House he accepts the Standing Orders of the House? By accepting those Standing Orders he sacrifices some of his liberty. So in an ordered society we must subject ourselves to proper discipline and to acceptance of our social responsibilities. When we submit the conditions in industry to negotiations between two organised bodies it is essential that the people who accept responsibility for signing agreements after negotiation with employers should, at the same time, be able to assure employers that they can see to it that those responsibilities will be carried out.
§ Mr. Lee
I am making the point that in an ordered society our aims should be the greatest good for the greatest number, and we cannot agree to condone what would become anarchy and chaos if we allowed it to obtain. From that point of view liberty is as much desired by the greatest number within industry, and, therefore, this question of liberty is conditional. It is not merely for one individual to place himself in a position irrespective of what views the vast number of his fellow workers hold. What does the issue of a closed shop imply? Surely, it implies, as several hon. Members have said, that those who benefit by the negotiating machinery which has been set up should, in fact, play their part in ensuring the continuity of that machine. That is, as we see it, precisely what the closed shop implies, and in these days, when the trade union movement has taken on far greater responsibilities than ever before, it is all the more incumbent upon trade unionists to see to it that their side of the bargain and their kind of responsibility is shared equally by all those people who participate in the benefit.
In these days the trade union movement is not only concerned with wages and conditions, but I think that both sides of the House will agree that it shoulders far 744 greater social responsibility than ever it did before. Again, I would reiterate the words of one of my hon. Friends, that had it not been for the ability of the trade union movement to accept that responsibility it is highly problematical whether we would be able to discuss liberty in any fashion at all in this Chamber this afternoon. We are all concerned that there should be peace in industry. If the Government's drive for increased production, backed as it is by Members in all quarters of the House, is to be a success, then peace in industry is an essential pre-requisite. I ask hon. Gentlemen whether, if they had to work side by side with persons who not only refused to be members of a trade union but also flaunted the fact that they were drawing more real wages because they did not pay any trade union money, that would make for peace in industry? Do they really believe that the ordinary sound fellow could really put his back into a productive effort under conditions of that kind?
It is essential that our people in industry should know that their effort is one of joint responsibility—and I make a particular point of this—not for wage increases on the production front, but responsibility for the training of trainees, dilutees, etc., which the trade unions undertook. This responsibility should not only be for the trade union boss, if hon. Members like to put it that way, but it implies that every member of a trade union should enter into the spirit of the effort, for only by that method can we get the maximum productivity from the workers of the country. I have heard people opposite talk about workers not paying trade union dues for reasons of conscience. I have had a pretty long experience, and I say that the next person who admits to me that he does not pay his trade union dues because his conscience prohibits him will be the first. I have never met a trade unionist who has said that. Almost inevitably it is their pockets that are touched and not their conscience.
It is necessary, when we arrive at agreement from which benefits in industry will inevitably accrue, that both sides should know that each has the ability to see to it that, in fact, the agreements are honoured. It is a matter, therefore, as I see it, of industrial anarchy and not industrial freedom. Unless we could get the ideal State—which, alas, we have not yet achieved—where each and every person in industry, 745 both employer and employed, could be trusted to give of his uttermost for the wellbeing of the State without coercion, then freedom of the type envisaged by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment is indeed a long way off. I have listened with attention to the efforts of hon. Gentlemen opposite to evoke sympathy from hon. Members on this side of the House for the breakaway unions. I know that one hon. Gentleman tonight is going to shed tears about the Aeronautical Engineers' Association, which has been mentioned already by another hon. Gentleman opposite. It is necessary that we should say that there are elements growing up today in the trade union movement, personified in particular by the union J have just mentioned, which are not neutral elements but are being deliberately fostered for the purpose of breaking the trade union movement, and particularly, to break the political power of the T.U.C.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
Can the hon. Member give any proof of what he has just said? Hon. Members opposite talk a great deal about the intentions of the so-called breakaway unions and of the intentions of employers in that connection. But can there be any proof at all?
§ Mr. Lee
Perhaps I can convince the hon. Gentleman in this way. This particular union came into existence during the war period under the agreement relaxation which I have mentioned, and which allowed trainees and dilutees to go into the industry. Skilled members of the A.E.U. taught the trainees to do the job, but before that position arose a relaxation form was signed whereby the persons concerned were brought in on a purely temporary basis and an undertaking given that when the needs for their services no longer existed, and the engineers came back from the war, they would leave the industry. That was implicit in their being brought in, but what have we seen since? They immediately set up a breakaway union and are now asking the Government to say, in spite of the pledges contained in the agreement between the employers and the union concerned, that they will be recognised as a bona fideunion and that the whole of these agreements will be scrapped over night. The burden of my argument is that the majority of these splinter trade unions against which the T.U.C. have set their face and against which we politically have set our face, are not merely neutral or just a healthy 746 growth of people who, perhaps, like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) are dissatisfied with the type of constitution of a particular union. There are unions which are insidious and are being deliberately brought to bear in order to weaken the power we have built up over a great many years. It is for that reason, and for that reason only, that we turn our face against them.
This movement has grown to its present position, not as has been implied from the benches opposite because we desire to curtail anybody's liberty, but precisely because millions of people in the country recognise that the fight against tyranny which the trade unions have pursued for years is the very embodiment of liberty. That is the reason why these benches are filled today. So far as we are concerned we do not wish to control the ability of any person to obtain work. Again, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite was so upset in his desire to get men work and so on, he really should have cast his mind back to the time when three or four million people were trudging the streets and the valleys hopelessly and helplessly asking for work, and when the great octopus led by the Tory Party denied them work and refused to allow them to get what they needed for their wives and children.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
The hon. Member for Hulme (Mr. F. Lee) received a definite challenge to give evidence that a particular union was being developed or had been sponsored for destructive purposes, but gave absolutely no such evidence. If I may say so, hon. Members who speak from the benches opposite are apt to make wild charges against those of us who support this very mild request. They make charges that we are anarchists, and that we are disruptive, and anti-union, without, in my opinion, producing any evidence in support of those charges. I am sorry that they have reacted in that way, because we think that we are making a constructive and very mild and reasonable suggestion. We are asking for an inquiry into the position of what we recognise to be organisations of the greatest importance to the country at the present time. I can only say that there is no sense of hostility to the unions among those of us who have put down this Amendment.
747 I do not come to the problem like the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) with 26 years' experience as a trade union organiser; I come to it as a Member of Parliament desiring to help those I represent, and I wish to put to the Minister of Labour a comparison between two of my constituents. Two neighbours happen to have been members of the trade union mentioned by the hon. Member for Hulme, the Aeronautical Engineers Association. Both were trained under the Government scheme during the war. Today one of them is a member of the A.E.U., but the other has stuck to the other union. The one who is a member of the A.E.U. is safely in employment, while the one who is not is under threat of dismissal, the moment there is any redundancy at the works. There is no difference in the training of those two men. They are equally skilled and both went through the same processes, but one is classed as a dilutee, because he is not a member of a particular trade union. An hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head, but it is a most extraordinary thing that at Belfast, where 98 men were concerned in a thing of this kind, just by chance of course, the 18 who joined the A.E.U. are all classed now as skilled workers, whereas the 80 who did not, are "redundant" workers and have either been dismissed or removed to other work.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am not going to give way. It is, no doubt, a pure coincidence that has made these particular people safe in their occupation. The hon. Member also left out one vitally important point, namely, that at the time this union was formed these men could only join the A.E.U. under that class of membership which is devoted to completely unskilled men and in which the benefits are practically nil.I believe this is known as Class 5A—I have tried to instruct myself on behalf of my constituents. That was the reason why the other trade union was formed. They could not get into the A.E.U., which would not have them except as unskilled workers. This other trade union was an organisation formed either of men who had been trained during the war, skilled workers in training centres, or else ex-airmen. Today it consists to the extent of almost 80 per cent. of ex-Service men.
748 Just before the General Election, attention was paid to this organisation by the Labour Party. Speakers, including the Lord Privy Seal, addressed a large gathering, including all the leaders of this union, and made them so enthusiastic about working class unity that they agreed that they had made a mistake in the past, and they applied to the T.U.C. and the Labour Party for membership. That was just before the Election. They applied as I say to the T.U.C. With a licence from the T.U.C. to be skilled, and to be employed, then one is all right, whatever the name of the trade union is. What happened? The matter was referred to the A.E.U. and to several other trade unions which were affected. The application to the T.U.C. was turned down—after the election. I would ask the Minister of Labour to recognise that this matter affects my constituents vitally, and to tell me how one gets into the T.U.C. How can an organisation get into the T.U.C? What determines affiliation? What are the rules? Is the decision purely arbitrary? Are there any rules an organisation can follow to ensure that it will be accepted? [Laughter.]What I have been saying is serious, although I may have made the mistake of putting it to hon. Members unseriously. It concerns the livelihood of these people.
The industry to which I am referring is a new one—servicing aircraft—and it is a highly skilled branch of engineering. The position of the trade union is that it still recruits members, who are loyal to it. It represents in civil aviation approximately 80 per cent. of the trade unionists—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Oh, yes—of those employed by the civil aviation corporations. Will the Minister carry out a secret ballot at the civil aviation airports among the civilian workers concerned, and announce in this House the result? Will he take the views of the men concerned about the union to which they wish to belong? I will be content and I will give way to him if he will give me that undertaking.
§ Mr. Roberts
The Minister has authority, and the civil aviation corporations are quite willing to do it. My 749 information is that only the advice of the-Minister of Labour prevents them from doing it. This, I should say, is not a political union.
I come back to the case of my two constituents. One man was a branch secretary of this union. He joined, I am informed, the Communist Party and the A.E.U. at the same time. The other remained faithful to this organisation and is under a threat of dismissal—[An HON. MEMBER: "Is he a Liberal?] I do not know what he is—I ask the Minister to say whether the cases which have been cited do not reinforce our argument that this matter should be looked into? It is a matter the facts of which ought to be made public, by a proper inquiry set up by the Government.
§ Mr. Bowles
On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) and other Members have also said they are demanding an inquiry. In this Amendment, Mr. Speaker, there is no reference to an inquiry. I am wondering whether the right Amendment has been read from the Chair, because there is no suggestion in it of an inquiry.
§ Mr. Roberts
I ask the Minister whether he will meet us by promising an inquiry of the sort I have suggested. I am one of those who believe that the function of trade unionism is changing and that it will continue to change as industries are nationalised. No doubt the position of the trade unions in Russia is very interesting, but it is very different from what it is in this country. If the trade unions are to give constructive help in the production drive, and in preventing industrial disputes in the future, as well as in creating the best conditions for the workers. I am sure there has to be a change in the attitude and in the position of trade unions. It will be a change which will give the trade unions a greater and more important position, but it will have to face the difficulty of the closed shop. Therefore I ask the Minister whether he can meet us in this matter.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) did, in the last half-dozen words of his speech come back to the subject of this afternoon's Debate. He ended with the words used in the opening 750 Speech, "the closed shop." The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brawn) reminded us that when he put a question to me a little time back about the closed shop I asked him what he meant by it. This afternoon he has told us what he meant by the closed shop. Strangely enough, however, the hon. Member never mentioned the particular kind of closed shop which has caused most of the misery and suffering in this country for years past, and that is the shop which is closed by the arbitrary employer, who says, "I will not have a trade unionist in my shop." There are some still, but not so many as there used to be. That is what we always knew as the closed shop in trade unionism. On the other hand, reference to a firm which was recognised as employing trade unionists to the limit was to a "trade union shop" or "trade union house." Naturally, when the hon. Member referred to a closed shop I wondered whether he was talking about the shop which was closed by the employer against the worker. There are other systems of the closed shop. There is the kind of closed shop brought about by the creation of the so-called Foremen's and Staff Mutual Benefit Society. There you get, not the shop but the avenues of promotion closed. A worker can be promoted to be a foreman, provided he joins the Foremen's Mutual Benefit Association. [Interruption.]Perhaps if they pay attention some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who have never worked in a workshop in their lives may learn something. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Isaacs
I have listened to every word of everybody else's speech without interruption, although on one or two occasions it needed a bit of doing. Let me complete my sentence. The point is that the applicant was told, "Yes, you can join the Foremen's and Staff Mutual Benefit Society if you want this job," but when he got the rules, of the association he found that it was a condition of membership that he should not belong to any trade union. Is that not part of the closed shop principle?
§ Mr. W. J. Brown
Will the Minister allow me? I gave way a good many times when I was speaking. I am much obliged for what he has said, but if he is opposed to the closed shop in the sense of a shop being closed against trade unionism, which is how I understand him, how on earth does he justify the fact that his own Government will not allow a policeman to belong to a union?
§ Mr. Isaacs
We shall deal with these points as we come to them. Here is another aspect of the closed shop. How many hon. Members opposite know, as some hon. Members on this side know, that there are many firms where one can get a job but on the understanding that one participates in the firms superannuation scheme. One is compelled to have a pension. That is very nice, but when one joins the pension fund, one finds that it is open to non-union members only. There are all these dodges. This Amendment does not ask for an inquiry or a Royal Commission although several hon. Members have ended their speeches with a plea for a Royal Commission. It asks for an indication of the Government's policy in these matters and I propose to deal with that aspect of the matter as I go along.
So many interesting things have been said, coming as they did from certain quarters of the House, that I was a little surprised, and, indeed, doubted my ears when we heard some of them. The mover of the Amendment said that he believed in 100 per cent. trade unionism as a legitimate aim but that it was the compulsion employed by trade union officials against workers who did not join that worried him. I assure the House that it is not the trade union official who makes a fuss about the non-union man but the other workmen in the shop. We heard from another hon. Member a plea for liberty and freedom, but is the attitude to be that the non-unionist is to be free to do what he likes while the trade unionist has to do what he does not like? There is no reason why a man should be compelled to work with another, if he does not want to. He is free to leave. We have had lawyers speaking about this, but they did not clear my mind on the point. I am not a lawyer but I believe, in relation to conspiracy, that what one man has a right to do on. his own, becomes a conspiracy if two men take part 752 in it. I know something about the Conspiracy Act. If one man has the right to say, "I will not work with that fellow," and has the right to walk out, so have all the others. What has been the circumstances? As the years have gone by, we have seen the trade union movement grow from strength to strength, and I ask any hon. Member whether he can honestly say that it has ever injured this country in the slightest degree. The growth of collective bargaining since the 1914–18 war up to now, has been of tremendous advantage to the country. I have known too many instances in which employers vigorously opposed their offices, firms or factories becoming trade union, but when it happened, they recognised it as an accomplished fact and agreed to meet the union and to make an agreement. Thereafter causes of dispute have, I will not say disappeared because they are not likely completely to disappear, but declined considerably.
After the 1914–18 war, in 15 months we lost 38 million working days in strikes. There were many small unions. An hon. Member has pleaded for the small unions and has been arguing against the existence of the large unions, but the large union has brought with it a sense of responsibility, discipline and organisation, which has offset many of the difficulties experienced in connection with the small unions. Instead of 38 million working days lost in the days when there were scores of unions and firms objecting to trade unionism, we have with our new outlook lost something under 3,500,000 working days in the same period after the 1939–45 war. I admit that many of these working days are lost on account of unofficial strikes, and the trade union movement has to re-examine its constitution, powers and authority to make sure that it can more effectively regulate its arrangements for consultations with the employers, and bring about a system of affairs where a dispute can be tackled far more quickly and thus avoid stoppages of work.
The hon. Member for Rugby said he had no use whatever for the non-unionist. He said that the closed shop was bad for the trade union movement, and that trade unionism meant the collective securing of individual rights. How can we go on with the collective securing of individual rights, if any individual has the 753 right to stand up and wreck the collective securing of those things? There are one or two other matters to which the hon. Member for Rugby referred. He referred to the T.U.C. at Brighton and to the trade union leaders, and also to the attitude taken by the trade unions. Knowing some of the T.U.C. leaders as he has done for many years—having crossed swords with many of them, and perhaps not loving many of them—the hon. Member for Rugby will admit that they are a capable body of men. The general council of the T.U.C. are men in high esteem in the trade union movement and their position in this matter is to their credit and not their discredit. He also said that the T.U.C. is a queer organisation and consists of a queer gathering of craft unions, industrial unions and general unions. So it does. The hon. Member aptly and correctly described the difference between those types of union. Here we have in this country these three separate groups—often with ideas very different one from another—working successfully in an organisation such as the T.U.C. which has nothing to equal it throughout the world, an organisation which, under its own constitution and machinery, is able to adjust differences between the trade unions. Some of us remember that the hon. Member has always been against the Government and has always enjoyed himself in that position, but his enjoyment does not always mean that he is right. Maybe in this case he knows he is wrong, and is having his bit of fun.
I must refer to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). If he will forgive me for saying so, I felt that for a learned counsel who with such distinction—and I say this with the greatest sincerity—upheld the credit of British justice in courts overseas quite recently, he was trying on this occasion to flog himself into a bit of a temper. He looked very angry once or twice, but I do not think he felt anger in his heart. He talked about the exclusive right to employment, and the right to earn a living, and a necessity for obtaining the consent of the Transport and General Workers' Union. He knows that is not right. Anyhow, one has to get the consent of some Bar association before one can plead at the Bar in our courts. There is a double-barrelled trade union there. I consulted a friend of mine who is a barrister and asked his advice. He 754 Said "You must not come to me, but send in that case through a solicitor—
§ Mr. Isaacs
Do not let me be led into saying that the Solicitors Society are the shop stewards of the Bar Association. That would never do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about paying lip service, and uttering pious platitudes, or words to that effect. I want to assure this House and the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the trade union movement with which I have been associated for so many years—and from which now I am severed, I do not know for how long—has a reputation for freedom. It does desire freedom. One of my hon. Friends behind me said a few moments ago that we have to think of the greatest good of the greatest number. If a manufacturer has large and valuable machinery running in his shop and somebody comes to him and says, "I have just dropped a piece of grit into your main bearing", do you think he would say, "It does not matter, let it run?" He would stop the machines and get the grit out. In exactly the same way, one mischievous anti-union worker in a shop can be the piece of grit that can destroy the whole organisation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman put in a plea for the small trade unions. He was very bady misled when he picked the Chemical Workers' Union and Mr. Edwards as an example. The trouble is that all of us on this side know these people and know the organisations. As a matter of fact, the headquarters of this organisation was in my constituency, and its general secretary was one of my supporters, but that does not prevent one from saying that this is an organisation which was once a break-away union. And this answers another point—it was once a break-away onion but, to use a modern phrase, if has worked its passage back. It has been decided that it has established its rights, that it has played the game, and so on, and although there was some opposition it has been brought back into the scope of the Trades Union Congress. But believe me, if it goes on as it is going on, it will cause any amount of trouble all over the place. The suggestion that we should take them to our hearts, and look upon them as an 755 example of good conduct is a little bit of a mistake The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the mining industry. He said that men would depend upon officials for their livelihood. That is not so. No official of the Mineworkers' Union will have the right to say that a man shall or shall not work. Believe me, membership of a trade union is a most cherished thing. People who want membership of a trade union, in the great number of organisations that I know, must make a personal appearance before the local committee, and the local committee decides whether they shall or shall not come in. In the days of the craft unions, obviously it depended upon whether they were good craftsmen; in the days of the general union, it depends upon whether they are prepared to say that they will observe the rules and constitution of the union. There is not one union in the mining industry. Every one runs away with the idea that there is only one union, but there are four—the Managers' Association, the Deputies' Association, the National Union of Mineworkers, and the Association of Scientific Workers. To say that union officials can prevent men from getting a card, makes it look as if these unions are in being to prevent people coming in, but that is not the case at all.
The hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) spoke about the "tyranny against which we protest." Some of us feel that the hon. and learned Gentleman "doth protest too much." We are a little doubtful sometimes, when he speaks in these forceful terms about the rights and freedom of the workers, whether there is not behind it all, a bitter opposition to the trade unionist, which may not come out in his words, but comes out in his gestures and manners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is my opinion and I express it. He referred to the Smithfield case, and drew certain deductions from it, but I ask him if he would be good enough to read the report of Sir John Forster, who conducted the inquiry at my request, and get the real facts about this case, instead of using it as an argument against the case we are putting to-day. He talked about unions not affiliated to the T.U.C. not being considered worthy of affiliation, or something of the sort. Again there is an excellent example to refute that. One of the biggest 756 of the professional trade unions in this country is the National Amalgamation of Local Government Officers.
§ Mr. Isaacs
All right, let us see how much you know about it, then. You say that they are outside the pale. Do you know—
§ Mr. Isaacs
I am sorry. I am perfectly certain that you, Mr. Speaker, and the House will accept my apology if I slip up in a case like that. I am trying to point out that the N.A.L.G.O. is not affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, and will not become affiliated. It does not want to be affiliated, but it works in the closest possible harmony with the T.U.C, because it is on one of the joint committees dealing with matters connected with local government service. I merely say that to show that there is no feeling in the T.U.C. against it.
A point is being made today about possible reactions to this attitude on the closed shop. I have referred to the fact that we have got the finest industrial relationship in this world I do not mind where you look or where you go, there is not a country in which there is a better relationship than there is here between the employers and the workers, taking it by and large, or between industry and the Government, whether it is the present Government or any other Government. I can recall that when Mr. Chamberlain was Prime Minister before the war, he asked the Trades Union Congress General Council to meet him, in his room in the old building, to consult with them and discuss the best means of cooperation in the pursuance of the war. He had no hesitation in asking them; he knew he could rely upon them, and the Council had no hesitation in giving him assurances. This relationship and cooperation between government and industry is not something that has just come into operation. It has been there, whatever the political colour of the Government, and will be there in the future, whatever the political colour of the Government. What we are worried about is that trade union organisation must be maintained if there is to be that effective relationship in industry, and between industry and the Government.
757 We have found, in looking at some of these strikes and disputes that have happened lately, the real dangers of break-away organisations. It is all very well to say that if a man cannot get satisfaction in his union, he has no rights, and so on. That is not a fact. If a man is dealt with by his branch, he can appeal from the branch to the district, from the district to the executive, and from the executive to the annual general meeting. Not many cases go so far. But if every individual with a grouse is to have the right to break away and form another union, where shall we get to? The trade union movement will be broken up into bits and pieces and nobody, I am sure, wants to see that.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with this point? A man whose application is rejected by a trade union, who is refused membership, has no appeal to anybody, and, if it is the sole union in the industry, he is refused the possibility of employment in his industry without any right of appeal at all.
§ Mr. Isaacs
The point is, how does he get into that industry at all? Where does he come from? I can understand a man who has never worked in an industry coming along and saying, "That looks a decent sort of job, I will make an application for it," but is that to be all? The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment ran off a lot of stuff just now about things of which I have heard nothing. He surely does not expect me to answer about two cases in his constituency—
§ Mr. Isaacs
I cannot attempt to answer on an individual case, without having had a chance to examine all the evidence.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Please let me make the point I am trying to make. The hon. Member for North Dorset dealt with the case of a man who wants to join a union, but has not the opportunity. Let us see the position as it is in each case. What sort of fellow is to be admitted? The union of which I was an official may have an application from a man who has never worked in the trade, and does not know enough about the business. Or the answer might be "We have 250 unemployed in this branch." Who is to act 758 as a tribunal to say whether the union shall take that man or not? Unions which are out to increase their membership, do not reject applications out of the whim of the moment. It will probably be found deep down, or on the surface, that there is a great deal of feeling against the man concerned. If we might make a test case of this between ourselves, I would not mind gambling that, by the time all the evidence comes out, something will come out of which the hon. Member his not been told.
§ Mr. Isaacs
We will not register it here, with Mr. Speaker looking on. I speak about trade unionism, not from the point of view of those who stand outside and look in. However good their intentions, they cannot understand the feelings and ideals of the workman in the shop, unless they work with him. The hon. Member for Rugby, who has a trade union record, approaches the subject in different circumstances, from the angle of the more cloistered Civil Service office, where they do not talk quite so bluntly and plainly as do the men in the shop.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown
If there is any suggestion that civil servants have a more limited, or less forceful, vocabulary than printers. I repudiate it.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I accepted the challenge from the hon. Member for North Dorset, but I will not accept that one. We have been asked what is the attitude of the Government on these matters. Please remember that this is a protest against the closed shop. We have been asked this very vital and important question about the attitude that only one union should be recognised. That is not the Trades Union Congress attitude. It is laid down by the Trades Union Congress that there shall not be a complete and absolute right of recognition in any industry to any one union. They will not say this class of worker must go into this union, and this class into another union. The American A.F. of L. does 1hat, but the Trades Union Congress does not. The Trades Union Congress has its own special committee, its disputes committee, which settles each case on its merits, and, as a rule, to the complete satisfaction of the unions that bring the cases before them. We have instances of that kind under notice at the moment, but perhaps it would not be wise to refer to them.
759 It is interesting to note that legislation has been passed by this House which has given absolute statutory recognition to certain trade unions in industry. It is in the Railways Act of 1921, which was brought in by the Coalition Government of Mr. Lloyd George, and introduced by Sir Eric Geddes, then Minister of Transport. The relevant Section states:'For the purpose of giving effect to, the foregoing provisions of this part of the Act…schemes shall be made and may, from time to time, be varied by a committee consisting of six representatives of the General Managers' Committee of the Railway Clearing House, and six representatives of the National Union of Railwaymen, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, and the Railway Clerks Association.Those are the unions which the railways must recognise—and Lord help a breakaway union there. We have been asked about nationalised industries, and what we are doing in that respect. This Government are opposed to putting into any legislation provisions as to which is to be the union, and what union is to be recognised. In the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, Section 46 says:'It shall be the duty of the Board to enter into consultation with organisations appearing to them to represent substantial proportions of the persons in the employment of the Board, or of any class of such persons.Further, in the Civil Aviation Act, Section 19, there is a very similar provision:It shall be the duty of the three corporations, except in so far as the corporation are satisfied that adequate machinery exists for achieving the purposes of this subsection, to seek consultation with any organisation appearing to the corporation to be appropriate with a view to the conclusion between the corporation and that organisation of such agreements. …We have been asked what the attitude of the Government is in these matters. It is that we believe that we can trust industry. While there may be a little breaking out here and there, no doubt on the part of the employers as well as of the workers, we believe industry wants to find
§ agreements by which it can work with the least possible disruption. I know it is sometimes said that it is the trade union officials who cause strikes. Believe me, there are more strikes prevented by trade union officials than are caused by them, and they would be very much happier without the worry of strikes. If the question of the closed shop is to be dealt with, it should be looked at in its full implications. If we are to trust industry, we must really trust industry. We believe that the method we have adopted in those two Acts, of saying "You must enter into negotiation with those who, in your opinion, represent this industry" is the right attitude. It is not the duty of the Government to step in and cause to be called into consultation this or that union, a pukkha union, or even a break away union.
§ We must oppose the Amendment be cause it contains a suggestion that the Trades Union government—the Trades Union Congress—[HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear."] I am glad of those cheers, or jeers, whichever they are, because they give me an opportunity of going on for one more minute. Hon. Members must not be led away I say by any bunkum about the domination by the Trades Union Congress. It has no domination over any trade union. It has not the power to give an order to any trade union, but can give counsel and advice, help and assistance. It has no power to give direction, and it cannot instruct on rules. It is purely an advisory body. Whatever ship of the tongue I may have made, it gives me the opportunity of saying that the Trades Union Congress is as free, unfettered, and uncontrolled as Parliament itself. It is the Parliament of Labour, and in that way it will carry on its good work.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 155: Noes, 316763
§ Main Question again proposed.