Railway workers notes
Before the 20th century railwaymen were considered to be the most submissive section of the wage workers.
While miners and engineers had strikes the railroad workers seemed content to rub along without causing the employers much trouble.
One reason for this was because of the intense sectionalism which prevailed in the railway service. Due to the different grades of skilled and unskilled higher and lower, they developed fiercely jealousies regarding promotion and wages.
Section is with its inherent strife's enabled the railroad bosses to inaugurate an infamous system of discipline and servitude.
Recruiting as they did most of their employees from poorly paid agricultural districts, this fact, in conjunction with sectional jealousy explains why the Railmen were the lowest paid wage slaves in the country. It is also, with the exception of mining the most dangerous occupation in the world of industry. For some time casualties have averaged 2,500 per annum and, of which 500 have been fatal.
It is certain that these deaths and injuries were mainly caused by the lack of safety appliances which are the bosses refused to provide. The only safety appliances introduced have been those forced by the agitation of the men, although the number of train disasters may also have induced the employers to introduce safer methods in order to save their own skins
With the opening of the 20th century and the gradual rise in prices, without any commensurate increase in wages, the railroad workers became restless. With the intensification after we all by the introduction of a larger engines and heavier trains with the introduction of larger signal boxes and complicated signalling instruments, the men were driven to revolt.
Thus in 1906 a national programme was drawn up, a program we are more than a modest demands to recommend it, and was presented to the railroad directors, who refused to countenance it. That program could have been won but for the tragic and wavering policy of the leaders. Instead of listening to the unanimous voice of the workers, the leaders listened to the arch schemer - Lloyd George. He persuaded the leaders to accept one of his most transparent frauds, the Conciliation Scheme.
The scheme was workable. Under each of the men chafed and writhed. Slowly and surely the seeds of discontent were spreading. The climax was reached in 1911 when the rank and file broke out in open revolt and came out on strike. The strike was an attack upon the profits of Capital, and it was then Asquith promised to lend the state powers, the troops, etc to the railroad directors. That threat was met defiantly by the men. But where the bloody intentions of Asquith failed, the scheming wiles of the cunning and hypocritical Lloyd George succeeded. Once again the leaders betrayed, once again the Labour MPs demonstrated their timidity, and once again the Conciliation Scheme was accepted with amendments. But amendments mean nothing to pay days.
While all the railway workers may not have learned the real nature of their class position in society, the men are much clearer cited now than they were in 1906 or 1911. This is due to the presence of a new driving force in the shape of the educational classes at each of which scientific socialism is propagated. The fusion of three of the railway workers trade unions which resulted in the formation of the present National Union of Railwaymen in 1913 has assisted a little in unifying the aims of the railroad men.
Due to the activity of alert workers, the NUR has been compelled to open its ranks to all wage earners, irrespective of sex, employed in the railroad industry. The result is that the membership of the NUR has gone up to 370,000.
When the war broke out the men were on the point of again presenting their national programme. The leaders, however with out the consent of the rank and file, entered into another agreement with the Government which tied up the men for the duration of the war.
The rank and file demanded termination of this truce, but the demand was ignored by the leaders. The growing opposition to the NEC resulted in obtaining a war bonus in order to quieten the men. The attitude of the railwaymen towards the Government and the directors explains why the state stepped in and assumed control of the railways.
It was done to help the directors to beat the men. We recommend this point to those labourists who still pin their faith in state control. The present arrangements were not made by the rank and file. Thus it is well to remember this when J.H Thomas urges us to keep his agreements. And true to his past and chequered career this right honourable gentleman beseeches us to practice sacrifice, whilst the shippers, food exporters, and others are using our hunger to make profits. J.H.Thomas is incapable of understanding the Labour problem scientifically. He is the personification of a cheap and sinister emotionalism. He has moved only on the measure that the rank and file have pushed him. Unless he wakens up to the growing unrest in the NUR he may get a push some day which will land him outside the organisation.
There are many problems arising with the NUR regarding our women comrades and regarding the big railway shops at Derby, Eastleigh etc which the NUR leaders are unable to comprehend and settle. Many strikes have taken place. These will increase in future.
Within the NUR there is a splendid work for the industrial unionists. Let us, who understand what real unionism of the workers means, renew our efforts and give the NUR a revolutionary objective. Let us create a method for spreading the literature of industrial unionism among the members. Let us get in touch with the activities of those who are doing the same among the dockers and the miners. And let us, in a word consolidate our efforts so as to create the firment of revolution among the workers. By these means we will be able to show that industrial unionism does not seek to enter into agreements with capital, Barthes declared his intentions of linking up industrially with all wage earners to take and hold the means of production.
Let all railwaymen buy this paper and read it it shows what is happening among the workers and helps to guide the struggle. It is the paper we have been waiting for.
The Socialist - Socialist Labour Party