By Michael de La Bcdoyere
2kGOOD deal of the general confusion among press and public about presentday industrial relations has been made evident over the action of the teachers in threatening to terminate their engagements as a protest against the enforcement of the " closed shop" in Durham.
In the first place, we now take the "closed shop" very much for granted when enforced by the Unions, despite the fact that the policy militates against the original right claimed and fought for by the workers, namely the freedom to act collectively in their own interests.
That right, defended by all enlightened Christians among others, simply means that workers who wish to join together to protect their common interest are legally and morally entitled to do
Unions enforcing the " closed shop," are in fact denying this right to such of their fellow workers as wish to act collectively outside a single trade union. The weapon of force is used to enforce that piece of totalitarianism.
When employers, and especially State employers, join in with the unions to enforce the "closed shop," as has happened in Durham, the original workers' right has, so to speak, been turned right over on its head. A legal and moral right of free action has been virtually converted into a legal and moral tyranny to deny the exercise of that right.
It is clear that we have made good headway along the path which ultimately leads to the type of Unionism enforced in Fascist or Communist countries, namely the use of industrial labour organisation to enforce a dictated political policy.
The Hurhant teachers
THE action of the Durham
teachers has been widely called a threat to strike. But a collective action to terminate engagements in a perfectly legal fashion is not, properly speaking, a strike at all.
A real strike involves the breaking of engagements and becomes a just strike when the natural rights of the workers have a prior moral claim to the conditions of work imposed.
It is also a condition of a just strike that there should be a proportion between the advantages to be obtained from the strike and its general consequences to the community. As in a just war, the general evil consequences to be expected must not overshadow the gains fought for.
The present quasi-totalitarian union organisation has involved the illegality of unofficial strikes. But from the point of view of justice, it is possible that an unofficial strike may have a better moral foundation than an official one.
THESE matters may seem somewhat academic, hut it is because we so largely forget them that we have slid into the sort of situation in which respectable words and respectable actions are commonly accepted even though they may be quite indefensible and have for their end, not merely the disruption of the constriunity at large, but the ultimate injuring of the very people who strike.
An enormous change has taken place irt industrial organisation since the legality of strikes and collective action were recognised.
The great industries of the country are now organised on so wide a basis and so interlocked that any major strike must have the gravest complications for the community generally and, therefore, for the strikers themselves as citizens.
Trade unions have also grown into mammoth size so that the smallest dispute threatens to have nation-wide consequences.
The policy of the "closed shop" virtually eliminates smaller unions which can better protect the real interests of their members without involving national trouble whenever strike action seems indicated.
Lastly, public employment on an immensely wide scale involves a double additional danger.
In the first Place, while it tends to diminish the number of large scale strikes, so long as the employers are Labour, it encourages unofficial strikes which are essentially disruptive to any peaceful industrial relations, and it may well make government by non-Labour political employers virtually impossible.
In the second place, because the resources available to State employers are in the long run as flexible as the taxable capacity of the people there can be no logical end ta the claims which the employee may feel entitled to make. We have yet to experience the possible results of this situation under conditions of inflation and a government which the workers'as a whole oppose.
THIS is a very alarming state of affairs because practically nothing has been done to recognise its real nature and to face it.
We have allowed fresh conditions of industrial relations to develop, some of which were inevitable and some extremely suspicious when we bear in mind the original aims and nature of the workers' fight for freedom; but we ha've been content with the old-fashioned methods of controlling the new situation.
If the control became manifestly impracticable, then, without thinking the matter out, we allowed circumstances to dictate our behaviour.
The conditions of war and the tenure of office by a Labour government exercising a very rigid control—not in itself a condition about which lovers of freedom can ever be very happyhave so far masked a situation that is full of perils.
It may seem at first sight to superficial Labour supporters a matter for satisfaction that a possible Tory government in conditions of rising prices will find the peaceful control of industrial relations virtually impossible, but any such development can break the whole British conception of democratic government, and thus prove disastrous for all who do not call themselves communists or fascists.
Before it is too late some very hard thinking about our whole industrial-labour position needs to he done.