Page 2, 16th August 1957

16th August 1957
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Page 2, 16th August 1957 — T. UNIONS AND INFLATION
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Organisations: Catholic Social Guild
Locations: Oxford

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Letters To The Editor •

Page 8 from 22nd November 1935

T. UNIONS AND INFLATION

Victimising 2-1 million Dependent on National Assistance for living

SIR,i-May I be permitted to comment on one of two of the points raised by correspond ems last week with reference to Mr. Douglas Hyde's article of July 26th ?

With regard to Mr. McLeanin the first place he would seem to justify the militancy of Mr. Cousins on the ground that it is an instrument through which the Secretary of the T.G.W.U. is carrying out the wishes of the members of his union. May I point out to Mr. McLean and to Mr. Walsh, oho seems to share his view, that the rightness or wrongness of Mr. Cousins' policy must not be made to depend primarily on its coincidence with the wishes of a tradeunion majority. What counts primarily is the rightness or wrongness of Mr. Cousins' policy in itself. Moreover, a policy right in itself, may not be advanced through the employment of unjust methods. The end does not justify the means.

I am not saying here whether Mr. Cousins' policy is right or wrong. I am making no pronouncement on the recent bus strike. What I am doing is to deny that majority sanction is a criterion of morality and that unjust means may be used morally for the prosecution of a purpose however good in itself.

In the second place, Mr. McLean tells us that Mr. Cousins' job as General Secretary of the T.G.W.U. is "to safeguard the living standards of his membership." I would suggest that this statement needs qualification through the addition to it of the following phrase: "through the employment of just means and in a manner consonant with the common good."

The first half of this qualification has just been explained. So far as concerns the second, it is important to notice that the common good is not served by inflation, that trade-union pressure undoubtedly contributes to it today in this country and so, particularly, to the desperate nlight of the 21 million members of the community who, in this year of grace, are dependent to a greater or lesser degree on National Assistance (what we used to call Poor Relief) for their livelihood.

We are brought to the brutal point, which we should have the courage to face fairly and squarely. It can be put in the form of a question as follows: In this year of grace in inflationary Britain is any section of the communitywhether it be the profit-making section, the salaried section or the wage-earning section-entitled to maintain its living standards or esen, to improse them at the price of adding to an inflation, which is hitting with particular violence the 24 million members of the community, who are largely dependent for their livelihood on National Assistance? Is it or is it not extortionate to thrust their standard of living down in order that yours may be advanced or at least maintained?

With regard to Mr. Walsh-am 1 to infer from the first paragraph of his letter that, because the rankand-file of the T.G.W.U. are against moderation, its leadership, therefore, should be immoderate and is right in so being? Am I to infer from his last paragraph that, since Mr. Cousins is supported by many Catholics in the T.G.W.U., Mr. Cousins' policy of militancy is therefore right? I find the first and last paragraphs of Mr. Walsh's letter very puzzling.

So far as concerns his second paragraph, I entirely agree that successive governments-Labour and Conservative-have had a very large part to play in the production of the post-war inflation. They have done this through an interest policy out of tune with economic reality, a taxation policy which has inflated costs and stultified incentive; above all, they have done it through a policy of excessive public spending.

I am sure Mr. Walsh will agree with me that the fact of government responsibility for so large a measure of the current inflation gives no section of the community any excuse for failing to do its best to fight against it. So far, with the exception of one period during Labour's term of office, neither the business nor the trade-union community has provided a conspicuous 'example of restraint in this matter. So far, each is blaming the other and both are waiting for the government to do something. Would it riot he better if each tried to do what it can itself? It is hard, I know, to be sane when government is silly; but, at least, one should try.

1 agree, secondly, with Mr. Walsh that "the average trade unionist no longer takes seriously warnings of financial disaster." He does so because he looks short like the rest of us and because he is strong enough, unlike most of us, to maiatain and improve his standard of living at the expense of other sections of the community, particularly the old and those dependent so largely on National Assistance for their livelihood. The fact that trade unionists behave in this fashion should not leave us complacent or cause us to condone their action in raising their standard of living at the price of that of the. oldest and weakest members of the community. Rather should we remind trade unionists that. though disaster for them has not yet come, they are helping to bring it to others. I would inform Mr. Walsh that financial disaster is already here for 2+ million members of the community.

In the words of Lord Beveridge in a recent letter to The Times; " Inflation is probably causing as 'much misery among the growing number of people past work as unemployment did (in the thirties) among those of working age and their dependents." We saw the misery of the unemployed in the thirties We do not see the misery of the old and those on National Assistance today. But the misery is there and. in the opinion of the Author of the Beveridge Report, it is as great now 4n our modern Welfare State as it was then.

Inflation is a killer just as unem

ployment was and. if it grows, it will strike down many more than its present victims. It will wipe out the economy of Britain lock, stock and barrel. Consequently, ee cannot he complacent about inflation and we cannot argue, as Mr. Walsh appears to argue in his letter that, because trade unionists do not take warnings of financial disaster seriously, therefore there is no point in giving them such warnings. If that is an inference to he drawn from Mr. Walsh's letter, it is an unfortunate one.

With regard to Mr. O'Neill-1 would agree that the object of a trade union is " to obtain just wages, proper hours of work, and to maintain the conditions of the working lives of members," Surely, however, Mr. O'Neill should not stop there. Would he not agree that one other vitally important task of a trade union or, for that matter, of an employers' association, is to work positively by every means in its power for industrial peace? To many of us, who are not trade unionists, it seems at the moment that the defence and improvement of workers' living standards is carried out by a policy and in a spirit which makes the attainment of industrial peace increasingly difficult. In other words, one object of trade-union policy is being pursued at the expense of the other. There is a want of balance here which leads many to believe -with justification I think-that the immoderates in the trade-union movement are gaining ground.

I do not deny for a moment that employers must carry a very large share of blame for this. 1 am content here to point to the fact and to urge Mr. O'Neill, Mr. Walsh and other Catholic trade-unionists, whilst never condoning injustice from the employers' side, to throw in the direction of moderation every scrap of influence they possess in the trade-union world. Is this not their plain duty in exactly the same way that it is the duty of Catholic employers to perform a similar task on their side'! Today, especially, Catholic employers and trade unionists should be outstanding in their pursuit of industrial peace. Are they? We are told that this is the layman's hour. What sort of an example are the laity setting as Catholics in the world of industry which is particularly their own? How many of them know Catholic social teaching? How many who know it make its principles the primary object of their allegiance?

I agree with Mr. O'Neill that the provincial busmen had a just cause. I would remind Mr. O'Neill that a just cause is only one of the conditions laid down by Catholic social teaching to make a strike just. I would point out. in consequence, that there is no moral substance to the argument which defends official strikes and "controlled militancy" on the ground that both are better than their unofficial and decontrolled counterparts. What matters about an official strike is whether it is just; what matters about controlled militancy is the goodness or badness of the means it uses and the morality of the objective in whose service it is employed.

I would remind Mr. O'Neill further that close contact between T.G.W.U. officials and the union's rank-and-file is wrongly won if its price is collusion in injustice; the same applies to the discrediting of Communist agitators and the reduction in number and extent of unofficial strikes. 1 would remind Mr. O'Neill as 1 have reminded Mr. Walsh that you may not do evil that good may come of it. Once again, the end does not justify the means. I am disturbed that Catholic trade unionists should show themselves somewhat unaware of this fact.

(Rev.) Paul Crane, S.J. Editor, "The Christian Democrat" and Secretary of the Catholic Social Guild. Catholic Social Guild,

Oxford.




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