At the recent conference of the Confederation of Ship building and Engineering Unions at Hastings a number of resolutions were tabled and passed indicating the main policy and demands of the constituent unions during the next twelve months.
These demands include a 40 hour week with the threat of an embargo on overtime in order to enforce it. three weeks paid holiday instead of two as at present, and a substantial increase in pay. Every support has been given to these militant declarations by the main speakers at the T.U. Congress at Blackpool although perhaps in a less forceful manner. Nonetheless the procedure flows from the same time honoured but futile mould.
The use of threats is unfortunate, as also is the tendency to talk of widespread strikes even before any specific submission has been made to employers concerning wage levels.
It would appear that these threats are primarily directed against the government, but it must be made clear that in the main. whatever party is in power, their role in industrial relationship in a free enterprise economy is quite secondary to that of the employers and their employees on whom the main responsibility rests. Now there is nothing unusual about the pattern of these resolutions and they have received considerable publicity in the National Pleas. The employers have been given ample warning of the probable developments in the sphere of shipbuilding and engineering from the trade union side and the prospect would appear to be that any lasting peace or understanding is more remote than ever.
No more loyalty, probably even less. exists among employers than among trade unionists, and it is undoubtedly time the former realised the vital necessity of setting their house in order, and approaching their problems in unison and in an honest and Christian spirit. They should make plain their case concerning profits, dividends and replacement costs, as the unions have attempted to make theirs. and educate public opinon to understand that rights and privileges exist on both sides, and that the common good can only benefit from complete revelation and unbiased analysis of all the aspects of the restrictive practices which have sullied the atmosphere in these industries for so long. It is evident that unless employers commence to think in terms of the common good and enter negotiations without the completely negative approach which has become the established routine, no change in trade union tactics can be anticipated. The employers hold the initiative and they should act in the interests of all concerned including the customer who is never consulted, but pays the piper.
The shipbuilding and engineering industries are extremely vital to the economic structure and prosperity of this country, and economic suicide is not in the programme of either the employers or the trade unions, although intelligent observers may sometimes be led to think otherwise. Nor is it any excuse to place the responsibility for an unsatisfactory situation on those trade union leaders who have reputations as communists or extremists. Their powers on specific occasions may be formidable, but the threat of it being ill-used should not deter employers from action, and from being meticulous and forthright in their statements and dealings.
The wage structure, in company with most of the conditions relating to it require drastic overhaul, and if both employers and trade unions were prepared to examine it in a charitable and impartial frame of mind in an effort to abolish the monstrosities. analogies. weaknesses and other disproportionate factors, there can be little doubt that just rates of pay can be improved with a commensurate improvement in production, without which latter only a deadlock or unemployment will he the final answer.
The average employee is a reasonably minded human being who although influenced by his trade union propaganda, and content in many cases to be led by the oratory of his leaders, is able to appreciate the legality and sincerity of an argument when put to him in the correct manner and in strict honesty. Employers should give more information in a form that can he understood, take their individual employees into their confidence, foster the feeling of interdependence, and step down a little from the pedestal which used to hear the inscription "Might is Right" but which now has rapidly crumbling foundations. It will be no contribution to social reform or progress for trade unionism to ascend this pedestal.
In research and development programmes human relations should be at the head of the list because the mass of the fruits of technical progress niay well be dissipated in a welter of human bitterness and misunderstanding. The blame is not all in one camp and attempts by either side to wage permanent hostilities is nothing short of criminal as well as having a sad and debilitating effect on the industry concerned.
For employers and trade unionists alike the aim should be to reduce the doctrine of the Mystical Body to practical terms. and it is their duty to seize every opportunity to expound this principle and to use their strength to force its application in the solution of their mutual problems.
F. H. Formby, Chairman, A.C.M.E. 5. Orchard Drive,