A.C.T.0 U. men on 'the facts'
`Catholic Herald' Reporter
N the East End of London over the week-end trade unionists everywhere were engulfed in "post-mortem" wrangles over the implications of the dock strike which had just apparently come to an end.
trade union traditions of "solidarity" are among the causes to which two leading Catholic trade unionists attribute the causes and events of the strike on the overtime issue and the division between union officials and their members.
Speaking on Sunday at an Upton Park meeting of the Associations of Catholic Trade Unionists, Mr. R. P. Walsh, Editor of The Catholic Worker, said : "Unions must accept the position that a problem exists in briefing their own members and the public with the facts of industrial disputes."
Mr. Tim O'Leary, Docks Group Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, related instances in support of his view that the many were swayed by the few against their better judgment merely in order "that they might be one.'' Not interested At one stage, of 2.000 men at Tilbury, only 500 had stopped work. Mr. O'Leary addressed the strikers. Four hundred of them voted to go hack, The remaining 100 "were harangued by Mr. Spalding." Later in the day the dissidents talked throughout the dock.
"The next day they were all out"— all 2,000 of them —"yet Tilbury wasn't interested in the overtime ban," said Mr. O'Leary. "They had never accepted it there."
Mr. O'Leary told me later that in his view the majority of the dock strikers throughout the country would have gone back to work long
before •the beginning of this week if they had followed their own instincts.
Questioned on the LI o c k e r alleged lack of confidence in his own union, he replied : "On the contrary. during the last six months many N.A.S.D. men have applied for membership of the T.G.W.U."
The men were going hack, he said, on the very terms proposed since the beginning of the year by the T.G.W.U. and the employers. He now had to face the task of "clearing up the mess" created by others.
The Minister of Labour, Sir Walter Monckton, told the Commons on Monday that the terms accepted now differ in no material respect from those available nine months ago.
Too big ?
I asked Mr. O'Leary on Sunday what he had to say about the widely held view that the T.G.W.U. is too big, out of touch with its own members and therefore not representative of them.
"In my union," he replied, "there is roughly one official to every 1,000 members—a much higher allocation than in many other groups. If you break the union up into smaller sections you destroy the very thing the men want solidarity. A big industry necessitates a big union.
"None of our men can say that they have no access to union officials."
The trade union movement's traditions of solidarity, said Mr. Walsh, do not mean that "you should support the man in the wrong merely for the sake of being solid with him,"
Catholic trade union men. he said. must make it their business to "get the facts, get the correct story. and relate them to the moral teaching of the Church." And when anything contrary to it is said at union meetings, they must "have the courage to stand up and tell them they're wrong"—with reasons.
Urging Catholic workers to be intelligent union members and to acquaint themselves with the social writings of the Popes and the facts of day-to-day events. he said: "We live in a semi-illiterate age. New means are necessary to put over to unionists who don't attend their meetings what they need to know.
The common good
"So few arc willing to study and discuss questions of the day. So many want to be spoonfed, In some union branches the officials think things are looking up if they get a live per cent. attendance at meetings."
And in one case where the proportions were higher. of 40 members attending regularly. 23 were Communists. .
In view of the Christian moral teaching that strikes, like wars, should not be declared save as a last resort, and of the conciliation machinery that exists for the settlement of industrial disputes, "it is difficult. in my opinion. to see how any strike can he justified today," said Mr. Walsh.
Since medieval times the Church, when speaking of social and economic problems, has always laid the emphasis on the common' good.
"Unionists are answerable for the harm they may do to the common good of this country" when they strike, if the harm is out of proportion to the benefits they hope to achieve, And to preserve that order "which
the Church has always hoped for and dreamt of," industrial agreements, freely and validly made, "must be regarded as sacred" until they are varied by the proper method.
It is because the N.A.S.D. were in breach of their agreement, says Mr. O'Leary, that the whole conciliation machinery between dockers and employers broke down, leaving many questions, in addition to the overtime dispute, unsettled.
After discussions with a number of union men, I am left in no doubt that there are and have been many genuine individual grievances about overtime, especially among middleaged men who find it hard at the end of the day to be told arbitrarily to carry on for another couple of hours.
But the hope is that the difficulties of applying in practice a labour scheme which is acceptable to employers and men in principle—and, in the main, always has been, according to the union leaders—will he solved by the discussions now about to take place.
First proposed nine months ago, the purpose of the talks is to find a method of applying in the day-to-day routine the freely contracted obligation to work reasonable periods of overtime in a manner more agreeable and acceptable to the men.
It is beyond doubt that the Communists "moved in" quickly on the overtime dispute and made the most of it. Mr. Walsh told me that in his view they were the originators of the trouble in Hull and in Southampton.
Every time trouble has broken out on the Mersey, he says, it has been quite apparent afterwards that the Reds were at the back of it,
It was Communist leaders of the new local unofficial strike which broke out on Monday who issued the threat of extending it more widely if action against the men who refused to handle loads for lorries driven by non-union men were not withdrawn,
I asked a T.G.W.t I. spokesman on Tuesday whether he expected that his union would suffer 'loss of membership because of Mr. Barrett's so-called moral victory.
"No," he replied. "I think the men are realising that the whole business was utterly unnecessary."