The popular myth about the conservatism of the British workers has again been shaken. Gradually, but surely, there is another swing-over to industrial direct action. In spite of all the compromises of the so-called “workers’ parties” (which comprise very little the average worker) we find all the ingredients of a revolutionary labour movement actually in action.
Suddenly – on top of each other, almost – we find some unions giving a blank refusal to offers of co-operation in A.R.P., “National Service,” conscription and speed-up, unemployed demonstrations in the metropolis and elsewhere, and rent-strikes.
The three moves of producer, tenant and workless (it needs only a consumer’s boycott of blacklist firms and Fascist-import firms to complete the four ingredients of a revolutionary movement) are one. The workers have learnt from experience what conscription (under whatever name) means. It is the super-form of industrial warfare: militarisation of industry and almost martial law in time of strikes. A few unions have resisted: that is to the good. But it is not enough! Those who have agreed to co-operate with the Government (and we remember that the International Federation of Trade Unions refused to co-operate with our I.W.M.A. on a boycott of Franco) must be subjected to every criticism from the rank-and-file. The class-collaborationists and pro-conscriptionists, recruiting-sergeants and jobholders of the labour movement must be summarily expelled from the labour movement. If the unions co-operate with the Government, it means no strikes (“official,” that is) are possible, and “unofficial” strikes are rendered more difficult by Government supervision, restriction and use of “agents-provocateur” and industrial spies, as happens today in the dockyards. Those who hope that conscription will be satisfactory – as it will only affect youth – should not be persuaded that they are, from the point of view of their own interests, wrong: they too are not the people who should even be allowed inside a conscious labour movement. They are scabs at heart.
The tenants’ strikes are good news. Noticeably, they are all in London. The exodus from the Depressed Areas (which the Government orders us to euphemise as “Special” Areas!) in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the North, to the relatively prosperous South and London (where the new factories, etc., are, presumably to make them more easily bombed from the air) has made landlords inflated with their “prerogative” of choosing tenants. Rents are going up – while, in the London and Southern areas, partly because of A.R.P. scares, partly because of usual stinginess, conditions (even the lawful obligations to keep in good condition and repair) are getting worse.
Three strikes are reported, at the moment of writing. In Flower-and-Dean Street, one of the toughest parts of Spitalfields, a 100 per cent, solid strike demands lower rents and little better conditions. Somewhat akin to the wartime Glasgow rent strike, the women are leading the struggle to resist the landlord and his agents. In Quinn-square Buildings – scene of 1938 rent-strike – the eviction of a woman (with five children), one of last year’s strikers, is being resisted by the ENTIRE tenement. In the Peabody Estate at Clapham, a similar rent strike is threatened, in solidarity with the secretary of the Tenants’ Association, who is ordered to quit (victimisation being the reason).
It is interesting to note the remark of one of the Quinn-square Buildings tenants, made to a capitalist-journalist: “THE BAILIFFS SHALL NOT PASS!” The influence of the Spanish Revolution and the resistance of Madrid has reached through France to England!
The unemployed, barred, by the nature of things, from economic action, have been attacking the forces of the State machinery by demonstrations, which, moreover, were well calculated to win the sympathy of Londoners who, at least, have a sense of humour. The lying-down in the roadways, invasion of the Ritz, throwing-out of the banner at the elevated Monument, demanding a square meal (in paraphrase of the railway “distressed” shareholders demanding a “square deal”), chaining to the Unemployment Exchanges and so on, were all actions which focussed attention on the unemployed. And did it have effect? To such an extent that the capitalists were scared enough to throw out immediately a red herring to put the unemployed off the scent: the “Sunday Pictorial” in particular and the Fascists endeavoured to link up the Nazi demonstration in the West End against the German-Jewish refugee cinema appeals with… the unemployed’s counter-demonstrations!
The humbug about the refugee menace will be seen. None of these refugees take jobs in this country. The outcry was then against the charity appeals, but the fact of the matter is that the outcriers have not the slightest intention of rifling the funds of the Baldwin Appeal Fund, and giving it to the unemployed. All they intend to do is make a fuss about it, and get the unemployed to do the same, instead of attacking the U.A.B., P.A.C. and Unemployment Exchanges, where, after all something can be done. Fortunately, the unemployed (at any rate, as a whole) have not fallen for it.
It is regrettable that the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement is so completely in the hands of the non-revolutionary Communist Party, but even so rank-and-file pressure has forced these demonstrations. In the same way, the trade unions, under the control of Labour Party officials, can be forced to act, on their own bread-and-butter issues. The rising feeling, actually, could very soon force both C.P. and L.P. officials to become themselves eligible for the N.U.W.M.– and not as officials! The same feeling could organise these strikes – tenant, unemployed, producer – and link them up with consumer’s strikes. Tenant, producer, consumer – all are the same, and unemployed also the same (if not today, tomorrow).
There could be made out of this present feeling a movement towards continued direct action; a movement organised so that it could take control of the industries and dwellings when the bosses and bailiffs had been driven out for the last time.
Unfortunately, this feeling is being dissipated. The politicians will make capital out of it, and then it will all disappear, and the workers will, following another economic crisis, do the same things, and again it will be lost, and again, and again. There is only one thing to stop this waste of the workers’ efforts, and that is the organised propaganda that this revolutionary action is anarcho-syndicalist, if without the name, and that the only way for its logical outcome to be achieved is by the gradual building of an anarchist labour movement upon the lines indicated by the organisations that, as is seen, do spring into being on these occasions.
1 The PAC (Public Assistance Committee) and UAB (Unemployment Assistance Board) were the bodies which administered the hated means test to the unemployed (before and after the 1934 Unemployment Act)
From: Revolt!, 11 February 1939 [thanks to comrade IM].