DURING most of this third phase of its development, the TUC's contacts with governments were more intermittent and its official relations with governments more distant than they had been during most of the previous period, when both Lloyd George and Winston Churchill had been quick to grasp the importance of bringing the representatives of organised labour into regular consultation and even during the first world war into active participation in the administration of government.
Now, when the second Labour Government of 1929 31 began to find itself in a tight corner, Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden showed themselves to be much less receptive to the TUC's views. They did eventually listen to the TUC's constructive proposals for combating the 1931 economic crisis; but they did not allow those proposals to deflect them at all from going ahead with the wholesale "economy" cuts that had been proposed to them by the apostles of orthodox finance.
The National Government which followed did break new ground by inviting two representatives of the TUC to attend the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa in 1932, as advisers. And, throughout the next seven years, there were a number of contacts between individual Cabinet Ministers and representatives of the TUC on specific measures of legislation affecting working people.
But on the major issues of trade and industry, poverty and unemployment, collective security and rearmament, peace and war, the TUC during the 1930's found it almost impossible to get a serious hearing from the National Government, the Baldwin Government or the Chamberlain Government.
Ever since the General Strike, Conservative Governments had instinctively treated the representatives of organised labour as men on the outside looking in. Even when the second world war broke out, the Chamberlain Government's attitude inhibited the initial work of the Ministry of Labour's newly formed National Joint Advisory Committee, which was supposed to assist the Minister, Ernest Brown, in formulating policy about such things as wage control, compulsory arbitration, and direction of labour. When the TUC now asked the Government for an assurance that the Trade Disputes Act of 1927 would be amended, Chamberlain indicated that trade unions were on probation for the course of the war and hinted that their behaviour would influence the Government's attitude on legislation.
So it was only when Winston Churchill took over the premiership from Chamberlain in May, 1940, and promptly invited Ernest Bevin to become Minister of Labour, that the TUC won its fight, not only to be heard by government, but to participate in it. At last, the men outside were in; and in to stay.
Nevertheless, during the bleak decade in which the TUC had been held at arms length by Governments it had done a colossal amount of work. So much so that when war broke out a unique portfolio had been compiled of detailed policies for advancing the nation's welfare.
During the 1930's, also, the TUC had continued to exercise vigilance about, and to react towards, any Government policy or action that could be of concern to working people and their families. And it had attempted itself to sponsor legislation that would be of benefit to them.
However, the sponsoring process proved difficult much more difficult in this decade than it had been earlier, when MPs of the new born Labour Party had been able to work on Asquith's Liberal Government with very fruitful results. But the Parliamentary Labour Party Opposition of the 1930's was in a weak position and attempts to introduce legislation either through the Parliamentary Party or through Private Members' Bills inevitably failed.
A melancholy case in point was the fate of the Workmen's Compensation Bill, a complete draft of which had been prepared by the TUC's Social Insurance Department that had been set up in 1928 at the time of the move to Transport House. This Bill sought compulsory insurance by employers to cover risks to their employees, so that injured workers and persons suffering from diseases contracted at work would be properly provided for. The Bill was presented to Parliament as a Private Member's Bill on several occasions in the 1930's, but it never reached the statute book so a major reform of the law on workmen's compensation had to await the election of the Labour Government and the Industrial Injuries Act of 1946.
Thus the General Council were obliged to look increasingly towards the Government of the day notwithstanding the fact that it was a Conservative Government for sponsoring legislation beneficial to workpeople. This approach; however, met with only occasional success. For example, after consistent pressure for legislation to protect young people and women at work, the Government eventually introduced the 1937 Factories Act and many clauses were altered after representations from the TUC Nevertheless, despite the success of this particular exercise in ad hoc consultation, permanent machinery for consistent consultation with the TUC had to await the outbreak of the second world war.
But, if in the decade before the war, consultation was only fitful, actual TUC and union participation in the official committees responsible for advising on the administration of the gradually growing Government agencies and services was increasing steadily, if slowly; from participation in a mere two at the beginning of the 1930's to ten by the end of 1939. So it was clear that the development of a number of TUC departments, staffed with specialists, to service its members serving on these official committees, was beginning to prove itself.
These specialist departments also serviced the TUC's own committees; and thereby enabled the TUC to take the initiative in formulating some extremely comprehensive policies on the control of industry. Public ownership (which was only one of the means of state control over industry advocated by the TUC) was argued in terms of Ministerial responsibility through public corporations. Workers' directors, whatever their trade union connections, were not to be appointed, or to act, as trade union representatives. The TUC looked for union participation in the future socialised or publicly controlled industries through the development of traditional collective bargaining and the extension of joint consultation. This line of thinking ran parallel with that which had begun to prevail in the Labour Party, after 1931, under Herbert Morrison's influence.
These detailed plans were for the future. Meanwhile, in the dismal present of the 1930's when British industry was ailing and the world was going down the long slide towards war, the TUC concentrated its effort and resources on changing the nation's opinions. This was attempted through comprehensive memoranda usually backed up by oral evidence and most frequently underpinned by a member of the General Council serving on the body which was carrying out a given investigation to a great number of Royal Commissions, Committees of Inquiry and Departmental Committees.
One of the TUC's principal concerns at this time was to educate the nation (and, if possible, the Government) about education. The 1930's were a period in which today's commonplace orthodoxies about "child centred" primary education were generally considered to be eccentric, or, at best, impracticable. The TUC utterly rejected that defeatist notion.
As for secondary education, the principle of secondary education for all (which was eventually to be enshrined in the Education Act of 1944) had been theoretically accepted in the 1920's.
For the trade union Movement, secondary education in practice meant the abolition of fees, a minimum school-leaving age of 16, and a common form of provision of "multi-lateral" (later called "comprehensive") schools for all children. The TUC recognised, earlier than most, that second class secondary moderns could not provide educational equality for the persistently underprivileged children of working people. And it said as much to the Spens Committee, which reported in 1938. But it was not until the 1960's that the TUC's radical reforming policies of the 1930's were widely accepted by public opinion, and acted on by governments.
On the economic front, this period saw the theories of John Maynard Keynes provide the sound intellectual framework for the views which trade unionists had always instinctively held and known to be right. Some of those were reflected in the TUC's policies on fiscal and monetary matters, and also in its attitude to certain industrial problems, such as that of the "Special Areas". All these questions were the subject of major inquiries by the State; and to most of the inquiries the TUC submitted evidence and conclusions.
For example, to the Macmillan Committee on Finance and Industry, on which J. M. Keynes and an extremely receptive Ernest Bevin both served, the TUC submitted evidence which included the following two important paragraphs:
But it was not only the TUC's thinking that was tinged by Keynsian theories. Keynes's work was not without influence in the policies and expedients of the National Government itself.
"Keynes" as G. D. H. Cole wrote, "could not . . . prevent the old notions being acted on when the slump hit Great Britain in 1931. But even under the `National' Government it was no longer possible for deflation to be carried to the extreme . ... `'
"It was not admitted that the Government had a responsibility for maintaining either wages or employment; but up to a point they were maintained because no one in authority dared push the attack on them to the extremes to which it would have been pushed before Trade Unions had become a power and before the `New Economics' had at any rate shaken a great many persons' confidence in the `Old'."
The concern of the General Council of the TUC for the adequacy of its case, no matter what the subject in hand might be, and its consequential concern for a public hearing and for influence on the country's affairs, is perhaps most clearly to be discerned in the methods that were used for the purpose of cooperating with the medical profession and the nation's scientists.
A Joint Committee of the British Medical Association and the TUC set up in 1938 with Dr. Charles Hill and J. L. Smyth (of the TUC Social Insurance Department) as joint secretaries, immediately got down to tackling two major problems: the problem of how best to establish a National Maternity Service, and the problem of how best to meet the need for Rehabilitation Centres for men and women injured in industrial accidents.
The news that the General Council of the TUC had decided to establish a Scientific Advisory Committee to enable Congress and its constituent unions to secure the consultative help and advice of leading scientists in some systematic and regular way, was announced by Ernest Bevin in his Presidential Address to the 1937 Congress.
Early in 1938, the British Association for the Advancement of Science requested that it should be allowed to nominate the members of the Advisory Council's Committee, so as to ensure political independence and scientific disinter . estedness. Among the distinguished scientists subsequently nominated were `Sir John Boyd Orr and Sir Daniel Hall (Nutrition and Agriculture); Professor PMS Blackett (Physics); Professor Lancelot Hogben (Population); and Professor J. D. Bernal (Metallurgy).
In July, 1939, the Advisory Committee set out a list of matters about which it felt that consultation was desirable. These included:
So, in a number of ways, the TUC by the end of the 1930's had accumulated information and constructive views on a wide range of subjects, about which it might well feel that it had a right to be heard by governments. In fact, by the outbreak of war there was no other major institution not excluding the political parties that was in possession of such comprehensive and detailed policies for advancing the nation's welfare as the TUC An asset for which the post war Labour Government was destined to be truly thankful.
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