AJ Cook, fiery leaders of the miners union, which after the collapse of the General Strike on May 12, stayed out until the end of November.
AFTER THE GENERAL STRIKE Bevin and Citrine now persistently emphasised the essential purpose of trade unionism: to safeguard and improve the standards of working people within the prevailing social system, and whatever government might be in power ‑though without abandoning trade union support for the political labour Movement.
To this end, they demanded recognition of the right of the trade union Movement to be consulted by Government and employers about any matter affecting workers' living standards or working conditions. And they also concerned themselves, as a priority, with everything which had a bearing on the efficiency of trade unions and the trade union Movement. Citrine, in particular, had a genius for tackling problems of organisation, structure and administration. It was he who rationalised the TUC office, developed the TUC Research Department, and, with Bevin, promoted the expansion of education especially through scholarships to Ruskin College, Oxford.
Demonstration along the Embankment, London, against the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill, 1927
Citrine also played a major part in the General Council's inquiry into the structure of the trade union Movement, requested by the 1924 Congress at Hull, and the results of which were presented by the General Council in a report to the 1927 Congress. In the interim, Citrine had written a crucial memorandum on the question of structure.
"I pointed out", he writes in his autobiography, "that the Trades Union Congress was itself a federal organization. I emphasised that it could not lay down any plan of reorganization which its affiliated unions could be compelled to accept. No matter what the TUC said, the individual unions always had the last word ....'
"I set out to examine the objects of trade unionism as stated in their rule books, but whilst the majority of the unions had been established with the primary purpose of dealing with improvements in wages and working conditions, in only a small number of cases was there a clear recognition that the trade union Movement had any wider purpose. `Function must determine structure', I wrote, `and that type of organization which will suit the minimum needs of a union's own members will not necessarily be best for the attainment of all the broader objects.' I defined these objects as
"As to the defects in trade union structure, they had long been apparent. I set them out as
Citrine's thinking was clearly discernible in the General Council's Report on Trade Union Structure to the 1927 Congress. The original Hull Congress resolution of 1924 had called on the General Council to draw up a scheme for union organisation by industry. The General Council's 1927 Report argued that industrial unions were not practicable. Instead, it proposed a number of major developments, such as the grouping of craft and occupational unions so as to reduce sectional conflicts and demarcation disputes; the setting‑up of joint bodies of unions, with power to deal with negotiations and trade matters ‑but without interfering with union autonomy on administrative and domestic matters; and the establishment of ‑a common fund for the trade benefits of such joint bodies.
The two dominant personalities in this new phase of T. U. C. history: Ernest Bevin and Walter Citrine.
Closer co‑ordination of policies on matters of general concern to the Movement was also called for by the General Council. They stressed the necessity for centralised negotiations with the Confederation of Employers Organisations to deal with general questions for the whole Movement, and recommended that "this necessary co‑ordination should be in the hands of the TUC through the medium of the General Council". Though it was to be some 40 years before this idea came at all close to getting off the ground. The General Council had much more success, however, when it came to seeking authority to deal with union disputes. By 1924 a number of "main principles" of good trade union practice had been established and formed the terms of reference of the TUC Disputes Committee when considering union disputes over membership.
The experience gained in dealing with a number of disputes in the late 20's and 30's led the General Council to make further proposals to the 1939 Bridlington Congress and these were approved. These "Bridlington principles" form the basis on which the TUC adjudicates on disputes about membership to this day.
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printed 20 May 2013 at 04:43 hrs by 22.214.171.124