wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson

Left Luggage

The college's output is to be measured in terms of scholarship and research, not of sanitation and laundry. The regiment's reputation is earned not in barracks but in battle. The living and impressive tradition must always center on the institution's external purpose. The ship is magnificent but only in relation to what she is doing or has done. She must be going somewhere, or must, at the least, have done something in her time. But this is where the trade union fails at the outset. It is a ship which exists solely for the benefit of its crew. It is not designed, like a cathedral, for the glory of God. It is not planned, like a palace, for enthroning a monarch. It is not organized, like a university, for the furtherance of learning. It was not raised, like a regiment, for the defense of the realm. It exists for itself, for its members, and (perhaps) for the working class as a whole.

There is no crime in marching under a banner inscribed with the stirring motto 'More pay, less work, better conditions and a closed shop.' The disadvantage lies only in the weakness of the army to which such a motto can appeal. Troops have often laid down their lives for God or the Emperor, for their Regiment or for the Flag. You cannot expect them to lay down their lives in pursuit of a higher standard of living. For one thing, it makes no sense, the higher wages not being payable to those have died in the effort to gain them. To endure discomfort with the object of securing eventual comfort is reasonable, but only up to a point. To perish, on the other hand, so that the next generation should be better paid is plainly absurd. And granted that a few people may sacrifice themselves in this or any other cause, all average common sense is against it. This being so, the union fails to surround itself with the glamour which is the attraction of the Ark Royal, the Black Watch or Fighter Command. It does not clothe itself with the outward show which suggests the inner meaning. It has no real equivalent for the Guards Chapel or the Royal Tournament. There is enough danger in mining to create a certain esprit de corps, enough to inspire a colliery brass band. But the unions remain otherwise colorless, incapable of attracting the bequests and endowments which go, by contrast, to the Freemasons or the National Trust. Some sentiment may attach to the singing of the lugubrious 'Red Flag.' There may be some talk about Martyrs in the Sacred Cause. It is a question, however, whether the union's dependable support is equal to that which may surround a Third Division football side. Lacking the quality of high romance, the members of a Trade Union have joined together for an object which is material at best and sordid at worst. There is a sense therefore in which their organization never quite comes alive.

That the Trade Unions are unconstructive has been apparent from their history. Demanding much that was reasonable, they have seldom claimed (as they might reasonably have done) a voice in management. Whether a concession in this field would have made for efficiency is perhaps doubtful. The point is, however, that the claim is rarely put forward. Employees seem happy to leave all responsibility to the management. Demanding, on occasion, that the management shall be nationalized, they admit from the outset that management must exist. This reluctance to assume any sort of responsibility is not the result of mere diffidence. The leaders' fear is that they may be identified with the directors rather than the men. They might be involved, moreover, in some labor-saving scheme which would reduce the number employed in a rival factory if not in their own. In a keenly competitive industry any one company may plan to drive another out of business. How can a director taken from the factory floor agree to that? His loyalty is not to the firm but to the wage-earners, to the men who may be thrown out of work. All this may be natural enough but the result is to confine the union leaders to a mainly negative task. If offered information, they would often rather go without it. If asked for their advice they have rarely anything to say.

If they are timid in some respects, the Trade Unions are aggressive in negotiation and cannot be otherwise. To keep in business a union has to do something. Each year there must be a fresh demand, without which the union will lose membership. Members expect to see some return for their subscriptions and union officials are not paid to be inactive. Lacking a grievance, they will have to invent one. Realizing this, the directors must make a show of reluctance, postponing the inevitable concession until it looks like a victory for the employees. If the union is quiescent it will lose membership, most probably to another union. Its officials, honorary or paid, can always gain consequence on the other hand, from their decision to do battle. Any Trade Union has, therefore, a built-in aggressiveness, without which it can hardly survive. Nothing can be more damaging to the union official than the rumor that he is friendly with the management. This can only be the result of the blackest treachery, it is assumed, and the official has to stage a conflict in order to secure his own re-election. Aggressive toward management, the unions are almost as aggressive toward each other, competing for membership and staging frontier disputes over the exact territory which belongs to each. Nor is this perpetual unrest the fault of individuals. It is a characteristic of union organization and one for which there is no obvious remedy.

Unions have, finally, the urge to expand. To the extent that this expansion may eliminate inter-union conflict, this empire-building has its value. It also reflects the same tendency in management, the amalgamation of companies being paralleled by the amalgamation of unions, and may seem to that extent inevitable. But the organization which is the end product is not very different from the industrial group which is its natural opponent. The head office of the union looks very much like any other head office and has all the drawbacks which derive from complexity and size. For the aggrieved individual the union is almost as daunting as the Ministry of Labour, with just as great a likelihood of the file being lost or the matter being shelved. The union headquarters staff may run into hundreds. 'They are all working for you!' says the shop steward to the newly joined member. But this is manifest nonsense. They are working for themselves, for each other and for the organization, which exists again mainly for itself.