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Unofficial Strikes (Communist Instigation)

Volume 478: debated on Friday 15 September 1950

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11.5 a.m.

In view of the statements that have been appearing in various newspapers during the last few days carrying reports of attempts to be made to cause serious industrial unrest in this country, I feel that I should warn the House and the country that these reports are not without foundation. I am speaking at a time when our men are facing serious risks in Korea and when it is essential that there should be no danger of interference with their supplies and their supports.

Evidence is accumulating that an organisation is being created chiefly by men prominent in previous unofficial strikes, including some who were expelled from their union because of their antiunion activities and others who have just returned from a meeting with their Cominform friends in Warsaw. These men are going about the country with promises and proposals that are impossible of fulfilment. This weekend a number of meetings are being held purporting to represent dockers, road transport workers and workers concerned with our meat supplies.

These meetings will have only one object in view, and that is to disorganise our essential services. Past experience proves this. The instigators are the same people and the technique is always the same. Trouble is fomented over any convenient grievance and the issue confused by introducing additional claims as a stoppage of work occurs. In the excitement of calling off the strike when it fails—as fail it must—the original demands are forgotten, and the net result to the workers in return for all the hardship and inconvenience they have occasioned themselves, their families and the community is precisely nil. But this does not matter to the instigators, their main purpose of causing trouble having been achieved, and they simply wait for the next opportunity. Apparently they think another opportunity will soon occur, but these attempts to create trouble cannot succeed if the workers refuse to be the catspaw. I earnestly appeal to them to be on their guard against all attempts to drag them into a struggle which will be to the detriment of the nation, themselves and their fellow workers. The Government are keeping a close watch on these activities and will not hesitate to take all necessary action.

I think the House will feel that the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made is one of the gravest made to us in the House in recent years in time of peace. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one supplementary question arising out of the last sentence of his statement, when he said that the Government will not hesitate to take all necessary action. Would that include legislative action?

May I ask the Leader of the House—I have to ask the question, because it is the only way I can say what I want to say—whether the Government will bear in mind that should it, on examination, be considered necessary to introduce such legislation, I am sure it would be the general desire of the House to sit, if necessary, longer in this brief Session in order to give it effect?

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. We will keep that in mind, but I do not think that will be necessary. Of course, we are not committed to legislation but as my right hon. Friend has said, we reserve all rights to proceed that way if we think it right.

May I ask a question that is a little different, but which arises out of this? Can the right hon. Gentleman or the Minister of Transport—you know, Mr. Speaker, that we asked for a Private Notice Question this morning—give us information of any action they have in mind to try to alleviate the difficulties of the population of London in going to their daily work at the present time?

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because it gives me an opportunity of giving the House a little more information on the situation.

At the moment 25 out of 52 garages are affected. I think the first thing we should do is to express our appreciation to all the men remaining at work, in spite of the insulting allegations made against them that they are blacklegs and scabs, because the blacklegs and scabs are the men who have "ratted" on their union and let the people down. There are 13,000 men and women and 2,464 vehicles affected. The men no doubt feel that they have a grievance, but it is significant to note that Communist agitators who have been expelled from office in their unions, appear to be taking a leading part in this strike, following the familiar pattern. The men should take up their grievances through the unions.

I anticipated the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman in the final part of his question. The matter is being considered. I say that in all seriousness, but our main hope is that the men who have been misled, and, to use a homely phrase, have been "led up the garden," will see this, and during the coming days will return to work. The fact that the majority of their comrades have not "fallen for" this stuff should encourage them to see that advantage is being taken of them.

In view of the very severe hardship, particularly in present weather conditions, that is being caused to millions of people who have to travel to their work in London, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether additional services by other means of transport, such as the underground railways and the suburban services, will be arranged for tonight in order to get the people home without undue discomfort?

Of course, I am not responsible for answering that directly, but I would anticipate that such is being done. In any event, I will undertake to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Will whatever arrangements are made for tonight, be continued while the strike is in progress?

Knowing the Ministry of Transport, I think that will be done, but I will draw their attention to it.

Is the Minister aware that there is a threatened strike of chemists in Scotland, and has he any information whether it is due to the instigation of Communists?

May I ask the Minister whether he proposes to take any steps, or can take any steps, to see that the very serious warning which he has given over this conspiracy gets down to what I might call garage level and bench level? Is there anything that can be done to make the ordinary patriotic trade unionist realise, by exhortation from His Majesty's Ministers, exactly what all this means?

Yes, Sir; we are considering such steps. I think that, in the main, the statement that I have been privileged to make to the House goes a long way down, but the question of making a direct broadcast is having attention.

Has the Minister given consideration to the question of genuine grievances? We agree that excuses are made in some cases, but there are genuine grievances about sick pay and superannuation in the transport service. Could they be ironed out?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, who gives me the opportunity of saying that the action the men have taken has put back the discussions, because negotiations and meetings are in hand and there are to be contacts today. We have made the contacts to discuss sick pay, and the fact that they have now stampeded these negotiations will prevent further discussion of that issue.

Would the Minister be good enough to see that the Minister of Transport is fully acquainted with the views of this House on the question of London transport facilities?

Is not this an occasion when my right hon. Friend, who is highly esteemed throughout the whole trade union movement, could make a statement on the radio to the nation, giving some of the facts on which he based his serious statement today, and take the nation into his confidence and give it full information?

That will be taken into consideration; the question is one of a favourable time.