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Nationalised Industries (Membership Of Trade Unions)

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1952

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3.33 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to introduce a Bill entitled the Nationalised Industries (Membership of Trade Unions) Bill, to prohibit the payment of money by the boards of nationalised industries to certain organisations which prohibit their members from being members of trade unions.
I have every hope that the objectives of the Bill will prove to be non-controversial since my action in proposing this Motion is supported by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and the Bill, if leave be given to present it, will be sponsored by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. On this side of the House it is supported by hon. Friends of mine who have given many long years of most distinguished service to the trade union movement, the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Wallace). On the other side of the House it is supported by the hon. Members for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), and Somerset, North (Mr. Leather). I desire to express my grati- tude to all those hon. Gentlemen for their encouragement and support.

I have no doubt that there will be hon. Members who will be surprised to discover that in this enlightened age there exists an organisation which debars from membership and from receiving the benefits of membership persons on no ground other than that those persons are trade unionists. In view of the fact that on many occasions in this House universal tributes are paid from all sides to the trade union movement, to its stability, to its high morale and to its great value to our national economy, it will be surprising no doubt to some hon. Members to discover that there is an organisation which considers membership of a trade union to be incompatible with membership of itself. Those members—and there are some on both sides of the House—who have been vocal in condemning what is called the principle of the closed shop, will, in particular, I am sure, condemn the operation of what is, in fact, a closed shop in reverse, a shop which is closed to members of the trade union movement.

I can describe the point of the Bill quite briefly. In the engineering industry there is an organisation called the Foremen and Staffs Mutual Benefit Society, which gives considerable sickness and other benefits to those employees of certain federated firms who are foremen, or of comparable grade, or above it. Their funds are financed partly by payments from the members and partly by a substantial subsidy from the employers.

Any employee of appropriate rank can become a member of the organisation and receive its benefits on two provisos, first, that he is nominated for membership, not by another member of the organisation, but by his employer, and, second, that he is not and will undertake not to become a member of a trade union. Indeed, in the constitution of this society, Clause 7 reads as follows:
"Members of a trade union either registered or unregistered shall not be proposed as ordinary members of the society, and if any ordinary member becomes a member of a trade union either registered or unregistered he shall thereupon cease to be a member of this society."
This is a sort of closed shop. It is a piece of sheer discrimination against trade unionists. No trade unionist can join the fund, and anybody who is a member of the fund and thereafter joins a union loses his membership, and loses, at the same time, all his accumulated benefits as a member. I would add—and I am sorry to have to add this—that there are cases on record of firms in which men are not promoted to foreman rank unless they are members of this fund, that is to say, unless they are not trade unionists; in other words, trade unionists are ipso facto debarred from promotion.

The Trades Union Congress has concerned itself with the injustices of this arrangement for many years. As long ago as the annual congress of 1923, a resolution against the discrimination enforced in this body's constitution was moved by the Amalgamated Engineering Union and seconded by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation. It was supported by members of other unions, such as draughtsmen, distributive workers, railwaymen and marine workers, and it was carried by a large majority.

I will not weary the House by going through the whole of this history, but will come to recent times. A similar resolution was carried in 1942. The General Council has further reported on the matter at the annual congresses of 1943, 1944, 1946, and 1947. In 1944 also, the Non-Manual Workers Advisory Council of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, at its annual meeting, passed a similar resolution, and in 1946 the 53 trades councils all over the country went on record in the same way.

Finally, the General Council of the trade union movement as a whole has not found it easy to deal with this highly complex problem. It is obvious that there are many difficulties in the way of legislating on a subject covering the whole field of British industry, but, following the nationalisation of a number of industries since the war, a quite new situation has arisen. A number of firms which incorporate the membership of this society have been taken over by nationalised industries, notably electricity and steel. We have now reached the situation in which public bodies are paying from public funds money to subsidise an avowedly anti-trade union organisation.

It may be argued with respect to private employers that they can do what they like with their own money, but everybody will find it repugnant that public bodies should subsidise an organisation out of public funds which discriminates against trade unionists in this way. This Bill aims at preventing the corporations of the nationalised industries from financing or assisting to finance an anti-trade union body. I hope that this worthy objective will have the unanimous support of the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. I. Mikardo, Mr. S. P. Viant, Mr. Harry Wallace, Mr. Reader Harris, Mr. Geoffrey Bing, and Mr. Edwin Leather.