The Clyde Workers' Committee, 1915

Submitted by Janine on 5 November, 2011 - 8:22

Brief extract from James Hinton, The First Shop Stewards' Movement (1973):

The Clyde Workers’ Committee originated in the failure of the union Executives, or District Committees, to place themselves at the head of the militancy of a section of the Clydeside engineers. From the Fairfield’s case the more militant of the engineers learned that if the Munitions Act was to be opposed root and branch, it must be opposed by an organisation and leadership able to act independently of the official trade union structures. The February 1915 strike had taught them that this organisation, to be effective, must be a delegate organisation based directly in the factories. Out of this experience the militants formulated and clearly expressed, for the first time, the principle of independent rank-and-file organisation which was to constitute the basis of the shop stewards’ movement.

“We will support the officials just as long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them. Being composed of Delegates from every shop and untrammelled by obsolete rule or law, we claim to represent the true feeling of the workers. We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file.”

From October 1915 until April 1916, when the Committee was smashed by the government, 250-300 delegates met every weekend in a hall in Ingram Street, Glasgow. In addition to the ASE shop stewards who had formed the basis of the Labour Withholding Committee there were delegates from many of the other engineering and shipbuilding trades. There were delegates from the mines, the railways, from the co-operative workers, and at least one schoolteacher. The Committee had no written constitution, and the statement quoted above-delegates from every lop-represented more an aspiration than established fact. “You could represent a minority in the Shop just the same as a majority even though the minority was one.” It seems probable that outside a few major arms firms the delegates represented minority militant groups rather than established workshop organisation. In practice the Committee fully recognised this position: each delegate would say who, if anyone, he was representing when he spoke.

The day-to-day work was done by “a small leading committee” elected at the delegate meeting and meeting two nights a week. Two things characterised this leading group. Its members were all shop stewards at one or other of the arms firms which had led the February 1915 strike and were to remain the backbone of the Committee through 1915-16. And they were all socialists.’

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