Russia - Trade Unions And Labor Organization
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Trade Union. Movement has not been abolished in Russia and is not likely to be. The Headquarters of the Federation of Russian workers is to be found in the Nobles' Club at Moscow. It was certainly a happy thought which placed this fine building at the service of organised labour. A big discussion and controversy is going on at present as to whether in the future organisation of industry a Government Labour Department will be necessary side by side with Trade Union organisation. No one can yet say what modifications of the Communist system business and trade relationships with the outside world will require. It is certain some very serious modifications will take place. The granting of concessions to foreign corporations, the promise to pay the national debt of Russia and to compensate foreigners for losses of money and property owing to the revolution will compel this whether the Soviet or any other Government in Russia likes it or not.
Comrade Melnichansky is Secretary of the Executive Committee of the All Russian Federation of Trade Unions and one of the most clear-headed of the labour men met in Russia. He is a comnumist who before the revolution was an exile working for his living in America, and like thousands of others was waiting for the call to come which would take him hack to fight for freedom in his native land. That call came in 1917 when with Trotsky and several others he started his journey home. The British Government, he told me, is more responsible for the presence of Trotsky and himself in Russia than anyone else. Had the authorities representing Britain in Canada so desired they could very easily have detained these revolutionaries when they were held in custody both on board ship and on land. Melniehansky tells with great glee the story of how he and his friends chaffed the British officers for being representatives of a Government afraid of a handful of Bolsheviks.
Since meeting him I have met people who are still of opinion that the Germans bribed Lenin and his Mends to make the revolution and gave them safe conduct across Germany for that purpose. Tt seems to me the change may just as truthfully be laid at the door of the British Government. In any case these Russian revolutionaries home from America are the leaders and inspirers of nearly all National work and in the end, it is they, no matter what form of organisation is set up who will determine how the business of organising industry is to be carried on. They are all keen Trade Unionists and in addition are class conscious communists. Already the whole work of labour exchange is in the hands of the unions ; where out of work pay is needed they pay it ; when labour is needed to be moved from one place to another they make the necessary arrangements ; sickness and sanatorium benefit is managed by the unions and so also is the payment of maternity benefit, flours of labour and workshop conditions are variable in different trades and places ; owing to the great shortage and lack of transport the eight hour day has been altered to permit of overtime so that a total of twelve hours per day can be worked. The school age of 16 has, in certain instances, been lowered owing to shortage of labour. These facts cause the enemies of the new regime much rejociing. They appear to imagine it is possible to ' create ideal conditions in the midst of war and civil war. When this is proved impossible it is argued that the whole system is a failure.
However, all that is needed to enable our Russian brothers to prove their ability to organise and live as Communists is peace and trade relationships. Meantime the Trade Unions come nearer and nearer to being the dominant factor in organising industry, always with the aid of experts. It is a wondrous thing these revolutionists are trying to do under almost impossible conditions. I have always reckoned that given a peaceful trans formation, it would be difficult to convince people they should do their best, and submit to discipline for the service of each other. Yet in Russia, with all the disorder and sordid misery, they do appear to be creating that sort of spirit, and translating it into everyday life.
It is a wonderful achievement to have settled the woman question as it has been settled in Russia. I saw women and men, youths and girls, and all classes, at work snow cleaning. I think from the capitalist stand-point it would have been considered waste. A few good snow ploughs would have cleared a path down the streets quicker and better. But none were available and so everybody is expected once a month to put in eight hours at the work of snow cleaning. While the snow is soft it is an easy job; when it is trampled and frozen hard, pickaxes and cow-bar are needed and women find it rates difficult and laborious work. Yet it has to be done, and as I very often stood for a moment and looked at those who were doing this work, however unaccustomed they were for the job, I do not think anybody was injured. It is not only in snow cleaning that women and girls work on terms of equality with men. They are on an equal footing in the Unions and in all industries are paid the same wages as men, being allowed the privilege of producing 15 per cent. less than men. Maternity benefit consists of eight weeks' holiday on full pay before and after childbirth, extra food and nourishment during those weeks, and extra food afterwards if the baby is nursed. I do not believe that anywhere else in the world women are so free and so respected and cared for as in Russia.
One problem which was rather difficult of solution was that of holidays. Under the old regime there were innumerable holidays connected with the Church. The Soviet Govern menrules out all interference with the Church and religion in order to prevent dissatisfaction. All workers are given the choice of ten working days a year on which they may, if they desire, keep holiday. In addition the Bolsheviks have set apart eight days including May Day as national holidays, so there are eighteen separate holidays in a year. Besides these, the workers are allowed two weeks' holiday a year, all on full pay. These privileges are not in full operation yet owing to the war.
There is also a very firm belief in the doctrine of one day's rest in seven which results in no morning papers on Monday. There are no Sunday papers as such ; all papers come out on Sunday morning but no evening papers on that day. This enables all workers connected with the production of newspapers to have Sunday free. ~ wonder when newspaper workers in this country demand one day's rest in seven and refuse to accept a standard of living dependent on overtime and a seven-day week. Theatres are open on Sunday and closed on Monday so that the actors and performers may get their day of rest. ~ found this was a rule also in some Scandinavian countries. I should be thankful to see it adopted here. The trade unions also manage the distribution of tickets for the National Theatres : they are allowed two-thirds for each performance. ~ think there are eight theatres paid for directly out of national funds.
Another question very seriously discussed while ~ was in Russia was Trotsky's appeal for a labour army. Everybody agreed that all able-bodied citizens must take their part in the work of supplying the needs of the community, but some, especially the anarchists, were very sceptical indeed as to the wisdom of allowing labour to he organised in armies for mass production. Trotsky in his famous speech delivered at a great meeting held in the National Theatre, Moscow, last February did not attempt to minimise the danger to individual freedom, but based his case for this innovation entirely on the fact that by no other means could present day difficulties be overcome. He swept away the idea that men like himself desired to rule and boss; pointed out that no revolution could exist without work ; that it, was not, yet certain that Western Europe and America would go to the assistance of Russia, and, even if they lid, it still remained the duty of Russia to recreate and build up her own internai life and industry. '
I heard much criticism from friends and enemies of the Bolsheviks, but not, a single critic had any better proposal to make. The soldiers in the Red Army seem to have clearer conception than others of what is wanted. When it was proposed to demobilise the seventh army and send the soldiers home because they were no longer needed to fight Denikin, the men got together and sent a request to Trotsky asking that instead of going home they should remain mobilised and under the same officers be allowed to work as disciplined army of labour. This was the start of the Labour army. Someone coined the phrase, " The bloodless front," and soon everybody was talking about the triumph and victories on this new front. Many tons of coal were raised, wood was cut, bridges repaired, railway tracks cleared, and in a thousand ways the enthusiasm formerly given to the work of slaughter was transferred to the victories of peace.
If Russia has her way she will have no standing army and will disarm, but this de-pends on her neighbours and mainly on Britain. If she and America disarm so also will Russia; meantime when peace is signed the army will become a militia ; battalions will be formed on a territorial basis. It is proposed that this militia will be thus enabled to live at home where massed production in farming, railway construction, mining, etc., is carried on. Men will work together, get their training together and in the event of war, will be organised together in battalions for fighting purposes.
By this means it is hoped to obviate the barrack system and get rid of the existing evils by which millions of men are segregated apart from their families. There is one other thing to bear in mind ; it is this ; the one great industrial principle which animates Lenin and his friends is " Nothing without Labour." " He who will not work, neither shall he eat," and this surely should be the watchword of all Socialists.
I shall have occasion to deal with education in another chapter. Here I only need say that the unions are very keen on adult education. Lenin has given a great impetus to this by his famous message, "To get, more we must produce more ; to produce more we must know more." Ignorance is looked upon as a crime against the commonwealth Universities are springing up everywhere; university extension lectures and classes are held in order to substitute knowledge and understanding for the deadly superstition and ignorance fostered and supported by the Czars and their handmaiden, the Church.
In order that might see people at work, asked Melniehansky to arrange visits which he very readily did for the next day. Going round one workshop we met men who had not seen our friend since the days before the revolution and I had the pleasure of hearing the story of the effect created by the revolution on socialists, anarchists and communists living abroad; how all their dislike of each other's methods seemed to be forgotten, and how one and all decided to get back to Russia at the earliest possible moment. It, is not as well known as it; should be, that, thousands of workers in Russia today were, before the war, exiles who at the call of revolution gave up all they possessed in order to go home and assist the revolution. I met one group of such men and women in this workshop ; most were anarchists, all of them skilled workers. In New York they had established a toolmaker's business and conducted it on purely co-operative lines. All through the war they had been able to secure lots of work and consequently shared considerable profits. When the revolution took place these people without a moment's hesitation wound up their business and took ship to Odessa. For a time they were able to work in a town in South Russia ; the advance of Denikin's army last summer drove them to Moscow. I discovered them in a very large suite of workshops carrying on the business of toolmaking.
They conduct the workshop on strictly co-operative lines : there is a freedom and equality about the organisation which is apparent from the moment of entry. The buildings were given to this group by the Government. All the fitting up, erection of machinery and general planning has been done by the workers themselves. Many of the machines and tools, formerly used in America, were brought to Russia. Denikin's army destroyed some and as is usual other parts were lost or damaged on the journey. W hat could be saved is now in full use Iots more though is needed and consequently much of the work done at this factory is on jobs which would be classed under the head of capital expeniture. At this shop received my first lesson in workers organisation and control. The work is organised differently from what I saw elsewhere and is evidence that when conditions are more settled industry will not be organised on one cast iron basis but that groups of workers will devise their own best methods for carrying on the work of the community.
As many of those employed here could speak English, it was possible to discuss without an interpreter. My friend Griffin Barry discussed matters with one group, and had another group in a separate part of the workshop. The managers are elected by t he workers on the principle one person one vote: all real grievances are settled by the vote of rules and regulations are discussed and approved. All deferred to expert opinion on matters requiring special knowledge, but each worker was expected and encouraged to make suggestions as to how to increase output and at the same time reduce exhausting labour to a minimum. Holidays, sick pay, overtime, all these matters were discussed and settled by committees representing the workers.
As we walked round and talked, first at, one machine, then at another, the thought that came to my mind was, how very much alike all engineering and toolshops are, and what a very little difference there is in the lay out of one set of machines and another ; and as I looked at the makers' name-plates on the various machines it was interesting to realise that German, British and American manufacturers all had a part in supplying machinery for these Russian shops, proving how de-pendent we all are one upon the other.
In discussing conditions, all without exception complained of lack of food and fuel. Undoubtedly these men and women accustomed to a fairly high standard of living in America are bitterly disappointed at finding themselves cold and hungry in Russia. Al-though they spoke bitterly of the shortage, not one of them suggested it was the fault of the Government or that a change of Government would remedy matters. Each man who discussed this question asked " When are you British workers going to compel your Government to leave us alone." I was obliged to hear this question again and again while in Russia, and found it very difficult to answer.
This workshop and its organisation is a sample of the kind of organisation which will very largely develop and increase so soon as peace is secured. Undoubtedly there is at present very much central control : at the same time individual initiative and local organisation is being encouraged. Even now, when there is admittedly much central organisation it has been found possible to permit small groups of people such as these, to organise an industry and make it a federated part of the whole system. Whatever may be necessary today in the way of centralised organisation and control, there are too many anarchists in Russia and the Russian character is too " anti-authority " to make it possible for any Government bearing the semblance of democracy to impose upon it, a rigid system of organisation.
Melnichansky also took us round a couple of factories organised and controlled by he State or under rules and regulations made by the State, which also includes participation of workers in the management. Aeroplanes are now being entirely manufactured in Moscow as also are motors and bicycles. The workshops through which we passed consisted of the toolmaking, engineering, woodworking and assembling shops and also the foundry. Here the organisation of actual work and output is in the hands of three persons. There was no pretence at co-operation as in the previous shop we had inspected. There were organisers and managers, but all were subject to control of the three persons, two of whom were elected by the vote of the workers and one appointed by a sectional committee of the Supreme Council of Economics.
I believe that; all State factories are managed in a similar manner. Factories formerly controlled by local Soviets are now, I am told, managed on similar lines to the State factories. All the work of the factories I visited where some three to four thousand persons are employed is heavily handicapped for lack of raw material and fuel. The foundry compared with any other I have seen was very inefficient solely because proper fuel is not available. In spite of every drawback there was, however, clear, unmistakeable evidence that by enthusiasm and effort production was increasing week by week. Before the war much of the machinery used in Russia was imported. French firms to a large extent controlled the manufacture of aeroplanes : it was the custom to assemble parts brought from abroad, but not actually to manufacture. Imports were stopped owing to the blockade and consequently the Russians, if they wanted aeroplanes, motors and machinery were obliged to settle down to do the work of manufacture themselves. From the outset they had been handicapped owing to lack of transport, and because of this shortage we see in Russia the extraordinary spectacle of multitudes of people cold and hungry in a country enormously rich in natural resources of every kind and with an abundance of foodstuffs. The Allied blockade in keeping out the means whereby the transport system could be dealt with has destroyed thousands of lives, but the wicked wars wage with the help of British gold, guns and munitions by Kolehak, Denikin, Yudendich and others is responsible for the suffering and death of tens of thousands. Russia could have laughed at the blockade if her organisers and experts had been allowed peace to organise for the service of the nation. But as is the case everywhere else, when war comes the business of killing and destruct ion has t he first call on the energy and resources of the nation. In spite of this it is the fact, that old industries have been to some extent, kept going and new ones started. These works of which I` am now writing prove this. Very proudly was shown new aeroplanes made on British models all ready for use—every scrap of material and work being Russian. In order to prove beyond doubt that the machines were perfect Barry and myself were invited to get into one and go for a spin in the air. Although we refused young airman who formerly belonged to the upper classes took one out and within a few seconds was almost out of sight, using as motive power an evil smelling sort of spirit which necessity has created for the service of Russia. It is something for these so called dreamers and theorists to he able to demonstrate their ability to manu-facture such highly specialised machines as aeroplanes. Could they but, get the raw material they would very soon build all the locomotives they need : but the raw material is far away so they must import some if the finished articles before they can hope to get going.
The organisation of each department of these works was orderly and efficient, the stores perfect, the methods adopted to detect bad workmanship or material were excellent. Here it was possible to see women and men working side by side together. While going round these factories we were informed that the day before the election of representatives to the Moscow Soviet had taken place. I enquired if it was true that only coimnunists could be elected and that terrorism was used to prevent the free exercise of the vote No one ~ asked had ever seen any terrorism and everyone assured me that irrespective of opinion any person qualified to vote might be elected. The vote is open, not by ballot. I should feel an objection to this if it, were possible as in England to elect members of the master class, or if the sanie deadly corrupting influence of direct and indirect bribery were possible these factories some of the leading organisers are men who belonged to the capitalist class before the revolution. consider much of the efficiency of organisation is due to the very exceptional loyality of sud) men, one of whom we were able to have some discussion with. I found him most enthusiastic. about his work. He was not very dear what, the end of the present regime would be, but he was confident that Russia would pull through and ultimately lead the world.
Two or three big and little workshops do not, prove that industry in Russia is being carried on as it should be. All the same these workshops do demonstrate that even in the midst of war and civil war, the business of organising industry has been carried on and in some industries actually set going afresh. I am certain that, given a great social upheaval in this country and a blockade of our ports by an enemy fleet. we should very soon find ourselves in a worse plight, than our friends in Russia.
Later on while in Moscow was able to get into touch with the textile industry through an interview with Comrade Nogin who is the President; of t he Central Organisation of Textile Factories. Nogin, like all the others who are organising the life of Russia, has spent much of his time in prison and abroad. He lived for a time near Manchester and acquired first hand knowledge of the tex. tile industry. Much of the time spent with him was used by him interviewing. me. He was very anxious to know all about wages, conditions and the supply of raw material, especially flax in Ireland and England.
I told him all I knew which was not very much and he was very much interested in the gambling with shares in Lancashire and thought that the workers would very soon discover that the inflation caused by this buying and selling of mills would inevitably be to the disadvantage of the people generally.
Like every other industry the textile business is heavily handicapped because of the war. The importation of cotton from Turkestan and elsewhere has stopped and as is the case with many other industries, new sources of supply and new methods have been adopted. Russia produces lots of flax. Her chemists have discovered two processes by which cotton goods are produced from flax. I saw stacks of such goods in a huge " Soviet Store." I am not expert enough to explain the process, but the effect is to turn half the flax into cotton. Without this discovery the Russian people would have gone very short of clothes.
Only first class goods are manufactured. There is no grading as apparently one rule has been adopted : the best is good enough for the workers. In order to utilise to the fullest extent the flax that is produced, peasants are now being taught to secure a greater return from their produce. Much waste has taken place in the past and no doubt much is still taking place. If the advice of Nogin and his colleagues is taken it is estimated that an extra 40 million foods of flax will be available for use without a single food increase in production. It is all a question of using everything and wasting nothing.
Some peasants object to the new instructions and regulations ~ though each season it is expected the opposition will grow less. In the factories production is hindered because of shortage of food and raw material. Some are dosed down entirely, others have been remodelled, some textile factories have been turned to other uses. Many have been entirely remodelled, especially those belonging to the old nobility which were badly organised and equipped with antiquated machinery.
I was shown charts which demonstrated that greater production was entirely dependent on good organisation, and, chief of , all, on a plentiful supply of good and other necessaries for the life of the workers Once our blockade is really moved and transport facilities are available, all the factories will be working full time. Meantime everything is being done to save labour. I find an opinion abroad that in Russia the one thing people are obliged to do is work, and lots of it that everybody must work is true, but the efforts of all in authority are directed to the one purpose of saving labour. There is no sort of theory or practice that the one object in life is work. The guiding principle is "We work to live not live to work." ~ shall expect to see Russia taking the lead in producing and using labour, saving appliances ; especially will this be the case in respect to factories. The offices of this textile organisation are worth a word : they are situated just outside what is called Chinatown—a part of Moscow outside the real Kremlin but yet surrounded by a wall. These offices contain all the Central Staff which deals with everything connected with textile factories, which has to do with the provision of raw material, machinery, etc., and the distribution of the finished products. All weaving factories are grouped for purposes of administration : 80 per cent. are under Central Management and 20 per cent. under local Soviets or Councils. Spinning factories are dealt with in a similar manner. In every ease the workpeople through the Trade 'Unions participate in management and control—Le., every factory elects two representatives to serve with the expert appointed by the Central. Often we are told Socialism or Communism will lead to a great increase in officials and bureaucracy. Nogin proudly points out that before the revolution about 2,500 offices were devoted to the Textile business employing 15,000 clerks, managers and other officials. Now the whole business is carried on in one building, and employs only 4,000 persons to do the clerical work. T had the chance of seeing and hearing of other work of a similar character, especially in connection with the water works near Moscow. At these works there was very great danger that the whole water supply would stop owing to shortage of fuel. This, not because fuel was not available, but solely through shortage of labour and means of transportation. The workers themselves thought of a way out : they secured the material for a light railway and within a very short, time laid the lines and are now able to transport, all the peat and wood they need.
Looking back, it, seems to me certain that, given peace and freedom of trade, our Russian friends will succeed in building up a Socialist industry. There will he rigid discipline, but, as conceived it, no hardship. No one, outside Bedlam, ever thought that modern industry can be organised and kept, going by each workman being free to work in his own sweet, way : like a football team we have understood that each person has a place to fill and must fill such place to the very best. of his power. but, mass production, production for use, the elimination of all waste, the clearing away of all competition and the substitution of emulation and co-operation must in a country like, Russia result in abundance for all. Russia can only show us the way though, if she is allowed freedom to work out her own salvation, and the one service British Labour is able to render her is to see that the Allied Governments cease from striving to injure and hinder her in her struggle towards Communism.