'A New Model' Constructive Union Organisation.

[Pat Read writing as] - O V Rube, in The Workers’ Republic, 24th February 1923.

We can howl ‘treachery’ at Labour Leaders. We can, and have, criticised acts of particular leaders, but because destructive criticism is so easy, and generally well deserved, we must not lose sight of the constructive side of criticism. Many of the apparent betrayals by Labour Leaders during the last two years have not been the fault so much of particular personalities, as of faulty structure of organisation, and the ignorance and apathy of the rank and file. No leader, however treacherous, can sell for long a militant, intelligent organisation. It is with a view of stimulating discussion on union structure that this article is written.

Industrial Unions

Briefly, our contention is that all craft unions are obsolete. The growth of standardised industry (mass production), with its inevitable replacing of the craftsman by semi or unskilled labour, has (and is) compelling the amalgamation of craft unions into one union for the entire industry. Thus the Industrial Union is the workers’ counterpart of the industrial organisation of the capitalists who by means of combines are able to control prices, production and output in any given industry. Thus does the industrial unionist justify his theories.

Geographical Unions

The capitalists, however, not only unite in a given industrial field. They unite also as a class, locally in the Chamber of Commerce, nationally in National Unions of Manufacturers, Industrial Federations and Chambers of Commerce. The concentration of wealth, whereby a particular capitalist is a director of industrial, transport and financial interests, is proceeding so rapidly that our old conception of industrial unionism is unable to cope with the situation. Thus, again following lines of capitalist organisation, the workers are building (or trying to build) a purely class organisation on a geographical basis. In most countries this need has caused the birth of the OBU. In England it is made manifest in the formation of the Joint Council.

Our Problem

Here in Ireland we have a few craft unions of little importance (for the purposes of this review). The Postal Workers and the railroaders are working forward to pure industrial unions., The Transport Union, originally an amalgamation of industrial unions, similar in some respects to the IWW, is now under the benign influence of Beader O’Brien, tending towards the geographical idea, i.e. an attempt is being made to give each district local autonomy. This decentralisation is, we believe, the production of had results in an organisation like the ITGWU, as witness the debacle in Cork recently when it was shown that the wages of Cork dockers were far lower than in Dublin, and that Liberty hall could prevent their fighting for better conditions because of industrial organisation. This we contend that reactionary leadership in the ITGWU has reproduced the faults of both forms of organisation while securing the virtues of neither. (By the way, people there be who insist that the conversion of Beader O’Brien to OB Unionism is merely a weapon of sabotage of Larkin’s position as general secretary. IN EFFECT, under the O’Brien scheme, the general secretary will be secretary of Dublin No. 1 [Branch] only. Transport workers may differ with this, but watch for developments.)


We contend that both the industrial and geographical forms of organisation are good, yet both can be developed alongside each other, for the benefit of the working class. With a view of hearing further from other readers, and that out of such views the CP can formulate a clear policy for the industrial side of working class activity. We propose the following:

  1. Every worker to be organised industrially, to be controlled locally by the shop steward and nationally by the annual convention.


    This is the skeleton of the industrial form. It presupposes national wage and conditions agreements, and presupposes the merging of all craft unions.

  2. Every worker to be organised geographically on a strictly class basis, through workers’ councils. Local officials to be elected by ballot of all workers in the area. Control to be vested in a committee composed of one delegate from each industry and two paid officials, secretary and organiser.


    The function of the workers’ councils will be to isolate and attack by means of an economic boycott any enemy with whom the workers have an open dispute. They shall be ready at all times for sympathetic strike action where necessary.

  3. Annual conventions of the workers’ councils where business affecting the workers as a whole will be discussed. All officials to be elected by ballot of all members, and will be responsible for all working class activity for the following year. In addition to the three officials of the workers’ council, the general secretaries of all industrial unions. These will form the workers’ control.
  4. The unemployed to be organised in a particular organisation and to be given representation locally and nationally. Every unemployed man to remain in good standing within his won union.
  5. As a means towards the check of the growth of bureaucracy and ‘professional officials’ , we propose that no member old any paid position for more than three consecutive years, and that one full year elapse before the said member can again take a paid position. ‘Putting ‘em back in overalls’ will keep their perspective straight. A year on the scrap heap will keep them class conscious!
  6. The standard of wages to be paid to any official, local and national, to be 100 points above the official cost of living figures (taken as 100 points). This will kill the new idea of Labour aristocrats.

We offer these proposals as a preliminary basis of discussion, amplified, they are fluid enough (we believe) to suit any emergency and static enough to maintain continuity of effort. Greater than all they are easily applicable in Ireland (or elsewhere). We have tried to escape the dogmatism of the ‘pure union’ theorists, contenting ourselves to a review of things as they are. Other readers, other ideas.

O V Rube.

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