The Triple Alliance
Chapter II - The Objectives of the Triple Alliance Alliance/chapter-ii---the-objectives-of-the-triple-alliance.html

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Chapter II - The Objectives of the Triple Alliance


In the course of 1919 Triple Alliance delegations met the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, several times. On one of these occasions he said to them:
Gentlemen, you have fashioned, in the Triple Alliance of the unions represented by you, a most powerful instrument. I feel bound to tell you, that in our opinion we are at your mercy. The Army is disaffected and cannot be relied upon. Trouble has occurred already in a number of camps. We have just emerged from a great war and the people are eager for the reward of their sacrifices, and we are in no position to satisfy them. In these circumstances, if you carry out your threat and strike, then you will defeat us. But if you do so, have you weighed the consequences? The strike will be in defiance of the Government of the country and by its very success will precipitate a constitutional crisis of the first importance. For, if a force arises in the State which is stronger than the State itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the State, or withdraw and accept the authority of the State. Gentlemen, have you considered, and if you have, are you ready?

Robert Smillie, who reported this incident to Bevan, added to this: "From that moment on we were beaten, and we knew we were”. This incident raises questions about the purpose of the Triple Alliance, why did the MFGB, the NTWF and the NUR enter to what was - on paper - such a powerful alliance? In Chapter I it is pointed out, that the leaders of the affiliated unions all rejected both the policy of the TUC, and Syndicalism. What alternative did they offer? The answer cannot be found in the Alliance’s constitution. Its rules are of a procedural rather than of an ideological kind. (For the Constitution, see Appendix l) The constitution reveals in rule 6 an interest in a stronger trade union movement along industrial lines. It aimed at including within its ranks the whole of the workers employed in the industries with which it was concerned.  There is, however, no indication what is meant by matters of 'a national character or vitally affecting a principle’ (rule 1).

The Triple Alliance has not been set up, Robert Smillie pointed out in 1917, and ought not to be thought of as a rival to any other movement in Britain; not of the TUC, not of the Labour Party, and even not - although the NFGB want to have nothing to do with it - the GFTU. They have their functions, he said, but the Alliance has functions aside from them.  An examination of the matters the Alliance dealt with, shows, however, that these functions did not principally differ.

Shortly before the National Industrial Conference of 27 February 1919, J.H. Thomas stated that the workers were dissatisfied with a system of society which treated their labour-power as a more commodity to be bought, sold, and used as though they were machine—like units in the process of wealth production and distribution. Therefore, he added, they demanded that they should become real partners in industry, jointly sharing in the determination of working conditions and of management. Similar words he used, when he adressed the National Industrial Conference on behalf of the Triple Alliance. There, he stated further, that rent, interest and profit were not inviolable, and that statesmen of every party must make up their minds that there was going to be a drastic change.  These 'terse and incisive sentences’ imply a certain desire to change the order of society. But what part had the Triple Alliance to play in this?