Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles: The Biography of Wilfred Risdon, an unconventional Campaigner

By J L Risdon

Biography & memoir

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Appendix G: Strike Action or Power Action?

Far from desiring to smash trade unions, we take pride in the past history of the unions; we appreciate the difficulties under which they operate; we intend to strengthen the unions (by legislation not by pious wishes and resolu-tions); we intend the unions, strengthened to 100 per cent. membership and built up to full industrial status, to play an important part in the government of the State.

Thus, you will see that we take a vital interest in the past, present and future of the trade unions in this country.

The rôle which the unions will fulfil under National Socialism in Britain is one for which they will be endowed with full statutory powers, hence we describe the exercise of these powers as “Power Action” in contradistinction to the “Strike Action” and “Political Action” which has previously marked the limits of trade union activity.

In the following pages we give our criticism of both strike action and political action. We then set forth the details of our new “Power Action”, which we are convinced will meet with the approval of every sound trade unionist. Will you consider these proposals before you allow anybody to bluff you into the belief that the British Union is anti-trade union?


The early Trade Unions were formed in the teeth of an opposition as bitter and as vindictive as that which is brought to bear against National Socialism to-day. Its active spirits were victimised, imprisoned and persecuted. After a stern and bitter struggle, the Unions were given legal recognition. It was their mission to represent the collective interest of wage-earners in the newly industrialised state, a state in which inhuman conditions were the rule rather than the exception.


The only weapon possessed by the workers in the early stages of their fight was the strike weapon – the ability to effect a bargain with their em-ployers by withholding their labour. This was, at best, a poor weapon because it injured the workers themselves and meant starvation for them and their families. Moreover, whenever organised workers withheld their labour, black-leg labour was brought in to take the place of the workers on strike, leading to rioting and the use of troops to defeat the Unions in their fight. Many a page of English history was written in the blood of those early pioneers of the trade union movement with singularly little to show on the credit side of the workers against the price which they were called upon to pay for their right to organise and combine.

Although the methods of fighting have somewhat changed, the strike weapon, after a century of effort to improve its efficacy is still a poor weapon which can be justified only by the assumption that there is nothing better to take its place.

It is my contention to-day, as it always has been my contention, that strikes are futile. The only time when a strike could be successful would be during a “boom” period when markets are rising. At such a time conces-sions are granted at the threat of a strike without the threat being carried into effect.
In modern times, however, the great majority of trade disputes are fights in defence of existing standards when, during periods of depression, those standards are threatened with reduction. In such conditions the strike is able to achieve little or nothing which will be of benefit to the workers concerned.


At the worst a strike or lock-out in such circumstances benefits the employers by allowing them a period of time in which accumulated stocks may be cleared, during which period they are relieved from the necessity of paying wages and the workers are starved into submission. The miners’ lock-out of 1926 is a classic instance of this process.

At the best the workers concerned win a partial victory amounting to a fraction of a penny per hour after forfeiting many weeks’ wages whilst on strike and their losses are seldom completely recovered.


In consequence of a realisation of the inherent weakness of strike action, Keir Hardie and others associated with him set out at the latter end of the nineteenth century to forge the alternative weapon of political action for inclusion in the armoury of the Trade Unions. In 1900 the T.U.C. combined with the I.L.P., the Fabian Society and some smaller associations to form the Labour Party. In 1906 twenty-nine Labour M.P.s were returned and the second weapon became available.


From that time onward there has been a constant swinging of the Trade Union pendulum from Strike Action to Political Action, and from Political Action back to Strike Action.

In the thirty years which have intervened there have been two Labour Governments, but the problems of adjustment between employers and employed have not been solved.

That whole period has been marked by alternating disillusionment. Strikes have been tried and they have failed. After every such failure has come a phase of political action which in turn has failed. Then has followed another phase of industrial action, and so the game has gone on. Small gains have been registered in each sphere, but the sum total of all the gains has not been commensurate with the progress of industrialism as a whole.

Political Labour (the Labour Party) has had too many irons in the fire to be able to look after the particular iron which it was their duty to forge.

As politicians they have ceased to represent the interests of Labour in the factories and workshops. Dabbling in Internationalism (the affairs of other nations) has occupied far more of their time than attention to Nationalism (the affairs of our own nation).

When these political leaders are sent to Parliament they are set in a new atmosphere entirely divorced from the atmosphere of the worker in the pit, the factory, the farm or the workshop. They join “the best Club in London” and behave as “club-men” rather than as workers. The problems which are of life-and-death seriousness to you become merely interesting subjects of debate for them. They feel no economic pressure. Their salaries are secure and adequate. By comparison with your wages, even their old salary of £400 per year was adequate, but they have been able to secure a £200-per-year in-crease in their own rate of remuneration by political action without a strike. How happy you would be if they would so well represent your interests as to obtain £200-per-year increase on your income of much less than £400 per year for you through political action which you have built up.

Your political leaders have graduated from the workshop to the talkshop. You are still living far below the conditions which should be available from the resources of modern technique in industry, although you have generously placed them in a position where they receive a standard of living which is the workers’ just due. What are you going to do about it?

Of course, if you do what you should in your own interests, you will sack them for abusing your trust, but even then your problem remains. How are you to improve your conditions until they approximate to what they should be?

Sacking one set of leaders and replacing them by another set will not solve your problem if you leave undisturbed the conditions which have led to your betrayal. Your problem is not solved until you can devise machinery which you can operate for the solution of your problem.

Let me state your problem briefly. You know full well that of the wealth which you produce you do not receive your full share. You know, moreover, that you could produce far more wealth (that is to say “goods”) than you do produce. You know that if you were allowed to produce all the wealth which you could produce and to receive your fair share of that wealth the menacing features would be forever removed from your life. Poverty, unem-ployment and insecurity would no longer have the power to haunt your waking hours and make nightmares of the hours which should be spent in sleep. The problem is twofold in nature. It is to (a) produce more, and (b) receive more of what you do produce.


We National Socialists contend that a measure of workers’ control in industry is essential to the solution of that twofold problem. Workers’ control can be exercised only through workers’ organisation, therefore, it is frankly ridiculous to suggest that we desire to smash the unions. On the contrary we want to improve the unions to make them fitting instruments of control and then to invest them with the statutory authority which will enable them to exercise that control.

Let us consider in order of importance the improvements we have in mind. First of these is 100 per cent. Trade Unionism. At the present time, out of 18,873,000 insured workers, a little over 4,000,000 are members of Trade Unions, less than one-quarter of the total. Thus, in spite of all the best efforts of the Unions, for every worker who is a trade unionist there are three non-unionists.

Appendix F: Wilfred Risdon on the Home Servic...

This is a close approximation of the dialogue during the course of a broadcast on the BBC Home Service, which went out live, on June 30th, 1961, at 19:30, as part of an ongoing series called What’s the Idea?; Wilfred Risdon was questioned on the subject of anti-vivisection by Dr. W. Lane-Petter, Honorary Secretary of the Research Defence Society [see Chapter 13, notes 31 & 32 for more details; he is also mentioned in note 33 of Chapter 14], and Dr. H. O. J. Collier, “a Director of Pharmacological Research”, which appears to be [2012] “a rapid exchange medium for specialists within the discipline of pharmacology. The journal publishes papers on basic and applied pharmacological research and is proud of its rapid publication of accepted papers.” Volume 65 is current in 2012, so assuming that they have been published sequentially prior to this, the journal must have been in existence since 1947 [1]. Both of Wilfred’s interlocutors could be legitimately said to have had a vested interest in the continuation of research using live animals.

VOICE: This is the B.B.C. Home Service. In tonight’s What's the Idea? Wilfred Risdon of The National Anti-Vivisection Society is questioned by Dr. W. Lane-Petter (Honorary Secretary of the Research Defence Society) and Dr. H. O. J. Collier (a Director of Pharmacological Research). Dr. Lane-Petter speaks first.

LANE-PETTER: Mr. Risdon: an anti-vivisectionist Minister of religion once wrote that animal experiments were and I quote: “bankrupt of any decent result.” He then went on to say, rather surprisingly, and I quote again “You and I are filching our health from the hideous fate of these creatures.” Would you like to clarify your position?

RISDON: Yes, I wouldn’t go all the way with that statement; it doesn't define my position. My position is this: that I consider it to be morally reprehensible to take a healthy sound animal, to maim it or to deliberately inflict disease on it so that one can study something which may not be apposite in the treatment of human patients in any case, although it may act in the knowledge of the individual who does the experiments.

COLLIER: But Mr. Risdon, do you not think this addition to knowledge ultimately is to the benefit of human patients? Let me take an example: the drugs called ‘sulphonas’ have ... were tested in guinea pigs, infected with tuberculosis and found to be active, and they were therefore tried in man. They were found not very effective in tuberculosis. You’d agree with me there?

RISDON: Yes. I would agree, Dr. Collier.

COLLIER: But they were then tried in man in the related disease of leprosy and they were found extraordinarily valuable and they have completely revolutionised the outlook of the leper throughout the world.

RISDON: But isn’t that rather making my point? An accidental discovery as a result of a failure of animal experimentation in one case, an accidental discovery of its efficacy in another case, without being first tried on animals, [interjection: NO] would surely make my point.

COLLIER: It doesn't make your point, because the ... the disease of leprosy ha ... bears a relationship to that of tuberculosis; it is impossible to test sulphones of leprosy in animals, or it was at that time, but it was possible to test it on tuberculosis and the essential implication was that it might be useful in leading towards a useful result.

RISDON: You want to come in Dr. Lane-Petter.

LANE-PETTER: And of course, by the animal experiments that have been done in the early days of sulphone experimentation it was found that sel ... sulphones were a drug, not too toxic, that had some use in the treatment of disease.


LANE-PETTER: I know that without animal experiments.

RISDON: I ... I have it also in mind that a lot of these animal experiments in the sulphonamides, for instance, were tested on many animals and given a clean bill of health; they were non-toxic; they had no side-effects; they were safe to use on the human patient. But the human patients were killed by them in a number of cases through a deposit of crystals in the kidney.

LANE-PETTER: No, your facts are not quite ...

RISDON: Isn’t that true?

LANE-PETTER: Your facts are not quite right there ... The sulphonamides were indeed shown to be relatively non-toxic but there were certain dangers in them. And if they are used unwisely in man, or I might say in animals, they do produce in a comparatively small number of cases a bad side effect. We know a great deal about that partly from animal experiments and partly from practice in human medicine.

COLLIER: These animal experiments do not show that the drugs are without toxicity but they do show probably the safest way to use them in man. So that by animal experiments do you not think that we would be protecting man and saving human life by this toxicological study?

RISDON: I wonder if you would allow me to quote here certain authority: “There was held a symposium in London in 1958 on Quantitative Methods in Human Pharmacology and Therapeutics.”

COLLIER: I attended that symposium.

RISDON: Do you remember Dr. A. C. Dawnhurst of St. Thomas?


RISDON: And did he or did he not say, I quote: “The majority of the drug responses can be quantitatively studied in man, the main advantages of course, relevance. Species differences are essentially unpredictable and sometimes, as mentioned earlier by Professor Gadum, may be seriously misleading.”?

COLLIER: Species differences are misleading but they’re not nearly so misleading as not doing experiments in animals. Take penicillin; if that had been taken straight from the test tube we … against … where it was tested against bacteria in glass cultures to man; had such a dangerous thing been done undoubtedly very many people would have suffered. It was put through animals and in animals it was learnt the particular way the drug was absorbed and distributed, the particular dangers to beware of, and the particular way in which it would be best given to man. The result was that it could be given successfully to man as it was from the very first.

RISDON: I wonder what you would call successfully, Dr. Collier. There’s a point here that I would like to make. I’ve just been reading a book on toxic side effects and in it is the definite statement that up to the end of 1957, 1,000 deaths had occurred as the result of the administration of penicillin in the United States alone.

LANE-PETTER: 1,000 deaths out of how many millions of people who have received penicillin and owe their lives to it?

RISDON: But that doesn’t affect the point, does it, Dr. Lane-Petter? That those 1,000 deaths were attributed to penicillin.

LANE-PETTER I’d like to know on what basis they were attributed to penicillin. But still there have been millions, tens of millions of people, who have been treated with penicillin and very many of them owe the ... owe their lives to the treatment. But there’s a point I want to follow on from what Dr. Collier said a moment ago. Of course animals do not behave exactly in the same way men behave, or as other species of animals behave, but we know a great deal about the differences between the species and the resemblances. Through experiments on animals we can get a very good and an intelligent lead on what is likely to happen when we do the first experiment with a new drug on man. We go very carefully indeed. We look very carefully for side-effects. But we save ourselves perhaps from trying dangerous drugs on man by previous animal experiments. No investigator would dare to try out a new and powerful drug if he hadn’t tested its toxicity on animals first.

COLLIER: I agree with that but there were drugs introduced before the modern days to which chloroform is an example; I believe that was not tested on animals first. Would you agree with that, Mr. Risdon?

RISDON: Yes, I would.

COLLIER: Well now, chloroform is a very dangerous drug, an anaesthetic, and has been largely abandoned. Had it been tested on animals first it might never have been introduced and safer anaesthetics might have been used.

RISDON: What would you call safer anaesthetics?


(Two voices here) Nitrous oxide.

RISDON: But nitrous oxide was already in use with chloroform wasn’t it, before chloroform?

COLLIER: Many anaesthetics, modern anaesthetics, derived through animal experiments, (interruption from Risdon) barbiturates given intravenously and new gaseous anaesthetics which are undoubtedly safer than chloroform. And the whole technique of anaesthesia now is based also on drugs like Curare and Saxaninecoline, and these of course, again, were studied in animal experiments. In fact the … they were subject of many early experiments and of course these drugs have been the subject of much discussion and propaganda.

RISDON: I wonder if I might be allowed to make another quotation? I ... I’m ... I don't want to weary you with quotations but there’s a very good one from the same symposium that we referred to before by Mr. A. L. Bacchera who said; I’m quoting, I think you’ll be able to correct me if my quotation is wrong: “How are we to know, if ever, that when a drug has been tried on fifteen different species of animals, including primates, and shown to be harmless it will be found harmless to man, and harmless to all men. And how are we to be sure that a drug shown to be toxic to fifteen different species of animals will in fact also be toxic to man?”

COLLIER: We cannot be sure, Mr. Risdon, but we can say the probability is far higher if in fifteen species the drug is non-toxic. But the word non-toxic is not a reality; what we mean is: if we have measured the toxicity in fifteen species we know what the risks are.
LANE-PETTER: Mr. Risdon, I would like to take you up on a remark you made earlier implying that the experiments in which we cause diseases or abnormal conditions in mice are necessarily cruel or give a lot of suffering to the animals. In fact, I would make the point very strongly that the great majority of experiments, so called, which … in which animals are involved in this country, produce virtually no pain. When I say virtually: no more pain than a domestic animal suffers from the course of his ordinary day: he can’t get out. Nor can the mouse get out of its cage. A great majority of experiments cause little or no pain. I want to correct the impression that all animal experiments are hideously painful. They are not.

RISDON: Well, I’ll agree with you there, Dr. Lane-Petter. I’ll agree that not all of them are painful and not all of them are hideously painful. But the very fact that a proportion are, even if … even if they’re a very small proportion, when you’re dealing with numbers like 3½ millions animals in one year, a very small proportion of those inflicting pain and suffering means quite a big toll, doesn’t it?

LANE-PETTER: Oh I quite agree with you and I wouldn’t like to give the impression I that am indifferent to the sufferings of even the small proportion that are painful. But we have in this country a system of controlling animal experimentations; there is a law that governs it, and a very strictly applied law. It was a law that was introduced with the goodwill and, to a large extent, on the initiative of British scientists, and it has been made to work very well; far better than in any other in the world. Now you mentioned the figure of 3½ million experiments. I’ve no doubt you would like to say something also about the way that the law is enforced to see that even that small proportion of painful experiments are not unjustifiably prolonged, or painful.

RISDON: Why should I say that when I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe that. I believe that the law is only a white-washing law; that enables experimenters to present to the public a case which will soothe the public conscience and permit this thing to go on and on growing year after year in numbers of experiments until we’re ...

COLLIER: I would like to take you up there Mr. Risdon.


COLLIER: We (clearing his throat here) workers in (clearing throat again) experimental biology and medicine do in fact attempt to reduce the number of experiments on animals. We, for example we devise where possible techniques in glass-ware: the virologists use tissue-cultures: the pharmacologists use isolated tissues in glass-ware in order to avoid the necessity for animal experiments and to do more precise more economical and completely and ... experiments to which people like yourselves would have your ... yourself, would have no objection. So we do not wish this number to increase; we work in the opposite direction if we can.

RISDON: But it is true isn’t it, Dr. Collier, that the number does increase in spite of that?

COLLIER: That is true.

RISDON: And we ... we consider that to be a deplorable thing which is almost - I have crossed swords on previous occasions with people who defend vivisection on this and liken this to almost drug addiction; a bad habit which exists: because the method is there, it’s part of the training; it’s been trained into the student during his student days; all the the present generation of teachers have been brought up with the method of animal experimentation; it’s in all the text-books. I know the difficulty of doing away with it because it’s just the accepted thing of the day. But it’s still wrong.
… "



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