From Labour Worker, 7 April 1966.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
THE MOST heartening aspect of the inflated “workers’ court” issue has been the tremendous self-confidence of the local car workers which it has revealed.
There was, curiously enough, a dummy run for the workers’ court story just after Christmas. The town of Oxford was rife with the rumour that at a BMC works at Cowley the workers had dealt with a foreman by spraying him in a highly dangerous manner with paint.
He had been baked in an oven at the factory, had been rushed to the hospital and had, according to some accounts, even died.
The police were making enquiries, a chargehand had been stabbed with a screwdriver, and so on. An Oxford Mail reporter investigated the story and killed the rumours. A piece of very minor horseplay, involving water and not paint, had been seized on and grotesquely magnified.
Either there are a great many people ready to believe the worst of Cowley car workers or else these rumours were the projection of the unconscious fantasy of these very workers. Had there been an election at the time, perhaps the story would not have been quashed so easily.
Far more sinister has been the role of the management. At the Radiators Branch, at the other end of town, the workers have a long standing, though hard won, tacit agreement with the management that blacklegs will not be allowed in during a strike.
At Cowley it is a different story. There is evidence that they have even gone so far as to pay the wages of the men who have been off ill with “nervous trouble” as a result of paying £3 to charity. This is against all precedent.
When the incident first came to light, BMC issued its infamous “Blacklegs Charter,” stating that it would give full support to anyone defying the shop stewards. Subsequently, the management has neither been seen nor heard. Why should it bother, when the press projection of the unconscious fantasy of politicians is doing the dirty work for it?
Oxford’s Tory candidate tried to make political capital by suggesting to the local trades council that they hold a joint enquiry. He was promptly smacked on the wrist by an astute secretary, Bro. Jenner, who pointed out that the press had been told of “the offer” before he had.
Apart from this, the Oxford candidates have played it cool, which is hardly surprising considering that one in three of Oxford workers are employed in the car factory.
This is in sharp contrast to the surrounding rural constituencies, where candidates of all parties have had a field day spouting about “illegal actions” and victimisation.
In future years, the workers court will take its place with the “Zinoviev Letter” and “Gestapo” election scares of 1924 and 1945 as a classic of politically fomented hysteria. The only people likely to emerge with any credit are the workers of Q Block and their shop stewards.
There will perhaps be pity for the blacklegs caught between the contending social forces whose power they recognised too late.
For the press and politicians who turned on the workers, there will be little sympathy of any kind.
Harry Goode and Peter Sedgwick (Oxford CLP)
Last updated on 25.11.2004