Tony Cliff


The last stand that failed

(April 1981)

From Socialist Review, 1981 : 4, 16 April–16 May 1981, p. 29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The working class in Scotland suffered a serious defeat last month. The workforce at the Talbot car plant in Linwood, near Glasgow, overthrew a shop stewards’ committee recommendation to fight the closure of the plant with an occupation. Hopes were buried of a decisive struggle against unemployment which could have aroused the whole of Clydeside as UCS did ten years ago. A few days later a major session of the Socialist Workers Party national committee meeting was devoted to a discussion on the lessons of the defeat. We print here Tony Cliff’s contribution to that discussion.

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When we talk about the differences in situations between different factories we have to be careful. Of course we must look at the specifics, but we must integrate the specifics with the general. In 1971 there were more than 200 factory occupations including UCS and Fisher Bendix. At present the only occupations are tiny factories. This is what we mean by the downturn: there is a radical change in the situation.

The danger now is that the argument about the downturn can be used as an excuse for not fighting. The downturn is not a reason for complete collapse of morale and struggle.

We have to carefully identify the minority who will fight. The problem is the disappearance of the sectional militancy. There is too much measured day work and not enough piece rate system. The piece rate system saved Gardners because it gave the individual stewards something to fight around.

We must always think about the minority and not the whole factory. Otherwise we will end up saying we are so small that we can do nothing. All or nothing is extremely dangerous, we have to work around the minority action.

There is also danger in saying that the problem is the politics of the leadership and therefore we can do nothing about it. Politics for revolutionaries is where industrial muscle meets with generalisation. It is not generalisation instead of industrial muscle. We don’t accept the separation of maximum and minimum demands like those who on May Day demonstrations talk about the socialist paradise and at work only talk about a 5p pay rise. We have to make the political argument at the point of the industrial muscle and not in the abstract, otherwise there is no class politics.

Unless we understand this we will fall into the trap of talking about the downturn instead of arguing with and supporting the minority who are prepared to fight. We must start from the minority and generalise outwards, not the other way round. If we cannot get a minority fight then there is no real class politics.

Last updated on 21 September 2019