Paul Foot

Clay Cross double-crossed

(April 1974)

From Socialist Worker, 13 April 1974.
Reprinted in Chris Harman (ed.), In the Heat of the Struggle, Bookmarks, London 1993, pp.120-1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

ELEVEN WORKERS at Clay Cross, Derbyshire, who risked their freedom and their livelihood in the fight against Heath’s Tory government, have been snubbed by the Labour government’s first month of office.

They are the councillors who refused to implement the Tory Housing Finance Act. They saved the council tenants of their town thousands of pounds in unpaid rents. As a result, they were fined more than £7,000 by the Tories’ Housing Commissioner.

The Labour Party Conference rallied to their support. Last October it passed the following amendment:

‘Conference further agrees that upon the election of a Labour government, all penalties, financial and otherwise, should be removed retrospectively from councillors who have courageously refused to implement the Housing Finance Act, 1972.’

The amendment was accepted by the national executive of the party, in the shape of Edward Short, deputy leader.

Now Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister, tells the House of Commons that the fine must be paid! He says there will be no retrospective legislation to remove the penalties from the councillors.

The Tories, who have been harassing the government on the Clay Cross issue for the past three weeks, are triumphant. They have won a notable victory over their hated enemies in Clay Cross.

Why is it that Wilson, Short and the seven other members of Labour’s national executive who are in the government have so blatantly ignored their party’s democratic decisions?

One answer can be found in a recent book, Socialism Now, by Anthony Crosland, now Environment Minister, who first insisted that the Clay Cross surcharge would not be paid out of public funds.

Crosland wrote:

‘Even the rule of law is challenged by some Labour councillors and trade unionists, though historically, and let no socialist ever forget this, the law has been the means by which the weak obtained redress against the strong.’

The law, Crosland argues, is neutral. Labour governments achieve reforms through neutral laws. So they must respect the law above all else.

But the law is not neutral. The history of the working class movement over the last 150 years shows the opposite. From the hanging of the Luddites to the persecution of the Chartists to the imprisonment and execution of militants and trade unionists all the way down to the Shrewsbury pickets trial in 1973, the story is one of the law being used to protect the people who own property from the people who produce it.

The class which controls property controls the law. 86 percent of the judges, who are not elected, were educated at public school.

The entire legal profession is drawn almost exclusively from one class. That class uses its laws for its own purposes. If necessary, as with the recent House of Lords decision on the Immigration Act, it will make law retrospective. In that case, it referred the law back to ‘catch’ illegal immigrants who came in legally before the Act was passed.

The Tories make laws, reverse laws, ignore laws, make laws retrospective to protect their property and increase it at the expense of the workers.

Labour, on the other hand, respects the law above all other considerations. Its own supporters, its fighters and its martyrs must suffer in the interests of a ‘neutral’ law which imposed the suffering in the first place.

Labour behaves in this ridiculous way because its leaders hate the idea of class struggle.

Crosland likes to imagine that capitalist society can be checked and changed by well educated Labour ministers giving orders to well-educated civil servants and laying down laws to be carried out by well educated judges.

So he and those who think like him have to order their supporters to obey those judges and those civil servants. Any revolt against the law or the civil servants has to be suppressed.

As each revolt is suppressed, so the class power of the institutions grow greater until it snuffs out the Labour politicians themselves.

In the interests of gradual, legal, constitutional reform, Crosland and his henchmen are digging graves for reform and for themselves.

The stand of the 11 councillors at Clay Cross represented the last embers of organised resistance to capitalism within the British Labour Party. The embers have now been doused – by the Labour leaders. We must build a new fire with entirely different fuel.


Last updated on 17.1.2005