Ted Grant

Crisis of power

Source: Militant, no. 93 (February 25, 1972)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Manuel 2010

The government of big business has brought chaos to the industrial and private lives of the workers and the people of Britain. They miscalculated the determination, militancy and solidarity of the miners, and the overwhelming sympathy and support of the labour and trade union movement.

The power cuts and unemployment, the shivering and the blackouts are the responsibility of the government. The cause of this crisis is the policy of the government of keeping wages down while the cost of living has risen astronomically, 15 percent in food prices alone during its term of office. The game is given away in an editorial in The Times of 15th February which declares that:

“The strike was not caused by any technical failure in conciliation but by the real conflict between the demands of the miners and the determination of the government to resist wage inflation. [i.e. increases to match prices and give modest rises in living standards—EG]… However one has to recognise that the policy that the government actually pursued depended upon a willingness to face confrontation and that it has been remarkably successful.”

Here is the voice of the spokesman of big business. The real responsibility of the government for the crisis is made plain in a following paragraph:

“Every prime minister since Sir Winston Churchill had normally exerted a pressure to settle wage disputes rather than face the consequences of national strikes… Mr. Heath has been working in exactly the opposite way.”

Then, justifying the policy of Heath and the Tories, declares:

“Unpalatable as the view may be, the cost of this coal strike so far and its likely future cost if it is settled as a result of the Wilberforce report is only a fraction of the damage that would have been done if there had not been a real determination to resist wage inflation. There really is no way of fighting wage inflation without being prepared to face major and damaging strikes.”

Thus the naked truth is that the employers, their spokesmen in the press, and their hirelings in the government have declared war on the trade unions and the working class. This is not because of the defects in character of Heath, though he has many, nor his stupidity and inhuman cold calculation which masquerades as determination, but because of the need to defend the interests of the ruling class.

The government and the employers look complacently on the blows to the economy caused by this policy. The state can afford the losses of the Post Office and the Coal Board so long as the profits of private industry are safeguarded. By “confronting” the workers in the state sector and keeping down wages, it helps the employers in the private sector to do the same at relatively little cost.

Profit dictates policy

Pontificate The Times, the Financial Times and other organs of the press, radio, TV and the CBI in chorus, the economy cannot afford “inflationary wage increases”. What they mean is increases to match the real inflation—the increase in prices. The economy can’t afford to give a decent standard of living to the miners and other workers, but it can apparently afford one million unemployed and the disruption of the economy. From the capitalist point of view, this is perfectly tolerable.

What this really means is that for the government and the ruling class, profit, and profit alone, dictates policy.

“Wage inflation must be contained” That is the parrot-cry. Widows, old age pensioners and people on fixed incomes will then benefit, is the pharisaical excuse. Yet every family in Britain could have had an additional income of £3 per week last year, £6 per week this year and even greater sums next year, if the total unemployed were productively working. This is a conservative estimate of two capitalist Cambridge economists.

Instead, more than £15 million per week has to be paid out to the unemployed in benefits and supplementary income. They are kept in despair and enforced idleness. This amounts to more than £750 million a year, as a consequence of the fact that capitalism cannot use the human and material resources of the country.

At the same time, the productive apparatus of manufacturing industry, machinery, buildings and so on is only used to 60 percent of capacity at the present time. If used to its maximum extent, it would mean an enormous increase in living standards. Instead of this, we have the interests of capital determining the policy of the Tories. Heath, Barber

Maudling, Davies and Carr are determined to keep down the wages of the workers, in order to guarantee and increase the profits of the capitalists. This is because the profits of the capitalists are determined by the amount of unpaid labour they can extract from the labour of the working class. They want to diminish the share of the workers in the national cake, in order to increase the share of the capitalists. This is the real “secret” of the policy of the government and the cause of the crisis with the miners.

The policy of hard-faced Toryism is in ruins. They completely miscalculated the determination of the miners and the solidarity of the industrial workers with their miner brothers. The Times and the Financial Times have editorialised in panic about the “illegal” picketing of the miners. This forms an example and an inspiration to other trade unionists, who have put in their claim for wage increases, Heath’s “determination” will bring even greater determination to the engineers and other trade unionists.

The Times complains that Heath is not personally “friendly” with “moderate” trade union leaders, i.e. that he is not in the position to suborn them from their duty to their membership. The working class must fight back with the demand that the trade union and Labour leaders must have no truck with the government of finance capital. Now is the time to mobilise the entire forces of the trade union and labour movement, in a campaign within the working class.

This government of capitalist perfidy, malice, stupidity, cruelty, incompetence and greed for gain, must be brought down. The workers have been roused by the fight of the miners and the power crisis, as they have not been stirred for decades. Miners, power workers, engineers, dockers have already moved into action. Let the employers and their government bear the cost of the criminal policies of their government. Not a penny off the pay by price inflation!

Socialist plan

Let this be the starting point for the Labour and trade union leaders to wage a joint campaign for a general election. Let the people decide! The programme for the general election must be the exposure of the real interests which the Tory Party represents. Not an incomes policy, which in effect has been operated by Heath, but a socialist policy to take over the banks, insurance companies and the 250 monopolies, which control the economy.

The working class would be ready and eager to accept socialist policies at the present time. Only thus can the right to work and the right to decent standards of living for the working class, or the pensioners and the sick be guaranteed by a socialist plan of production, with industry and the state under workers’ control and management.