Source: Militant, no. 103 (May 5, 1972)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Manuel 2010
The Tories are using the Industrial Relations Act against the dockers, the railwaymen and the engineering draughtsmen. The real purpose of the Act was shown by the statements of Sir John Donaldson, head of the Industrial Relations Court, when he said that union leaders must discipline and even expel their members, area officials and shop stewards, at the dictates of the court, if they were not to be in contempt of court, and the unions heavily fined.
Thus the £5,000 and £50,000 fines on the T&GWU and threats of further fines. The motivation behind the Act is to tie the unions to the state and turn the union leaders and the union apparatus into auxiliary police for the government.
Thus 20 years ago, most strikes were unofficial and the struggle had to be conducted in the teeth of the opposition of the union leaders, who often expelled militants leading such struggles.
The self-sacrifice and struggle within the unions of left-wing militants, industrially and politically, has begun the process of transforming the unions into powerful weapons of struggle in the interests of their members (especially in the case of the T&GWU and the AUEW) the purpose for which unions were organised.
The employers and their tool, the Tory government, want to reverse this process. That is why they are supporting such scab unions as the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers (UKAPE)—in order to weaken the unions and the solidarity of the workers; it is also why the Act, in effect, protects company unions and scabs against the closed shop, such as that at C.A. Parsons.
The Act and the Tory government are only strong because of the weakness of the leaders of the unions and the TUC. Cooley, of the Technical and Supervisory Staffs (TASS), the white collar section of the AUEW, has announced non-compliance with the Act, regarding Parsons. Jack Jones, the “left”-wing leader of the T&G, has announced that the union will not undertake any “illegal actions”. The vote on the T&G executive (18-18) to pay the fines, was only carried by the chairman’s casting vote. This demonstrates the feeling of the rank-and-file.
It is a lack of lead and cowardly indecision by the leadership that resulted in the USDAW conference voting to register under the Act. The weaker unions have wavered because of lack of a lead from the TUC and the powerful industrial unions.
Unjust laws passed by Westminster at the behest of the enemy class are not worth anything when weighed against the power of the organised labour movement. The jails are not big enough or strong enough to contain the workers who will resist, if a lead is given.
Let the leaders of the movement remember the martyrs of the past, who made the power of the trade union and labour movement possible. There could be no union movement or Labour Party without the courage and defiance and self-sacrifice of the pioneers of the movement.
The right to strike, the right to organise, free speech and even the right to vote, were not given as a gift by the capitalists and their government, but had to be fought for and won by the blood and toil of tens of thousands of socialist workers.
Let the leadership learn from the example of Jimmy Symes, chairman of the Liverpool dock shop-stewards’ committee, a real workers’ leader in Liverpool, as quoted in Militant No. 103:
“Unions weren’t built on funds; they were built on the blood and sweat of their members. The strength of any union depends on its shop floor.”
The miners and the support they gained, demonstrated that the real power is that of the workers. Not a railway carriage wheel turns, not a ship moves, not a light bulb burns, not a paper appears, without the labour of the working class. Why bow to unjust laws?
Follow the lead of the national committee of the AUEW and the national executive of the T&G—recall the TUC conference; organise an even bigger campaign against the government and the Industrial Relations Act, than when the Bill was first put to Parliament; put all the resources of the TUC—the unions, the LP and the co-ops—into a campaign of the education of the entire working class, on the class nature of the Act.
The TUC, on the basis of such a campaign, must organise a one-day general strike for the repeal of the Act; force the Tories to resign and hold an immediate general election; put forward a socialist programme for the next Labour government.