Source: Militant, no. 120 (September 1, 1972)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Niklas 2010
The TUC conference meets in a year of attacks by the Tory government on union organisations and standards of living of the working class and of mass unemployment. At the same time, as a response to this challenge, is the rising tide of militancy of the rank and file of the organised working class and of the labour movement.
There have been more strikes provoked by the government and the employers than in any period since the 1920s and the general strike of 1926. This embattled attitude of the workers is illustrated dramatically by the strike of the building workers led by UCATT and the T&GWU taking place while congress is meeting.
To those of little faith who are always excusing inaction by saying that the workers are apathetic, the magnificent response of the building workers, following that of the miners and the railwaymen, to the strike call is a crushing rejoinder.
Though only one third of the building workers were organised, in response to a fighting lead, especially by the rank and file stewards and militants, thousands and thousands are becoming organised in the struggle for decent wages and shorter hours of work. That should be an inspiration to every militant trade unionist and every union leader at the TUC conference.
The mood of the working class is reflected in the resolutions presented for discussion at the conference. The AUEW (technical and supervisory section) declares:
“Congress re-affirms its total opposition to the Industrial Relations Act 1971…it calls upon affiliated unions to use all means, both political and industrial, to oppose its implementation, including opposition to the payment of fines and appearances before the National Industrial Relations Court…Congress will give assistance, including industrial action if necessary in defence of affiliated unions victimised under the act…”
This extract shows the uncompromising attitude of the AUEW and undoubtedly the big majority of workers and unions represented at this congress. The feeling of the entire organised working class is expressed in this resolution and those of other unions.
The resolutions on education, increased pensions, pensions at 60, social services, against the government’s policy of wage restraint, on environmental pollution and on the steel industry show the temper of the workers represented at the congress; the one on the steel industry declares that:
“Congress pledges the maximum support to the affiliated trade unions within the steel industry in their fight to preserve establishments and employment in the industry which is being destroyed by the policy of the present government and the British Steel Corporation of hiving off the prosperous section of the industry and effecting closures with no consideration to the social problem which will arise as a consequence of their actions.” (Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers)
The attitude of the unions’ membership, indicating the anger of the working class at the developments of the last 2 years is summed up in the resolutions on unemployment, especially that of the Transport and General Workers’ Union:
“Congress declares that full employment must be made a major national priority, and rejects any idea that it will be sufficient if present high levels are merely reduced.
“In addition to necessary changes in government policy, however, Congress believes that the trade union movement must play a major part in reducing technological and other unemployment, in particular by pressure for a shorter working year, including the target of a 32 hour week, a 4 day week, 4 weeks annual holidays and additional public holidays, without loss of pay.
“In this way, Congress believes that large numbers of jobs can be created and the proceeds of technological advance more fairly shared.”
It seems as if not even the most right-wing union leaders will dare to oppose this resolution. Around the demand for a 32 hour 4 day week and for 4 weeks holiday, without loss of pay, a campaign must be developed by the entire movement. The resolutions quoted constitute a programme, a good programme of social and economic change. This must be taken up by every active member in the trade union and labour movement.
But the weakness, as well as the strength of the movement is reflected in these resolutions. Who is going to make a “major national priority” of full employment? There is the “nation” of the T&GWU, reflecting the working class, and the “nation” of Heath and the Tory government and CBI, reflecting the interests of the employing class. These are two different “nations” as Disraeli admitted a century or so ago.
Their interests are irreconcilably opposed. In addition the capitalists suffer under the constraints of their system. There is no “fair share” between the tiger and his victim. Technological change is used to increase the exploitation of the working class, as the docks dispute has demonstrated.
In last week’s Militant, we quoted the editorial of the Times which complained that T&GWU opposition to cheaper labour being employed on containers was a “protection racket”. As the voice of big business, to them technological progress was a means to increase profit, not to lighten labour, or increase the share of the workers. From the bosses’ point of view they are right. From the workers’ point of view it makes sense to decrease hours and increase wages to reap the benefits of science and technology.
But it is not a question of rationality or common sense. This the workers have on their side. But it is impossible for the ruling class to see it in this way. Hence the class struggle. Hence the need for the organisation, politically and economically of the workers.
Even more urgent is how to convert a “national priority” from a resolution into a programme of action. All the resolutions mentioned will undoubtedly be adopted by the congress, but how are they to be translated from resolutions into reality?
The Tory government and the employers tried it on by using the Industrial Relations Act against the workers, The arrest of the 5 dockers led to such a wave of indignation and action by the workers that the TUC by a big majority threatened a 24 hour general strike.
Even before this the resistance of the workers to the Tory government and employers’ offensive was such that the government looked for some other method of achieving their aims against the workers. The direct confrontation with the miners, the railwaymen and the dockers had failed. The power of the unions was too great.
Hence indirect means were needed to cut the share of the wealth produced by the workers going to the workers. Profit is the unpaid labour of the working class. If the share of the capitalists is to be increased, the share of the workers must be cut. This has been done indirectly by devaluation, through the floating of the pound, which will inevitably lead to higher prices.
But fearing even more powerful resistance to higher prices and mass unemployment, the government is trying to ensnare the leaders of the TUC in a programme of “conciliation” with the CBI and the government, in a “production and voluntary prices and incomes policy”.
Hardly had the echoes of the struggles which led to the release of the 5 dockers died down, when the TUC leaders who had threatened massive confrontation with the government of big business, were meekly again collaborating with them!
This inconsistency can only act in the interests of the employers and their Tory lackeys. The haughty attitude of the CBI and the government and their insistence on introducing the IR Act in order to fetter the movement hand and foot shows their real attitude. They want the “collaboration” of the TUC to save them from the rising anger of the organised workers. They wish to use the TUC to break the movement of opposition of the working class.
Having used the TUC, if the radical mood ebbs, they will contemptuously toss them aside. Only the government and the employers can gain from class collaboration with the enemy. Kissing the stick that beats them with the IR Act, taxes and profits legislation, the Housing Finance Bill and so on, cannot serve the interests of the working class or organised labour movement.
The TUC cannot carry through or fight for the programme being adopted by this congress and collaborate with the CBI and Tory government. One or the other must be dropped. Which is it to be? Are the resolutions to be nothing but words, words, words, as Shakespeare put it, or are they meant to be serious guides to action?
The situation is grave, nearly a million unemployed officially, according to Vic Feather, much more than a million in reality. There has been a fall in investment of 7 percent in 1971 and an estimated fall of another 2 percent in 1972. Even if 1973 would see an increase in investment of the projected optimistic figure of 10 percent, this would bring investment in capital equipment up to the level of 1970, which was far below that of Britain’s capitalist rivals, or even of the best previous years. Even if production is increased it will not solve the problems of the economy.
That means that once again the employers and the government would have to try and redress the balance by squeezing further profits from the workers. Not from wickedness or cussedness did the Tory government and the employers attack the unions by stringent legislation, but because of the condition of British capitalism at home and on world markets.
The capitalists would prefer compromise and agreements, even of an illusory “fair share” going to the workers. But they cannot afford this because of the contradictions of the system. Hence the inevitability of further attacks on the conditions and standards of living of the working class.
The needs of the workers are there, the productive apparatus to produce the goods is there, created by the labour of the working class over a century. But capitalism produces for profit and not for need. No profit—or lower profits—no production—and mass unemployment.
Consequently the TUC must not be used by the employers and their government—only to be cast contemptuously aside when they have served their purpose—but must break with the CBI and Tory government now!
The TUC, together with the Labour Party and co-ops in the national council of labour must begin a campaign to force the government to resign. The resolutions of this congress, together with the resolutions put forward at Labour Party conference should be the basis of the campaign.
A general election following on an organised campaign, with the mobilisation of the entire Labour and trade union movement would lead to a new Labour government. But if the Labour government operated on the same basis as the last one, it could not carry out the programme of reforms of this TUC congress or its projected programme. The nationalisation of a few declining industries like the docks, or even a profitable industry like pharmaceuticals, although a step forward, would not solve anything fundamentally.
The Labour government like the last would be compelled to operate like a Tory government on Jenkinsonian lines so long as 80 to 85 percent of the economy remained in private hands. Only the taking over of the 350 biggest monopolies, banks and insurance companies which control 85 percent of the economy with minimum compensation on the basis of need would allow a programme of radical reform to be carried out.
Then, a £30 minimum wage, including pensioners and the sick could be established. Unemployment would disappear and planned production, involving the unions could be organised.
The state capitalist nationalisation of the past is inadequate. There must be workers’ management and control of the nationalised industries. Workers’ management would mean two-thirds of the boards of each industry would be appointed by the TUC, half of these to be appointed by the unions in the industry involved and the last third to be appointed by the government, all members appointed by the TUC to be responsible to the annual conference and submit an annual report. This is the programme for which the TUC and LP should campaign.
A new wind is blowing through the organised movement. It will blow away the ideas of reformism like cobwebs and dust. There is no way forward with the old discredited methods. In the last few years, for the first time for a generation and more, there have been national official strikes. The building workers’ strike of UCATT and the T&GWU must be officially supported and aided by the TUC.
Ride the tide of aroused workers’ radicalisation, the tide of opposition to the employers and their Tory government. Begin a mass campaign for power! Either this or the resolutions of congress this year must remain as meaningless and pious scraps of paper.