From International Socialism (1st series), No.45, November/December 1970, pp.1-2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
The basic fact to grasp about the Tory Government’s policies is their essential continuity with those of the Wilson administration. The rhetoric is different because the electoral clientele of the parties is different. The policy objectives are the same because they are dictated by the needs of British capitalism.
The Labour Party consists of a middle and upper class leadership seeking to implement capitalist policies with a predominantly working class voting base. The Tory Party consists of an upper class leadership seeking to implement capitalist policies with a middle class voting base reinforced by large numbers of backward workers.
The differing ideological justifications of near identical policies are of some political significance. Politics may be concentrated economics but it is much more besides. Ideas are important. An essential job of revolutionaries is to find ways of linking their aims with the existing consciousness and aspirations of workers. The existence of a Tory government and a Labour opposition changes the conditions under which this job has to be tackled. It is also the case that there are differences, marginal perhaps but none the less real, in the ease or difficulty with which Labour and Tory governments can be deflected from their course by organised working class pressure. The defeat of In Place of Strife is a case in point. Very much more massive resistance will be needed to defeat Fair Deal at Work.
Nevertheless the strategy of Heath is, in essence, that of Wilson before him. The problem, for the capitalist class, is to shift resources from consumption to investment and hence, broadly from working people to investors, and to make institutional changes that will perpetuate the shift. The solution, accepted by the leaders of both parties, is the combination of a three pronged attack on the working class.
The first and most dangerous attack is a sustained and long term offensive against the power of shop floor organisations through productivity deals, measured day work, job evaluation and the rest of the paraphanalia of ‘scientific management’. The aim here is to win back for management unfettered control of the work process, to stop wage drift and thus to utilize the world wide inflation to freeze, or better still to reduce, real wages. This is the centrepiece of the attack on the working class and it is the most important aspect of the employers’ offensive precisely because it is aimed to increase the fragmentation of the working class movement.
It cannot wholly achieve its objective, however, unless combined with the weapons of incomes policy and anti-union legislation. These are the second prong and at first sight there is a difference between Labour and Tory policies in this field. It is more apparent than real. It was the defeat of Wilson’s ‘incomes policy’ swindle, that produced In Place of Strife. The Tory version of anti-union legislation is intended to achieve the same effect. All that has changed is the ideology. It is important to recognise that the Tories do not intend to smash the unions as such. Their aim, like that of the Labour government, is to castrate them and to convert them into more effective instruments for controlling the working class. The ideal of both party leaderships is a Trade Union officialdom, free from control by the rank and file, that can act as a police force for the employers. Incomes policy as such was never more than ideological window dressing for this objective.
The third prong of the attack, deflationary policies to weaken the working class by creating a growing pool of unemployment, together with tax changes and cuts in the social services, thus directing income from working people to the rich, was also pioneered by the Wilson Labour government. True that Government did not get as far as cutting the standard rate of income tax. Yet in every other respect Jenkins was the path-breaker and Barber the follower. The Labour government Introduced wage related benefits and health service charges. It increased school meal charges and abolished free milk in secondary schools. The Tories have taken the same process a stage further. The aim, the ‘Americanisation’ of British society, the demolition of ‘Welfare’ and the substitution of selective ‘Charity’, is identical.
Underlying the policies of both governments are long run changes in western capitalism. The relative decline of the permanent arms economy, the growth of multi-national firms and the built-in international inflation are the real determinants of Tory/Labour policy. Since inflation cannot be halted short of a major slump, it is to be used as a weapon in the class struggle. Since the arms budgets of the major powers are declining in relative importance real wages and social expenditure must be curbed. Since the multi-national firms are of greater and greater importance real wages and social expenditure must be adjusted downwards so as to influence ‘favourably’ their investment decisions.
The resistance to the employers’ offensive is assisted, to some degree, by the changes in its ideological justification. It is going to be easier to mobilise sections of the working class against Heath than it was against Wilson. The other side of the coin is the danger of the ‘rehabilitation’ of the Labour Party leadership. Fortunately this cannot be achieved quickly, and meanwhile the revolutionary left has the opportunity to make its ideas seem relevant to substantial numbers of militant workers.
There must be a consistent fight within the unions against the acceptance of all agreements that assist the management to ‘discipline’ the workforce and undermine the power of the shop stewards. The Tory anti-union legislation must be fought by massive direct action. At the same time the fight for democracy inside the unions must be intensified. The elementary general demands for the election and periodic re-election of all officials, payment of officials at the average skilled rate in industry, and the making of policy by the membership are more important than ever. If, in spite of all efforts, the anti-union bill becomes law there must be a campaign to commit unions to refuse to register, to refuse to collaborate in any way with the courts or tribunals established and to defend all members who are victimised under the law.
Yet in the last resort the employers’ offensive cannot be beaten by industrial action alone. The reintroduction of socialist politics into the organised working class remains the essential condition for even defensive success. The opportunities open to revolutionary socialists are greater than they have been for a long time. So too are the responsibilities.
Last updated on 17 November 2009