Jim Higgins

TUC leaders back Labour – at our expense

(September 1976)

From Workers News, no.11, September 1976.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

IT really is slightly ironic that the self styled, “Right to Work bootboys” who marched to Brighton to gain a little publicity for their cause should in fact provide a disproportionate amount of publicity for the TUC.

This, unfortunately, was not from the power of their argument but because the TUC itself was such a foregone conclusion.

Its debates were so prearranged that it was difficult to find any excitement, apart from the spectacle of ageing trade union leaders being hotly pursued up Brighton side-streets by orange-jerkined marchers.

In a sense the Brighton Congress has been beside the point. Almost every union, including the Seamen, is committed to the social contract. The essential debate which did not take place is the one about what will follow the current TUC-Government agreement.

The ominous phrase, “an orderly return to collective bargaining”, much on the tongues of Messrs Jack Jones and David Basnett, is no doubt an attempt to administer the same bitter medicine in a different coloured bottle.

Mr Jones, rather after the style of a Roman Emperor giving the thumbs up sign to a defeated gladiator, suggests that – assuming inflation down to single figures by August – he would favour increases up to 10 per cent.

The question that arises from a consideration of this latest piece of kite-flying, is: can Jones work the oracle for the third year running?

The signs are that, this time he may have over-stretched himself. Mr Joe Gormley, responded angrily, indicating that the miners would not thank Mr Jones for more of this sage leadership.

This clearly reflects the fact that Mr Gormley was only just able to fend off a call for the £100 a week miner at his own union’s conference this year. He obviously does not fancy his chances of getting away with the same thing next year.

Of equal significance have been the disputes at British Leyland. Despite the horror stories, in the (press and management handouts, that Leyland will fall flat on its face unless the workers forego all strikes, the toolmakers and electricians have been on strike for a week for increased payments.

Perhaps more significant is the action of the Cowley management, in attempting to remove credentials from four shop stewards. With all the resources of the press, who are always willing to bear the latest witch-hunting comment from Reg Parsons, the Cowley Senior Steward, the management have yet to turn the workers against their militant representatives.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that Cowley workers are aware that a strong shop floor organisation will soon be needed.

Yet another straw in the wing is the Seamen’s strike call. Although the actual case for the NUS is an argument within the context of the social contract, the strike majority vote would almost certainly not have been obtained a few months ago.

If, as seems likely, the seamen do strike, then there is very little that the government or the TUC can do to force them back without at least some concessions.

If that occurs then the door will be open for, others to follow suit. A victory for the seamen, no matter how hedged about with `special circumstances’ will encourage other workers to fight for what they can gain.

In particular in a number of unions where there is only a small majority for the social contract, such a breakthrough could well throw the balance the other way.

Of particular importance here is the AUEW, already in difficulty over the arbitrary application of the contract, and bedevilled by differential problems.

It is against this background that the 1976 TUC should be viewed. The debates will take place, the overwhelming victories for the General Council will be counted, but the underlying trend in the real movement will not be reversed.

The Government and the TUC will be in deep trouble; for every half successful policy that eventually fails, they must work all the harder to construct another. A task that will be made even more difficult by their declining credibility.

The prospectus the TUC put forward early this year was that, with the social contract, there would be a decline in unemployment, a boost to the economy and a cut in the cost of living.

Unemployment is now over 1½ million and rising, The economy is not recovering and the cost of living shows little sign of moderating. They would seem to have sold us a pig in a poke.

The TUC has, more than ever before, put its trust in a Labour Government. That their trust was misplaced is of less interest than that we are paying the price.


Last updated on 2.11.2003