Michael Kidron

Shop Action Can Beat Tories

(January 1956)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 5, January 1956, pp. 4–5.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

EVER since the Tory victory last May, the capitalists have been on the warpath. Prices have risen steadily although – as the TUC budget statement pointed out in November – the terms of trade have been favourable. Taxes which were given away to Big Business in the spring pre-election budget were taken back from the working class in the autumn post-election one. Council-house rents have been raised and council-house building cut. Tenants in private houses are threatened by changes in the Rent Acts. Comprehensive schools have been strangled and working class children forced into the dead-end Secondary Modern Schools. And, most dangerous of all, open war has been declared in the factories.

The Tories have not had it their own way entirely. The bosses have had to act warily. Each move has been resisted in the workshop. We have only to remember the two rail strikes, the strikes of the dockers and the miners and, most recent of all, the vigorous action taken by aircraft workers in Blackpool (Hawker Siddeley) and Scotland (Rolls-Royce) to see that.

But the fact remains that it has been the Capitalist class that has led the attacks, and not the workers. The Bosses have held the initiative and have hardened until, as in the case of Rolls, they refused to accept one of the bases of unionism – the closed shop. Why is this? What has let the initiative slip from the shop floor to the boardroom?

The function of leadership is to give clear direction to a force that already exists. Leadership means nothing without the rank and file; but once the rank and file is mobilized it can be of decisive importance.

Now, what leadership has been given in the fight against the Tories? Morrison has been trying to teach the capitalists by example, telling them to take a leaf out of the American bosses’ book and “to recognise ... the right of the trade union leaders to be brought into consultation” (Speech at the Oxford University Labour Club, reported in the Times, November 10, 1955).

The trade union leaders themselves have confined themselves to gently admonishing the Tory Government for going too far and telling it that if it listened the TUC would also bear its share of the “burden.” To quote the Times again the TUC statement on the economic situation and the supplementary budget “opened with the observation that it was the Government’s duty to do all they could to preserve a balance between competing demands on the nation’s resources but that trade unions, employers, and other sections of the community must also play their part” (November 24, 1955). In other words, if the Tories and their capitalist bosses would only tone down their demands, the TUC leadership would be happy to go along with them. In fact, they are willing to show their faith by attacking savagely the “irresponsible elements within our own ranks,” to quote Tom O’Brien (Tribune, November 18, 1955), by which they mean the militants on the shop floor who have resisted the Tory attacks.

O’Brien complains that “The Government has created a climate in industry that places the (right-wing leadership of the) trade unions ... in an impossible position.” Of course the right wing leadership is in an impossible position. There have been no lockouts of any size, there has been no wage-cutting in the bosses’ attack. The attack has been mainly through inflation and through the Tory budgets. Monopoly capitalism where the economic strength and the political pull are in so few hands, has no need to use the crude obvious frontal attack on the working class.

The monopolists can get together after a successful wage claim and agree to raise their prices and keep them there without competing amongst themselves. They can get their government to tax the workers in order to cover tax concessions to themselves. Monopoly capitalism uses political action or economic action indiscriminately, choosing whichever one will serve it best at any time.

If the right-wing leadership of the TUC and the Labour Party do not do the same, they will remain in an impossible position. Their trouble is that they do not. They are willing to shout about the budget in Parliament, but unwilling to appeal to industrial action to offset its effect. They are willing – sometimes – to strike against an individual capitalist but unwilling to strike again the whole capitalist class in the form of formulating a political programme for Socialism. And when the rank and file step ahead of their “leaders and show up Tory politics by taking industrial action, the right-wing leadership attacks it as “selfish and “irresponsible.” For, if once the rank and file proves to itself that its political strength lies in its economic strength, the end of capitalism will be very near, and the bureaucratic labour leaders whose job it is to look after the workers’ interest within the capitalist system will be without a job, as the capitalist system which houses them will be on its way to destruction.

The rank and file cannot take this situation lying down. We cannot fight the Tories if we do not use our main strength – industrial action and industrial solidarity. We cannot fight if we are kept in the dark about the intimate connection between the political action and the industrial action taken by the Monopolies and their Governmental Butlers.

We must learn this connection. We must learn how each event in the political world is effecting us in the factories; how each act in the factories has repercussions in the political world. Only on the basis of such knowledge will we be able to use our resources effectively to repel the Tory attack whether it is made in a political guise or an industrial one.

The best way of gaining such knowledge and of acting on it, the best way of directing ourselves is by forming Labour Party Groups within the shops and factories. These Groups would keep up a running commentary on the industrial implications of political changes and would know when to take industrial action. They would, on the basis of their experience, build a firm programme for the transition to Socialism, a programme which could attract the many non-politicals in the factories to the fight for concrete day-to-day demands and which would put pressure on the right-wing leadership of the Party and the TUC to either expose themselves or to fight for these demands.

The importance of such groups is not to be measured by their size. We know that the Capitalist Press believes all shop-stewards to be members of the Communist Party, that even Tom O’Brien believes that fifty per cent of them are. But we also know that the actual number of Communist Party members is very small (the price they pay for years of inconsistency and betrayals). However, they work as an organized group, the only organized group, and so influence a greater number of rank-and-filers than would be the case if there was an alternative and Socialist grouping. Labour Party Groups could be the alternative, hammering out a consistent Socialist policy without strings attached.

Last updated on 16 February 2017