Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

How a Bus Strike Was Lost in 1937

(May 1958)

From The Newsletter, 17 May 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

‘What we learn from history,’ writes a famous military historian, ‘is that we do not learn from history.’

The outcome of the London bus strike largely depends on whether or not that dictum is disproved in this case.

In 1937, when Ernest Bevin headed the Transport and General Workers’ Union, he wrecked the London busmen’s strike for the 7½-hour day by refusing to call out the tramwaymen, sending, back provincial busmen who had come out in several areas and making no attempt to involve the Underground or other railwaymen.

In troubled waters

The result was a Court of Inquiry recommendation which did not meet the busmen’s demands, the calling-off of the strike on this basis, and a brawl within the union that gave ample opportunities to the Communist Party leaders and to W.J. Brown to fish in troubled waters in their respective fashions.

The 1937 dispute went on for four weeks, and was defeated. An isolated busmen’s strike could this time also go on and on, exhausting the strikers and ending in defeat.

By bringing in other transport and rail workers now this strike can be made successful – and a boost to the authority of the organized working-class movement in this country.

Irrelevant or irreverent?

Taken to task by correspondents for his comments on the London Labour Party conference on H-bomb policy, ‘Critic’ of the New Statesman has returned to the attack. His objection, he writes, is to ‘turning a Labour Party conference intended for discussion of policy into an irrelevant shouting match’.

Whatever else might be said about the questions that were asked, they were hardly ‘irrelevant’ – all related to the bomb and how to get rid of it.

Perhaps this was a misprint for ‘irreverent’? There was certainly no misplaced reverence about the meeting: and that was the most reassuring feature about it to many newcomers to the Labour Party.

May Day proof

As there was no proper provision for discussion, questioning inevitably assumed a ‘discussional’ character.

And Bevan, the chief speaker, did nothing to lower the temperature when he called one of his questioners a ‘self-satisfied little person who thinks she knows all the answers’.

This referred to Vivienne Mendelson, who spoke for the Norwood resolution at the Brighton conference and is evidently now a ‘marked woman’ for some people.

The reception which The Newsletter’s banner and placards were given on the May Day march to Hyde Park proved that the ideas behind the questions put to Bevan are widely held and gaining support.

Last updated on 11.10.2011