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International Socialism, Summer 1967


Roger Cox

The Notebook



From International Socialism (1st series), No.29, Summer 1967, p.3.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Roger Cox writes: The National Committee of the Amalgamated Engineering Union began in April, and like most other national committees, will produce resolutions from nationalisation to equal pay for women. Many will be forgotten until next year; others, which the right wing need – like support for the wage freeze – will be seized upon to beat down any opposition from the delegations to Labour Party Conference and the TUC. Crowning the National Committee meetings is Bro Carron’s address, and this year, it seems from the first press reports, he has reached even further into the gutter. In urging delegates to support the wage freeze, he blames the crisis on immigrants living off the State’s welfare services – it must be difficult, as a director of Fairfield’s (for the employers) and the Bank of England, to attack the employers and bankers.

With Carron’s last year as president, the Union faces a turning point. The AEU now stands at over 1 million members which include some of the best and most experienced militants in industry; yet despite their popularity locally and the open democratic constitution of the Union, they have little effect on the right-wing control of the Union and its results, e.g. the package deal.

The main contestants in the coming presidential elections indicate the power groups inside the union, and likely changes. John Boyd, with little doubt the next president, will, with General Secretary Conway, try to contain any revolt against right-wing policy. To do this, he will fight to change the democratic nature of the Union. The proposals, already cited in The Notebook (Colin Barker, IS 27) are worth repeating: the end of elections for certain officials; the establishment of factory branches with check-off for dues or paid collectors; the appointment of more full-time officials, especially as branch secretaries and factory convenors, vesting control in the EC rather than in branches and local members. AEU support for the Government morally and practically will continue, but with greater difficulties as it runs into rank-and-file opposition on wages policy. For the opposition it would be a mistake to underestimate the right wing; they are confident, better organised, have the support of the press etc., and even among the rank and file of the Union, support is deep, mostly in the ‘backward’ branches where reliance on the national leaders is important and where, unlike London and advanced areas, workers cannot take independent shop floor action to improve conditions.

The opposition to Boyd comes from an alliance of Labour lefts and Right wing CP members. Scanlon from the Midlands is the candidate. They seem to have done a great deal of campaigning which is more than Reg Birch, the third candidate, has done, and may focus general dissatisfaction with the Government’s anti-working class policies. What Scanlon represents is nothing new in AEU election politics; the position is that if only the leadership can become – as if by magic – Left wing, all problems are solved. Government policy will collapse into grey dust if only Bro Scanlon becomes President. These left wingers regard the Union basically in the same way as the right wing, as a machine that needs the right people to manipulate it. At least the right wing have some popular support for this view, but many members who are not going to vote for Boyd may not be convinced by Scanlon. The CP line which demands activity only through the Branch ballot box will not in the long run help Scanlon. Many workers know that with much enthusiasm they have elected some CP officials only to have them appear later doing the dirty work for a right-wing EC.

To me, the saddest candidate in this election is Reg Birch. Suspended from the CP for his critical attitude towards the Party’s eager love for Parliament and local councils and its retreat from industry, Birch has always opposed Carron in previous elections, and at the last election showed he had good support. But he has done hardly anything to let it be known he is standing, and the CP has given the impression he no longer exists. Birch’s supporters – mainly based in London and especially North District Committee – include some of the best people in terms of industrial and political experience, but they have certain problems. The basic one is that of simple survival outside the CP after years of being supported by it. To overcome their relative isolation and weakness in numbers, they will have to organise as a group more closely and cooperate with other left wing militants on a common platform which emphasises local action against the right wing and employers, and places less emphasis than at present on elections. They are still confused over what direction to follow, feel they have larger support than they really have; they face some demoralisation, but any left-wing militant attempting to reform a mass Trade Union, must realise that it is not the manipulation of the rule book that wins.

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Last updated on 6 May 2010