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International Socialism, December 1975


Notes of the Month

The AUEW defeat and after


From International Socialism, No. 84, December 1975, pp. 4–5.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


‘These elections matter more than any parliamentary by-election, perhaps more than most general elections.’ Thus Alistair Burnet, editor of the Daily Express and hard-nosed right winger on the last round of AUEW elections. He was right.

The unprecedented press and TV propaganda campaign in favour of the ‘moderate’ candidates proved that his view was widely shared in capitalist and ‘social democratic’ circles. No doubt at all, this campaign, plus the postal ballot system, played a large part in the right-wing victory.

But that is far from the whole story. The magnitude of the Broad Left defeat is shown, above all, in the rejection of Bob Wright, sitting member and Hugh Scanlon’s heir-apparent. Duffy, a right-wing nonentity, beat Wright by 45,469 to 20,685 and romped home on the first ballot. At the same time Gavin Laird knocked out the much publicised Jimmy Reid by 24,838 to 12,115 in John Boyd’s old seat. Only in the North West, where the right-wing also led the field, will the Executive Council elections go to second ballot. The return of Ken Brett, by a whisker, as Assistant National Secretary is little consolation. It is an inescapable fact that the failure of the ‘Broad Left’ to bring home the bacon in simple economic terms lies at the root of the right-wing successes.

In International Socialism 79 John Deason, commenting on previous ‘Broad Left’ failures, wrote:

‘Faced with humiliating election results, leading Broad Left figures have already started blaming the rank and file. “They have drifted to the right.” “We were too militant for them over the Industrial Relations fight.” We should reject such criticism as elitist and dangerous if we are to counter the right-wing ascendancy. The right have gained through default of the Communist Party and its Broad Left ... The consistent failure of the Broad Left to fight for meaningful national wage claims is possibly the most significant feature of rank and file disillusionment with existing officials.’

Support for this analysis comes from the 10,000 plus votes, obtained on a clear and advanced programme, by Willie Lee, fighting his first national election.

But, of course, that does not alter the fact that the right-wing gains will have a profound effect, not only in switching the AUEW to support of government policies, but on the balance of forces in the whole trade union movement. We, all of us on the left, have suffered a serious defeat.

The survey of the current situation for the December IS Council, after drawing attention to the government’s success in enforcing the £6 pay limit, continues:

‘Other indications, less reliable but pointing in the same direction, include the two to one majority for the pro-marketeers in the referendum, the miners’ ballot in favour of the £6 limit and the rightward trend in AUEW elections. All this indicates that there has been a widespread, if reluctant, acceptance of the government-TUC line on ‘counter-inflationary’ policy and all that it implies.

‘These symptoms might be summed up as a ‘shift to the right’ in the working class. But this conclusion would be very misleading. There has, indeed, been a certain shift towards passivity, but that is not the same thing at all. Two processes have been occurring simultaneously. On the one hand, acceptance, a degree of passivity – mainly because of the lack of alternative policies and an alternative leadership seen as credible – on the part of the majority. On the other hand, increasing disgruntlement and dissatisfaction on the part of a minority. The vote for Laurie Smith in the last round of AUEW elections is a small indication of this. The vote for Willie Lee in the current round (results not known at time of writing) should confirm it.

‘It is to this minority-smallish at the moment but certain to grow – to which we have to relate. The effects of cuts in real earnings, cuts in services and mounting unemployment will eventually produce mass disillusionment in government-TUC policy. The tide will turn against them. But our task now is not to wait for the turn of the tide but to develop and strengthen our connections with, and influence over, the leftward moving minority. And we need to keep in mind that this minority is not necessarily identical with the traditionally ‘advanced’ sectors. It can include blacks, unskilled, women, and, above all, youth.

‘We are not now in a position to speak to large masses (exceptional circumstances apart). We are in a position, a uniquely favourable position, to go forward from our present situation as the dominant force on the revolutionary left to becoming the recognised and unchallengeable leadership of the left opposition in the working class movement. That too will be a minority position, and for a considerable period a smallish minority position, but it opens up the possibility of mass influence at a later stage.

‘One thing is quite certain. The next wave of ascending class struggle, whether it comes early or late, will open up tremendous possibilities for revolutionaries who have laid the basis, politically and organisationally, for a credible presence in the months or year or so ahead. Given that the CP is tied to the apron-strings of the “progressive” bureaucrats and “left” MPs and that most of the grouplets of the revolutionary left are turning more and more to entry into, or orientation on, the Labour Party and its “lefts”, the field is wide open to us. If we expand our influence and develop organisational connections among employed workers, take a leading part in the struggle against unemployment and develop means of reaching out to sections of blacks, youth and women, then we will become the real communist party, the party of revolution, in Britain in the not too distant future.’

A most encouraging sign is the success of the November 26th Right to Work demonstration. In spite of vigorous TUC opposition and half-hearted, at best, support from the CP, 20,000 workers (that is the police estimate, and likely to be on the low side) demonstrated, and the placards of the National Rank and File Organising Committee completely dominated the march.

One swallow does not make a summer. But November 26th proved that the leftward moving minority is there all right. That is what we have to build on.

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