ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, January 1976



[Two Years of Labour]


From International Socialism, No.85, January 1976, p.3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT can celebrate the coming of 1976 and the approach of its second anniversary with a victory over the Chrysler workers, a victory won without serious resistance.

Significantly, this was not a case of wage militancy being damped down by the threat of more unemployment. It was a case of accepting massive redundancies in the hope of preventing total shutdown – a hope likely to prove vain in the long run.

There will be no lack of struggle-weary pundits to point the moral that the workers wouldn’t fight. This is certainly untrue, as Peter Bain demonstrates in his article on Linwood.

What was shown was the incapacity and unwillingness to fight of the reformist plant leaderships in this new situation. They have coasted along, prodded by militants, through the boom years. Faced with a decisive crunch they proved incapable of changing, of rising to the challenge.

The urgent necessity for an effective rank and file movement to organise and coordinate the struggle for the defence of jobs has again been graphically demonstrated. The struggle at Chrysler could have been won. It was a question of leadership. Now that the focus shifts to the steel industry, that lesson must be learned quickly.

Of course, the government did not feel strong enough to impose its ‘back the winners’ industrial policy to the full at Chrysler. That policy, in effect complete surrender to market forces, required letting Chrysler sink at once. The majority of Ministers are still convinced that this is necessary. They were compelled to backtrack by the fear of precipitating an all-out struggle in spite of the majority – quite small at times – for surrender on the stewards’ committees and the abject attitude of the erstwhile ‘left’ leaderships of the TGWU and AUEW.

The electoral consequences too, especially in Scotland, of a resolute ‘no lame ducks’ policy moderated their enthusiasm for immediate closure. These very facts indicate the possibilities that were open for a determined and skilful plant leadership to exploit. The other side of that coin is that the struggle is not over. A new Chrysler crisis is inevitable, it is built into the present settlement. The battle, a very important battle, has been lost by default; not yet the war.

Could – or would – a Tory government have got away with the Chrysler job amputation operation? It is an open question. At any rate the description of the Wilson government as a Labour government with Tory policies becomes more and more exact. The role of Labour is to use its remaining credit and its ties with the trade union bureaucracy in the attempt to restructure British capitalism at the expense of the working class by allowing market forces full play.

It was not always so. In 1964 the government sought to re-structure capitalism (always its objective) by an expansion of state investment and state direction. It hoped to achieve a distinctly ‘Labour’ solution, a Scandinavian type capitalism.

What now remains of that is wages policy – and virtually nothing else. Mass unemployment has been accepted as inevitable until world capitalism goes into boom – and it is increasingly clear that in Britain (and not only in Britain) the sort of boom likely to occur will co-exist with heavy unemployment. Planning is a joke. The promised redistribution of income is taking place in reverse.

For revolutionaries, the most significant aspect of all this is the utter failure of the Labour lefts to offer even sustained verbal opposition; they and their union counterparts have been dragged rightwards without even the kicking and screaming normally associated with such a process.

It should now be obvious to everyone on the left that the development of broad currents of opposition; on the right to work, on wages, on public expenditure cuts, on anything, can only take place as a result of the initiatives and activity of an independent revolutionary force. There can now really be no excuse for believing that a significant left current can arise in the broad movement except to the extent that revolutionaries, by their own independent strength, create the conditions for it.

The Right to Work campaign of the National Rank and File Organising Committee is the immediate focus for crystallising out some of the elements of such a current. On its impact over the next months depends the immediate prospect for creating the nucleus of a broad oppositional movement:

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 9.2.2008