ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, February 1977


Notes of the Month

Britain: The Industrial Struggle


From International Socialism (1st series), No.95, February 1977, p.5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE mood among rank and file workers is beginning to change. After two years of lull, the trend of struggle on the shop floor is upwards.

There are a number of signs of this change.

The most obvious are among public sector workers hit by the cuts. The 60,000 strong demonstration on 17 November has encouraged section after section of workers to take local action. In many different areas members of the Public Employees Union have staged half day and day strikes. In the civil service union, the CPSA, there has been a general ban on overtime. In the local government workers union, NALGO, a special conference only narrowly defeated a motion kicking out the social contract, and a one-day strike in Scotland was carried against the advice of the executive. The fight back against the cuts is developing at a speed that often takes old-established militants by surprise. Among industrial workers, the process is slower. But there are signs here too of increased anger, especially over wages. There have been a number of sectional disputes – often with differentials as the pretence for wage demands – that have shut whole plants: Rubery Owen, Cammell Lairds, Massey Ferguson. In Sheffield there has been a major strike against redundancies at Balfour Darwins. In Leyland there is an unexpectedly large opposition to the deal offered by the management – seen by many as a precursor for what all workers can expect under stage three of the wages freeze.

The Leadership’s Response

The mood affects sections of the trade union bureaucracy, who feel that they must stand out against government policy in order to head off their members’ anger. So “New Left” leaders in the public sector – Alan Fisher and co. – organise token actions like the November 17 lobby of Parliament in protest against the cuts that are wiping out many of their members’ jobs. But even a right-winger like Frank Chapple feels forced to move against the government. The EETPU is calling a one-day strike on February 14 of its 35,000 members in telecommunications to protest against Post Office cuts.

Nonetheless, the loyalty of the TUC General Council to the Labour government has not cracked yet. It looks as if Murray, Jones, Scanlon and the rest will agree to a third round of wage restraint this summer. It is too early to tell what the exact shape of the pay deal will be. If, as seems likely, it offers more room for productivity deals and improvements in fringe benefits, to help employers and unions deal with the squeezed differentials that have caused dispute after dispute in the car industry, then the policy will be a lot more difficult to enforce, especially with a mood of growing militancy among rank-and-file workers.

The LCDTU Rises From the Dead

THE cracks in the bureaucracy mean that the Communist Party feels that it is safe to raise its head again. Up to now, the CP has responded to collapse of so many of its erstwhile ‘progressive’ heroes like Jones and Scanlon into support for wage restraint with a refusal to rock the boat. It was left to the Right to Work Campaign, with far less industrial muscle than the CP can still mobilise, to make the running last year in the fight against unemployment and the Social Contract.

Now, however, that sections of the trade union leadership are prepared to organise protests against the cuts, the CP feels that it can take an initiative. So the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions has been revived and is holding a conference on February 26. But the Party is still wedded to the idea of an alliance with “progressive” trade union leaders (see Duncan Hallas’s article elsewhere in this issue). If the conference is like past performances, we will be regaled with a series of speeches by Tribunite MPs and ‘left’ trade union worthies on the need for an “alternative economic strategy” and import controls while amendments to the statement prepared by the platform and alternative resolutions will be ruled out of order.

In the face of this do-nothing policy we must maintain an open and nonsectarian attitude aimed at involving the Communist and left-wing Labour militants who do want to fight the Social Contract in joint activity. Therefore, the call by the Right to Work Campaign to the LCDTU for common action (see box) is to be welcomed.

The Right to Work Campaign’s proposals to the Liaison Committee conference:

  1. A call for a one-day national strike with local demonstrations against the cuts and the Social Contract on 23 March.
  2. A commitment to active support, including solidarity stoppages, for all forms of industrial action against the cuts, for the right to work and against the Social Contract.
  3. Support for the initiatives and marches organised by the Right to Work Campaign.
  4. Support for the quashing of the sentences on Right to Work marchers – no more Shrewsburys!
  5. For the formation of a coordinating committee between the Liaison Committee, the organisers of last March’s Assembly on Unemployment, and the Right to Work Campaign to better unity initiatives against the cuts, for the right to work and against the Social Contract.

Our tasks

THE changing situation means that the Socialist Workers Party and its members will have growing opportunities to lead major industrial struggles after years spent largely on the sidelines. To grasp these opportunities will mean major changes in our methods of work.

The dampening effect of the Social Contract on struggles of any scale for the last two years or so, has meant that we have been the only organised force prepared to fight unemployment, wage restraint, etc. The impact that we have made by initiating the Right to Work Campaign and supporting its two marches and its other activities has been significant but still fairly marginal in terms of the class as a whole. The Campaign organised unemployed workers and began to offer a focus to the small minority of workers who wanted to fight.

Now, as growing numbers of workers move into action, we will find themselves operating in an environment where the initiatives do not come from us, and where even sections of the trade union bureaucracy are prepared to take token action. We will have to avoid the twin dangers of a conservative failure to grab the opportunities offered by a higher level of struggle and of being swamped by the far greater mobilising power of Fisher and the other left officials.

Our success will lie in our ability to connect the politics of the national rank-and-file movement with the struggles that are developing. The need for such a movement increases in a period when some trade union leaders seem prepared to fight. They will see what action does take place as a way of strengthening their bargaining position with the government and the employers. Only if the rank-and-file is organised to fight independently of them can sell outs like the NUM Executive’s over early retirement be prevented.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 8.2.2008