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International Socialism, November 1977


Notes of the Month


A Hot Winter


From International Socialism (1st series), No.103, November 1977, p.2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The miners’ decision to throw out the National Coal Board’s proposed productivity deal has transformed the political situation. Until the result of the pit ballot was announced on 1 November things seemed to be going the Labour government’s way.

Ford workers had been persuaded to accept a deal which was only marginally above the ten per cent limit. The ballot on the Leyland ‘wage reform’ scheme went two to one in favour of corporate bargaining. The threat of a dock strike, which seemed quite real at the end of the summer, receded at least temporarily into the background. The policemen’s leaders were hammered into accepting a deal within the pay limit.

The government felt secure enough to bow to allow the pound to float upwards on the foreign exchanges. In doing so they responded to pressure from the City which fears that the massive recent inflow of foreign capital into Britain threatens to push the growth in the money supply above the IMF’s limit. The decision was taken even though it will damage the competitive position of British industrial capital. The CBI calculates that the rise in the pound will wipe out any effect in increasing jobs and output that Healey’s mini-budget might have had. The day after the decision on the pound the miners’ massive vote against the productivity deal was announced.

The vote is a shattering blow, not only for the government, but for the right-wing majority on the NUM Executive. Gormley and his allies had hoped to use the wage increases that the incentives scheme would have meant in some areas to prevent any fight over the demand for the £135 a week the miners’ conference voted for in June. The ballot result, marked especially by a massive swing in the Scottish pits against the deal, will make it very difficult for the Executive to slide out of the commitment to fighting for more money.

Any confrontation over the miners’ pay will take place in an atmosphere of heightened militancy. These are the Department of Employment’s strike figures for the first nine months of 1977 – the equivalent figures for 1976 are in brackets:

Strikes – especially when measured in days lost – have shot up. And they show no sign of slowing down – the days lost through strikes quadrupled in the three months up to September.


Even though traditionally militant sections like carworkers have not yet moved into action (for reasons we discussed in last month’s Notes), many other groups of workers are fighting. Examples are the strike at British Oxygen and the power workers’ unofficial work to rule. Other disputes are boiling over – for example, the fireman’s wage claim.

A miner’s strike would give a tremendous stimulus to militants in both private industry and the public sector. By showing that one of the best organised and strongest sections was prepared to take on the government it would give other sections of workers the confidence to fight for their own claims.

Of course, there is a long way to go before the miners’ vote is translated into a strike. Gormley and the right wing on the NUM Executive will pull; out all the stops to prevent an actual strike. The TUC General Council will undoubtedly be called in to hammer the miners into line. Whether the resolve of the Broad Left, which controls the militant NUM areas in Scotland, Yorkshire and South Wales, remains firm in the face of this pressure will depend on the mobilisation of rank-and-file miners behind the claim.

In any case, the miners’ ballot means we are in for a hot winter. The government is in a cleft stick. If it gives into the miners, then every other group of workers will follow through the hole created in the pay policy. If it stands firm, then we are back to the days of Heath-style confrontation with a vengeance. Bang will have gone Labour’s claim that only they can handle the trade unions. Big business may conclude that if they are going to have a fight with the unions then they might as well have the Tories in office to do it for them.

In this climate, national rank-and-file organisation becomes imperative. The trade union leadership is still committed to propping up the government. Already they and the conservative shopfloor leaderships have defeats at Ford and Leyland to their credit. The Rank and File Conference on November 26 must be the beginning of a movement that knits together the different sections of militants independently of the officials. Otherwise there will be more defeats in the pipeline.

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