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International Socialism, Spring 2002


Martin Smith

The return of the rank and file?


From International Socialism 2:94, Spring 2002.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The problems facing the trade union movement in Britain today are all too obvious. After all, for the past 20 years, politicians and many academics have been more than keen to declare the working class dead. But it is becoming increasingly clear that small victories, compounded bitterness and the explosion of political struggles, like the anti-capitalist movement, are giving confidence to trade unionists.

Trade union militancy can revive from periods of defeat in many ways. The most obvious is a major strike victory, which in turn can inspire other workers to fight. Alternatively it can come about through the rising of general political consciousness. Today the latter appears to be the case. The political recovery of the left seems to be inspiring a revival in trade union confidence.

For 20 years socialists and working class activists in Britain have seen the trade union movement in retreat. Last summer there were signs that a revolt was fermenting against New Labour’s privatisation plans. The TUC conference in September was billed as the big showdown between the unions and Blair. But the attack on the World Trade Centre derailed that confrontation. The TUC conference was closed early and the battle was postponed. The TUC and some union leaders cynically used the tragedy to put the brakes on the fight against privatisation. For instance, the GMB union dropped its £1 million advertising campaign against privatisation and in effect the CWU signed a three-month no-strike deal with Consignia. While the union leaders backed off, the employers used this ‘new-found solidarity’ to announce massive job cuts.

But three months later the revival looks like it is back on course – a fierce strike by guards and station staff on South West Trains sparked off a wave of disputes right across the rail industry and beyond. These strikes created a massive political crisis for New Labour. Tony Blair’s ‘wreckers’ speech at Labour’s spring conference left hundreds of thousands of trade unionists livid. It also forced John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, to come out and attack New Labour. More importantly, renationalisation of the rail industry is back on the agenda and a debate is opening up around the question of the funding of public services like the NHS and education.

I want to look at three key issues. What factors have created this new militancy in Britain? What are the hurdles facing the revival of this working class militancy, and what forms of organisation are trade union activists creating in order to overcome the very real problems they confront?

The anti-capitalist movement

Every major union, with the exception of the AEEU, has expressed some support for the anti-capitalist movement. British trade union branches have sent respectably sized delegations to anti-capitalist demonstrations in Nice, Genoa and Brussels. More importantly, the fighting spirit of anti-capitalism has permeated into the ranks of the movement. Two examples will suffice. At a South West Train strikers’ meeting, rank and file activists called on union leaders to contact the anti-capitalist movement to see if they could organise a mass demonstration outside Waterloo. [1] Workers themselves may not be confident to blockade their depots and stations but they like the idea of someone else doing it. Secondly, the editorial board of the rank and file paper Post Worker were surprised to discover that they received more letters about the anti-capitalist movement than they did about any other issue including privatisation, job cuts and pay. [2]

The anti-capitalist movement has created a high degree of politicisation inside the unions. The ideas of the anti-capitalist movement are widely circulated. Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, has recommended to his members that they read George Monbiot’s anti-capitalist book Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain. The struggles of Latino workers in the US have prompted the TUC and the TGWU to set up union groups for low paid foreign workers. They have adopted some of the methods employed in the US – film shows, dances and cultural evenings – to recruit to the unions. [3] One final example comes from the TSSA (the union for clerical and technical grades on the railway). Two years ago delegates at the union conference were discussing the fascinating problem of train delays caused by ‘leaves on the line’. The executive’s solution was to call for the cutting down of all trees and bushes along every railway embankment. One delegate opposed the executive’s proposals claiming that to do this would not only damage the environment, but would encourage the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforests by multinational corporations. The top table told the delegate that the union had to promote policies that were realistic and that the delegate was ‘not living in the real world’. The conference rejected the executive’s proposal unanimously! [4]

The anti-capitalist struggle is giving nourishment to the trade union movement around the world. In the last few years, trade unionists have responded to globalisation and its impact with general or mass political strikes. In Argentina, India, Spain, Bolivia, South Africa and France, union federations have called on their members to challenge privatisation, austerity measures, job cuts and other symptoms of increased corporate power.

The anti-capitalist movement has brought energy and excitement to the left. Its ability to politically generalise means that a layer of workers are also making the connections between privatisation, globalisation and the need for resistance.

New Labour

The anti-capitalist, anti-privatisation mood is now so widely diffused among workers that it is opening up a gap between many of them and the leaders of the Labour Party.

When New Labour won its historic general election landslide victory in 1997 it promised to take the rail back into public ownership, fund public services and end sleaze. Its failure to do so has created massive bitterness. Under intense pressure from their members, union leaders are heading towards a showdown with Blair over privatisation. John Edmonds, the GMB’s general secretary, gave vent to his members’ feelings when he warned the government at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party’s spring conference, ‘Our polls show only 11 percent support for privatisation. The poll tax at its highest had 14 percent – and as far as I can remember the poll tax wasn’t exactly a great electoral success... The government has created – totally unnecessarily – its own poll tax, its own imploding policy that is going to drag it down’. [5] Until recently the GMB has been seen as an ultra-loyal supporter of the Labour Party.

The debate with Labour is also opening up in more unexpected ways. For the past 100 years the trade union movement has been the backbone, both politically and financially, of the Labour Party. That support is beginning to crack. Two years ago at the CWU’s annual conference delegates voted to ‘break all links, both politically and financially, with the Labour Party if it went ahead with the privatisation of the Post Office’. At last year’s firefighters’ annual conference delegates voted to open up their political fund to other parties, and in UNISON, Britain’s biggest public sector union, conference delegates voted to conduct a review of the political fund. At the beginning of the year the GMB announced it was going to reduce its contribution to the Labour Party by £2 million over four years and will not support candidates who support the Private Finance Initiative. As Labour continues with its anti working class measures and privatisation plans, this bitterness can only get deeper.

The Labour Party relies on the trade union bureaucracy to control the rank and file and act as fully as possible in the interest of the Labour Party. A sign of the weakening of Labour’s hold over the trade union movement has been the growth of the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance. They have both attracted a small but significant number of trade union militants into their ranks. Mark Serwotka (PCS general secretary elect) is a member of the Socialist Alliance, and Bob Crow (RMT assistant secretary) has spoken on Socialist Alliance platforms. This is something the mainstream press has been more than happy to publicise recently.

Trade union leaders and for the most part trade union members accept there is a division between politics and economics. Put simply, trade unions deal with wages and conditions, and politicians deal with the economy and the state. Accepting this blunts the ability of workers to fight back. Any move towards clearly linking politics and economics makes the recovery of the trade union movement far more effective. A significant upturn in class struggle could make things very difficult for Blair.

The war in Afghanistan

The scale of the opposition to Bush’s so called ‘war against terrorism’ has been considerable in Britain. Trade unions played a small but significant role in this movement. Within three months of 11 September four major trade unions – ASLEF, CWU, RMT and TSSA – had come out against the war. Several other unions called for a cessation in the bombing. Trade unionists joined the anti-war marches in significant numbers. There were over 80 union banners on the second national demonstration against the war in Afghanistan. As journalist John Pilger noted, ‘We have not seen opposition by trade unionists against a war on this scale since the Vietnam War’. [6] According to the Stop the War Coalition over 500 union branches have passed anti-war motions.

The political radicalisation produced by the anti-war movement has been duplicated on a smaller scale in other campaigns – defending council housing, stopping the rise of the Nazis and numerous local issues. The attacks by New Labour, and the inspiration of the anti-capitalist movement and the anti-war movement are forcing trade union activists to generalise politically.

The slow recovery

The massive gap between the political anger in Britain and the level of class struggle cannot be sustained. Trade union militancy will either have to rise to the level of the political movement or the political movement will fall back to the level of the class struggle. At the moment trade union confidence is being strengthened by the impetus from outside events.

The fall in trade union membership appears to be bottoming out – in fact it is once again on the increase. According to the Certification Officer, there are now 7.9 million trade union members in Britain, an increase of 46,000 on the previous year. [7] Last year was the second successive year in which membership increased. More interestingly, some of the unions with the biggest number of recruits are the CWU and PCS. Both unions have played a key role in the recent strikes. The proportion of workers who belong to a union (union density) remains steady at around 30 percent. [8] Once again trade unions are popular. A TUC survey conducted in 1999 found that three out of five workers not in a union would like to join one. [9]

It is important to remember that the recent period has not been the first time trade unionism in Britain has suffered a major setback in support. For example, union membership almost halved during the economic slump of 1880 and did not recover until the emergence of the mass strikes that developed during the New Unionism of 1889. Also, in the aftermath of the1926 General Strike trade union membership collapsed from its height of 6.5 million in 1920 to 3.6 million in 1929. [10] But each slump has been followed by a revival in trade union membership and confidence.

Despite its weaknesses, New Labour’s Employment Relations Act has resulted in an increase in the number of union recognition deals. A survey conducted by the TUC found that there were 470 new recognition agreements last year, almost three times the number signed the previous year. As a result over 120,000 more workers are now covered by a recognised trade union. [11] Union recognition deals are at present outstripping the growth of union membership. If activists and trade union officials use the deals to recruit on the shop floor membership can soon start to flourish – this is already happening in a number of industries. Of course, there are weaknesses – some of the deals signed are single-union ‘sweetheart deals’ – but any growth in union recruitment will give confidence to activists on the shop floor.

Low unemployment levels have given workers confidence to use their collective strength. A skills shortage in the job market has seen workers ‘flexing their muscles’ in the privatised utilities – gas, water, electricity and more obviously the rail.

Rail privatisation has been a disaster for the workforce. Jobs have been shed on a massive scale and working conditions have been attacked. But there is another side to this story. The greed of the privatised rail companies meant that they have cut corners, laid off qualified drivers and cut back on research and development programmes – all for a quick buck. When demand for rail travel increased, the rail companies were chronically short of qualified drivers. A poaching war ensued. The drivers’ union, ASLEF, was quick to exploit this. Drivers on ScotRail recently demonstrated just how vulnerable the rail companies are when they organised an overtime ban and refused to work on their rest days. One in four trains did not run. Over the last few years drivers’ wages have been continually leap-frogging one another. Rail workers employed on other grades have refused to sit idly by and watch the wage gap get wider and wider. They too are now striking for better wages and conditions.

Another indicator of the growing radicalisation taking place in the trade union movement is the recent election victories of left wing union activists. In the last four years we have seen Mick Rix (an ex-member of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party) elected as general secretary of ASLEF. Billy Hayes is now general secretary of the CWU, Mark Serwotka (who describes himself as a revolutionary socialist) has been elected as general secretary of the PCS, and Bob Crow has been elected as general secretary of the RMT by a massive majority.

For socialists these results are an important indicator of the mood on the shop floor. Workers in these unions have voted for candidates who have opposed privatisation and partnership and have supported their members on strike. These election results have clearly shocked New Labour. The Financial Times reports:

Another minister with union ties says that traditional methods of influencing unions do not work with the new generation of leaders. These people are not interested in the Labour Party. They are not interested in making deals to make life easier for Labour in power and they certainly would not be impressed by an invitation to Number Ten for dinner. They want an old fashioned trial of strength with the company. [12]

New Labour will be keeping a close eye on the leadership elections taking place in the GMB and the TGWU over the next 18 months.

If we look below the level of the unions’ structure to the actual balance of class forces in industrial struggles the picture is more uneven. The British trade union movement found itself in a transitory period during the 1990s. Still reeling from the defeats of the 1980s, it began to regain its confidence bit by bit. This painfully slow process was already beginning to be observed in a number of disputes such as the Timex strike of 1994 and the signal workers’ dispute of the same year. Things now appear to be speeding up. A brief look at some of the key disputes over the past five years gives some sense of the scale of the recovery and the problems the working class still has to overcome.

British Airways: Cabin crew staff employed by British Airways were the first major group of workers to take industrial action under the New Labour government. Workers voted to hold a 72-hour strike in opposition to cutbacks in July 1997. In the run up to the action staff came under massive pressure. Bosses threatened to sack every striker, sue them and even sent managers round to their homes to intimidate them. In the end 1,600 cabin staff went sick. The mass stayaway cost British Airways £125 million. Eventually BASSA officials accepted a poor deal. [13]

Jubilee Line: The Jubilee Line extension was the biggest building project in London between 1995 and 1997. A series of unofficial stoppages over wages and conditions created a very strong independent union organisation. The Jubilee Line electricians became the catalysts for a new rank and file movement amongst electricians belonging to the AEEU in the construction industry. In October 1997 management announced that they were going to downgrade electricians’ work. AEEU branches demanded that their union organised a national strike. Their pleas were ignored. The Jubilee Line electricians called a one-day unofficial strike. Around 5,000 struck in London, Glasgow, Newcastle and Kent. Around 300 electricians held an unofficial march on Downing Street. A second unofficial strike was held, and over 30 sites walked out involving up to 9,000 workers. This time 1,000 strikers laid siege to their union headquarters. Eventually union officials were able to win a vote to accept the regrading, but only by using the most outrageous tactics. Leading militants were expelled from the union and ballot papers were sent to groups of workers who were not involved in the regrading. However, the rank and file activity paid dividends for the electricians. When they started working on the Jubilee Line extension they were the lowest paid electricians in London. By the end of the job their wages were the highest in the country. [14]

The car industry: When BMW announced its plans in April 2000 to shut its Longbridge plant with the loss of 12,000 jobs, anger swept across the West Midlands. A powerful publicity campaign followed by a 100,000-strong demonstration put pressure on the government to come up with a rescue package and a new buyer. To this day Longbridge remains open and over 6,000 workers still have their jobs. Later in the year Vauxhall in Luton announced that it was going to close its plant with the loss of 2000 jobs. Workers laid siege to the manager’s offices and riot police had to be called. An unofficial strike and a 20,000-strong demo ensured that several thousand workers kept their jobs. [15]

NHS: Health workers in the Dudley group of hospitals held a series of strikes against the transfer of NHS buildings and 600 jobs to the private sector. The strikers held out for ten months and only ended their action when the PFI scheme was finally signed. As well as organising a 200-strong conference to discuss privatisation, the strikers also launched their own rank and file paper. Even more remarkably the health workers put forward a striker as a Socialist Alliance candidate in the general election. [16]

London Underground: In the run-up to last year’s general election members of ASLEF and the RMT voted overwhelmingly to strike over the question of safety on the tube. But the real issue behind the strike was opposition to New Labour’s privatisation plans for London Underground. Terrified of united action, management went to the courts and got an injunction served on the RMT, thus making their strike illegal. The anger among members of both unions was palpable. Unofficial meetings were held and members of the RMT decided to break the law and support their colleagues in ASLEF. The strike was magnificent – 95 percent of trains did not run. The RMT once again re-balloted and won a strike vote. New Labour manoeuvred to get the strikes called off. A series of meetings were held between ASLEF, the government, Ken Livingstone and the TUC. The ASLEF executive buckled and called its strike off, leaving the RMT to fight alone. This time rank and file ASLEF activists ensured their members did not cross RMT picket lines. Sadly the RMT then decided that it would not call any further action. [17]

The post: Over 50,000 post workers took illegal, unofficial strike action last May. The strike began when post workers in Liverpool and Stockport refused to handle work from Watford sorting office, where workers were on strike. The strike soon spread to Preston, Manchester, North Wales, Chester, Maidstone, Dartford, Newcastle and all of London. Mass pickets were organised at the Liverpool, Cardiff and Watford offices. The strike lasted almost a week and only ended when management completely capitulated. One activist claimed after the strike, ‘Using direct and militant tactics we achieved far more than months or years of negotiations’. [18]

Many of these strikes contained elements of the past – lack of rank and file confidence, reliance on trade union leaders. But in many cases they also displayed a new confidence to act independently of the officials, to break the law and to use militant tactics. One more very important attribute marks out all these disputes – the strikers won, or at worst the disputes ended in a partial victory. Today the defeats of the 1980s mean less to a new young layer of reps and shop stewards. ‘Don’t strike – look what happened to the miners’ was a common refrain a decade ago. Now it is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

The pattern of industrial disputes over the past five years has been one of an explosion of anger, which in some cases – Rover and the strikes on the tube – have begun to generalise only to then fall back, usually with the help of the trade union bureaucracy. But now the number of strikes seems to be multiplying. At the time of writing disputes under way included: official action by ASLEF members on ScotRail, leading to the cancellation of one in four trains; two-day strikes by guards belonging to the RMT on Arriva Northern and four other strike ballots taking place on the rail and the tube; over 40,000 civil servants struck for two days over the removal of security screens; 150,000 postal workers voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay; 85,000 UNISON members in local government are involved in an indicative ballot over pay; and teachers in London are planning to hold a strike ballot over the question of London weighting.

Not surprisingly, the media is full of talk about a return to the 1970s and the Winter of Discontent. One right wing commentator in the Daily Mail noted, ‘Socialism was meant to have been consigned to the dustbin of history ... Yet today in Britain the far left is on the march again’. [19]

There is no doubt that New Labour fears these strikes and the dragons that they might unleash. The Financial Times reports, ‘Privately, ministers admitted they were alarmed at the prospect of a national strike coming on top of the rail strikes which have crippled commuter services in the south and north’. [20] New Labour is terrified that further strikes could inspire a wider revolt against low pay, privatisation and the anti trade union laws.

Talk of a return to 1970s levels of industrial action is a considerable exaggeration. Nevertheless, the stakes are high. Again the Financial Times reports that ‘unrest is not confined to the railways and has been simmering away since the general election. If the RMT wins, sparking more disputes, the "partnership" ethos that has characterised unions’ broader dealings with employers under Labour could crack’. [21] The government and the employers are taking a very hard line with the strikes. Ministers are refusing to hold any meaningful negotiations with the PCS, the civil servants’ union, and they are giving tacit support to Brian Souter’s union-busting operation on SWT. The outcome of these disputes is far from certain, but one thing is clear – the government’s stance is having the effect of straining relations with the union movement even further.

Documents written and compiled by Mike Power, an official at the TUC, have been leaked and published in Socialist Worker. They clearly demonstrate that the TUC and the right wing of the union movement are getting organised and are trying to block the left. The documents also reveal that a senior Labour minister met with senior officials of the TUC to explain why they could not give an inch to unions like the CWU, PCS and the RMT for fear of ‘unleashing a dragon’. [22]

Underlying the intervention of both TUC and Labour leaders is that they rightly believe they are losing their grip over a significant part of the Labour movement.

The 1950s to today

’The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living,’ wrote Karl Marx. [23] In order to understand the problems any re-emerging rank and file revolt faces, it is important to take a very brief look at the development of the trade union movement over the past 50 years.

Trade unionism grew steadily during the long economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Not only did union membership continue to grow in the traditional heartlands, but recruitment also exploded in white-collar unions based in education, local government and the civil service. [24] The shop stewards committees led the fight in the workplace to win better pay and conditions. The Communist Party (CP) had the ability at that time to move the shop stewards movement as a whole despite the fact that only a tiny percentage of shop stewards were members. The gains workers made came about through their own self activity and not through their leaders. This struggle to win improvements in wages and conditions has been called ‘do it yourself reformism’.

However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s the long boom came to an end and the first major economic crisis rocked the Western economies. The combination of an economic crisis and an anti-union offensive led to a series of clashes with the bosses and the Tory government. A strike by the miners for better pay in 1972 forced the government to make a humiliating climbdown. This was followed by strikes on the railways and in engineering. In the same year five dockers were imprisoned in Pentonville prison for breaking the anti-union laws. Tens of thousands of workers struck demanding their release. The pressure was so great that the TUC was forced to call a general strike. Before it could be acted on, the Official Solicitor secured a quick release of the dockers. This was a truly amazing victory for the working class. A further strike by the miners in 1974 finished off the Heath government.

One historian, Royden Harrison, called the struggle during the Heath government ‘the most extraordinary triumph of trade unionism in its long conflict with the government. The labour unrest of 1970–1974 was far more massive and incomparably more successful than its predecessors of 1910 and 1919 ... First they blew the government "off course"; then landed it on the rocks ... Nothing like this had ever been seen before!’ [25]

Once again it was the shop stewards movement that led these struggles. But as Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein explained, the CP’s role was far from glorious:

Its leadership ... had long abandoned revolutionary socialism for a policy of changing society through achieving a majority of left Labour and Communist MPs. This logic had not yet nullified the membership’s fighting ability, but it sapped it inexorably. Because the Communist Party’s politics were stifling the ability of its rank and file militants to lead, a space developed for small groups like the International Socialists (the forerunner of the SWP) to develop a fledgling rank and file movement. [26]

When Labour took office in 1974 it ditched its radical promises and set about introducing spending cuts. However, the key demand from international capital, big business and the city was for a reduction in workers’ wages. What the Tories failed to do by force, Labour achieved with the help of the trade union bureaucracy. Labour introduced the now infamous Social Contract. Union leaders talked about the ‘national interest’ and the result was a fall in workers’ living standards. The shop stewards movement was still dominated by the politics of the Labour Party and the Communist Party. It was one thing to strike against the Tories, but large sections of the shop stewards movement shied away from fighting their ‘own government’. They, along with the trade union bureaucracy, sold Labour’s incomes policy to their union members. When, in late 1978, the government tried to impose a fourth wage limit, the floodgates broke. The result was the ‘Winter of Discontent’. It was not part of a new rising tide of militancy, but an explosion of bitterness and demoralisation which led to the victory of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

The aim of the Tory government was clear: it wanted to reverse the defeats the ruling class had suffered at the hands of the working class in the early 1970s. In 1978, when the Tories were still in opposition, they worked out a strategy to take the unions on. It was known as the Ridley Plan – named after the Conservative minister Nicholas Ridley. The idea was to take on the trade unions one at a time. This led to a series of confrontations, starting with the steel workers in 1980, the health workers in 1982 and the miners in 1984–1985. This was closely followed by the print workers’ dispute at Wapping and finally confrontations with the seafarers and the dockers. The Tories won every battle. No other European working class movement went through such a heavy series of defeats.

It is clear to any trade union activist today that the movement paid a heavy price. The balance of class forces not only shifted from labour to capital but from the rank and file to the trade union bureaucracy. The TUC and trade union leaders talked less and less in terms of class conflict and more and more in favour of partnership with the bosses. Workers’ confidence to fight took a massive dive. The number of strikes fell and remained incredibly low throughout most of the 1990s.

These defeats also took their toll on the shop stewards and the union reps. The legacy of those defeats is still with us today. For one thing, the lack of confidence in their members’ ability to fight has made shop stewards and union reps more reliant on their union officials and less confident to call action. In a number of disputes, most notably Ford’s and Peugeot, many of the stewards have been to the right of their members and in some cases have hindered action that has taken place.

For example, car workers at the Peugeot plant in Coventry rejected several pay offers made by the company during the summer of 2000. On each occasion the shop stewards committee recommended acceptance. In the run up to the strike the stewards did everything they could to undermine the action. However, when the 24-hour strike took place it was absolutely solid. Even then shop stewards refused to bring strike placards, armbands or the union banner to the picket line. Only one or two union reps joined the picket lines. It was left to rank and file activists to carry the strike!

But it is important to stress that union reps have held their organisations together under the most difficult of circumstances. In a number of industries the confidence of the union reps is slowly returning. As John Rees noted in this journal recently:

Despite this shocking series of defeats in the 1980s the British trade union movement remained remarkably resilient. At its height union membership stood at 12 million; the number is now 8 million. But the decline was mostly a result of high unemployment, peaking at over 3 million during the 1980s, and the changing structure of industry. The government’s own Social Trends survey reports that since its peak in 1979 ‘the largest fall in union membership occurred in 1992, a period of substantial job losses, and the unions have failed to recover membership loss as employment growth has recovered’. [27]

A CWU official at a regional meeting said recently, ‘The problem I face is not getting the members out, the problem is holding them back.’ For many activists that comment will sound all too familiar. A brief glance at any labour history book will demonstrate that the one key factor in holding back the level of class struggle has been the trade union officials. That continues to be the case today. So what attitude should socialists take to the trade union bureaucracy?

Trade union bureaucracy

Nearly 8 million workers belong to trade unions. They remain the best defence mechanism for working class people. For socialists they are also important for another reason. In 1844 Frederick Engels wrote that strikes ‘are the military school of the working men in which they prepare themselves for the great struggles which cannot be avoided ... and as schools of war the unions are unexcelled’. [28] For these reasons every socialist should join and campaign inside their union. The bosses are always the enemy but when it comes to settling scores with them the biggest hurdle workers have to overcome is often the trade union bureaucracy.

Under a democratic capitalist society the formation of a trade union bureaucracy is inherent in the very nature of trade unionism. Tony Cliff describes the trade union bureaucracy as a:

… distinct, basically conservative, social formation. Like the God Janus it presents two faces: it balances between the employers and the workers. It holds back and controls workers’ struggles, but it has a vital interest not to push the collaboration with the employers to a point where it makes the unions completely impotent. For the official is not an independent arbitrator. If the union fails entirely to articulate members’ grievances, this will lead eventually either to effective internal challenges to the leadership, or to membership apathy and organisational disintegration, with members moving to a rival union. If the bureaucracy strays too far into the bourgeois camp it will lose its base. The bureaucracy has an interest in preserving the union organisation which is the source of their income and their social status. [29]

Put simply the trade union bureaucracy balances between the two main classes in capitalist society – the employers and the workers. Trade union officials are neither employers nor workers. A union official may employ a large number of people, but unlike a capitalist employer, this is not where a union official gains their economic or social status from. On the other hand, the union official does not suffer like the mass of workers from low wages, bullying employers or job insecurity.

How far trade union leaders’ lifestyles are removed from their members’ is graphically demonstrated when you look at their salaries. For example, Sir Ken Jackson, leader of the AEEU (now AMICUS), earned (if that is the right word) £90,000 last year. That astronomical amount does not include his pension contribution, expenses or perks – like his free car. One AEEU official told me that he believes Ken Jackson’s annual income was closer to £130,000 a year. But it is not just Ken Jackson. NUT leader Doug McAvoy’s salary was £87,576 last year, while Dave Prentis of UNISON was the poor relation, taking home just £71,969. Even Billy Hayes, the left wing leader of the CWU, takes home £71,143 before expenses! [30] The average post worker takes home around £200 for a six-day week and a 5.30 a.m. start. [31]

But precisely because union leaders’ power and prestige comes from their ability to defend their members and maintain their base, even the most right wing general secretary can be forced to lead a strike. Take, for example, Sir Ken Jackson. During the SWT dispute Ken Jackson openly condemned the strikers in the media. What he failed to mention was that at the same time as RMT members were striking for better pay, Amicus was balloting its members in SWT over the same issue! A union official may despise the idea of striking, they may even oppose striking, but under certain circumstances even the most reactionary union leader can be forced to fight. For if they do not they may no longer have a base.

That said, trade union leaders can only be pushed so far. They are committed to the reform of capitalism, not its overthrow. During key events in labour history – 1919, 1926 and the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984–1985 – the trade union bureaucracy has come down on the side of the state.

Two other factors keep trade union leaders in check. Firstly, the union’s machine – the headquarters, finances and organisation. The Tory anti-union laws struck the trade union leaders’ Achilles’ heel. The fear that during unofficial strikes the courts could sequestrate the union’s funds has meant that unions have shied away from leading the kind of militant fights that can win. In effect the union machine becomes more important than the members – it becomes an end in itself.

The final factor is the link between the trade unions and the Labour Party. At times there can be strains and tensions between the two, but the fact remains that the majority of unions remain tied to Labour. That link has been weakened, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the level of influence the trade union movement still holds. Last year unions donated £15 million to the Labour Party. Just as importantly, they still wield 50 percent of votes cast at the party’s annual conference. There is a positive element to this link. It means that, in however a distorted fashion, Labour still has some link to the organised working class. But that link has also meant that trade unions have often refused to call action that might damage Labour’s electoral prospects.

All this said, socialists do not take a neutral position when it comes to the election of left and right union officials. Socialist should always support and campaign in elections for left wing officials in union elections. The victory of a left wing official is an indicator that members want a more confrontational union. It can also strengthen the confidence of rank and file activists to fight. The year before Mark Serwotka was elected general secretary of the PCS, the union’s national disputes committee received 46 requests for industrial action ballots. In the nine months after Mark Serwotka’s victory there were 175 requests for action! [32]

At the same time it is important not to sow illusions in trade union officials, especially those on the left.

A.J. Cook is a name to evoke powerful memories. He is remembered as the man who led the miners during their bitter struggles in the 1920s, culminating in the terrible defeat of the 1926 General Strike. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote a series of brilliant polemics about Britain in the 1920s. In them he exposes the weakness of the left trade union officials. He made absolutely no concessions to any of the left trade union leaders, even Cook, who was the most radical of all union leaders. Trotsky always mentioned Cook in the same breath as Hicks, Purcell and the other left union officials at the time. For example, Trotsky wrote:

Both the rights and the lefts, including of course both Purcell and Cook, fear the utmost the beginning of the denouement. Even when they in words admit the inevitability of struggle and revolution, they are hoping in their hearts for some miracle that will release them from these perspectives. And in any event they themselves will stall, evade, temporise, shift responsibility and effectively assist Thomas [the right wing leader of the rail workers] over any really major question of the British labour movement. [33]

Leon Trotsky was absolutely right. A.J. Cook was a prisoner of the bureaucracy. At no point during the strike did he go over the heads of the TUC and call on workers to defy their own union officials. He was trapped in his own bureaucratic straitjacket.

Last year’s tube strike is a more recent example of how respected left wing officials bend under the pressure. Mick Rix, the general secretary of ASLEF, is a prominent opponent of the Tory anti trade union laws. Last year his union organised a strike for improved safety on London Underground. Yet the slightest threat from the courts that they would sequestrate the unions funds and just a little pressure from Labour ministers and TUC officials meant that he called off the strike. This was despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of his members wanted to take action and did so unofficially. Despite his left wing credentials Mick Rix is a product of his social position in society. His members on the other hand – many of whom do not regard themselves as political – were prepared to strike unofficially precisely because they had nothing to lose in breaking the law.

The real divide in the union movement is between the rank and file and trade union leaders. Socialists’ attitude to all union officials should follow the argument put forward by the Clyde Workers’ Committee in November 1915: ‘We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act immediately they misrepresent them’. [34] Leon Trotsky made the same point when he said, ‘With the masses – always; with the vacillating leaders – sometimes, but only as long as they stand at the head of the masses’. [35]

It is the rank and file and their methods of attempting to overcome the dead weight of the trade union bureaucracy that I want to look at next.

The Broad Left

What do you do when you have an official who sells you out? The most obvious answer is to replace them with someone new. In a number of unions – PCS, UNISON, NUT and the telecom side of the CWU – there exist organisations based on the concept of Broad Lefts. The idea behind them is to bring union activists together to challenge their old moribund leaderships and replace them with left wing officials. Several of them are experiencing a revival at the moment. For example Left Unity, the Broad Left of the PCS, has doubled its membership in the last year from around 350 to 700. [36] United Left, the Broad Left of UNISON, has seen its membership rise from 350 to around 500 over the same period. [37] The growth is a symptom of the growing impatience with the trade union bureaucracy and is also a sign that workers are attempting to find an organisational solution to their problems.

But the track record of the Broad Left is not a good one. The most established Broad Left can be found in the CWU. Its membership is almost exclusively confined to the telecom side, a legacy of the days when there was a separate telecommunications union. The CWU Broad Left has been fantastically successful in winning elections. Every single member of the Telecom national executive committee is a member of the Broad Left. The CWU’s general secretary, Billy Hayes, is a supporter of the Broad Left and regularly attends meetings. The Broad Left is in a position to make a real difference. While it has controlled the NEC, BT has shed over 100,000 jobs. The left-run executive has not issued one single ballot for strike action.

This problem is not just confined to Broad Lefts today. During the 1970s the Communist Party controlled a number of Broad Lefts. Ralph Darlington takes up the problems they faced:

The primary importance was attached to trying to replace right wing full time trade union officials by the election of left wing officials, notably by supporting such figures as Hugh Scanlon in the AUEW [the electricians’ union] and Jack Jones in the TGWU. But the price of this electoral strategy was the CP’s growing reluctance to clash with left wing officials. The contradiction between trying to give a lead to independent rank and file militancy and trying to cultivate influence among left wing officials became increasingly apparent during the 1970s wave of industrial unrest, with the CP increasingly subordinating the former in favour of the latter. [38]

The fundamental weakness of the Broad Left strategy is the belief that by the left capturing officer posts unions can be transformed into fighting units. The entire history of the union movement has been one of left wing union officials winning union positions, only to pursue the same line as their right wing counterparts at key moments. For example, during the 1926 General Strike left union officials Alonzo Swales, A. Purcell and George Hicks agreed, along with the right wing officials, to call the strike off, leaving the miners to fight alone for the next six months. More recently, it wasn’t the right wing union leaders who sold the Social Contract to the workers – it was Jack Jones of the TGWU and Hugh Scanlon – the so called ‘terrible twins’.

It is not a question of the individual psychology of the left wing officials who stand for such positions, but the very nature of the job. If activists are not careful, the winning of elections can become counterposed to the fight on the shop floor. In the end, holding on to positions becomes more important than anything else. The miners won their greatest victories under right wing union president Joe Gormley, and suffered their greatest defeats under Arthur Scargill. The key to victory was not who ran the union but the confidence of the rank and file.

So what attitude should revolutionary socialists take to these movements? This is a tactical question. In unions where there are already organised Broad Lefts, socialists should join them and encourage their workmates to do the same. Socialists should also play an active role inside Broad Lefts. It is important to attend meetings, get involved in campaigning for left wing union officials and use them to build up the combativity of the rank and file. But socialists should not be uncritical of the Broad Left strategy. They should actively shape the Broad Lefts and argue for a rank and file perspective. They should encourage Broad Lefts to take a lead in supporting strikes and relating to the anger on the shop floor.

But there is another way to organise. In unions like the CWU and the RMT the embryos of a rank and file movement are emerging.

The rank and file strategy

Rank and file organisations differ from official union structures and Broad Lefts in a number of important ways. Firstly they are organisations based around workplace delegates who are subject to account by the workers they represent. Secondly they are not based in an area or region, but located in the workplace where workers are at their strongest. Lastly they cut across the sectional divisions found inside the workplace.

Rank and file movements are not alternative unions, they are bodies which organise inside the union on the shop floor. It is worth repeating, in full, the slogan of the Clyde Workers’ Committee:

We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act immediately they misrepresent them. Being composed of delegates from every shop and untrammelled by obsolete rule or law, we claim to represent the true feelings of the workers. We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file.

A rank and file movement is not based on damning all officials or having nothing to do with trade union leaders – it is for the promotion of shop floor organisation so that it is prepared to counter a betrayal by union officials. It is also worth noting that at the heart of every rank and file organisation, revolutionary socialists have played a pivotal role. One accusation levelled at those who argue for a rank and file strategy is that they abstain from standing in union elections. This is untrue – rank and file movements have on many occasions stood for full time union positions. In the 1970s rank and file candidates stood for positions in many unions including NUPE (the manual council workers’ union), ATTI (a teaching union) and the TGWU. First and foremost, a rank and file electoral challenge is not a matter of promoting an individual to change the union from the top. Instead it has to be part of a strategy to encourage and promote working class self activity. If elected, a rank and file trade union official would be expected to take home the average wage of the workers he or she represented and would be accountable to the members.

Before I move on to look at the revival of rank and file movements today, I want to look at some of the key movements of the past. History never repeats itself exactly, but these unofficial rank and file movements are still relevant today, for they are among the few models we have of a serious alternative to the rule of the trade union officials.

The Clydeside shop stewards committee

Between 1910 and 1914 a huge wave of industrial militancy swept Britain. It became known as the Great Unrest. Bitter, mainly unofficial strikes shut down the pits in South Wales in 1910–1911. In the summer of 1911 there were violent strikes involving dockers and seafarers and the first national rail strike. There were over 10 million strike days a year and union membership doubled. [39]

The outbreak of the First World War put a temporary halt to this militancy. Union leaders urged their members to accept speed-ups and ‘dilution’ – the introduction of unskilled workers to the jobs previously done by craftsmen to help the war effort. This was fiercely resisted. Engineers produced vital munitions, which gave them real bargaining power. A militant rank and file movement rose amongst engineers on the Clyde and in Sheffield. This movement brought together shop floor representatives from different unions and workplaces to co-ordinate their struggles. Regular workplace bulletins and meetings kept members informed and prepared the ground for a number of skirmishes with the employers.

At its height this unofficial rank and file movement was able to launch major strikes against dilution, the largest of which involved 200,000 engineers working in 48 towns in 1917. The wartime shop stewards movement was an important step forward for the working class. It was the first independent rank and file movement in Britain. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 shop stewards began to see the rank and file committees as embryonic soviets. Many of the leading militants involved in the engineering movement went on to join the Communist Party.

The terrible defeat of the 40-hour strike in 1919 and the engineers’ lockout of 1922 killed off the shop stewards movement. As J.T. Murphy explained:

In England we have a powerful shop stewards movement. But it can and only does exist in given objective conditions. These conditions at the moment do not exist... You cannot build factory organisations in empty and depleted workshops, while you have a great reservoir of unemployed workers. [40]

The Communist Party and the rank and file in the 1930s

The defeat of the General Strike and mass unemployment ripped the heart out of the working class from 1926 onwards. By the mid–1930s the gradual fall in unemployment meant that the working class movement was slowly beginning to recover its confidence. The historian Richard Croucher writes, ‘The effect of seeing old mates, even in ones and twos, coming back into the shops was out of all proportions to the numbers involved’. [41] The Communist Party had 6,263 members in 1931 [42] – around 75 percent of those employed were manual workers. [43] In 1932 the Communist Party began to launch a number of rank and file groups. I want to take a look at two of them.

The most effective of these rank and file movements was found on the London buses. London bus workers, numbering nearly 25,000, belonged to the Transport and General Workers Union. Their full time officer was Ernest Bevin, a red baiter. When it was leaked that management were going to impose a wage cut and redundancies, it also came out that the union was going to recommend acceptance of management’s proposals. The Communist Party launched a rank and file paper entitled Busmen’s Punch. They had no more than 12 members on the bus fleet. [44] Chelverton Road garage called an unofficial meeting. Thirty-three garages were represented and they voted to set up a delegate committee, later to be known as the Rank and File Committee. It was made up of Communists, Labour Party members and militant trade unionists. The rank and file movement adopted a set of demands, which included a seven-hour day, no spreadovers and no standing passengers. Busmen’s Punch described these demands as a ‘fighting programme’. [45]

Bevin put the management’s terms to ballot. The unofficial rank and file body campaigned hard against the wage cut. Members voted four to one to reject the offer. Bevin was forced to call an official strike. At this the company withdrew its threatened wage reductions and dismissals. It was a total victory for the rank and file. Over the next four years the Rank and File Committee led a number of small skirmishes with the bosses and the union. Sales of Busmen’s Punch reached 10,000. [46] Rank and file activists issued an appeal to those not involved in the unofficial movement. It read:

Militancy is the stepping stone to progress. Organised militancy makes progress certain. The rank and file movement is organised militancy ... The rank and file ... stands for a 100 percent trade union, yet you know that permanent officials need gingering up. The rank and file movement puts the ‘G’ into ginger. [47]

Within three years membership of the Communist Party on the London fleet reached 100. Importantly, the rank and file movement did not restrict itself to just sectional issues. It encouraged busmen to get involved in wider political issues. Large contingents of busmen were involved in the marches against Mosley and the British Union of Fascists, and the unofficial body also organised an energetic campaign to send aid to Republican Spain.

The battle for a shorter working week in 1937 led the unofficial movement into a major confrontation with the employers and the union. Bus workers put in a claim for a seven and a half hour day. Once again Bevin opposed the strike and once again the rank and file pushed for one. An all-out bus strike began on 1 May 1937. If the tram and trolley bus workers had been called out victory was assured, but the union refused. For four weeks the strikers held solid, but finally the union suspended the machinery of the bus section and called on the strikers to return to work.

The second example I want to look at is the aircraft industry. From 1934 increased aircraft orders generated by rearmament programmes gave renewed confidence to trade unionists in the industry to fight for improvements in pay and conditions. Union activists in the aircraft industry set up an Aircraft Shop Stewards National Council, which launched a monthly paper, New Propellor. Peter Zinkin, a full time industrial organiser for the Communist Party, edited it. The paper was sold throughout the aircraft industry and by 1937 its circulation reached 14,000. [48]

One of the first tasks the ASSNC undertook was to organise support for a series of unofficial strikes in Blackburn, Stockport and Hayes. In 1937 a group of young apprentices working on the Clyde walked out on strike against low pay and for the right to union representation. Within a week they had picketed out 13,000 young engineers. A committee of 160 representing every shop on strike was elected. The Young Communist League played a key role in the strike. The New Propellor produced a special youth edition. After four weeks management caved in. Apprentices in other regions followed the Clyde’s example and also struck. The employers were forced to recognise the right of unions to negotiate on behalf of apprentices.

The networks of stewards organisations created on the buses, engineering and a large number of other industries became the backbone of the shop floor union organisation that lasted well into the 1960s and early 1970s. The Communist Party was a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, it recruited some of the most class-conscious workers and led a series of impressive strikes. On the other, it remained loyal to the Soviet regime and followed every twist and turn of Stalin’s foreign policy. By the late 1930s the Communist Party dropped its rank and file strategy and adopted a policy of trying to get left wing officials elected into union positions. Sadly the Communist Party’s change in line meant that instead of trying to ‘ginger up’ the full time officials, many of the best activists became the union officials that needed ‘gingering up’.

The 1970s: the rank and file movement last time

The CP’s timidity left many leading militants without a home. The increase of working class militancy meant a big vacuum opened up in the 1970s, which allowed the International Socialists (IS), the predecessor of the Socialist Workers Party, to grow rapidly. It was able to recruit a number of leading shop stewards. By 1974 the IS had 4,000 members and 40 factory branches. With the support of other trade union militants IS was able to launch a series of rank and file papers.

All in all there were 16 rank and file papers produced. They really tapped into the anger at the workplace. Nine issues of the Car Worker were produced, with sales of one edition peaking at 3,000. There were 12 issues of the Dock Worker, which at its height sold 5,000 copies, while Rank and File Teacher sold 4,000 copies. Alex Callinicos explains what followed:

In March 1974 the IS took its first step in initiating a national rank and file movement that would link together militants in different industries and operate, unlike the CP and the Broad Lefts, independently of the officials. A National Rank and File Organising Committee was set up and three delegate conferences were held – two in 1974 and one in 1977. The last was attended by 522 delegates from 251 trade union bodies, a perfectly respectable level of support. [49]

But this national rank and file movement was stillborn. Its failure was partially due to the small industrial base the IS had compared to the Communist Party. But the main reason was that the confidence of the rank and file was subsiding – first under Labour and the Social Contract and secondly under the vicious anti-union onslaught undertaken by Thatcher.

The emerging rank and file movement today

In the post, health and rail the embryos of a new rank and file movement are beginning to develop. Post Worker now sells just over 5,000 copies. Across the Tracks, the rank and file paper for tube and rail workers, sold over 2,000, The Car Worker sold nearly 3,000 during the Vauxhall crisis and sales of Health Worker have now reached 2,000. The Socialist Workers Party has played a key role in helping launch these papers. This rank and file movement has begun to develop because of the political generalisation and the slow recovery of confidence that is taking place inside the working class. One other factor is also helping their development – the decline of the traditional Broad Lefts in many industries has provided a space for a new left to emerge.

It is worth looking at the rank and file Post Worker organisation in more detail. The editorial board of the Post Worker is made up of two CWU representatives elected from every region of the country. Activists have consciously attempted to make sure that the editorial board contains members with a wide range of political views – Labour Party, SWP, Scottish Socialist Party, Socialist Alliance, Welsh Socialist Alliance and workers who have no political allegiance. It has played an important role in agitating against privatisation and job cuts and has held a series of successful meetings in London, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Bristol.

The influence Post Worker has amongst activists was graphically shown during the unofficial strike last year. At its height 50,000 workers were involved. Post Worker produced a daily strike bulletin. One CWU rep wrote a letter to Post Worker. This is an extract from it:

Thank god for the Post Worker strike bulletin. Union HQ kept us totally in the dark. It was the only thing that kept us informed about what was going on. Not only did it counter management’s lies, it kept our full time union officer in check. He was always eager to tell us that the strike was on the verge of collapsing. [50]

Post Worker also rushed out two editions of its paper. Both had front pages written by the Merseyside Amal strike committee. [51]


We live in exciting times. The anti-capitalist movement is back on track – the huge 80,000-strong event in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and the 20,000-strong march in New York showed that. New Labour’s love affair with the neo-liberal free market ideology shows no sign of abating. The Labour Party’s own base continues to haemorrhage – last year membership fell by 30,000. A socialist electoral alternative to New Labour is beginning to take shape. The one missing element has been an increase in the level of industrial struggle. Now that recovery is clearly on the agenda.

Nothing is guaranteed. But one thing is certain – this is not going to be a repeat of the 1970s. The strong shop stewards movement that was the bane of the Heath government has been weakened. The Communist Party’s hold on the shop stewards movement has all but vanished. But as these new struggles develop it is possible to forge a new shop stewards movement. This is not wishful thinking. We have seen it happen recently in the post office, on the rail and amongst electricians in the construction industry.

Other factors put socialists in a stronger position than perhaps they were in the 1970s. Labour’s stranglehold over the movement is loosening. Not one single union discussed breaking its link with the Labour Party 30 years ago. Today four unions have started debating the possibility of breaking that link. This is not an act of despair. In all four unions the movers of the motions talked about using the money to fund genuine socialist parties. Also, imagine if activists could fuse the excitement and flair of the anti-capitalist movement with the potential power and organisation of the working class. That is not so far fetched – we saw it happen on the streets of Genoa in Italy last year. We also saw a glimpse of this on the Stop the War demonstrations in London last year.

Socialists have always been at the heart of any revival of working class militancy. Revolutionary socialists like Willie Gallagher and J.T. Murphy played a pivotal role in the first shop stewards movements on the Clyde and in Sheffield, while the Communist Party played a central role in rebuilding the shops stewards movement and fanning the flames of workplace militancy in the 1930s. Despite its relatively small size, the IS helped launch a vibrant rank and file movement. Today socialists have got to throw themselves into the developing struggles.

One of the great slogans of the anti-capitalist movement – even if it started out as a spoof – is, ‘Get rid of capitalism and replace it with something nicer.’ The problem is that even the most dynamic trade union organisation cannot do away with capitalism. At best, trade unions can limit the rate of exploitation workers suffer, and even the best rank and file movements cannot escape the booms and slumps of the capitalist economy. For that you need a revolutionary party – one that doesn’t just fight over trade union questions but attempts to generalise the struggles, link them up and smash the capitalist state. To do that requires a party that is rooted in the working class, one that has activists in every branch of industry – agitating, organising and politically generalising from every struggle.

For more years than I care to remember, socialists in Britain have been enviously looking over the Channel at the industrial struggles in Europe. Now at last we are witnesses to the re-emergence of the working class in Britain. The union movement faces many hard battles and many defeats lie ahead. But for all that, the working class is beginning to move forward again.


1. I was present at a strikers’ meeting on 4 February 2002 when a debate took place about the anti-capitalist movement in the strike.

2. I edit Post Worker.

3. TUC, Migrant Workers: A TUC Guide, January 2002.

4. TSSA conference report, Summer 2000.

5. G. Hinsliff, Blair’s Showdown With unions On Privatisation, The Observer, 3 February 2002, p. 11.

6. J. Pilger, Daily Mirror, 5 November 2001.

7. Labour Market Trends, Trade Union Membership 1999–2000, September 2001, p. 433.

8. Statistics gathered from the Employment Relations Directorate website, Department of Trade and Industry.

9. Statistic from a paper given by Tony Burke at a TUC conference on union recruitment, September 1999.

10. H.A. Clegg, A History of British Trade Unions Since 1889, vol. 2 (Oxford 1985), p. 570.

11. TUC, Focus on Recognition, trade union trends survey, January 2002.

12. C. Adams and R. Bennett, New Labour’s Trial By Strike, Financial Times, 30 January 2002, p. 19.

13. Compiled from articles in Socialist Worker, 12 and 19 July 1997.

14. Compiled from articles in Socialist Worker, 1, 8 and 16 November 1997.

15. Compiled from articles in The Car Worker, April 2000 and January 2001.

16. Compiled from articles in Health Worker, May and June 2001.

17. Compiled from articles in Across the Tracks, rank and file paper for rail and tube workers, May 2001.

18. Compiled from articles in Post Worker, issues 4 and 5, May 2001.

19. L. McKinstry, March Of The Hard Left, Daily Mail, 21 January 2002, p. 30.

20. R. Bennett and C. Adams, Ministers Try To Step Back From Post Row, Financial Times, 2 February 2002, p. 4.

21. C. Adams and R. Bennett, op. cit., p. 19.

22. Socialist Worker, 19 January 2002, pp. 1, 4, 5.

23. K. Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (London 1984), p. 10

24. For an interesting account of the rise of the white collar civil service unions you should read E. Wigham, From Humble Petition to Militant Action: A History of the Civil and Public Services Association 1903–1978 (London 1980).

25. R. Harrison, Independent Collier (Hassocks 1978), p. 1.

26. T. Cliff and D. Gluckstein, The Labour Party: A Marxist History (London 1988), p. 311.

27. J. Rees, Anti-Capitalism, Reformism and Socialism, International Socialism 90 (Spring 2001), p. 23.

28. F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, vol. 4 (London 1984), p. 507.

29. T. Cliff and D. Gluckstein, op. cit., p. 27.

30. T. Baldwin and C. Buckley, Power And The Purse, The Times, 27 June 2001, p. 10.

31. Statistics supplied by CWU.

32. Statistics supplied by PCS.

33. L. Trotsky, Writings on Britain, vol. 2 (London 1974), p. 141.

34. Clyde Workers Committee leaflet in the Beveridge Collection, British Library of Political and Economic Science, section 3, item 5.

35. L. Trotsky, op. cit.

36. Figures supplied by Left Unity.

37. Figures supplied by United Left.

38. R. Darlington, Capital and Class 76 (Spring 2002), p. 115.

39. The best account of the Great Unrest can be found in G. Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (London 1997).

40. J.T. Murphy, Preparing for Power (London 1972), pp. 129–130.

41. R. Croucher, Engineers at War (London 1982), p. 25.

42. N. Fishman, The British Communist Party and the Trade Unions, 1933–45, (London 1996), p. 345.

43. N. Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1927–1941 (London 1985), p. 83.

44. Ibid., p. 93.

45. N. Fishman, op. cit., p. 108.

46. N. Branson, op. cit., p. 175.

47. N. Fishman, op. cit., p. 117.

48. N. Branson, op. cit., p. 179.

49. A. Callinicos, Socialists in the Trade Unions (London 1995), p. 51.

50. Letter sent by a postal worker in Essex to the editorial board of Post Worker. It wasn’t published but was posted on the website.

51. Compiled from articles in Post Worker, issues 4 and 5, May 2001.

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