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Crucial Labour Party Conference

Socialist Programme Needed

(November 1974)

From Militant, No. 232, 22 November 1974, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Labour Party Conference meets only six weeks after the General Election. But already it has been six weeks of storm and stress.

Every worker will be looking to the conference for a lead. Its main purpose must be to sum up the experience of those weeks, of the election itself, and indeed of the seven months prior of Minority Government. It must draw a balance sheet of what has been achieved: which commitments have been taken up, and which have been shelved? On this basis the whole rank and file of the movement can prepare themselves for the trials ahead.

Every delegate is conscious of the parlous state of the economy. The rampant inflation, the beginnings of recession and lay-offs. The crisis already being unloaded onto the backs of working people is reaching frightening proportions.

The election resulted in a crushing defeat for the Tories – 35% of the poll, the lowest ever. Working people showed their hatred for Heath and his backers – the gang of property swindlers, speculators, monopolists and bankers.

The furore inside the Tory ranks since the election has led Walker to warn them against further decline, pointing out that they have been reduced to an “English Party”, only of the countryside and the suburbs. Labour’s victory was solidly based on the industrial towns.

But the battering of the major party of the rich is small comfort to the major party of the workers, when it could only get 40% of the vote – less than in 1970 when they lost! The major responsibility for this must lie with the Labour leadership.

Without an enthusiastic campaign, with policies which could hardly be distinguished from those of the Tories and Liberals, with calls for sacrifice in the ‘national interest’ was it so surprising that millions of workers abstained, or voted for Nationalist or even Liberal candidates?

Nevertheless, the conference meets under a Labour Government. The attitude of the rank and file must be that “a majority of one is enough”. The manifesto commits them to an “irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth”. It is on that sort of commitment and all the other measures in the interests of working people, that the rank and file are pressing for action.

On the other side, exactly as we warned, like a pack of wolves, the capitalists are snapping at the heels of the Labour leaders, houding them along their path. In advance of the election the CBI set up a hue and cry about the imminent bankruptcy of hundreds of companies unless the Government took action to “restore profitability”.

To back this up these gentlemen who hurl abuse at workers struggling for a living wage, organised their own “strikes of capital”. Pilkingtons and Hawker Siddely, to name the most obvious, openly blackmailed the Government by declaring an end to investment projects.

There has been a virtual “general strike” of investment over recent months. The carefully timed reports of the CBI delivered the day before the budget, forecast “that unless there were major changes in Government policy, manufacturing investment next year might show a dramatic decline of 10%.

And they talk of democracy! These handful of unelected directors who control the boards of the big monopolies are dictating to the Labour Government. They have shown their snarling teeth, when they threaten massive unemployment if they are not given what they want.

But it has to be said that the Government has given in to this blackmail. What shop steward worth his salt would accept so easily the “poverty pleading”, begging-bowl approach of the management? That is what has happened in Healey’s budget!

Lever, Williams, Wilson, Healey and other have all promised the wolves their goodies would be delivered. Yes, they agree, “profitability” must be restored.

The Queen’s speech excluding important proposals such as the nationalisation of ports and road haulage was an ill omen. It opened the way for the entirely pro-capitalist budget.

Handouts of £1600m have been made to Big Business. They will flow quickly, paid for directly or indirectly by the working class. “Starving” capitalists will get their help immediately. The crumbs left over for the working people in the form of family allowances and pension increases will be delayed until the Spring. Why? By then their value will have been much eroded. Isn’t the “cash crisis” for pensioners and young families as important as that of the bloated monopolists?

The real nature of this budget is shown by the hymns of praise to Denis Healey in the pages of financial newspapers. “A budget to keep business afloat” said the financial editor of the Times. “Long Strides in the direction of tough orthodoxy ... the ordinary trade union member and other worker is hit by almost every measure and helped by virtually none” said Peter Jay, economics editor of the Times.

But the capitalists are not satisfied. They were bargaining for £3,000 million. Half a loaf is better than none? Not for them, already they have their eyes on the rest.

More, More, More, is their insistent theme. They have got the price code “relaxed”. As if it hadn’t nearly nodded off already. So relaxed is it now that it will have lost what energy it ever had to stop an avalanche of price increase this winter.

Between September and October prices rose by 2.3%, triggering the final three thresholds. That’s an annual rate of over 40%.

Quite rightly the left wing Tribune group in parliament have objected strongly to this budget. But what else could be expected on the basis of capitalism? Their alternative, a National Enterprise Board, would in no way touch the problem which faces the Government and the whole movement – the colossal power of the 250 major monopolies.

It is they who hold the reins of power. An NEB would merely irritate the capitalists, who have stated clearly on dozens of occasions that they would sabotage it. Their power to do this can be glimpsed at by the actions of their advance guard at Pilkingtons.

The Tribune MP’s would be pushed into the same positions as the right wing if they remained within the framework of capitalism. While the millionaires control the economy they will dictate policy. It is only by mobilising the might of the movement that Labours policies can be implemented.

A diseased broken down economy such as the British capitalists have saddled the people with, demands that the working class pay the price for its survival. Cuts in living standards of ten to twenty per cent are what are needed, on a capitalist basis, to “restore profitability”.

Crosland made a joke in Parliament about keeping rate increases to 100%. But its no joke for local authorities facing bankruptcy.

Prentice said in relation to the “social contract”, that it applies “unhappily” to “school children as well ...”!

It just so happens that Newham, the borough in which Prentice’s constituency lies, has come top of the list to qualify for special help to its schools. A young teacher there told the Times about truants ...

“I often find that the child just has not got the will power to wake up in the morning. There are families of eight, nine, ten children living in terrible conditions, fathers in prison, broken homes, crumbling damp, rat infested terrace houses ... I keep a supply of shoes, coats and anoraks. One kid didn’t turn up at school for four days and then turned up in his mothers’ boots.”

And Prentice would “suffer little children to make these sacrifices” to prop up this rotten capitalist system! The budget cuts spell disaster for the Newhams all over Britain.


The road already taken by this Government leads to disaster. They have capitulated to the pressure of Big Business. But they will not keep the capitalist wolves from the door – their appetite is amazing! They are already howling for more cuts.

Above all they are plotting to bring down the Government when the time is right. All the weapons to stab it in the back are being sharpened. The disarray of the Tories makes it necessary for Big Business to wait a while. They intend to use the inactivity of the Labour leaders and their carrying out of capitalism’s dirty work to discredit them.

At a certain stagethey will start the well rehearsed campaign for a “Government of National Unity”. Blaming the crisis on “socialism” they will try to split the Labour Cabinet from top to bottom and set up a National Government. Assisted by some of those Labour leaders who feel more at home in a boardroom than a Labour Party room, they would attempt to implement measures of austerity which make the present budget look generous! It would be a savage Tory Government in faint disguise!

There is only one way to avert the catastrophe! Mobilise the enormous strength of the movement to force through the programme. Bob Cryer, MP for Keighley said “that a crisis should be a reason for imposing Labour’s policies not running away from them.” Quite right! But mobilising the whole movement against the capitalists’ resistance to take over the 250 monopolies is the only way Labour’s policies can be implemented.

How easy it would be! Those faint hearts who fear socialist policies should learn from the election work conducted by the Labour Party Young Socialists. If the Labour Leaders were to explain that a clique of monopolists were holding the country to ransom, that they stood in the way of decent wages, secure jobs, decent education and hospitals, the solution of the housing nightmare, overwhelming support would be there to change society.

An enabling act through Parliament to nationalise the major monopolies, with the compensation paid out according to need, would be defended by the ten million strong movement and millions of others.

Instead of pussyfooting with utopian “planning agreements” a real socialist plan of production of production could be introduced. That could be explained in concrete terms: 100,000 building workers out of work; 750,000 million bricks stockpiled and 30% brick making capacity shut down; plus a worsening housing crisis add up to capitalist stupidity. On the basis of a planned economy these resources could be used to build one million houses a year and more.

Contrary to all pessimists, Britain is a wealthy country. Its total wealth adds up to a staggering £400,000 million! With the skill of its people, organised in the interests of need not profit, a 20 hour week could be introduced with production leaping ahead! The tragedy is that a Labour Government “rules” while a handful of parasites utilises the wealth for their own ends.

If Labour were to raise these points as its battle cry, not a Tory would be left! But the question of a socialist programme is linked to the question of Party democracy. The clash between the NEC and the cabinet is a small rumble compared to the explosions ahead if present policies are continued. But already the Times, organ of Big Business, has raised this as a “constitutional question”. They have hinted at “dictatorship” over the “elected Government” by the NEC.

But who is dictating to who? Hasn’t the Cabinet been under pressure from the capitalists from the day it took office? The unelected parasites in the boardrooms of the monopolies have dictated, extorting £16,000 million!

The Labour Government was elected to serve the interests of working people. Without rank and file working class support, not one Labour MP would have a ‘cat in hell’s chance’.

That much must be clear from the fate of Taverne and Mayhew!

Without the sacrifice and struggle of millions over the years, not one of the Labour MP’s would be where he or she is. They must be accountable to the rank and file of the constituencies and the conference, and subject to recall.

Too many have climbed to fame and fortune on the backs of the working class. Shop stewards and many local councillors work for the movement without reward. So it should be with MP’s. We need class fighters willing to live on the wage of a skilled worker, not looking for high salaries and perks.

This conference must go on record in demanding that the Government sweep aside the Monopolies and get on with the job it was elected to do! Carry out its programme!

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