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Lay-offs increase

Work or Full Pay

(January 1975)

From Militant, No. 239, 17 January 1975, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Unemployment is rising at an alarming rate. Official figures, delayed through action by Government clerical workers, thinly disguise the spectre stalking millions of worker’s homes.

Estimates of three quarters of a million already on the dole have been made. The West Midlands Confederation of British Industry are making ‘contingency plans’ for one million out of work.

But these numbers are daily supplemented by those on short time working. The Daily Mirror (11/1/74) said that “thousands of firms are putting their staffs on short time working ... hundreds of thousands of people are now working a four and a three day week. And some firms are openly saying that their workers may have to go on a two day week.”

This means that millions of working class people face sharp cuts in income. Overtime, on which millions rely for a living wage, is being cut back on a wide-scale.

At the same time, prices are increasing faster than ever. The Daily Mirror Shopping Clock passed £9 – their basket of groceries now costs 83½p in the pound more than in November 1970!


Price increases in the pipe line are immense. Fuel, transport, post and the passing on to the workers of increased prices in the nationalised industries as a result of the budget, will al pinch hard in the next couple of months.

Against this background, Denis Healey, Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Labour Government, had the affrontery to say:

“It is far better that more people should be in work, even if that means accepting lower wages on average, than those who are lucky enough to keep their jobs should scoop the pool while millions are living on the dole.”

To those just laid off, such words must seem bitter mockery. “Lucky enough to keep their jobs!” What a phrase for a Labour Minister to use! It’s straight out of the book of the employing class who think they are doing the workers a favour by providing them with work. No wonder it was so warmly received in those circles!

Neither is it accidental that the speech was made only hours after Healey and Wilson had met the CBI leaders, who left the meeting saying they felt “optimistic and encouraged.”

So they should be when Labour leaders are so pliable as to dance directly to their tune!

To use Healey’s own words, “That is what the social contract is all about.” All the discussions about the need to “strengthen its guidelines” comes down to that. In the eyes of Big Business, workers’ standards have not been held back enough. Mounting pressure is on the Labour Government to hold back wages by one means or another. The threat of massive unemployment is an additional whip to crack over the heads of workers considering how to maintain their living standards.

The Sun newspaper spells it out:

“Increased welfare benefits, full employment, maintained living standards and a wages free-for-all, however desirable, are too many sacred cows ... Something has to go ... so-called ‘free collective bargaining’ is the least important.” (11/1/74).

A clamour about the dangers of recession, bankruptcies and horrific levels of unemployment is reaching deafening proportions. But what is never said is this: whose crisis is it? If the rich few who own and control productive industry in Britain who in fact control society, face a crisis, then why should the working class be presented with the bill?

Through the mass media the workers are alternatively cajoled then threatened, in a process designed to prepare them to accept lower standards. That is the essence of Healey’s speech. And all this is to prop up a system which can offer no future to working people in Britain or internationally.


It may seem surprising but the rate of unemployment (officially and before Christmas) was lower in Britain than in almost any other capitalist country in Europe apart from Sweden. Even Australia has an admitted rate of over 4% – a post war record.

More than anything, that reflects the power of the trade union movement in Britain to resist redundancies. But now the dam is beginning to leak. No longer can the bosses hold back from attempting to enforce their will.

This enormous power, just hinted at by the Shrewsbury lobby (see other report) can and must be mobilised to enforce its will. No level of unemployment is acceptable; neither are lower wages. If the bosses cannot even guarantee a full weeks’ work then the leaders of the trade unions, and of the movement in general must use that as an argument to expose the rottenness of the whole capitalist system.

Already some trade union leaders have begun to echo the fears and anger of their members. Healey’s speech was repudiated by Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and Clive Jenkins along with numerous other trade union leaders and left wing MP’s. But what they have not done is campaign to explain that the threat to jobs and standards follows directly from the crisis of the capitalist system and consequently, mobilise the movement around a socialist programme to take society out of the hands of the rich and put it into the hands of working people.

It is not enough to lambaste Healey and the other Labour leaders for giving in to the pressure of the bankers and businessmen. What else would they do if, as they do, they start from the position of defending the so called ‘mixed economy’ which again and again has been proved to mean the rule of a handful of big monopolies?


Big Business invests and produces for a profit. If profits are squeezed, then they will cutback. But profit is the unpaid labour of the working class, and so to increase profits it is necessary to hold down real wages and social spending (Increased profits on the basis of raising ‘productivity’ through new investment raises exactly the same question. They will only invest if they are confident of the future profits).

That is why the CBI were shouting so much before the budget which handed them £1,600 million, now being paid for by the workers.

That is why to argue that the problem would be solved simply by raising wages to increase consumption, as does Hugh Scanlon (echoed in the editorial of the Morning Star on Monday, January 13th) is insufficient.

The reaction of workers is to fight redundancy with any weapon at hand; to demand work sharing; if necessary to occupy the factory. But the demand for work-sharing under present conditions faces us with the furious resistance of the bosses to such measures. Their idea is to ‘share out the misery’ – among the workers, not including themselves they would hasten to add. Socialists would argue for no redundancies, sharing the work and no loss of pay – at a minimum a guarantee of average earnings including overtime.

Although the question has been taken up by many union leaders who declare opposition to redundancies, they fail to follow it through to its conclusion – the need to nationalise the factories under workers control and management as the only guarantee of jobs.

This allows capitalist ‘thinkers’ like Peter Jay of the Times to turn the argument on its head:

“Given that limitation (e.g. the crisis in Britain) it is argued the only way to keep unemployment in check, is to share the available income and earnings and opportunities as evenly as possible. One man’s pay increase becomes another man’s or his own, unemployment” (14/1/75).

And the leadership of the Labour Party seem to substantially agree with this!

The Labour movement has to answer with all its might that the ‘limitation’ of the capitalist system and its crisis are no acceptable. If the employers cannot afford the worker to be shared out with no loss of pay, then that is an argument for taking them over, and running them in accordance with a democratic plan of production.

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