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Labour Says No More Cuts

Labour Conference:
Callaghan Attacks Left

(October 1976)

From Militant, No. 324, 1 October 1976, pp. 1 & 12.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On Monday the Labour Party Conference took a vote in favour of the “social contract” policy of the government. But this hid an underlying mood of bitterness among delegates. This mood was reflected particularly in the debates on unemployment and the cuts. There is anxiety and confusion among the rank and file over what programme and strategy should be adopted. It was exhibited in the contradictions between the response of delegates to speeches from the floor and some of the votes that followed.

Ted Mooney [Walton CLP] moved a composite on incomes policy which called for a 35 hour week and £50 a week minimum wage tied to the cost of living. He argued that no matter what the sacrifices workers were called upon to make, the capitalists would not invest in manufacturing industry. He quoted the Economist:

“Industry may be deciding that it is mad to expand capacity and employ more labour for a rate of return in profits currently around 3–4%. Money put into gilts will effectively yield 13–14%.”

Pat Wall [Shipley CLP] who is also President of Bradford Trades Council, was given a tremendous ovation from conference. In a fighting speech, he outlined how the social contract had resulted in a 8% fall in living standards. Unemployment was now one million and a half and still rising.

“None of the successive wage policies since 1961,” he said, “has done anything to strengthen the economy or help the low paid. Only the taking over of the commanding heights of the economy could achieve the manifesto aim of a fundamental shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people.”

Heather Rawling [Leceister South] and a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists was also given resounding applause by delegates. She called for socialist policies to deal with unemployment. Unemployment had affected the youth very badly. 209,000 youngsters were on the dole. “It is bad enough,” she said, “to be thrown on the scrap heap at 60 or 65. But at 16 it is a real tragedy.”

Bryan Stanley, on replying on behalf of the National Executive, was forced to take up Pat Wall’s contribution. But he did not name him. Stanley said that the claim that opposition to government policy was building up in the rank and file was not true. Bryan Stanley pointed to the support that the trade unions had given to the policy. Some union conferences had voted for the social contract against the advice of their own executives.

But what else could be expected when no alternative was put to trade unionists? As they would see it, if they did not go along with the policy, there would be anarchy, chaos and the return of a Tory government. It was this trust and loyalty of workers that had been so successfully played upon by the Labour and trade union leadership. The ‘left’ offered no alternative.

But now this situation was changing, the loyalty of the rank and file is not a blind one. Every day that passes makes clear to workers that the policy is a failure. Rather than solving their problems it makes them worse.

The debate on the cuts coincided with lobbies outside against the cuts and unemployment. It was a better indication of the future fighting approach of the labour movement. A motion which rejected the public expenditure cuts called for unity by the labour and trade union movement to resist the cuts. This was carried despite the attempts of the NEC to have it remitted.


Alan Fisher [NUPE] moving the composite, warned conference that the cuts, if carried through, could lead to disillusionment. This would lead to the destruction of the Labour Party at the next General Election.

“There is no shortage of money to invest,” he said, “the problem is to get that money directed into investment. To bring this about there had to be public control of the banks and financial institutions. If the cuts went ahead the resolutions passed on pensions, health and education would not be worth the paper they were written on. It will jeopardise the social contract. It will make a major increase in unemployment.”

Geoff Cuthbert [Cardiff North West] said that “on travelling to Blackpool, I read in the paper that Jim Callaghan referred to the NEC proposals on the nationalisation of the banks as an ‘albatross around our necks.’ I disagree with this, I believe that an albatross is already there: the cuts in public expenditure.” The composite called for Labour councils to refuse to implement the cuts.

The speech by the Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, on Tuesday could have been made by a Tory or Liberal. There was not an atom of socialism in anything he had to say. Even his attack on racialism which drew the only enthusiastic applause from the delegates was followed by a call for strict control over immigration. He obviously intends to carry out Tory policies in the interests of the capitalist system.

At one point in his speech he asked delegates to hold on to their seats in order to take in what he was about to say. He said:

“The willingness of industry to invest is due partly to overcoming inflation but also depends on industry being left with sufficient funds and I mean by that that they are able to earn a surplus which is an euphemism for saying that they must make a profit. If industry cannot generate new funds to buy plant and machinery we will not get any investment and Britain will continue to go downhill.”

Obviously Callaghan will pursue any policy in a pragmatic way that he thinks will help to prop up capitalism. He does not consider the cost to working people and the unity of the party.

Tribune Group

Callaghan angered delegates when he made a disgraceful attack on the elected NEC, the ‘Tribune Group’ and the Labour Party Young Socialists. This conflicted glaringly with his earlier statement that he wanted the closest possible relationship between the party and the government based ‘on mutual respect’. He said:

“I believe that the relationship between the TUC and the government has developed faster than the relationship between the government and the NEC. But I do not want to retreat behind the stock phrase that the government must govern and the NEC must go to hell.”

But there is blurted out precisely what he is saying! By ‘mutual respect’ he means ‘do what I say or else.’ He suggested that the NEC should include local government representatives on its body. He said there should be an investigation by the party into so-called “socialist sectarians” who have infiltrated the party. He said nothing about the Liberals and the Tories who have infiltrated over the years. Then he went on to say that he is not in favour of witch hunts!

He said “Is the party satisfied with the youth movement which has only half the branches that it had ten years ago and is dominated by a single brand of socialist sectarianism?” We might ask him if he is satisfied with the loss of 16,984 members of the adult party since 1974, with many parties just shells of organisations and only 650,000 individual members out of a potential 11 million now organised in trade unions who could be members?

Signs of the mood of the rank and file were expressed in the stormy applause at the announcement that Norman Atkinson, the Tribune MP, had defeated one of the main supporters of government policy, Eric Varley, for the job of party treasurer. Also conference overwhelmingly rejected the appeals of Reg Prentice and Frank Tomney against the decision of their constituency parties not to reselect them as candidates for the next election.

There was a big reception for the speech of Tony Benn. He said that the party was “paying the price of thirty years playing down the criticism of capitalism, while soft peddling its advocacy of socialism. The socialist programme of nationalisation put forward in the 1945 election united the party and led to an overwhelming victory in those elections.”

The Militant meeting on Tuesday was packed out with over two hundred delegates and visitors, some from the lobby that took place against the cuts. £95 was raised for the Fighting Fund.

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