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Colin Barker


(Autumn 1965)

From The Notebook, International Socialism (1st series), No.22, Autumn 1965, p.5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Colin Barker writes: National solutions to British capital’s wage problem look about dead. But Devlin on the dockers and Jones on the printers have both highlighted another point of attack, one that wants careful watching. The Economist (7 August) commented on Devlin:

‘In most of the nation’s dock systems history has left in its wake a plethora of little firms, too small to be efficient, too poor not to be slack in discipline in short-term acceptance of restrictive practices, and grasping on long-term improvements in working conditions. Such employers need to be eliminated’ (my emphasis).

Big firms will give more regular employment, more capitalisation, and a tougher fight to the workers. And Jones recommended no wage increases without increased productivity. Taken together with other evidence, it seems clear that at the level of the large companies the heat is really on, with the state rendering such assistance as it can. The oil companies (who are by no means alone) are in process of negotiating ‘productivity agreements’ whose effects, if the Fawley experience is anything to go by, are two: much more work for some more pay, and an enhanced role for stewards (N.B. Devlin recommended official stewards for dockland). ‘End restrictive practices’, ‘Management must win back the initiative’, ‘Improve discipline’, ‘End piecework’, ‘Staff status for manual workers’, ‘Job evaluation’, etc. – these are the likely slogans for next year’s with it managers (most of whom were probaly sceptical about incomes policy anyway). The big firms have the resources for these changes, and the management consultants are raring to go. The effect will be, if I’m right, further to shift the focus of the struggle away from the state and towards the corporate centres. This means more power to the stewards, and the attack will therefore be double-pronged. Shop-stewards’ courses (at full pay for time off, of course) are spreading, Conway (AEU) proposes to make convenors full-time paid officials, and other forms of bribery and corruption are in plentiful supply. The defence of the shop stewards will need everything we have.

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Last updated: 14 April 2010